04 July 2011

Growing & Harvesting
Corn By Hand


Field Corn

For today’s Agrarian Nation excerpt, I am going to do something different. First, our topic is somewhat out of season. Second, instead of posting an excerpt from the old writings, I’m going to post an excerpt from a guy named Alan who  recently made a comment at my Yahoo discussion group, WhizbangChickenPluckers.

The discussion was about raising your own feed for chickens. It so happens that the cost of buying food for chickens is getting much more expensive these days, and more people are thinking about how to raise more of their own poultry feed. Well, that's how folks did it when we were and Agrarian Nation!

Someone on the group mentioned that they had an old two-row corn planter they might use to plant corn (the primary ingredient of poultry feed). That’s when Alan chimed in with the following comment (slightly edited by me).


A two row corn planter? That is too fancy for me. I grew up growing field corn for pigs and chickens the very basic way.

We had a pole about 25 feet long that had ropes tied to it about every 30 inches. On the end of each rope was a piece of heavy chain. My step-father and I would walk across the field with that pole between us to mark the rows.

Then we had a couple two-handled corn planters. Take a step, poke it in the ground, spread the handles and put them back together then pick it up and take another measured step. When the corn is up to about five or six inches do the first hoeing and thin to two corn plants.
After that just hoe as needed.

Hand-held corn planter collection. These were popular in the mid to late 1800's. Click Here for the article that goes with this picture. According to the article, an 1891 "automatic" hand planter enabled a farmer to plant four acres a day, by hand.
When the corn was hard and the plants were brown we cut the stalks by hand and used a Shocking Horse to make corn shocks.
To picture a shocking horse think of a saw horse. Now remove the legs on one end. Picture the top board as a pole cut from a small tree and about 20 feet long. Now make the remaining two legs longer. Come down the pole from the legs four or five feet and drill a horizontal hole through it to fit a long broom handle.

Drag that out to the corn field and take it down between the rows so you have four rows on the one side and the rest of the field on the other side. Insert the broom handle. Two people with corn knives cut four rows to the broom handle and stack the corn against the pole against the handle.

Now cut past the handle those same four rows and stack it against the pole on the other side of the broom handle. When it is good and full tie some twine around the top then pull out the broom handle and move your horse farther down the rows. Between the legs of your shocking horse there should be a pole with a spool of baling twine on it.

Shocked corn waiting to be husked
Wait until the corn is good and dry then husk it out. 

Women husking corn in the field

A Husking Peg or two comes in handy here.

One style of corn husking "peg" (also known as a "hook")
I probably have 20 husking pegs, a good dozen corn knives and six or eight corn planters around here.

One style of corn knife
I have corn shellers and feed grinders too.
Here is one of my corn shellers....

These work too.  I have several of them.....

A red Black Beauty corn sheller. Black Beauty reproductions are currently available on Ebay for $85.


Ariel view of corn shock rows on an Amish farm.


The nice thing about this very simple lesson in raising corn is that it explains how to get the job done without being dependent on complicated, gas-guzzling machinery. 

This is the kind of down-to-earth knowledge that will need to be re-discovered and utilized by small farmers and homesteaders in the post-industrial Agrarian Nation that will emerge in the years ahead. 

It is from people like Alan, who know what they are talking about from personal experience, that we can learn a great deal. Thank you Alan!

If you appreciate  Agrarian Nation, please consider supporting this web site with a modest donation of $4.95 a year.  Click Here For Details


timfromohio said...

I recommend Gene Logsdon's, "Small-Scale Grain Raising" as an excellent reference not only for corn, but the small-scale cultivation of all manner of grains.


Anonymous said...

A great post for independence day!

Alan said...

Hi, I am Alan.
The one quoted here.
I would like to comment on the spacing of the corn we planted.
Now-a-days "they" plant corn a lot closer together.
"They" also put a lot of commercial fertilizer in their ground the we never used.
For us simple folks that is just not sustainable.

Daniel Way said...

The idea of using the pole, ropes, and chains is intriguing. I use two of the typical garden seeders (each with a larger wheel in front and a smaller wheel behind)joined together on a frame and spaced 30 inches apart. This enables me to plant two rows at a time using the attached row marker to mark the next row. Got this idea from Gene Logsdon, the Contrarian Agrarian.

The Midland Agrarian said...

my dad and I used to hand harvest about four acres of OP corn every late fall and winter. Not hard work, but it did get a little cold.
We tied feed bags on and just started down rows, chatting and pulling.
Good memories.


Terry said...

Great blogsite--question??

Without this expensive gas guzzling equipment, how does the soil get prepared to make rows with a drug chain?

Again, great blog. Thanks

Alan said...

To Terry,
Yes, My step-Father had a small JD tractor.
The first year he used a walk behind 4HP tiller to till up the whole 2 1/4 acres.
That was taking it from a hay field to row crops.
I have a garden tractor and a towable tiller that has it's own engine. Total paid out for the pair was $675.
I also have a Jeep and a towable three bottom plow, disc and a field cultivator.

Alan said...

My step-father learned from his dad.
I learned from him.

After all that corn was standing in shocks for two to three weeks he would feel it to see how hard the kernels were and how dry it seemed.
Then he would bring a shock to the husking table and throw it across the middle.

Husking Table????
Picture in your mind an all wood picnic table.
Now make it a very short table.
Only four feet long.
Then stretch it the other way so the table part is six feet across.

I would set on one bench and he would be on the other one.
That shock of dry corn stalks would be between us.
Each of us would have a husking peg.
Grab a stalk, pull it to you, find the ear of corn, stick the husking pen in and peel down the husk then snap off the clean ear of corn and toss it into a handy bushel basket that each of us had.
I usually pulled two or three stalks to me at once.
Then you hug the empty stalks to you and pull in some more.
When you get an arm load in front of you we would tie it with twine.

(We just threw those little bundles on the overhead loft of the pig house.
The pig house had no floor in it and all Winter it would be wet so we would keep throwing those stalks in there.)

When our basket was full of ear corn we would take it to the corn crib and throw it in.
The corn crib was similar to a lean-to shed on the North side of the pig building.
It's floor was about 16 inches above the ground and it was supported on 4X4 posts.
We wrapped the posts in metal flashing so the rats couldn't climb up them.
That did not work too well for us in our Michigan winters though. All this snow and all ya know.
The walls of the corn crib were wrapped in chicken wire.
Some of it was covered in 1/4' mesh hardware cloth later to help keep the rats out.

Sadly all the years we were harvesting our own corn it was fed to pigs still on the cob.
That was the way his dad did it.
All that hard work to see so much of the corn come out the other end.
Pig poop after a rain was full of whole corn kernels.

Hence my collection of corn shellers and feed grinders??????
I dunno, maybe.


Herrick Kimball said...


Thanks for the further insights and information.

The great thing about your recollections and experiences is that, even though some gas guzzling motorized equipment was and is required, a large investment in specialized, expensive equipment is not.

The point being, a person can grow a lot of corn (enough for personal livestock needs) without a tractor-operated planter, cultivator and picker.

human-power has been used for centuries to do the hard work of agriculture and, I believe the future will require more of this.

Thanks again.