Historical Corn Varieties of Ohio and Growing Tips
Picture from USDA digital library
There were several varieties of corn developed in Ohio during the 1800's and early 1900's when most corn breeding was done by individual farmers. Corn Belt Dent Corn is the result of blending (hybridizing) northern flint corns with southern type corns originating in Mexico. These southern corns had a much longer growing season than the northern flints but also had much greater yields. Crossing the short season flints with corns like Gourdseed and Tuxpeno, farmers were able to selectively breed corns with higher yields but that could be grown farther north than before. Farming practices were quite a bit different during this time. Corn was mostly planted in rows of hills, each hill containing 3 corn seeds, rows were usually set 3 1/2' to 4' apart and hills also were set 3 1/2' to 4' apart. Early mechanical planters also were made to drop 3 seeds set 3 1/2" apart to duplicate the familiar hill planting method. It wasn't until the late 1800's before we started to see individual seeds planted in rows while hill planting continued on many farms well into the 1900's. Many small farms could not afford a mechanical planter and continued to hand plant corn seed into he 1900's. While planting individual seeds in 3 1/2' wide rows by hand in a prepared field, one person could complete four acres in a day. At this time farms were using horse drawn equipment. Walking behind a two horse team, a farmer could plow 1 3/4 acres a day. The later developed sulky plow, on which the plowman rode, made work easier and gave him more control. A sulky plow pulled by four horses could plow more than 2 1/2 acres a day. When tractors became more and more common on farms, the amount of corn production acreage greatly increased. Farming methods kept evolving and production increased. The biggest factors holding back corn yields in early varieties was the lack of knowledge of proper fertilization and soil management and poor quality seed (not well dried, freeze damage, not well selected, inbred stock) resulting in poor stands and yields lower than the genetic potential of these varieties. Corn is a heavy feeder and will deplete soils in a single season. Early farmers also removed the corn stalks from the fields for cattle feed, thus removing even more nutrients and organic material. From the 1890's thru the 1940's, corn production was pretty steady and yields were averaging 50 bushels of ear corn per acre (about 40 bushels of shelled corn) although yields of over 100 bushels of ear corn were recorded in the 1800's. High yields early on were the result of ideal growing conditions, fresh soils, good seed and weed control. With the introduction of hybrid corns in the 1940's (experiments of hybrids go back to before 1900), some yields did improve by 2 to 5 bushels per acre. Corn, being an out-crossing variety, does benefit from hybridization which increases vigor. Unfortunately, hybrid corns also contain less protein than open pollinated corns and replanting kept hybrid seed will not reproduce the same product as genetics re-segregate in following generations. By 1950, all open pollinated corn development had stopped and all efforts went into hybrid development. With proper modern corn production and seed development, modern farmers could develop new or improve old corn varieties to the point of yields approaching 150 bushels per acre. It shocks me to see various universities and seed companies publish open pollinated corn trials and showing how these varieties only produce 40 to 60 bushels per acre when my own test show much greater production. Unfortunately, modern farmers do not have the knowledge or skills to work with or improve open pollinated varieties. Small dedicated farms, like ours, try to preserve as many open pollinated corn varieties as possible and this limits our ability to improve these. We do select prime ears on each variety to plant in the future but many varieties only get planted once every 3 to 5 years. If seed companies would have spent more time in the development and improvement of open pollinated corns, and working with the wide variety of genetics already present in corn, we would see much greater yields with open pollinated corns today. But...there isn't money to be made in improving and marketing a corn variety that the farmer can save seed on from year to year... now is there?
Planting tips for open pollinated corn: Most open pollinated corn varieties can not withstand high planting populations, most were not bred for this. Before you start, do yourself a favor and have a soil test done. Without proper nutrition, you will have stalk strength or rooting issues. Open pollinated corns do best in rows set 32" to 36" wide using the wider setting for bigger varieties. Planting density should never exceed 18,000 plants per acre unless you have long term goals in developing this trait. Plant 1 seed per 12" in 36" wide rows results in 14,500 per acre. One seed per 12" in 32" wide rows results in about 16,500 plants per acre. One seed per 12" in 30" wide rows results in 17,400 plants per acre. If you undershoot your fertilizer or crowd these varieties too much, you will have some barren stalks, that is stalks with no ears. Excessive dry conditions will also lead to barren stalks. In Southern Ohio, I recommend planting early May and I try to get our primary corn crop planted by May 10 each year. With the right soil conditions, planting can go as early as April 20. Most open pollinated corn will tassel about 65 days after planting.
Historical Corn Varieties Developed in Ohio: Leaming Yellow Dent: Leaming corn was developed by J. S. Leaming of Clinton County Ohio dating to 1856. The original seed stock was purchased the year before in Hamilton County. Mr. Leaming continuously selected for medium height stalk with broad leaves and with the ear hanging on a thick shank. The distinguishing characteristics about this variety is the tapered ears with dark yellow kernels. Ear length average 9" long with 16 to 22 rows of kernels. The butts are large and tips are pointed and usually well covered. Cobs are large at the base with a heavy taper, red in color with dark yellow kernels that average 1/2" long having a dimple type dent. Mr. Leaming chose a tapered ear as he believed that was an indicator of early maturity and dry down. Mr. Leaming pioneered the method of planting individual seeds at a spacing of 12" apart in rows thus allowing each plant better opportunity to develop. While cultivating, which was done by hand, weak and poor plants were removed from the field before they could contribute any pollen to the population. With careful corn breeding, planting in rows and heavy hand cultivation, Mr. Leaming was able to attain 100 bushels of corn ears per acre. This translates to over 80 bushels per acre of shelled corn, a remarkable yield in the late 1800's. In 2011, we grew a test plot of Leaming Yellow Dent. Our plot was set at 32" wide rows and spacing in the row at 12" that resulted in a population close to 16,500 plants per acre. Plants averaged a little over 7' tall with strong stalks and ear placement was just over waist high. The 2011 summer was quite dry and hot and we were amazed at the quality of ears and the yields we got. Although the kernels were slightly smaller than normal due to the dry and hot summer conditions, we averaged 100 bushels an acre of shelled corn. With a good weed control, fertilization program and selective breeding, these yields would quickly rise. Inbred lines of Leaming are still used by various research facilities for hybrid development. At one time, Leaming was also known as Clinton Corn as it was developed in Clinton County. Clarage: Clarage corn was developed by Edmund Clarridge in the early 1800's. Edmond moved to the northwest corner of Fayette county about 1813 when he was 24 years old and died in 1867. The original corn seed stock Edmund collected came from a neighboring farm. Priority characteristic for Edmund was early ripening of the ears. In order to get early ears, he chose his seed ears from the stalk, selecting the ears that ripened first. Edmund preferred ears with dark yellow kernels having a honey colored cap. Edmund's sons continued to breed the corn variety their father had developed. Edmund's son-in-law, A. B. Core who lived in Madison county, started to work with Edmund's strain in about 1855. Ears of Clarage corn have a slight taper and average 8" to 9" long with 14 to 18 rows of kernels that are 9/16" long having a crinkle dent. Cobs are red and have a small shank. Edmund chose flinty grain believing that this type of kernel had a higher feeding value to the softer starchy type kernels. Clarage was once widely grown in Ohio and was the standard variety grown at the Ohio State Experiment Station in Wooster for many years. Inbred lines of Clarage corn was used extensively in OSU's hybrid development program with great success and is still in use today by various research facilities. Although rare today, there are still various strains of Clarage corns tucked away in freezers. Several strains of Clarage that were developed include: Wooster Clarage, Eichelburger Clarage, Late Clarage, Sandy Lewis Clarage. There was also a white grained version of Clarage from Scioto County. Rotten Clarage: Rotten Clarage corn is a yellow and blue mixed colored dent corn that once was quite popular in Highland, Brown, Ross, Fayette, Madison, Brown and Adams counties. It was highly regarded by cattle farmers for its feeding value and was still being grown in the 1980's. Ears are 8" to 9" long with 14 to 18 rows of kernels having a crinkle dent on red cobs. Other than the blue kernels, it is very similar to Clarage corn in all respects. The earliest records of Rotten Clarage I have seen is 1910 where it was referred to as Spotted Clarage in a Hillsboro newspaper advertisement. Called Rotten Clarage due to the blue kernels looking like a bruise. Rotten Clarage is extremely rare today. We have two strains and have located a third. We have reintroduced this variety and have also supplied seed to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for their catalog. Blue Clarage: Blue Clarage is a solid blue dent corn that was developed out of Rotten Clarage. The earliest records I have seen for Blue Clarage date to 1920 and Blue Clarage was extensively grown in central Ohio in the 1930‘s thru the 1950's. Blue Clarage is readily available today thru various heirloom seed companies though many of these sources have crossed seed not breeding true to the correct historical type. Misinformation also states that Blue Clarage dates to the early 1830's which it does not. Blue Clarage has 8" to 9" ears, solid blue with a smooth dimple dent on red cobs with yellow interior starch. Like Rotten Clarage, Blue Clarage was highly reguarded among cattle and poultry farmers, specially in central Ohio. Woodburn’s White Dent: Woodburn White Dent was developed by Ohio farmer J. M. Van Meter, three miles south of Piketon, Pike County Ohio in the mid 1800's. Once widely grown in Pike County in the bottom lands along the Scioto River. Ears were 7" to 9" long with 18 to 22 rows of white kernels that were 1/2" long. The U.S.D.A. did considerable work with Woodburn's White under the name U.S.D.A. No. 77. Also known as Pike County White Dent. Once so popular, a picture of a field of Woodburn’s White Dent was featured on the Ohio Agriculture Experiment Station Circular number 117 titled “Varieties of Corn in Ohio”. Unfortunately this variety no longer exists as far as I know. The USDA’s Ars/grin along with OSU’s Wooster research farm no longer have base stock for this variety. This may be related to Scioto County White. Woodburn Yellow Dent: Woodburn Yellow Dent was developed by J. D. Woodburn of Urbana Ohio. Woodburn Yellow Dent was used in quite a bit of corn research here in Ohio but OSU was unsuccessful in developing useful inbred lines. Woodburn Yellow Dent is a typical yellow dent corn, similar to Clarage and was once widely grown in central Ohio. This variety is quite rare today.
Names of other historical dent corn varieties developed in Ohio: Baker’s Early, Darke county, 1850’s, yellow dent Pittsenbarger, Darke county, red and yellow dent Bear Paw, Harrison county, pale yellow dent Red Oak, Putnam and Van Wert counties, red striped dent Red River, Clark, Greene and Madison counties, red striped dent Champion, Van Wert county, yellow dent Darke County Mammoth, light yellow dent Devolld, Noble county, 1845, red striped dent Poling’s Yellow Dent, Darke county Hansberger’s Golden Dent, Darke county Golden Surprise, Perry County, 1890, yellow and amber mixed color dent Pebble Hackberry, Pike county, white dent McGinnis, Hardin, Logan and Van Wert counties, light yellow w/ white cap dent Medina Pride, Medina county, 1885, light yellow dent Shroll’s Yellow Dent, Hardin county, 1898 Tawney’s Yellow Dent, Wayne county, 1830’s Cuppy, Jefferson county, 1840, yellow with white cap dent Scioto County White a.k.a. Foster’s White, Scioto county Sandy Lewis White, Scioto county Bloody Butcher Calico, red striped dent corn, also known as Ohio Calico Composite and Synthetic Populations: There has been some modern open pollinated corn development, mostly by Universities developing "composite and synthetic populations". These composite (intermated cultivars) and synthetic (intermated inbreds) populations are a combination of several open pollinated strains involving hybridization then selecting among F1 progenies and following generations to produce an improved open-pollinated strain. Most of these composite and synthetic populations are not readily available to the public as they are used in the development of hybrid seed corn. Basically...these modern composite and synthetic corn populations are no different than what corn breeders did over 100 years ago but with the benefit of wider genetics that are readily available. An example of an old synthetic population still in use today is BSSS also called "Iowa Stiff Stalk". This is a combination of 6 strains of Reid dent, Clarage, Leaming, Krug (Reid), Funk (Reid), HY (Reid) and Iodent (Reid).