Native Americans were the first to grow corn, also known as maize. When European settlers came to America, Native Americans taught them how to cultivate corn for themselves. Today corn is the biggest U.S. crop today and was the most widely planted crop in the 1920s. Corn grows on a mostly hollow stem to be an average of eight feet tall. Plants have long, narrow leaves. The “flower” (or tassel) is a spike with many pollen producing flowerlets. The ear has many kernels (seeds) attached to a hard cob wrapped in thin leaves (husks). Corn is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. In the 1920s, corn was usually picked by hand and could be sold as a cash crop or used as animal feed.
Wheat has been cultivated since prehistoric times. Today, there are many varieties bred to grow in different climate conditions. Wheat grains are tightly enclosed in tiny scale-like leaves and form a head. Depending on the variety, wheat can be planted in the spring for summer harvest or in the fall for harvest in the spring or early summer. The latter is known as “winter wheat.” Most of the wheat planted in Nebraska are winter wheat varieties harvested in the spring or early summer.
Oats are used primarily to feed cattle and horses. Seeds are wrapped in an indigestible hull. Plants can also be cut for hay; the straw (stalk) is good for livestock bedding. Oats are sown in the spring and harvested in mid- to late-summer.
Barley is one of the world’s most ancient cultivated plants and is drought resistant. Barley grain, hay, straw, and byproducts are used for animal feed. Barley is sown in the spring for summer harvest.
Millet is a very small seeded grain that contains more protein than rice and will grow in poor soil. Millet is sown in the spring and has a short growing season.
Milo/sorghum bears seeds on large heads and is drought tolerant. It is used for animal feed and stalks were often used to make brooms.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt.