I was at my second ag museum of the summer – this one at the Kossuth County Fairgrounds – last week and there was a display of around 30 hand corn planters mounted on a wall.
The first thing that struck me was how there could be so many variations in a device that was designed to poke a hole in the ground and drop in a kernel or two of corn.
They varied in colors indicating they were from many manufacturers and there were differences in design.
Most of them had similarities in how to operate them. There was a container on the side for the seed corn with two handles for holding the planter as the bottom end was pushed into the ground.
Operating a hand corn planter seems counter intuitive. The left and right pieces are hinged very close to the ground in a way that resembles a scissors.
Keeping the handles apart closes the bottom end so it can be pushed into the ground.
When the handles are pushed together, the bottom end in the ground opens and the kernels of corn that have been taken from the seed container are dropped in place.
Pull the handles apart, move to the next hill and repeat.
It is unique in its simplicity which is a surprise for me that there could be so many ways to make such a simple device.
When I was about 11, my dad, on a June morning, handed me a hand corn planter (something I had never seen before) and told me to replant a little less than an acre of corn that had drowned in a troublesome low spot.
First, I had to ask him what that thing was. Once that was answered, he showed me how to work it.
I wasn’t exactly excited about this job because I considered myself a tractor driver, not manual labor.
I just wanted this job done so I thought it was time to get it over with and set to following his instructions.
Things were not going well because the soil was still muddy and it would plug the end of the planter so that the kernels could not fall into the hole.
After about three hills it would be so plugged it was useless.
After scraping the mud out several times, I could see this job was not going to end very soon as I had hoped.
I did have a solution.
I put the planter on the ground. Then, using the back of the heel of each of my feet, I walked as straight as possible creating depression in the soil with the back of my heel on each step.
Then I walked alongside my newly created row dropping kernels of seed corn from my hand in each of the holes.
The last step was use my feet to cover the seeds. The seeds were in the ground and that worthless hand corn planter could go back to where ever my dad kept it.
I don’t remember how my hand planted seed did, but when seed corn is covered by good soil, it knows what to do. I am sure the seeds germinated, but I am not so sure there was much of a yield.
The farmers of long ago who bought these hand corn planters new for use on their fields knew what the farmers who plant 24 or more rows with computer control and satellite guidance today know.
Mudding in a crop is not a good idea.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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