Which Way Will It Grow

| 3/9/2015 3:35:00 PM

Larry ScheckelI was a curious lad growing up on the Crawford County, Wisconsin, farm a few miles outside of Seneca. My eight siblings and I did not have access to television and libraries. Books, magazines, and newspapers were scarce in the 1940s and 1950s.

That did not stop me from wondering about a lot of stuff that went on around the farm and countryside, about cattle, crops, the heavens, rivers, trees, and how machinery worked.

So, let me tell you about something that was a big mystery to me. A seed is put in the ground. How does it know which direction to grow when it is several inches down into dark soil? I was so intrigued by this question, I just had to do some kind of experiment. I took an old coffee can, filled it with dirt, and planted some corn seeds in it. I was 10 years old.

Dad bought DEKALB seed corn from Johnson’s One Stop Shopping Center in Seneca. Their motto was “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. I knew I could find a few seed kernels in the John Deere 999 planter stored in the machine shed, a wing of the granary. It was two-row planter and had twin 5-gallon cylindrical canisters that held the seed corn.

I planted six kernels about an inch under the dirt. I placed two seeds pointing down, two seeds pointing sideways, and two seeds pointing up. I stuck little markers in the coffee can container to mark which seeds were pointing in which direction. I placed the coffee can outside by the sun-filled back porch, and watered the seeds every day.

I waited and wondered. Can sunlight get down 2 or 3 inches into the soil to reach the seeds? That didn’t seem likely. Was it heat, where “up” is warmer and “down” is cooler? I wasn’t convinced. Could it be the Earth’s rotation that made those corn seeds sprout and move upward. What about gravity? Well, if gravity makes things fall down, then shouldn’t seeds germinate and go downward instead of upward?

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