The tobacco plant connects Indian agriculture with our own. It has
always been a source of great profit to our people. In the early
colonial days tobacco was almost the only money crop. Many rich men came
to America in those days merely to raise tobacco.
Although tobacco will grow in almost any climate, the leaves, which, as
most of you know, are the salable part of the plant, get their desirable
or undesirable qualities very largely from the soil and from the climate
in which they grow.
The soil in which tobacco thrives best is one which has the following
qualities: dryness, warmth, richness, depth, and sandiness.
Commercial fertilizers also are almost a necessity; for, as tobacco land
is limited in area, the same land must be often planted in tobacco.
Hence even a fresh, rich soil that did not at first require fertilizing
soon becomes exhausted, and, after the land has been robbed of its plant
food by crop after crop of tobacco, frequent application of fertilizers
and other manures becomes necessary. However, even tobacco growers
should rotate their crops as much as possible.
Deep plowing--from nine to thirteen inches--is also a necessity in
preparing the land, for tobacco roots go deep into the soil. After this
deep plowing, harrow until the soil is thoroughly pulverized and is as
fine and mellow as that of the flower-garden.
Unlike most other farm crops the tobacco plant must be started first in
a seed-bed. To prepare a tobacco bed the almost universal custom has
been to proceed as follows. Carefully select a protected spot. Over this
spot pile brushwood and then burn it. The soil will be left dry, and all
the weed seeds will be killed. The bed is then carefully raked and
smoothed and planted. Some farmers are now preparing their beds without
burning. A tablespoonful of seed will sow a patch twenty-five feet
square. A cheap cloth cover is put over the bed. If the seeds come up
well, a patch of this size ought to furnish transplants for five or six
acres. In sowing, it is not wise to cover the seed deeply. A light
raking in or an even rolling of the ground is all that is needed.
The time required for sprouting is from two to three weeks. The plants
ought to be ready for transplanting in from four to six weeks. Weeds
and grass should of course be kept out of the seed-bed.
The plants, when ready, are transplanted in very much the same way as
cabbages and tomatoes. The transplanting was formerly done by hand, but
an effective machine is now widely used. The rows should be from three
to three and a half feet apart, and the plants in the rows about two or
three feet apart. If the plants are set so that the plow and cultivator
can be run with the rows and also across the rows, they can be more
economically worked. Tobacco, like corn, requires shallow cultivation.
Of course the plants should be worked often enough to give clean culture
and to provide a soil mulch for saving moisture.
In tobacco culture it is necessary to pinch off the "buttons" and to cut
off the tops of the main stalk, else much nourishment that should go to
the leaves will be given to the seeds. The suckers must also be cut off
for the same reason.
The proper time for harvesting is not easily fixed; one becomes skillful
in this work only through experience in the field. Briefly, we may say
that tobacco is ready to be cut when the leaves on being held up to the
sun show a light or golden color, when they are sticky to the touch, and
when they break easily on being bent. Plants that are overripe are
inferior to those that are cut early.
The operations included in cutting, housing, drying, shipping, sweating,
and packing require skill and practice.