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Breeding Corn

( Originally Published 1915 )

Why We Study Corn.—There are a number of reasons why corn makes a good subject for classes in nature study, botany or agriculture. The corn plant is a typical monocotyl (Fig. 15). It is planted before school closes in the spring and is not harvested until after school begins again in the fall. It is grown from Porto Rico and Mexico to Canada. There is some home activity connected with the corn plant for every month of the year. (See correlation chart in Chapter XV.) The corn plant is large and the parts are easily seen without the help of a microscope. Pupils may learn to be good judges of seed corn. Seed has to be gathered and preserved carefully. Seed must be gathered at a critical time ; if left too long it may be frozen and if gathered too soon it may mould. Farmers live an isolated, busy, individual life and hence need the help of the school or Grange to make them conscious of the fact that seed-corn week has come and there is danger in delay. Corn is relatively a new plant and, while it obeys the laws of heredity, owing to its newness and its peculiar characteristic called xenia, it varies so widely and so frequently that each kernel offers interesting possibilities. Cross pollination shows on the outside of the kernels (xenia), and that brings surprises. Each ear produces from 800 to 1000 kernels and if well preserved will yield from three to five dollars worth of corn the following year. The commercial value of corn is greater than that of any other single crop. The business world in America, at least, is greatly dependent upon the corn crop.

Corn has many beautiful poems and legends such as " Mondamin,' Riley's " The Frost am on the Pumpkin, and the Fodder's in the Shock," Whittier's " Corn Song," and others. Corn pleases the senses, challenges the intellect, and is associated with the beautiful in painting, architecture, prose and poetry.

How to Breed Corn.—A year's work on corn is outlined in the chart in Chapter XV, but here we are interested in how to breed corn. We should start with seed of the best type (see Fig. 17) and variety. The corn score card is given in Chapter IV. From now on seed can probably be obtained from one of the boys who has been doing work in the corn clubs. He has a right to use the United States label (Fig. 18), but if he abuses the right, he may have hanging over him the penalty for violating both the United States copyright law and the post-office laws. Having obtained the best ears to be found, we keep them until about March and then test them for germination power.

How to Test Corn.—The Iowa Experiment Station, after having tried all of the different testers, decided that there is nothing better for the average man than the old seed-corn box. This consists of a box preferably 15 x 25 inches. The bottom is covered with about three inches of sawdust that is thoroughly wet and has recently been boiled. The damp sawdust is covered with a piece of cloth ruled into squares 2 x 2½ inches. The head of the box should be lettered (see Fig. 19) at the top and numbered along the side. Each ear is to have a label corresponding with the label on the box, A/1, A/2, A/3; B/1, B/2, B/3, etc. This label may be pinned on to the butt of the ear with a sixpenny nail. Six kernels from each ear are to be placed in each square—two from opposite sides near the butt, two from near the centre, and two from near the tip. All of the kernels should point the same way. The kernels from each part of the ear should be so placed that we may tell from what part of the ear they came. When kernels from all of the ears are on the checks or when all of the checks are filled, we cover the kernels with a light cloth and then wet them thoroughly. Then we cover all with an old piece of sack or carpet and leave the box in a warm place for four or five days.

This germination box makes interesting school work. The relative germinating power, the appearance of root and stem, the size and location of root hairs, the power of a little plant to feed on the contents of the seed, the turning of the leaves to green as they begin to function for photosynthesis, the appearance of one leaf after another in what is called a monocotyledonous plant—all are to be found in a seed-corn box.

Grading the Planter.—Unless one is to plant by hand, he should go over the planter before planting time and see to it that the plates are able to plant kernels of the size which he may have and plant them at the rate he wants. It may be necessary to file some of the holes in the planter plates in order to make them the right rize for the kernels.

Shelling the Corn.-If one wishes to breed his corn for high yield, he should shell one-half of each ear and place the kernels of each ear in a little sack numbered the same as his ear is numbered (Fig. 21). The corn from sack one is planted in row one, from sack two in row two, and so on. The corn should be planted in ordinary soil, prepared in the ordinary way, given the ordinary fertilizer and cultivated in the ordinary way. We wish to have the corn do well under average conditions or we wish to discard it. This first year's work is really a test year to see which ears will yield heavily. Some yield at the rate of seventy, some thirty, and some one hundred bushels per acre. Our new corn will probably be pollinated with the pollen from the low yielders. But we have half of each ear left, and for the second year we discard the low yielders and plant heavy yielders only. Each row should be husked and the corn kept until weighed separately for each row. The best ears from each row may be kept for seed for a test plot the next year, one-half being kept as was done with the ears the first year.

Teach a Boy to Win in the Acre Contest—In many localities there is much interest in the acre contests. There are many places in both the north and the south where free outings with expenses paid to Washington or to State College are given for the winner in the boys' contests. That being true, it is well for the teacher to have boys who are interested in the acre corn contest, begin a booklet with a view to making it their guide while they are in the contest. This will provide interesting work for every month of the school year. While there may be introductory chapters on the origin, use, history, etc., of corn, the main topics on which the boy must work and the ten items where mistakes must not occur are the following :

1. Selection and preparation of soil.
2. Selection of the best seed.
3. Testing of seed and planter.
4. Methods of planting.
5. Fertilizing and preparation of seed-bed.
6. Cultivation.
7. Insect enemies.
8. Weed enemies and plant diseases.
9. Saving seed.

The government bulletins, the agricultural papers, the lectures at the short courses and farmers' institutes, the text-books on agriculture, and the larger books such as Bowman and Crossley's " Corn " and articles in Bailey's "Cyclopedia of Agriculture," must be read and carefully digested in order to make sure that their directions apply to the locality where the boy lives. These contests will be close and the winner will be the one who leaves no stone unturned. To become fully conscious of just why each thing is done when growing an acre of corn, is a valuable part of any boy's education. Not until they are in the acre contest can you make some boys or their fathers believe that some ears tend to yield at the rate of eighty to ninety bushels to the acre, while other ears that look much like them cannot be made to yield more than thirty to forty bushels. When he is in the acre contest, the weather and the weather reports take on new meaning to a boy. When he is in the contest, the weeds and insects of a neighborhood have a bearing on his life that he could not have been made conscious of before he entered. Birds suddenly become his friends. Old men who have been successful farmers become intensely interesting to the boy, and without his knowing it life takes on new meaning and he is learning one of the most necessary lessons in a democracy, namely, for the laboring man to find pleasure in the content of his work.

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