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Sugar Plants

Categories: FARM CROPS

In the United States there are three sources from which sugar is

obtained; namely, the sugar-maple, the sugar-beet, and the sugar-cane.

In the early days of our country considerable quantities of maple sirup

and maple sugar were made. This was the first source of sugar. Then

sugar-cane began to be grown. Later the sugar-beet was introduced.

=Maple Products.= In many states sirup and sugar are still made from

/> maple sap. In the spring when the sap is flowing freely maple trees are

tapped and spouts are inserted. Through these spouts the sap flows into

vessels set to catch it. The sap is boiled in evaporating-pans, and made

into either sirup or sugar. Four gallons of sap yield about one pound of

sugar. A single tree yields from two to six pounds of sugar in a season.

The sap cannot be kept long after it is collected. Practice and skill

are needed to produce an attractive and palatable grade of sirup or of


=Sugar-Beets.= The sugar-beet is a comparatively new root crop in

America. The amount of sugar that can be obtained from beets varies from

twelve to twenty per cent. The richness in sugar depends somewhat on the

variety grown and on the soil and the climate.

So far most of our sugar-beet seeds have been brought over from Europe.

Some of our planters are now, however, gaining the skill and the

knowledge needed to grow these seeds. It is of course important to grow

seeds that will produce beets containing much sugar.

These beets do well in a great variety of soils if the land is rich,

well prepared, and well drained, and has a porous subsoil.

Beets cannot grow to a large size in hard land. Hence deep plowing is

very necessary for this crop. The soil should be loose enough for the

whole body of the beet to remain underground. Some growers prefer spring

plowing and some fall plowing, but all agree that the land should not be

turned less than eight or ten inches. The subsoil, however, should not

be turned up too much at the first deep plowing.

Too much care cannot be taken to make the seed-bed firm and mellow and

to have it free from clods. If the soil is dry at planting-time and

there is likelihood of high winds, the seed-bed may be rolled with

profit. Experienced growers use from ten to twelve pounds of seeds to an

acre. It is better to use too many rather than too few seeds, for it is

easy to thin out the plants, but rather difficult to transplant them.

The seeds are usually drilled in rows about twenty inches apart. Of

course, if the soil is rather warm and moist at planting-time, fewer

seeds will be needed than when germination is likely to be slow.

A good rotation should always be planned for this beet. A very

successful one is as follows: for the first year, corn heavily

fertilized with stable manure; for the second year, sugar-beets; for the

third year, oats or barley; for the fourth year, clover; then go back

again to corn. In addition to keeping the soil fertile, there are two

gains from this rotation: first, the clean cultivation of the corn crop

just ahead of the beets destroys many of the weed seeds; second, the

beets must be protected from too much nitrogen in the soil, for an

excess of nitrogen makes a beet too large to be rich in sugar. The

manure, heavily applied to the corn, will leave enough nitrogen and

other plant food in the soil to make a good crop of beets and avoid any

danger of an excess.

When the outside leaves of the beet take on a yellow tinge and drop to

the ground, the beets are ripe. The mature beets are richer in sugar

than the immature, therefore they should not be harvested too soon. They

may remain in the ground without injury for some time after they are

ripe. Cold weather does not injure the roots unless it is accompanied by

freezing and thawing.

The beets are harvested by sugar-beet pullers or by hand. If the roots

are to be gathered by hand they are usually loosened by plowing on each

side of them. If the roots are stored they should be put in long, narrow

piles and covered with straw and earth to protect them from frost. A

ventilator placed at the top of the pile will enable the heat and

moisture to escape. If the beets get too warm they will ferment and some

of their sugar will be lost.

=Sugar-Cane.= Sugar-cane is grown along the Gulf of Mexico and the South

Atlantic coast. In Mississippi, in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South

Carolina, northern Louisiana, and in northern Texas it is generally made

into sirup. In southern Louisiana and southern Texas the cane is usually

crushed for sugar or for molasses.

_A-B_, joints of cane showing roots; _B-C_, stem; _C-D_, leaves]

The sugar-cane is a huge grass. The stalk, which is round, is from one

to two inches in thickness.

The stalks vary in color. Some are white, some yellow, some green, some

red, some purple, and some black, while others are a mixture of two or

three of these colors. As shown in Fig. 214 the stalk has joints at

distances of from two to six inches. These joints are called nodes, and

the sections between the nodes are known as internodes. The internodes

ripen from the roots upward, and as each ripens it casts its leaves. The

stalk, when ready for harvesting, has only a few leaves on the top.

_A_, buds, or eyes; _C_, nodes; _D_, internodes; _X_, semi-transparent

dots in rows]

Under each leaf and on alternate sides of the cane a bud, or "eye,"

forms. From this eye the cane is usually propagated; for, while in

tropical countries the cane forms seeds, yet these seeds are rarely

fertile. When the cane is ripe it is stripped of leaves, topped, and cut

at the ground with a knife. The sugar is contained in solution in the

pith of the cane.

Cane requires an enormous amount of water for its best growth, and where

the rainfall is not great enough, the plants are irrigated. It requires

from seventy-five to one hundred gallons of water to make a pound of

sugar. Cane does best where there is a rainfall of two inches a week. At

the same time a well-drained soil is necessary to make vigorous canes.

The soils suited to this plant are those which contain large amounts of

fertilizing material and which can hold much water. In southern

Louisiana alluvial loams and loamy clay soils are cultivated. In

Georgia, Alabama, and Florida light, sandy soils, when properly

fertilized and worked, make good crops.

Cane is usually planted in rows from five to six feet apart. A trench is

opened in the center of the row with a plow and in this open furrow is

placed a continuous line of stalks which are carefully covered with

plow, cultivator, or hoe. From one to three continuous lines of stalks

are placed in the furrow. From two to six tons of seed cane are needed

for an acre. In favorable weather the cane soon sprouts and cultivation

begins. Cane should be cultivated at short intervals until the plants

are large enough to shade the soil. In Louisiana one planting of cane

usually gives two crops. The first is called plant cane; the second is

known as first-year stubble, or ratoon. Sometimes second-year stubble is


In Louisiana large quantities of tankage, cotton-seed meal, and acid

phosphate are used to fertilize cane-fields. Each country has its own

time for planting and harvesting. In Louisiana, for example, canes are

planted from October to April. In the United States cane is harvested

each year because of frost, but in tropical countries the stalks are

permitted to grow from fifteen to twenty-four months.

On many farms a small mill, the rollers of which are turned by horses,

is used for crushing the juice out of the cane. The juice is then

evaporated in a kettle or pan. This equipment is very cheap and can

easily be operated by a small family. While these mills rarely extract

more than one half of the juice in the cane, the sirup made by them is

very palatable and usually commands a good price. Costly machinery which

saves most of the juice is used in the large commercial sugar houses.