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In the Fields

May 13, 2011

This week, farmers in Iowa have taken advantage of the warm, dry weather to get their corn planted into the ground. Here at the 1900 farm, we’re doing the same. We’re not quite using the 20 or more row planters that modern farmers do, but we get by with our two-row John Deere No. 9.

Like the potatoes that I talked about earlier, there is great debate on when corn should go into the ground. We have all heard the adage that corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” With modern plantings as early as we can, most corn is well past knee high on Independence Day. Farmers in 1900 were planting well into May, though they were also harvesting later than modern farmers.

Other differences have come about in the past 100 years. Planting shifted from open-pollinated varieties of corn (like we have at the 1900 farm) to hybrid varieties. Not only have planters grown in size, but the population of corn in a field has increased dramatically. Each of our rows of corn at 1900 are approximately 42 inches apart. Modernly, 30 inches is sufficient. Population of planting, and therefore, yield has also increased. Because of advancements in plant genetics, farmers are now able to plant more, in smaller areas, and with less loss to weather and pests.

Before the planting happens, the fields need to be prepared. Our corn field was fall-plowed this year, and as the spring broke we spent time spreading fertilizer. After the fertilizer is spread, the field is plowed, disced, and harrowed. This prepares the dirt and takes large clods out of the field. After all those things have been completed, the dirt is ready for seed.

This planter has several different components. It has a check wire and an arm to mark where the next row should start. The seed corn is poured into the round bins in the top. Underneath the bins there is a furrow, which creates a row for the corn to drop into. Once the seed is planted, the double wheels create a mound over the new seed.

If the planter is all greased up and working well there are a few steps to get started with the planting.  First, the check wire is staked into the ground at either end of the field and the wire is run through the planter.  This wire has “blips” in it, where the planter will turn over and drop corn.  The check wire drops about 3 seed every 40 inches (standard).

As the horses pull the planter, the check wire makes a noise and turns a crank – which in turn deposits seed kernels into a furrowed row.

At the end of every row the check wire is manually shifted so planting can begin on the next row. The long arm on the end of the planter marks where the tongue of the planter should go in the next row. It must be flipped, via rope, to the other side at the end of every row. Not all planters work like this. There is also a Hayes planter on the 1900 farm that has 2 marking arms, one on each side, that are raised and lowered as turns are made.

This process continues row after row until the field is planted. It is satisfying to look over a field of freshly planted corn and know that with a little rain, and a little sunshine, you will make something grow.

So that’s how we plant at the 1900 farm! After the planting comes the waiting, the cultivating, and the hope that your hard work will pay off in the fall.  Stay tuned!

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


Animals in Action   Farm Implements   1900 Farm   From Field to Table   Then and Now


  • Whenever I see a wire planter, I remember my grandmother telling me about an old radio ad for them. She said it made the same rhythm as the planter. I don’t know anything else about the company or how you spell its name, but I can say the background of the ad as well as she can even though I never heard it. “GenUine FEAST-er GenUine FEAST-er”

  • Sarah,

    That is a great memory that you share with your grandmother. I am not familiar personally with any ads like that, but I will ask some of the old farmers around and see if they have a clue as to what company it might be. The sound of the check planter is really unique and to me, full of promise. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dennis Havran says:

    It was Genuine Phiester. Phiester was a hybrid corn sales company.

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