Thursday, November 5, 2020

Something About Tying Corn Shocks


The kernel of truth at last

Fall is upon those of us reading in the Northern Hemisphere and with it comes a number of seasonal traditions. Some of those are mentioned in the Bellairs Corpus including one we’ve been asked about in the past. It was something Jonathan Barnavelt was doing while Lewis was snooping around his uncle’s library. Tying up corn shocks. Yes, it’s a thing, and the end results are mostly seen as decorations today. Bob’s Market and Greenhouse explains why it was an important task to past generations:
Until the invention of modern harvesting equipment and new breeds, corn was one of the most labor intensive crops to grow, but its high nutritional value for livestock made it well worth the effort. However, northern areas of the US faced a climate problem when it came to growing corn. It wouldn’t normally be dry in time to plant a winter cover crop, like winter wheat, if it was left standing. Also, an early winter could make fields too muddy to work in. Shocking corn allowed the stalks to dry while also freeing up the space in between the shocks for a cover crop.

Farmers had to chop down stalks one at a time and stack them in shocks to dry. Early shocks were created by weaving smaller stalks into the shock and also tying leaves together to help give it structure. After the shocks had dried, they were loaded onto a wagon to be hauled to the barn for processing. Then they were shucked by hand. The fodder was then cut into small pieces and stored to feed livestock, and the ears were moved to a corn crib for further drying.

As machines were invented, the time needed to harvest the corn lessened. However, these early machines just bundled the corn into shocks. Shucking the ears and cutting the shocks into silage was still mostly done by hand. Today, of course, pretty much the whole process has been automated.

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