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Book of the Week: The Harold Willis Collection

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature is the Harold Willis Collection,  by Dr. Harold Willis. This special offer is a combination of four individual books: Foundations of Natural Farming, How to Grow Great Alfalfa, How to Grow Super Soybeans, and How to Grow Top Quality Corn. Below are brief excerpts from each title.

Foundations of Natural Farming

Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7-10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

Besides that, most once-fertile soil is now polluted by toxic substances, along with the groundwater and our wells. We are literally fouling our own nest, destroying the hand (or land) that feeds us! We had better understand more about this important, but neglected and abused part of the food chain.

How to Grow Super Soybeans

To achieve a desired soybean plant population, you need to calculate the number of seeds required. Some seeds will not germinate, and some that germinate will not become established because of weather, pests or disease. Generally, if the seedbed and planter are good, about 90 to 95% of germinated seedlings will become established. To figure planting rate, use this formula:

Formula for planting density

You need to plant 7.9 seeds per foot of row to get six plants per foot. Since soybean seed is usually sold by weight rather than by number of seeds, you need to know the number of seeds per pound to figure pounds needed per acre. If the seed dealer cannot give you number of seeds per pound, weigh a few one-ounce samples on a postage scale to get an average figure.

The number of linear feet of row per acre can be found from the accompany­ing table. Then figure the pounds of seed needed per acre:

Formula for planting density

Calibrate your planter accordingly and check seed drop in the field regularly.

How to Grow Great Alfalfa

Alfalfa Planting Depth

Optimal seeding depth for legumes and grasses is less than one inch. In fine-textured and moist soils, seeds should be planted closer to the surface, from 1/2 to 1/4 inch. In summer or drier pe­riods or in sandy soils, deeper planting (¾ to 1 inch) is recommended.

Seeding Rate for Alfalfa

There are several factors to consider regarding seed­ing rates:

1. Moisture. If the soil will not have much moisture later in the year (especially sandy soils), lower seeding rates will reduce competition for moisture among the seedlings. Adequate humus will increase available soil moisture.

2. Soil conditions. Low soil fertility or acid soils will require higher seeding rates to insure that enough seedlings survive. Proper fertilization and adequate humus will overcome these problems.

3. Species and variety. Different grasses and legumes and their varieties differ in their germination rate, number of seeds per pound, and growth-form (some spread out in growth more than others). Some useful information is provided in the following table, from Iowa State University:

Forage seed characteristics

University of Wisconsin recommendations for alfalfa seeding rates are 10 – 12 pounds of live, pure seed per acre for pure stands, 15 pounds per acre if quackgrass may be a problem, and 16 – 18 pounds per acre if you wish to harvest in the year of seeding.

How to Grow Top Quality Corn

It is very important to choose seed that is suited to your climate and soil, and for a desired maturation time. If you are growing corn for silage, choose a longer maturation time than if you want grain, since silage is harvested at an earlier stage of maturation. Another thing to remember is that 120-day corn, for example, may not mature in exactly 120 days. Growth can be slowed by unfavo­rable weather (too cold or too hot, drought, flooding) or nutrient deficiency, and it can be speeded up by optimal weather and soil nutrition, sometimes by as much as ten days to two weeks. A more exact way of measuring time to maturity is growing degree days (GDD). Growing degree days are calculated for each 24-hour day and added throughout the season.

The formula to use is:

Formula for determining corn varieties

If you don’t have a minimum-maximum thermometer, you can use figures from the nearest weather station. If the temperature goes below 50°F, substitute 50° for the minimum temperature, and if it goes above 86°F, substitute 86° for the maximum.

About the Author:

Dr. Harold Willis was born and raised in Kansas, eventually going on to earn B.A. and Ph.D degrees in Biology and Entomology. Dr. Willis taught in Wisconsin at the university level for 15 years before entering the field of agricultural consulting and then writing. He is now retired.