Cultivation of Tobacco - Harvest

Harvest

Tobacco can be harvested in several ways. In the oldest method, the entire plant is harvested at once by cutting off the stalk at the ground with a sickle. In the nineteenth century, bright tobacco began to be harvested by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened. As the plants grow, they usually require topping and suckering. "Topping" is the removal of the tobacco flowers while "suckering" is the pruning out of leaves that are otherwise unproductive. Both procedures ensure that as much of the plant's energy as possible focuses on producing the large leaves that are harvested and sold. "Cropping," "Pulling," and "Priming" are terms for removing mature leaves from tobacco plants. Leaves are cropped as they ripen, from the bottom to the top of the stalk. The first crop of leaves located near the base of the tobacco stalk are called "sand lugs" in more rural southern tobacco states. They are called "sand lugs" because these leaves are close to the ground and get splashed with sand and clay when heavy rains hit the soil. Sand lugs weigh the most, and are most difficult to work with. Their weight is due to their large size and the added weight of soil; slaves lugged each stack to the "stringer" or "looper," typically a female slave, who bundled each stack of leaves. Eventually workers carried the tobacco and placed it on sleds or trailers.

As the industrial revolution approached America, the harvesting wagons that transported leaves were equipped with man powered stringers, an apparatus that used twine to attach leaves to a pole. In modern times large fields are harvested by a single piece of farm equipment, though topping the flower and in some cases the plucking of immature leaves is still done by hand.

Some farmers still use "tobacco harvesters." They are not very efficient yet highly cost effective for harvesting premium and rare strains of tobacco. The harvester trailers for in-demand crops are now pulled by gasoline fueled tractors. "Croppers" or "primers" pull the leaves off in handfuls and pass these to the "stringer" or "looper," which bundles the leaves to a four-sided pole with twine. These poles are hung until the harvester is full. The poles are then placed in a much larger wagon to be pulled by modern farm tractors to their destination. For rare tobaccos they are often cured on the farm. Traditionally, the slaves who cropped and pulled had a particularly tough time with the first pull of the large, dirty, base leaves. The leaves slapped their faces and dark tobacco sap, which dries into a dark gum, covered their bodies, and then soil stuck to the gum. There was one perk however: nicotine in tobacco acts as a powerful insecticide. Slaves could enjoy a bug free day of forced labor when harvesting tobacco. The croppers were men, and the stringers, who were seated on the higher elevated seats, were women and children. The harvesters had places for one team of ten workers: eight people cropping and stringing, plus a packer who moved the heavy strung poles of wet green tobacco from the stringers and packed them onto the pallet section of the harvester, plus a horseman. Interestingly, the outer seats were suspended from the harvester - slung out over to fit into the rows of tobacco. As these seats were suspended it was important to balance the weight of the two outside teams (similar to a playground see-saw). Having too heavy or light a person in an unbalanced combination often resulted in the harvester tipping over especially when turning around at the end of a row. Water tanks were a common feature on the harvester due to heat and danger of dehydration.

Read more about this topic:  Cultivation Of Tobacco

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Famous quotes containing the word harvest:

    They may bring their fattest cattle and richest fruits to the fair, but they are all eclipsed by the show of men. These are stirring autumn days, when men sweep by in crowds, amid the rustle of leaves like migrating finches; this is the true harvest of the year, when the air is but the breath of men, and the rustling of leaves is as the trampling of the crowd.
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