Oh my aching back – Tobacco farming Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted an article about harvesting tobacco. I was reminded of a few other aspects of raising a crop of tobacco that I will discuss in today’s post.

Sewing plantbeds – Seeds were initially sewn in a small section of land called the plantbed. The land would be gassed to kill weeds and then the seeds would be planted in the bed and covered with straw. There the plants would grow until they were around 10″ long.

Setting and Pegging- Once the plants were big enough they would be transplanted into the fields to mature. This used to be done by hand. By the time I came along we had mechanical setters that were pulled behind a tractor. Two people would have a box of plants that they alternated putting into a groove where a set of rotating fingers would grasp the plant and set it into the ground. You had to pay attention to keep up with the person driving the tractor, who set the pace for the speed of the setter. Some spots would be missed or a plant may not be set properly. This would require another to either follow the setter or go back later to peg a hole to plant any spots that were missed.

Plowing and Hoeing – As with any most field crops, the tobacco would need to be plowed a few times to keep the weeds out and maintain the soil around the plant. Unfortunately you can get only so close with a tractor and plow. Walking through a tobacco field with a hoe in your hand made for a long day. If you were lucky there would not be a need for alot of hoeing but there would always some grass and weeds to chop out. The worst weed we had to deal with were “horse nettles”. These were always sticky and had extremely long roots. You definitely wanted them removed so you did not have to grab hold of one when harvesting the crop. As the plant got bigger you would also need to put a little dirt up around the plant around the plant to give it m0re stability and nutrition from the soil. The only other task you might need to with a hoe would be to uncover any plants the person plowing with the tractor might get to close to. Daddy was pretty good on the tractor so this was never a major problem.

Topping and Suckering – Once the plant go so big it would bloom out in the top. This bloom would be broken out to limit the amount of leaves. This was done the top leaves would grow out and be larger. Hopefully this could be done before the bloom got too big, otherewise it would get very tough and you would have to cut it out with a knife instead of breaking it off with your hand. When topping the plant you would usually apply a chemical with a high tech device(dishwasher bottle) to keep additional stems called suckers from growing out. These would hinder the growth of the main plant. For those that do not know tobacco was sold to companies by weight as well as quality. Sometimes weather conditions would lead to suckers forming despite preventative treatment. Normally one would form at the base of every leaf. Not only did they reduce weight but also hindered harvesting of the main leaves. If allowed to grow out too much they also would have to be cut to remove them from the plant. This was probably the least desired job dealing with the tobacco crop. I am getting tired just thinking about it.

The last thing I would like to mention concerning tobacco farming are 2 things associated with the plant; tobacco worms and tobacco gum. Tobacco worms were green in color very similar too the tobacco plant. I will not go into great detail about them other most people had no trouble killing them if they found one. The tobacco gum I am referring to is not a smoking prevention aid. On the surface of the tobacco leaf is a sticky resin referred to as tobacco gum. It would get all over your hands when harvesting and putting the tobacco in the barn to cure, especially if it was dry. most of the time you would peel it off of your hands when had a break. As a kid I would roll it into a little ball and save it throughout the season to see how big a ball I could make. I guess kids used to have different ways to amuse themselves.

Well, I think that ends my thoughts on what it used to be like to raise tobacco. I hope this gives readers who never experienced it a better understanding of the hard work that tobacco farming was. Take care and have a nice day.

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