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retains the moisture in the ground, which materially assists in the growth of the seed and tiny plants.
A frequent mistake is made in using too much seed. It is better to err in using too little. In the latter case, the plants will be large, healthy, low and stocky, and will withstand a very hot sun, and may be set with very little moisture in the soil. When plants are crowded in the bed the stems are small, delicate, white and crisp. They have such a weakness of constitution that hundreds of them perish after being transplanted, and even if they survive this shock, their vitality is so feeble that several weeks must elapse before they show a healthy growth. In the meantime, they are preyed upon by cutworms, grasshoppers and other enemies, so that a good stand is almost impossible to be secured with such plants. In consequence, the tobacco field is of uneven growth, which entails much unnecessary work upon the farmer and seriously impairs the value of his crop. Trenches should be dug on the upper end of the bed and on both sides, so as to keep any floods of water from running over the bed. In Germany this is done as shown in Fig. 13.
Sprouting the Seed, which is not practiced in the South, is frequently resorted to by northern growers in order to hasten the growth of the plants. In Wisconsin, the seed is mixed with finely pulverized, rotten wood, taken from the hollow of an old stump or log, and placed in a pan or dish in a warm place, where it is kept moderately damp by sprinkling with tepid water. Under such conditions, the seed will germinate in about two weeks, and is sown as soon as the danger of frost is passed. Another plan is to sprinkle the seed thinly upon a piece of dampened cotton cloth and cover it with another cloth made of wool. The two are rolled together, the woolen cloth on the outside. This roll is kept in a warm place, or under a stove, and dipped in tepid water every day. In from four to six days the white germs will appear. In the northern part of Illinois such cloths are kept moist in a pan of earth, of which there is a layer below as well as above the cloth. Great care must be observed in all these forcing processes. It often happens that the soil of the plant bed is too wet, or otherwise not in proper condition when the seed is ready, and when the delay of a day or two may render the sprouted seed useless. Prudence would suggest, in such a case, the preparation of several parcels of seed at intervals of a few days.
Covering for Plant Beds —Nothing that has ever been invented or devised has effected so much for the tobacco grower, at such a small cost, as a canvas covering for the seed bed. It is an absolute protection against the ravages of the flea beetle; it hastens the growth of the plant by keeping the bed moist and warm, and it prevents the accumulation, on the bed, of drifted leaves or trash. The heat absorbed by the soil from the sun's rays during the day is radiated, and lost at night in the open air, ; but under this covering it is reflected by the canvas to the soil again, and thus a warm temperature is preserved, highly promotive of the growth of the plants. A given area, protected by canvas covering, will furnish at least a third more plants. Its construction is very simple. A frame or box is made around the bed, four or five inches high, as shown in Fig. 15. A few wires may be stretched across the frame, and closely tacked on the edges to uphold the canvas. In place of wire, a small quantity of light brush thrown over the bed will help to sustain the weight of the cloth. Better than either are a few bows made of wire, like the wickets used in croquet sets, and stuck at intervals over the bed. These will hold up the canvas and yet leave it flexible.
Instead of making the frame the full size of the bed, a more convenient plan, probably, would be to construct a number of smaller frames, eight or ten feet square, over which the cloth may be stretched and securely fastened, a sufficient number of these frames being provided to cover the beds. Such frames, well braced, with their covering, could be removed when no longer needed and put away for future use. If the cloth is treated with a single coating of white lead and oil, it will last for several years.
Still another method may be more economical. The frames may be made, and properly braced with diagonal pieces inserted at the corners, flush with the
upper edges of the plank. The cloth or canvas should be cut some three inches longer and wider than the frame and hemmed along the edges. Eyelet holes worked along the edges make it easy to fasten the canvas to hooks, pegs or nails driven in the outer faces of the frame, two or three inches below the upper edge. Constructed in this manner, the canvas may be rolled up so as to let in the air and sunlight to harden the plants, see Fig. 16. Such coverings for beds amount to a positive insurance of the plants at a very small expense, for the cost of a frame and canvas to cover one hundred yards need not exceed four dollars, as the price of suitable cloth ranges from three to three and one-half cents per yard, and will, if taken care of, last several seasons. At the North, glass is often used instead of cloth—regular hotbed sash, five and one-half feet long. Clothcovered frames of the same size are made to take the place of the glass sash after the plants are well started, this arrangement being shown by Fig. 17.
Other Methods.—Some planters select a place and make a standing bed, which is kept and used from year to year. After the planting season is over, and before the grass and weeds have gone to seed, the standing bed is coultered, and then covered with straw, leaves, or brush with leaves on, so thickly as to hide the surface and prevent vegetable growth. The trash and brush are burned off at some dry time in November, or later. Such standing beds, if well manured, are said to become better each succeeding year. They are heavily dressed with fresh loam from the woodlands, and composts of stable manure, thoroughly rotted, care being taken to handle it so as to destroy all foreign seeds, and also with frequent topdressings of good commercial fertilizers.
In Louisiana the soil is not burned at all in making seed beds, because the immense quantity of undecomposed vegetable matter contained in the soil makes it too light and porous when burned. A spot is selected, generally of old land, which is highly manured with cow dung spread on to a depth of six inches, and turned under with a spade or plow. After this, the bed is chopped fine with a hoe and pulverized with frequent rakings. This is done in October. The bed is worked again in December, and beaten with the back of a spade, or compacted with a roller; channels to secure drainage are cut through it every three feet, and the seed is sown in January.
In Tennessee and Kentucky, when beds are made upon rich virgin soils, manorial applications are rare, but in all the Atlantic States it is the general practice to chop fine well-rotted stable manure in the soil when the bed is being prepared for sowing. Many sow the seed, and even the surface of the bed with well pulverized manure free from grass seed. A light dressing of the sulphate of lime (land plaster) has been found of great service, also one of the superphosphate of lime. Liquid manure applied after the plants are up will probably be found the best of all applications to promote a rapid and healthy growth. A good liquid manure for this purpose is made by taking a tight barrel half filled with cow dung or well-rotted stable manure, and adding water enough to fill it. The whole should be stirred until it becomes a thick, soupy mass, which should be applied to the bed by using a broom as a sprinkler. A gallon of guano in a barrel of water will also be found to stimulate the growth of the young plants. This quality, without detriment, may be used on one hundred square yards.
As to the Best Time for Burning Plant Beds, there is a variety of opinion. They may be burned at any time from the first of November until the 25th of March, when the ground is dry enough. A bed burned when the land is wet or frozen rarely does well. When the land is too wet to plow, it is too wet to burn plant beds. Those burned in the fall usually require less fuel, are more easily prepared, and the ashes have more time to rot, thus making better plant food. The ashes should not be removed, but incorporated with the earth. When beds are burned in the fall, they should be dug up and prepared for sowing. In this condition they should be left to the ameliorating effects of the freezes until the latter part of January or the early part of February, or even as late as April, when canvas coverings are intended to be used. One of the best tobacco growers in the South gives it as the result of his experience for thirty