Reprinted with permission from On The Tractor Seat, newsletter of Branch #30 of EDGE&TA.
The next thing after spring plowing is planting. The timing is critical. Plant before the ground warms and the seed will not germinate properly. Plant when the ground is wet and the seed will rot before it germinates. Farmers from the beginning of time would walk the fields, test the soil and look at the sky. My father did it with his hand and nose while modern farmers use thermometers, soil test kits and the daily weather reports. The right combination of temperature and moisture meant it was planting time. The land and weather had the final say.
Plant the seeds too close together and the crop could be stunted and produce a poor yield. Too far apart and you were not getting the most out of your land. We have all heard the story about how the Indians told the Pilgrims to place a fish in the hill with the corn. The next hill would be placed one stride away. It took almost two days to plant an acre using the dibble stick.
The next step was the corn jobber. The corn jobber was two wood slats joined at the bottom with a metal hinge and handles at the top. A canister on the side held the seeds. The hinge end of the corn jobber was thrust into the ground. The slats were closed making a hole and pulling seeds from the canister which dropped into the hole. The hole was then covered by the farmers foot. The corn jobber did little to speed planting but some two row versions made it easier to plant evenly spaced rows.
The next step was the check planter. the field was first marked into parallel rows. The check planter was pulled at right angles to the marks and a boy pulled a lever releasing seeds whenever the marks were crossed. Later the boy and marks were replaced by a wire with knots at the desired hill spacing.
When we were farming in the 50's the planter was mechanical. The check wire had been replaced by gears that controlled plant spacing. Chemical weed killers and fertilizers applied during planting allowed closer planting and higher yields.
During the 50's farmers were going away from the two row planters to four and six row. Bigger tractors made the bigger planters possible. Also trying to use a four row harvester on corn that had been planted with a two row planter was a good way to learn new words that your mother did not want you to hear.
My father would stop every now and again and go back to uncover a foot or so of the planted row. He would check to see that the planter was working and the spacing was correct. If the spacing were wrong, a plate or a drive gear would be replaced to fix the problem.
The modern planters are eight or twelve rows wide with microprocessor electronics to control spacing and performance. Large tanks on the tractor and planter apply chemicals. Bulk grain hoppers are loaded by hose. There is no need to get off the air conditioned tractor except to eat or reload.
The four row planter we had cost less than $1000 new. The last time I talked to my cousin, he had a $40,000 electronic planter sitting in the mud. It seems that no matter how fancy your equipment is, the land and weather still have the final say.