By Norris Chambers

             You’ve probably seen old timers and Indians in the movies planting corn one seed at a time. This might be necessary if you had a very limited amount of seed and wanted to get the largest corn crop possible. The way the farmers in our part of the country planted corn was considerably different. We used a horse drawn planter that dropped seed at a regular rate, depending on the size of the plate placed in the bottom of the seed container.  The replaceable plates were all the same size but had a different number of holes evenly spaced around the outside. The plate rotated at the bottom of the round reservoir and let seed fall through the holes at a rate that depended on the number of openings in the plate.

            If you needed a slower rate than the plate with the lowest number of holes would provide you could put the plate on a flat surface and plug the openings with melted lead. This allowed fewer seed to be dropped into the spout that carried them behind the plow on the planter.

The lead plugs could be easily punched out if not needed on later jobs. Two small covering plow points trailed behind the seed and covered them with soil as the planter moved along.

            The planter was drawn by two horses and the rider sat on a seat at the rear to drive the horses and supervise the planting. Several acres could be planted in a day with the horse-drawn planter. The old method of hand planting was slow and labor consuming, but it did save seed.

            With enough rain and decent weather the corn sprouted and began to shoot up in the rows as little stalks. There were many stalks of the young corn and it was necessary to thin them to a distance of sixteen to twenty inches apart. This operation required the use of a hoe and someone to handle it properly. Farm children were introduced into this tiresome work at a very early age and they soon learned to leave the little stalks well isolated and free of weeds and grass. It usually took several days to complete this operation. Clifton and I did our share of corn chopping.

            Sometimes it was necessary to hoe the corn patch again to clear out the weeds and grass, depending on the amount of rain and the abundance of unwanted seeds in the ground.

            In a few weeks the corn began to produce ears similar to those seen in the grocery store. Each stalk had from one to five ears ready for eating or canning. The gathering and canning of corn (the old timers called it “roasting ears” in this stage) was a yearly chore that entailed pulling the corn, pulling the shucks off and picking out the tiny hair-like strings, known as silks, that grow between the grains. The corn grains, which were soft at this time, were cut from the cob with a sharp knife and properly cooked and canned.

            This harvest did not end the corn labor. In a few weeks the corn hardened on the cob and the stalks died. It was now time to pull the ears off and store them in the barn for animal feed or for shucking, silking or shelling and grinding for making corn bread or mush. Mush was made by boiling the corn meal in water until it was a thick paste. It was then ready to add sugar and cream and eat with a spoon. Mush made a good breakfast cereal.

            Corn was excellent food for horses that were working. The corn was shucked and placed in the horse trough, still on the cob. The horses did a good job of cleaning all of the kernels from the cobs. For feeding chickens it was necessary to shell the corn off of the cob. Shelling was a slow and disagreeable job, but it had to be done. Some farmers were fortunate enough to have a small corn sheller that did the job with the turning of a crank.

            When the corn was fed to hogs it was usually just thrown into the pen with the shucks not removed. The hogs had no trouble getting inside and eating the corn off of the cob. A hog pen was soon full of cobs. Sometimes the corn was shucked and soaked all night in a tub of water. This softened the cob and made eating it easier and faster. Some farmers thought that it had more nutrition and was easier to digest when soaked. Oats, wheat and other grains were sometimes soaked or boiled before feeding.

            There were a few enterprising country folks who had a more noble use for corn. They crushed it and added a few vital ingredients. In a few days it was ready for the primitive still and in a few short hours a batch of corn squeezings was ready for drinking and bottling. These ambitious farmers were known as moonshiners! They were called moonshiners because much of the work was done at night when it would be harder for the law to find them practicing their trade.

            Was chopping corn fun? I think if you took a vote the nays would have it. It has been said that hoes were made for killing snakes instead of chopping corn. But we had considerable fun in and around the corn chopping!