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Planting seed saved from hybrid corn.

Most people believe you can't plant seed from hybrid corn. That idea is very deeply rooted in most people's minds. In fact, once when I remarked since I'd be planting near the beaver pond I would be picking seed from the crib, one fellow offered to advance me seed money. Didn't know whether to feel honored by his offer or disgusted that a farmer should be so ignorant.

What really gives and what will be the results if one plants "crib run"?

Back in the |30s, when hybrid corn was new, it was bred a lot for ease of hand picking. This trait is no longer important and that's probably why the shucking champions of today do no better than the average farmer of those days.

There were rumors then of old tightwad farmers who would buy one bushel of seed corn each year and from that save seed for the next year. Maybe because mules (hybrids) were believed to be sterile, people believed hybrid corn wouldn't reproduce either. But if that were true, then it would be the generation that one plants and not the next generation.

Hybrid corn is crossing of different lines, not different species of plants. Those "lines" are inbred till they are about "run out" and the forcefully crossed with other "lines", extended to their limits, in the belief it will enhance simple selection. So perhaps in a "skip" generation or so, the evils of inbreeding will show up. Hence the dire reputation of planting one's own seed.

I have planted crib run many times but usually didn't use that corn again for seed. Also, I nearly always would plant two varieties or maturity of hybrids and many times two different brands of seed. Selection is a dominate key, but inbreeding will defeat the gains unless crossed with other strains. The rule is inbreeding or selection for conformity and crossing of lines for vigor.

The old time fire and brimstone preachers used to get pretty worked up over the evils of raising mules and other hybrids. No doubt a lot of that sentiment still lingers today.

But open-pollinated corn won't always breed true, either. Remember the old folklore stories of the pioneers husking bees when, if a young fellow found a red ear, he got to kiss the pretty girl? Some fellows would bring a few red ears with them, or was it the girls who planted a few red ears in the fodder to liven up the party?

We planted milo four years during the 50's. We were able to get an open-pollinated variety which did very well, so saved seed from it for next year. That didn't produce well at all. A few more years and we tried the same deal over again, with the same results.

Could it be the seed company was selling this open-pollinated seed, or parent stock, knowing it would do well for only one more year and then break down or "run out"? What better way to convince one to buy high-priced hybr' seed every year?

I used to plant crib run in the outside rows and boughten seed in the rest of the field. If the same brand of seed, I never could tell much difference. Sometimes there was a difference in stand, as ungraded seed wouldn't plant as even. And I always used the cheap variety of hybrids which probably weren't inbred as long, which may have made a lot of difference.

For most people aiming for big yields and having a big investment in fertilizer, the $20 per acre or more for seed is not a big item. But on marginal land, with poor prices and prospects of an adverse year because of problems with wildlife, livestock, grasshoppers, floods, drought etc., or being just plain hard up, the idea of trying some crib run will seem more attractive. I have talked to a number of farmers who would admit to planting a little to finish up, and no, they couldn't see much difference, but they sure didn't want their landlord to hear about it!

Above is a photo of thirty-seven pounds of high moisture corn picked Sept. 27, 1992, from two rows, one rod long, planted in our garden. This is the fifth generation, or the fourth from boughten seed. This may not have been as isolated the year before. The corn then was nothing to brag about, but I did save a few ears and planted a few kernels from each in 1992. I also had a few which I mixed with sweet corn. That was in our youngest son's garden, and his popcorn and sweet corn did extensive crossing, so guess it was a bad year for that.

Some people would calculate a nice fantastic yield from this test plot, but I have never believed such figures were any thing but grossly misleading, so won't mention that other than it can figure out to be quite impressive.

In 1987 I bought two bushels of Illinois corn for $78 and two bags of Nebraska corn for $132. Seed was picked out of the crib in 1988 and planted, and again from the same 1987 crop in 1989 (year-old corn). In 1990 I started a test plot in the garden from corn grown in 1989. Again in 1991 from 1990 corn and in 1992 from 1991 test corn.

The square seed corn racks in the picture were purchased at a farm sale by my father during the 1930's. Being a boy then I got the "honor" of packing them to the car about a half-mile down a muddy road and shared the back seat with them in the model "A" except when I had to get out to help push. Most of them were used to patch pig pens or cover windows in the chicken house. Only two remain.

This information probably is of little value to most farmers but to the survivalist or scavenger farmer like yours truly, it perhaps will have some merit. Corn seed two years old is usually slower to come up, three year old is questionable, and forget four-year-old. I would seriously test for germination any picker shelled corn.

The biggest mystery to me is how each seed company can claim to have the champion seed and have all sorts of figures to "prove" it. There is a difference in seeds though. Had some oats and also some soybeans that I have never been able to find any seed comparable to them since, regardless of what I paid. Ironically, both were purchased from farmers.

Will I plant out of the crib next year? A good question. After this article I may have to!
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Author:Imel, Clarence
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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