Harvesting corn the old-fashion way

Below is a story written by Philip Tiemann of Cavendish. You may recall previous stories written by Tiemann. He had just moved from the city to Cavendish in 1933 knowing nothing about country life.

“To mow the oats I had a horse-drawn machine which required a team, so I borrowed a little brown mare from next door to go with my big white Dan, an odd-looking combination if ever there was one. But they got along fairly well once they were hitched, which sometimes required persuasion. The oats were nicely headed out, and when I got the feel of it it was a pleasure to ride back and forth laying down a broad yellow swath each way. One or two places gave trouble where the thick growth had ‘lodged,’ that is, been flattened and tangled by wind and rain, and these areas needed to be gone over with a scythe. Oats are heavier than hay, and the following afternoon I had to shake out the rows with a fork so the straw would be well dried by sun and breeze.


Philip Tiemann
Cows and rows of corn stooks. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding.

“The corn came next. Some of it I traded in payment for wood, but kept enough to feed the cow for a while as chopped fodder. (We inherited a hand-chopper (a waist-high stand with a square iron form and a heavy knife, -a small bundle of stalks was pushed thru the form and sliced into about two-inch lengths.) Field corn is harvested later than sweet corn; it takes longer to mature. The ears will keep only if the kernels have hardened. The farmer will often take the risk of the stalks being frozen in order to have better ears, and it not infrequently happens,- perhaps due to the short growing season but more apt to be because of late planting. (‘Plant corn when the maple sprouts are the size of a mouse’s ear,’ and it should be ‘knee high by the Fourth of July.’) – Of course if there is a silo, which I did not have, corn may be harvested without regard for ripeness, whenever convenient. Our method was old-fashioned and, like other things about which I write, has been superseded by far better practices.

“My own corn that I got that year I got in only slightly frosted. Crouching along the rows I slashed off the clusters of stalks close to the ground with a corn knife (somewhat like a sickle but with almost-straight blade) and left them lying in small convenient piles. These were then bound with heavy twine and then stacked against each other in ‘stooks.’ Later as I had time these were carted down to the buildings and put under cover. I picked the ears and stored them in bins, but not before the energetic mice had worked them. Unfortunately, some of the ears not being thoroughly dry became moldy. I filled a number of grain bags with good ears and carted them down to the local grist mill (two miles on the way to the village) where they were ground into corn-and-cob meal, a fairish feed. The stalks I put thru the chopper as needed….

“….A few days were spent helping another neighbor get in his corn. He had a big silo. We cut the stalks by hand, but instead of being tied in bundles they were loaded loose into a wagon, driven to the barn, and fed into a machine which chopped them into short lengths and blew the so-called ensilage thru a long upright pipe into the top of the silo. Being green and heavy, this product settled (with the aid of some tramping down as the silo got full) into a dense mass. The sides of the silo were narrow tightly fitted vertical boards bound with iron straps which could be taken up with a turnbuckle to keep the boards tight. On top of the ensilage was placed a tarp, weighted with boards; the theory being that the green feed would keep without spoilage until shoveled out of the bottom for the cow’s daily ration. It worked well, but when it had settled down in the spring to the last few feet it got pretty potent; from fermentation.”


The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building. The monthly slideshow will be Ted Spaulding’s photos. All are welcome.

The Chester Historical Society is seeking donations for our annual antiques sale this Sept. 15 and 16. We are accepting antiques only: paintings, barn and attic contents, baskets, jugs & crocks, woodenware etc. Give me a call at 802-374-0119 and I’ll come pick them up. And we’ll give you a donation slip for tax purposes.


This week’s old saying a farmer told me 40 years ago when I was complaining about the heat. “Corn don’t grow good if the wife can’t sleep naked.”

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