A Corn Jabber

hand planter
Wood and metal hand corn planter. MCHS object 1988-130-0001.

Early American settlers learned to plant corn in checkrows from indigenous peoples. The process began by breaking up the soil with a hoe. Then a pair of farmers would commence with the planting. The first dug a hole with a dibble. The second dropped four seeds into the hole and then covered them with a little hill of soil. The team spaced the little hills about a yard apart in two perpendicular directions. This created a checkerboard pattern called a checkrow.

It took about a day to plant an acre of corn with the original method. A tool like the one shown above — known as a bill pick or corn jabber — could cut the time in half. A tube connects the seed can to the pointed end. To plant your corn, you first jab the point into the soil. Then you push forward, using the wooden handle at the top. The brace in the front hits the ground surface and the spring opens the birdlike “bill” at the point, releasing the seed.

hand planter illustration
Illustration of a farmer using an 1876 hand planter from The Growth of Industrial Art.