Growing Tobacco

As I told you in an earlier post, Sharpe and the surrounding area was close knit where everyone knew their neighbors and looked out for one another.  Most folks were farmers and grew tobacco, corn and/or soy beans.  Families grew enough crops to feed an army, but this was done so food could be shared among families and friends.  Also, the ladies would have enough vegetables to freeze and can for the winter months. Tobacco was one of the biggest crops that was grown in our area and most all the farmers had tobacco fields.  Each farmer helped the other when it came time to plant, sucker and cut tobacco.

Uncle Franklin had a huge tobacco crop every year as did his neighbors.  To begin with, he would build a tobacco plant bed early in the spring.  He would clean off a spot about 12 feet wide and probably 36 feet long and plow it up.  He then surrounded it with some sort of wood, planted the tobacco seeds in the ground and covered the whole thing with cheese cloth. After the plants matured and the weather warmed, the cheese cloth was removed from the beds.  The mature plants were then transplanted to the tobacco field, usually by hand.

As the tobacco was growing, the grass and weeds were also growing.  So, the tobacco patch had to be hoed nearly every day. The plants also had to be suckered. Suckering was the removal of sprouts at each junction of leaf and stalk. This was done while watching for black widow spiders and snakes that might be resting under a leaf. The tobacco worms also had to be removed from the plants.  Usually, the boys of the family helped with suckering and worm removal and it’s a good thing because I’m here to tell you that I wouldn’t have touched one of those worms for all the money in the world.

When it was time to cut, or harvest tobacco, farm wagons would be stationed under trees in the front or back yard of the host family and the neighborhood ladies would cook a big meal for the men who were working the field.  Cut plants or pulled leaves were transferred to tobacco barns where they would be fire-cured. Fire-cured tobacco is hung in large barns where fires of hardwoods are kept on continuous or intermittent low smolder and takes between three days and ten weeks, depending on the process and the tobacco.  And there’s nothing that smells any better than tobacco being cured.  After tobacco is cured, it is moved from the curing barn into a storage area for processing.  Once the tobacco is processed, it is taken to the market to be sold.

Today, everything is done with machines and pesticides; I’m not sure how much tobacco is even grown nowadays.  But back then, it was just a part of growing up in the country.

See ya next Wednesday.