20 May 2011

—1835, 1859, 1883, 1889—


Brace roots on a stalk of corn

Hilling Indian Corn
The practice of earthing up or hilling Indian corn, at the second and third hoeing was thought indispensable, to prevent the corn from getting down on the ground and spoil, but of late it has been proved to have the contrary effect.

A writer in the Courant, over the signature of Cornplanter, whose views so completely coincide with my own, has induced me to transcribe them for the Farmer’s Almanac.—Editor

The practice of most farmers within my acquaintance is, at half hilling to accumulate the earth from two to four inches, and hilling from three to five inches more, making each hill a pyramid of about seven inches elevation. The reason offered in support of this practice is, that the Corn will stand firmer and more erect, and therefore be less liable to be broken down by the wind and rain.

More than fifty years’ experience in this branch of agriculture, has taught me that this is erroneous both in theory and practice. By accumulating earth upon the roots of the corn, they are deprived of that influence of the air and sun which is necessary to a healthy and vigorous growth. Every one acquainted with the natural growth of this plant, must have observed the peculiar formation of the brace roots which sprout upon the stalk in a circular form, a very little below the surface of the ground, radiating from the stalk in every direction. In like manner are the stalks of wheat, rye, barley, &c. furnished with their brace roots, and stand in no need of hilling up to give them strength and firmness, in their position. They are evidently designed to stay the stalk and hold it in an erect position, not unlike the shrouds or guy of a ship to sustain the mast. To render these braces sufficiently hard and strong to answer the design of nature, they  must have the influence of the sun and air; but when buried by several inches of superincumbent earth, they become soft, weak, and brittle, and nature, to remedy this evil, sends out another set above the former. These occasion an unnecessary waste of nourishment of the plant, and at that advanced season of the year never become sufficiently indurated to perform their office to the best advantage.

If those farmers who may take the trouble of reading this article, should doubt the correctness of this reasoning, they are respectfully invited to test it by experiment upon a few rows or hills. For many years past the writer has practiced upon the principles here recommended, and has uniformly been successful in his crop.

It may also be remarked that great injury is done both by the plough and hoe at the time of hilling, by breaking and wounding the long fibrous roots so necessary to the growth and strength of the stalk. After the weeding or first hoeing, neither the plow or hoe should be allowed to penetrate any deeper than is necessary to destroy the weeds and grass, this ought to be repeated as often as they spring up.


Horse-drawn corn planter

Depth for Planting Corn
If corn is planted three inches deep, it will come up and grow thriftily for a while, until it is three or four inches high; then it will stand still ten days or a fortnight. If now we examine the roots, to ascertain the cause of this check upon the growth of the corn, we shall find that a joint has formed about an inch and a half above the kernel, from which new roots have sprouted, and that the roots first formed below the kernel have rotted. While the process of changing roots is going on, the plant ceases to grow perceptibly above ground. The stalk and ears flourish as well after this change as corn planted shallower, but there is a loss of about a fortnight in the growth and maturity of the plant. The lesson to be derived from this fact is, obviously, that to have early corn, it must not be planted more than an inch and a half deep

Ratio of Corn to Cob
With corn on the cob the proportional weight of the cob is, on an average, about one-eighth. Different varieties will vary slightly, but the general ratio will be one to seven.

This World War I poster encouraged farmers to save their best corn for seed. I'm not sure why the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis was part of this effort. (click to see an enlarged view of the poster)

Corn For Seed
When you select corn for seed, have an “ideal ear” in mind. Let it be an ear medium in size and diameter, the kernels deep, the cob small at the butt, holding its bigness towards the point till very near the tapering off. It should be capped over, and the kernels should hold their size towards the point, and at the butt run out straight and not crinkle. It will pay to look long for such an ear. Study its past history also. It must come from a prolific ancestry. We ought to  know its parents, and breed it with all the care we take to get the choicest stock. The best seed will yield, without manure, more than inferior seed with it, and the best seed will yield, in the same circumstances, double the quality of the inferior. Why shouldn’t plants have as strong a hereditary character as animals?

The old rule for planting corn was, not till the leaves of the oak are as large as a mouse’s ear, and that is, usually, the third week of May.

Farm children hoeing corn


Please note that in the first excerpt (1835) the author remarks that corn was designed with brace roots to stay the stalk. To suggest that something in nature was designed implies that there is a Creator/designer. This is, of course, in keeping with the biblical worldview that was prevalent in the Agrarian Nation. Such a belief is now disdained by the modern scientific and educational institutions which explain brace roots and all other amazing aspects of the natural world with godless evolutionary theories.


As for the 1883 excerpt about saving choice ears of corn from the harvest to supply seed for the next year's crop, that's just good common sense. Farmers down through history have saved part of their crop for seed. But it would appear there was a time when they were not so selective of the ears that they saved, and the excerpt above was an encouragement to be more selective.

For those who may not know, it is rare to find a farmer these days who selects and saves his own seed corn. Hybridized corn seed was developed and introduced to farmers in 1930. The seed from such corn can not be replanted, and new seed must therefore be purchased from the seed companies every year. Hybridized seed brought greater yields, but it also brought greater dependency on the corporate seed suppliers.

The next development in corn seed technology came in the 1990s when patented, genetically modified (GM) seed varieties were introduced to farmers. The Future of Food is an excellent documentary which explains the history of genetic modification and points out its dangers. You can watch the first 10 minutes at this YouTube link: The Future of Food.

With the introduction of GM seed, very few farmers today can  save their own seed, even if they want to (watch the movie for an explanation). Corporations (primarily Monsanto) now own and control most of the seeds that farmers use, and the extensive biodiversity of seed varieties that once existed is no longer there.


The next installment of Agrarian Nation will feature Farmer's Calendar almanac excerpts for the month of May from the years 1859, 1862, 1866, 1870 and 1874.

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1 comment:

Jeff said...

Such a great read! Many thanks from the SF Bay Area. I started gardening once a few years back and again recently in March 2020 when the world stopped thinking logically. Fortunately it seems many more people are taking to gardening than ever before!