Checkrow Planting

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by Roger Bloboum

The check-row planter, an implement widely used on Corn Belt farms for more than 60 years, made possible the kind of mechanical weed control that many small farmers want.

The check-row planters, which disappeared along with work horses on most farms in the 1990s and 1940s, dropped seed corn in hills spaced about 30 inches apart each way. Their main limitation was that they could not be used on fields that were contoured or laid out in other ways that did not provide straight rows.

This checkerboard pattern made it possible to cultivate fields both ways, giving excellent results. This kind of cultivation threw dirt up around all sides of the corn hills and took out the weeds, both in and between the row». It provided much better weed control than modern implements, which are unable to reach weeds between the plants in drilled rows.

The precise planting pattern was made possible by wire buttons spaced usually 40 or 42 inches apart on a check wire anchored with a stake at each end of the field. The stake had to be moved over by hand each time the planter came to the end of the row. The check wire passed through the planter as it moved across the field. The buttons tripped the plates in the seed corn boxes, dropping bunches of kernels in uniformly spaced hills.

Cultivators in that period had shanks that were guided by the farmer's feet. The shanks made it possible to guide the shovels around any hills that ended up slightly out of line in the checkerboard pattern. This arrangement was much more flexible than cultivators mounted on the tractors that were replacing horses on most farms.

The careful two-way cultivation made possible by check-row planting became less important when farmers began applying chemical weed killers. Fast-moving tractors and equipment that planted four or six rows at a time also helped bring about the switch to planters that drilled corn in rows and mounted cultivators that moved across these fields at much higher speeds.

Hie introduction of four-row check planters caused some problems. Scientists at Iowa State College in the early 1930s solved one of them—the tendency of these planters to pull check wires

The Check-Row Technique:

cheek wire with buttons marked guide for next roxi'

xxxxxxxxxxx pointings


After planting two or three rounds, stop and dig up about eight crass-rows to see if cross check'it good:

If cross check is not accurate, adjust checkheads as necessary to correct cross check.

Turning at Ends of Field

Putt trip rape about nine buttons from 'he end. This will automatically release wire about seven button! from the end.

Turn planter in position for planting the next two rows, stopping squarely over mark.

Move anchor stake behind runner on wire side. Set tension the same each time wire is moved,

Drive forward, keeping tractor straight over mark.

The Check-Row Technique:

Six Row Seeder

Parts of a check-row planter: 1) lever (arm); 2) seed hopper; 3) power lift control; ■I) checkhead; 5) automatic release; 6) power lift c'.ittch. Ron Krupicku out of line at the ends of the rows. A report presented in Chicago in 1933 described the development of the new pay out planter stake and concluded that it would eliminate this problem.

Although tractor-mounted planters were available, the Iowa State experiments utilized a pulltype planter so a tractor-mounted cultivator could be used at the same time. This made it possible to cultivate the seedbed just ahead of the check-row planter, giving the corn a better chance to get a jump on the weeds.

"We are so well pleased with the results of this combination that we feel justified in suggesting the desirability of designing planters so that this combination can be made by the user," the Iowa State report declared.

"It can be accomplished either by using a pull-type planter or by mounting the planter on the rear of the tractor in such a way that it will not interfere with the cultivator mounting."

Another report prepared by a Deere fc Co. manager in 1941 described a higft-speed check-row planter that was adapted to tractor power. The new design permitted the planter to push the corn kernels out of the seed box instead of using a mechanism that kicked or batted them out. It was seen as an important development in the transition from horses to tractors.

"This development, which has made it possible to speed up greatly the operation of planting corn, is an engineering achievement of much significance," the report said. "It is of inestimable value to the farmer in enabling him to plant his corn under more favorable weather and soil conditions."

The check-row method also was used to plant cotton, allowing cross-cultivation and eliminating the need for much of the labor-intensive hand hoeing and thinning that had been commonplace in the South for a century or more.

"Hill planting, cross harrowing, and checkered tillage practically eliminate the hoe as a weapon for killing grass and weeds and render hand thinning unnecessary, except in an occasional hill where the plants are too numerous," a 1929 report from the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station pointed out.

"The release of much hand labor from the acreage of cotton customarily cultivated will afford more time to till an increased area."

We haven't seen check-row equipment around for over 40 years, but this equipment is certainly something anyone farming with horses should investigate. For the organic farmer, check-row planting

is one way to completely devastate a population of weeds without the use of herbicides. Granted, fields cannot be as densely planted, but there is growing controversy over the importance of high-density planting, and with sparse plantings, there is more room for interplanting other crops like pumpkin and squash between the plants.

Back in the early 1930s, results reported in Agricultural Engineering * showed that production yields of cotton could be kept up by planting in the check-row fashion with more densely planted hills rather than distributing seed throughout the row with a drill, even with fewer plants per hill. Fueling the controversy is the escalating price of seed grains. Here are some sound arguments for check-row planting that were set forth in the article:

1. On bottom land, or on other lands of a high degree of fertility, cotton seems tó produce as well when the plants are grouped in hills arranged for cross-cultivation as when the plants are distributed in rows.

2- Thickness of planting in hills appears to accomplish the same result in stimulating earliness as has been shown for close spacing in the drill.

3. No exact number of plants to the hills seems necessary. According to results, the number can range from two to six plants per hill or around 10,000 to 25,000 an acre. However, since the production was lowered less with 15 plants to the hill than with one plant to the hill, the stand maintained should be nearer the upper limits of thé range of highest yields rather than toward the lower side of this range.

4. Hand thinning is unnecessary.

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