Gene Logsdon and Friends

A Wind And Solar Powered Corncrib

In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 24, 2012 at 6:02 am

From GENE LOGSDON

What is being called the world’s first solar-powered flour mill is now in operation at Frankferd Farms in Butler County, Pa. Just think. Hardly a century ago, when local food was just about the only food, the countryside was dotted with water-powered grist mills and now we are headed that way again only with sun power. The farm and mill are organically certified and the business is actually so successful it reaches out to quite a large “local” area. It provides yet one more example of how the decentralization of the farm and food business is progressing toward local food independence.

Progress like this invites different ways of thinking about energy other than what fossil fuel generates. As I was doing my yearly job of cleaning out the corncrib yesterday in preparation for the new crop, I realized that the crib (in the photo above) has something in common with that flour mill. It too uses nature’s energy directly. The sidewalls are slatted to allow for air penetration and tilted outwards from bottom to top so that rain hitting the wall falls down and away from the corn, not into it. The length and height of such a structure can vary, depending on need but the four foot average width is standard and critical. Tradition learned that in a crib that narrow, air can penetrate through the eared corn inside and dry it down to about 13% moisture when it comes from the field already nearly that dry and keep it from molding indefinitely. Heat from the sun coming through the metal roof helps. It dawned on me, thinking of Frankferd Farms, that what I have here is a solar and wind-powered corn dryer as well as a storage bin.  (Note also that the crib is built up off the ground on metal- covered supports to discourage rats, and the crib is encased in chicken wire to discourage squirrels.)

Then I had another eye-opener. The Amish are out cutting corn and setting up their corn shocks as usual this fall, and these structures also are solar- and wind-powered dryers. Erecting a corn shock properly is both art and science. The twine-tied bundles of corn are set up, two bundles against each other, two more on either side of the first two, and then perhaps a dozen more bundles added around the core to form a sort of teepee-shaped structure, the tassel ends of the bundles all together at the top, the butt ends on the ground spread out enough to give the shock stability and a bit of space between the bundles to allow air to flow through. Then the whole is tied tightly with twine towards the top so that rain runs down the outside of the shock. Air can readily move through the bundles as they absorb warmth from the sun. A good shock made with cornstalks each holding an ear that is already dented, will complete the drying process using only free wind and solar power and keep the corn safe from the weather through a winter if need be.

What makes the corn shock even more efficient is that the fodder— the corn leaves and stalks— also dry into good livestock feed with this free wind and solar power. It is possible to feed the stalks and leaves from corn harvested in the modern way, but such fodder has been exposed to the weather so long that it has lost most of its nutritional value. Fodder in the shock is still greenish when it dries, like good hay. I remember years ago a neighbor fattening steers by feeding the bundles from the shocks directly, grain and fodder together and making an excellent, low-cost profit. He didn’t even have to husk the ears because the steers ate them, cob and all, along with the fodder.

I look into my murky crystal ball and see little fields of corn shocks far from Amishland, and little slatted corncribs like mine everywhere. Serving each community will be a solar-powered flour mill.
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  1. This kind of thing bugs me. This is technology. This is impressive passive solar, low carbon engineering. Double-hung sash windows combined with slightly high ceilings are advanced technology. Ram-driven water pumps are advanced technology too. But because all of these are things that people figured out centuries ago, and they don’t use fossil fuels, no one is impressed by them anymore. It’s just so incredibly stupid that we’ve thrown so much of this away.

    Every now and then, when someone whines about how hard winter is, I like to remind them that native Americans lived through the winters here too (in Michigan). People back then weren’t that much tougher than we are – we’re still genetically basically the same. They just didn’t have as many BTUs to waste, so they didn’t waste them. Fast forward to a hundred years ago, and they still didn’t waste so much energy, but they got a lot done because of things like this corn crib, shocking grains, and wind and water-powered mills.

    Looking forward to building our solar powered corn crib, and oast house, next year.

  2. I love my solar/wind clothes dryer. It is so much gentler on fabric, especially elastic, than the electric tumble dryer. And everything smells lovely. One reason we moved from the city was that we couldn’t walk through our neighborhood on Saturdays because of the horrible stinky smell of everyone’s clothes dryers.

  3. I shall refrain from commenting on the solar/wind clothes dryer as I have got into an argument before on that one. Lets just say I’m all for solar/wind drying!

    The corn shocks reminds me of the Latvian hay ricks, which can also stand over the winter. Unfortunately I don’t think the corn shocks would stand as long – once again the wild hogs would make a tasty meal of the lot if they were left out. I think your idea would work better somehow Gene, if I only I could get the cobs to dry on the stalks more that is. Quite a few succumbed to the wet weather we had over here this year, maybe we will do better next year. At least following your advice meant we had our own seed this year and I have set some more to dry in our electric dryers – not so eco-friendly as yours but more than buying in seed

  4. The corn shock was also great for wildlife like rabbits and songbirds to seek shelter in away from the elements and predators and a very cheap handy way to store corn.We used to shuck out what corn we need for a few days feed the fodder to the cows and shell or grind the corn for the chickens and pigs.

  5. Thanks for the photo of your corn crib. I love seeing the art and design from farm to farm.

  6. My grandfather’s corn crib was built into the side of his machine barn. Next to it, separated by a tractor wide path, was a garage. He used to sit on the back porch of the house, shooting at whatever was running between the corn crib and the garage. It was quite a while ago, in the 50s.

    Corn crib is still there, and we still own the farm although its no longer worked. Its waiting for one of us grandkids to retire from the cubicle farm, and work on the dirt farm.

  7. Is chicken wire really a notable discouragement to squirrels? The first corn crib I stored corn in (which was actually on a friend’s farm where I also grew the corn) had been lined with 8 mesh hardware cloth, which I assume is at least as “discouraging” as chicken wire, but the only good it seemed to do was to train the squirrels to enter through the first hole they chewed through it, which in turn at least made it a little easier to trap them. Perhaps there are lower pressure situations where chicken wire might make a difference — my current crib isn’t lined with any kind of wire, and I haven’t had any squirrel trouble in over 4 years of using it despite having plenty of squirrel trouble in my sweet corn, strawberries, mulberries, chewing the insulation off electric wires in outbuildings, etc. — but I’m skeptical of the value of chicken wire for squirrel discouragement in any situation.
    I appreciate the idea of angling the sides of your crib up and out. I think I read about that in your Basic Skills book, but I had forgotten about it. I’ll follow your example and advice the next time I build a corn crib. Thanks for the reminder. I appreciate the thoughts on shocking, too.

    • Eric, It is difficult if not impossible to cover a crib so well that a squirrel can’t find a way to get in. But so far they haven’t chewed through the wire, just found corners and cracks to get around it. But after plugging all such places I could find, they have given up for the time being and let the mice have all the corn. Gene

  8. Gene, is that a self-designed crib or did you work off of some plans? I’l like to build one myself, and the job would be much easier if the plans were already laid out. Only plans I can find online are for cribs of grand dimension and design.

    • Eric. I did not have a plan to work from. Kind of trial and error, hit an miss. My son (who is a builder professionally) says I have to do everything twice: first my way and then the right way. Gene

  9. We dried our hay on tripods this year – it hays from the inside, and the rain just runs off – and ended up with a hay store full of beautiful stuff, despite the wet summer (here in Scotland, anyway).

    • Patrick, Joanna, it is so exciting to get letters from far away, from all over the world and I thank you so much. Joanna I am surprised that you can grow corn at all in Latvia, Patrick, we used to pile hay temporarily in little shocks out in the field when we couldn’t get it in the barn fast enough with rain threatening. My grandfather called them “hay doodles.” Gene

      • Although we are quite far North we often have good summers with lots of sunshine with many more hours of sunshine a day than you probably get Gene. In midsummer it goes dark about 11am and light around 3pm but even then the dark is not all that dark. We warm up the soil first in early May, once the snow has gone and then plant under shelter, that practically guarantees us sweetcorn, but I did plant some unprotected this year and if we hadn’t had such a rubbish summer we would have done okay as they grew well, just not enough sunshine to really encourage the cobs. I do see lots of maize fields though, but I guess if the whole plant is for biogas or feed then it is not quite so important to get the cobs.

  10. Hi Gene, we were flattered to see that you mentioned our farm in your blog. We were pretty proud of our solar flour mill, so we had some t-shirts made and we’d like to send one to you!! Send me your mailing address/shirt size and we can send one off to you. Thanks again!

    • Terra, I am so pleased to make your acquaintanceship and glad to help publicize your good work. You surely don’t need to go to the bother of sending me a T shirt. Your good will is more than enough. Gene

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