William Thomas Ainsworth.

Practical corn culture, written especially for the corn belt farmers online

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tween three and four feet tall. We prefer to plow it when
it is five feet tall, since the ground is completely shaded by
that time. If this plowing is not immediately followed by
a rain, the corn will be as free from weeds at husking time
as the day it was plowed. Experience has taught us that
corn will usually be weedy in the fall if it is laid by early,
even though it is perfectly clean when it is laid by. This
fact alone should convince any doubtful reader that there is
an additional profit to be gained by surface cultivation after
the ground is shaded.

To facilitate the plowing of tall corn without breaking
it down, we have had several cultivators (gopher plows)
built up so as to have a clearance of four feet. We plow the
same way with these plows as we do the third time with the
shovel plows. (See illustrations.)

These surface cultivators are set so as to plow very shal-
low. The back of the inside blades are above the surface and
serve merely to pull the dirt up to the hill. We have arched
neckyokes on the tongues. They are made out of eveners
off of old walking cultivators. We have tried crossing the
corn a second time for the fourth cultivation, but it was not
as satisfactory, since in pulling through the small ridges
made by the third plowing, some of the corn roots would be
cut. Again, in crossing tall corn a careless driver will some-
times cut off a stalk when they are strung out.



Last year we plowed nearly seventy acres with one of
these built up surface plows after the corn had started to
tassel out. One field yielded ninety-four bushels to the acre.
It was second-sod, having been in corn the previous year.

These plows do better work than mower wheels, or plows
made to run between the rows, because they do not cut the
roots or bruise the stalks. Any man delights in running one
because he is high enough to get the breeze if there is any.

(Courtesy Tower Cultivator Co.)

Made especially for plowing tall corn

We are not condemning one-horse implements that go between
the rows. Anyone is making more than good wages who
stirs the ground and conserves the moisture no matter what
kind of an implement he uses. On account of this fourth
plowing, usually coming during wheat harvest, we generally
put the regular hands on the plows and hire extra help to
do the wheat and oat shocking.

Land is becoming too high priced in the Corn Belt for


the farmer to be satisfied with three cultivations. Some years
three cultivations are sufficient, but more often four or five
will pay when corn is worth from fifty to sixty cents per>
bushel. The practical farmer realizes too well that he can
hardly expect to have a loose mulch between his corn rows
in August and September unless he works these rows after
they are shaded. The great question at this busy season of
the year has been to find the time and a method that would
not injure the roots or break down the corn.

Our first built-up cultivator has been in use four years.
It was raised sixteen inches at a cost of three dollars. The
work was done by the local blacksmith. We believe this was
the first cultivator made to plow tall corn that straddled the
row. Our new cultivators are more satisfactory since they
were built up at the factory. There was no additional charge
made for this and they can be used as low cultivators. A
disc cultivator built up to plow tall corn might be an im-
provement over the gophers for some sections.


The Farmers Review. March 15, 1913. "Some Corn Expe-
rience." A. W. Sarty.

Twentieth Century Farmer. February 22, 1913. "Han-
dling Soil for Production."

The Breeders' Gazette. May 7, 1913. "Seed Bed a Factor
in Corn Fields." J. C. Hackleman.

Prairie Farmer. April 1, 1913. "Getting Ready for the
Corn Crop." W. T. and Ralph M. Ainsworth.

Prairie Farmer. May 15, 1913. "Methods of Corn Culti-
vation for Bumper Yields." Ralph M. Ainsworth.

"Corn Cultivation." Farmers' Bulletin 414. C. P. Hartley.

"How to Grow an Acre of Corn." Farmers' Bulletin 537.
C. P. Hartley.


"A More Profitable Corn Planting Method." Farmers' Bul-
letin 400. C. P. Hartley.

"Distance Between Hills." Illinois Bulletin 126. Hume,
Center and Hegnauer.

"Successful Corn Culture." Prof. P. G. Holden.

"Soil Book." Frank I. Mann.

"How to Grow 100 Bushels of Corn per Acre on Worn
Land." Win. C. Smith.

"The Fertility of the Land." Isaac Phillips Roberts.





The rotation of crops is one of the best established prin-
ciples of modern agricultural science; also, one of the most

It would seem that the early settlers on the rich virgin
prairies of the Central "West gave little or no thought to the
possibility that the wonderful fertility of the land would ever
be exhausted. Crop after crop of corn planted on the same
fields for many seasons in succession did not, for a long time,
diminish the yield.

After fifteen or twenty years of such cultivation, the lands
failed to respond as at first. Yields fell off and lands that
formerly produced from sixty to seventy bushels of corn per
acre dropped in yields to as low as twenty-five and thirty
bushels per acre. Insects began to multiply in alarming num-
bers and attacked crops. The land also became "corn sick"
and in times of drouth, corn fired from lack of moisture.

More progressive farmers began to see that the growing
of corn year after year on the same land was a losing game,
so short rotations of corn and oats were tried. These rota-
tions, while giving increased yields for a time, were soon
found to be lacking since the soil continued to grow less



productive. About thirty years ago clover began to find a
place in the Corn Belt rotation. The benefits resulting from
growing this legume were very marked, especially when it
was grown for the first time. At the present time nine-tenths
of the corn land is so deficient in nitrogen and humus, that
a rotation containing at least one leguminous crop is not only
profitable but necessary.

Today a rotation of crops will be found on all the farms
of the Corn Belt. To be sure, this rotation varies from an
intelligent, scientific changing about of farm crops, in which
the requirements of the soil are always kept in mind, to the
haphazard rotations which still prevail on many of the Corn
Belt farms.

We are learning facts about our soil today that the eastern
states learned to their regret twenty and thirty years ago
and even longer, that it is an expensive and tedious process
to restore fertility to land after it has been exhausted by the
continuous growing of corn year after year. Twenty years
hence the wheat belt farmers of the northwest will be con-
fronted with the serious task of restoring worn-out wheat
lands. It seems that the older fields of a community must
first become so deficient in plant food that it no longer pays
to grow the money crop of the country before that com-
munity will adopt a rotation of crops that will in any way
build up the land. The farmers of this country have been
slow to adopt good rotations. They have waited until they
were driven to it by necessity. We are, however, optimistic.
We feel sure that through intelligent management thousands
of farms in Illinois are more fertile today than they were
five years ago. On the other hand tens of thousands are
becoming less fertile. We believe, though, the time is not
far off when the turning point will be reached in Illinois
and that farms will gradually become more productive in-
stead of becoming less productive, as they are today.


Higher prices for farm crops have made the building up
of worn-out farms very profitable. Better still, higher prices,
by increasing the farmer's surplus, are making this restora-
tion possible as well as advantageous for the average farmer.
If a farmer realizes that he is farming his land to its ultimate
ruin he is still unable to make much of an advance along the
line of soil conservation if he has only enough each year
upon which to live.

The city man who is complaining about the high cost of
foodstuffs should be made to realize that high prices today
are giving the farmer an incentive to do better farming and
are giving him a working capital with which to build up
and improve his farm. The present good prices that the
farmer is receiving will do more than anything else toward
postponing the day when we may have a serious food shortage.

Getting back to rotation; most farmers agree that con-
tinuous corn culture has no place in progressive farming.
As a temporary practice on rich virgin soils it may be all
right, perhaps for a few years while the farm is being paid
for and some of the comforts are being accumulated about
the house; but it a short-sighted policy for any other pur-
pose and is a certain money loser on lands which have been
long under cultivation.


Practiced in an intelligent and systematic manner, crop
rotation will serve other purposes than the mere up-building
of the soil. Chief among these is the possibility of destroying
many troublesome weeds, or at least, of reducing presence
to the point where they are of little consequence.

Most weeds thrive better with some certain kind of crop.
When land is devoted to one crop continuously for a number


of years in succession, the kind of weed, or weeds, that thrive
best with that particular crop are given an excellent oppor-
tunity to propagate.

There is no better way to check the growth of weeds than
to keep the ground occupied constantly with growing farm
crops. All observing readers have noticed that bare spots in
a field become covered with weeds of some kind.

Many kinds of weeds are kept in check, or are entirely
destroyed, by growing some crop like corn which requires
open cultivation. On the other hand, many weeds that thrive
in open cultivation will be smothered out if the field is put in
grass or some small grain. Most rotations make it possible to
have a growing crop on the land all the time.

Five years ago we rented eighty acres adjoining one of
our farms. Since the farm was not cross fenced and the
previous tenants desired to pasture their stalk fields they had
not sown any part of it in wheat because the stock in running
over it would ruin it. The rotation for over ten years on
this farm had been corn three years and oats one year, to
the exclusion of all other crops. This, together with care-
less farming, had caused the fields to become badly infested
with cockleburs. These weeds were so thick that they were
a continual annoyance to the men and teams while putting
in the first crop. We put the whole farm in oats the first
year, then in wheat two years straight. The result was that
the cockleburs were completely destroyed. In addition to
this, the milkweeds, which had gotten a bad start, were also
destroyed. While we have only had this farm five years it
has been changed by crop rotation and clean culture from one
of the foulest to one of the cleanest farms in the county. If
we were to follow this system again we would substitute soy
beans for most of the oats. One year with another, this is


as good a money crop as oats and has a big advantage over
oats since it is building up the land instead of running it


The roots of the different crops are of great aid in pul-
verizing (and fining) the soil. When deep rooted legumes are
grown in rotation they utilize and bring to the surface plant
food which lies beyond the reach of the short rooted cereals.
When the roots of these legumes decay this nitrogenous plant
food is left in the surface soil to be used by the succeeding
grain crops.

While there is a slight improvement in the physical con-
dition of the soil when different grain crops alone are rotated,
the greatest benefits of rotations are derived from the legumes
included. For this reason at least one leguminous crop
should be included in every crop rotation.

The increase in the fertility of the soil as a result of crop
rotations is due entirely to the additional nitrogen stored in
the soil by the legume. If the leguminous crop is taken off
the land each time it is grown it is doubtful if any nitrogen
is added. When soy beans and cowpeas are grown and the
hay is taken off and no manure is returned it is believed that
nitrogen is actually taken from the soil rather than added.
If soy beans and cowpeas are grown for the seed, the straw
should be returned to the land after the seed has been
threshed out. Since a good supply of nitrogen is essential
for the profitable growing of grain crops, and the only cheap
way to get this nitrogen is by growing legumes, every effort
should be made to leave as much of the crop on the land
as is possible.

We wish to say, right here, that crop rotation alone will


not permanently maintain the fertility of the soil. All
crops require more or less phosphorus and potash as a part
of their plant food. Each year a drain is made on the supply
of phosphorus and potash. When these elements of plant
food are taken from the soil they must be returned in the
form of stable manure, commercial fertilizer or rock phos-
phate. No plant can put phosphorus and potash in the soil;
instead, they all take it out.

For nearly fifteen years we have followed with slight
variation a rotation consisting of corn two years, then oats,
wheat and clover successively. This is the popular rotation
in Central Illinois and is followed to a greater or lesser
extent on nine-tenths of the farms in this latitude.

Since oats are a heavy drain on the land and often an
unprofitable crop, we have, for the last two years, substituted
soy beans largely for oats. Each year we sow about 100
acres to soy beans. Before adopting soy beans this ground
was sown to oats. By following this method we are including
two leguminous crops in the rotation instead of one.

The soy bean is a wonderful crop for improving the phys-
ical condition of the soil. An ideal seed bed for winter
wheat can be made on soy bean fields with very little work.
Remember to return the straw to the land if you wish to
increase the nitrogen content of the soil. (More will be said
of soy beans in the next chapter.)

Alfalfa is one of the most profitable of the legume crops
but it is not a good crop to work in a rotation. This is due
to the fact that it is difficult and expensive to secure a good
stand and when once secured it is profitable to leave the
ground in alfalfa from three to five years. A good stand
of alfalfa will generally grow better each year for the first
three years. Alfalfa will grow on most of the well drained
soils of the Corn Belt. It will grow on thin land but it will
do much better on strong land. That alfalfa will build up


the land is shown by the fact that eighty bushels of corn
have been grown on alfalfa sod when fifty bushels could not
be grown on this land before it had been put in alfalfa.

(We tell of our own experience in growing alfalfa in the
next chapter.)


Rotation not only gives opportunity to improve the phys-
ical condition and increase the fertility of the soil, but it
may also be made to head off many kinds of insect enemies
and plant diseases. If one kind of crop is grown year after
year on the same field, its insect enemies are likely to multi-
ply rapidly since they are continually supplied with the par-
ticular kind of food upon which they thrive best. Because of
the fact that changing cuts off this food supply for a time,
intelligent crop rotation has been found ;more effective than
all other methods combined in the economical checking of
insect and fungous pests. (In the chapter entitled "Dis-
eases and Insects" we are telling in detail how crop rotation
is effectively checking the corn root worm.)

Crop rotation is as effective in checking many of the
smuts, rust, and blights as it is in checking the insect pests.
Since the annual damages to the crops from insects alone
amounts to several millions in each state, too much stress can-
not be laid on any method that will check them. Even if
crop rotation were not essential to the maintenance of soil
fertility it would be necessary to rotate to keep in check
the insect pests.


Another very important reason for practicing crop rota-
tion is that it distributes farm labor evenly over a long period
of time. When a rotation such as corn, oats, wheat and clover



is followed, there will be field work to be done that will
require the greater part of the year. Fall plowing for wheat
is done during a slack season and with horses and imple-
ments that would otherwise be idle if winter wheat was not
going to be raised. Two crops are raised with the same farm
equipment that would be required to raise either one. This
means economy of production. If one farmer can work his
teams for only three months in the year while his neighbor,
who follows diversified farming, can work his nine months to
advantage, then the first farmer's teams cost him three times
as much per day as do the teams belonging to his neighbor.
The greatest advantage to be gained by extending farm
operations over as long season as possible is due to the fact
that labor can be economically employed by the year. Labor
which can be employed by the year not only costs less per
day but it is of superior quality to labor which is employed
by the day or week. Men employed steadily take more inter-
est in their work and are better men. Our own experience
has taught us that the most dependable farm hands are mar-
ried men. For this reason we employ married farm help by
the year and furnish them with comfortable houses in which
to live. While the first cost of the married man is greater
than single help with board furnished, the married man will
prove to be cheaper in the end and certainly much more
reliable. We plan our crop rotations partly with a view to
giving employment throughout the year.


While corn is the most certain money crop grown in the
Corn Belt, its yield is easily cut down one-half by weather
conditions when wheat, oats or legumes might be hurt little
if any. Crop rotation and diversified farming make for more


uniform and more certain yearly returns. When corn alone
is grown, the farmer depends entirely on the yield and price
of his corn for his profit. On land that can grow several
crops profitably it is poor business to depend entirely on
one crop for a profit and a living.


It is necessary to grow several crops in order to have a
balanced ration for live stock. Rotation of grain with legu-
minous crops gives this balanced ration. Corn is very rich
in starch. When it is grown extensively there is a tendency
to feed a ration deficient in protein. Since there is a large
amount of protein in all the legumes, the ration can be bal-
anced by growing and feeding clover, alfalfa, soy beans,
etc. The first one hundred pounds of weight of spring pigs
can be produced very cheaply if they have access to good
clover or alfalfa pasture. Our principal profit in growing
hogs is due to the fact that they are raised on clover and
soy bean pasture.


This is the question that each farmer will have to solve
for himself. Crop rotations should depend upon the size of
the farm, the nature of the soil, the market demand for the
different crops and the abundance or scarcity of labor.

Again, a rotation that is good for one season may not
be the best for another; but notwithstanding all this, every
crop rotation should include at least one leguminous crop.

A good five-year rotation, and one that will build up the
land is, corn two years, soy beans one year (or cowpeas),


wheat one year and clover one year. As we have said be-
fore, the straw should be returned to the land if the beans are
hulled. The clover is often worth more for pasture than it
would be if allowed to rot down as a humus and fertilizer.
If the clover seed is hulled the straw should of course be
returned to the land. If the clover fields are not needed
for pasture it is a good plan to cut the first crop early and let
it lay to enrich the land. This early cutting of the first crop
will often double the yield of seed in the second crop.


Humus may be defined as decaying vegetable matter. It
varies in composition and quantity in different soils. The
productive capacity of land is measured largely by its phys-
ical conditions and the physical condition depends largely
upon the amount of humus and nitrogen in the soil. When
old land is packed and breaks up cloddy it is often due to the
fact that the humus has been exhausted. While the grain
crops are dependent on several elements it is usually the
supply of nitrogen which limits the crop production. All
the nitrogen used in the growing of corn crops is taken from
the humus in the soil, while the legumes get a certain amount
from the air.

Since the grain crops are dependent on humus, it can
readily be seen that every effort should be made to restore
as much humus to the soil as is taken out by the crops and
the rapid decay which results from open culture. Vegetable
or animal trash of any kind will make humus, although some
kinds, like clover hay, and stable manure will make a great
deal more than will straw, corn stalks or leaves.

The drouth-resisting qualities of a soil depend largely
upon the amount of humus in it.



'Decline in Kansas Acre Yields." By L. E. Call. The

Orange Judd Farmer. Jan. 25, 1913.
'Soils and Fertilizers" (a book). By Harry Snyder.
'Crop Rotations for Illinois Soils." By Cyril G. Hopkins.

Circular No. 141 111. Agri. Ex. Sta.
'Thirty Years of Crop Rotations." By Cyril G. Hopkins.

Bulletin No. 125 111. Agri. Ex. Sta.
'Married Men Cheaper than Single Help." By Ralph M.

Ainsworth. Prairie Farmer. March 1, 1913.
'The Fertility of the Land." By Isaac Phillips Roberts.


Nitrogen is no more essential to the growth of corn than
certain other elements but it is the one required in the largest
amount and is the most easily lost from the soil. Throughout
the Corn Belt it is more often the lack of nitrogen than of
any other element which limits crop production. "When this
supply of nitrogen is low it must be restored before paying
grain crops can be grown on the land.

The object in growing leguminous crops is to restore
economically the nitrogen which has been used up by the
preceding grain crops. Many so-called worn out soils are
worn out only in the sense that the humus (decaying vege-
table matter) in them has been used up by the grain crops
and clean culture which they received. "When this nitrogen
and humus has been restored by the growing of several legu-
minous crops, many farms are made as productive as they
were when first broken up.

Leguminous crops such as clover, soy beans, cowpeas,
vetches, alfalfa, sweet clover, etc., have the power of taking
pure nitrogen from the air and storing it in the roots through
the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the root nodules. At the same
time it must be remembered that ' all the nitrogen in the
legumes is not stored in the roots but that a considerable part
is distributed through the stem and leaves. If, then, hay is
removed, all the nitrogen in the stems and leaves is also
removed. By removing all the soy bean or cowpea hay it is
believed that nitrogen is actually taken from the soil rather
than added. It naturally follows that if the nitrogen con-



tent of the soil is to be rapidly increased, it is necessary
that the nitrogen in the stem and leaves should be returned
by plowing under the crop or, at least, by returning the
straw to the land after the seed has been removed.

The legumes we have used in restoring and maintaining
a sufficient supply of nitrogen and humus in the soils of our
own farms have been clover, soy beans, cowpeas and alfalfa.
We have not used vetches or sweet clover but we intend to

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Online LibraryWilliam Thomas AinsworthPractical corn culture, written especially for the corn belt farmers → online text (page 4 of 11)