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THE SEED BED—RAISING SEED.
No step in the culture of tobacco is more important than proper care in the preparation and the sowing of the seed beds. This work cannot be neglected in manner or season without running the risk of making a partial, or total, failure of the crop. To make good beds is a laborious task, and requires ripe judgment both in the selection of the location, the soil, and in the preparation of the land. To have plenty of good, strong, healthy plants is the surest foundation for a good crop of tobacco, provided they are from seed true to the desired standard.
1. As to Location.—The land selected should have a slightly southern exposure, if possible, to get the full benefit of the warm rays of the sun in early spring, so as to hasten the growth of the plants, in order that they may be transplanted before the hot summer weather sets in. A southeastern exposure is next to be preferred, then a western. The worst of all is a northern slope. All trees standing within thirty feet of the bed should be cut down. Protection on the north and west sides by a skirt of woods is desirable, inasmuch as the young plants are thus sheltered from the cold blasts of early spring. The best possible situation is on a sloping hill on the north side of a running stream, but sufficiently elevated to be above any danger from overflows. In such a situation the fogs will quicken the germination of the seeds and accelerate the growth of the plants, bringing them forward from ten days to two weeks earlier than on level land.
2. As to the Soil.—The best is a rich, friable, black virgin loam, or sandy soil. Black is preferable because it absorbs to a greater degree the rays of the sun, and brings forward the plants several days earlier, which is highly important to the tobacco grower. A difference of a few days often makes the difference between a rich, fancy article and a dull-colored, frosty one. The preference in the Clarksville heavy-shipping district is a spot in the woods, covered with the dense, hazel thicket, or black gum with a few scrub hickories. This wild growth invariably indicates rich, loose, deep soil, with a large content of potash. In the White Burley district of Kentucky, beds are originally burned and prepared on old sod lands. Many good farmers select a place in their vegetable garden, cover it with virgin mold taken from the woods, and sow it Fio. 20. Basket For Carrying Plants. after thoroughly burning the land. In the North a dark but rather sandy soil is preferred as best adapted to a strong growth of roots; the surface does not bake or crack when dry, and the plants can be lifted easily without much damage.
3. As to Burning.—The wild growth should be cut off near the surface of the ground with an axe, not dug up; the leaves carefully raked from the land, and then, beginning at one side, a layer of trash should be put down longitudinally, until it is about four feet high and four wide. Against this, brush should be set up, nearly vertically, leaning just enough to prevent it from falling back on the bed. This is continued until about eight feet of the length of the bed is passed over, when a layer of wood, eight feet long, is set on the end leaning against the brush. After this, eight feet more of brush is set up, and a layer of wood, and so on until the whole space is occupied. It should then be set on fire, and when the brush burns out the whole bed will be thickly covered with burning wood, which will be consumed upon the ground and burn it sufficiently hard. The brush may all be set up without interspersing the wood and then afterward the whole should be covered with a layer of wood, as shown in Fig. 12. Old rails laid upon skids, so as to keep them from lying on the ground, three or four deep, or the logs of an old house, are admirable materials for burning plant beds. They are easily set afire and burn the ground well. In repairing fences, the old rails should always be kept for this purpose. They save much valuable timber and a great deal of hard labor. The burning destroys all weed seed.
4. Preparation and Sowing.—The ground should be burned until it has a reddish, or soft, brick-like appearance, and will pulverize into an impalpable powder. It should then be coultered, or spaded up, and chopped over with hoes until it is well prepared. The ashes should not be raked off, but thoroughly incorporated with the top soil. At the North, a heavy dressing of well-rotted horse manure, hog manure or cottonseed meal is applied in the fall, so that the fertility can be well spread through the soil. Then in the spring about 150 pounds of some high-grade commercial fertilizer is raked in to every 100 square yards.
As soon as the ground can be worked in the spring without packing, and danger from hard frosts is over, it should be harrowed, or lightly spaded, and made very fine and friable by both harrow and hand rake, and to a depth of two or three inches. Care should be taken not to reverse the soil. All roots and rocks should be picked up, the land receiving a good raking after each digging. When in nice order, mark off beds, four feet wide, and it is ready to be seeded.
It is usual at the South to sow at the rate of one heaping tablespoonful of seeds to every 100 square yards. In the Connecticut valley the rate is to sow a tablespoonful of seed to each square rod of bed; this gives about 60,000 seed, but many will be covered too deep and therefore fail to grow. Some sow the seed by taking a small quantity between the thumb and finger and scattering over the bed, first one way and then the other, to ensure even seeding; others mix the seed, before sowing, with a pint of corn or cottonseed meal, or ashes or land plaster, as it is then easier to handle, and the meal can be seen upon the ground and a more perfect sowing made. Some sprout the seed and claim they save a few days in starting. While such seed comes up a little quicker, it is doubtful if any material difference in the size of the plants can be seen in three or four weeks. To sprout seed, place a piece of dark, woolen cloth in a dish, and cover the cloth about one-fourth an inch deep with seed; then place another woolen cloth over it, and saturate with warm water, and place in a warm spot near the stove. In three or four days small white spots can be seen on the seed, indicating germination, and it then should be sown at once; longer sprouting would develop rootlets, and this should not be done until the seed is in the ground.
Do not rake in the seed; that would cover it too much. The best plan is to run a heavy hand roller over the bed, or press it with a board, or with the feet, until the entire surface is smooth and compact. Southern planters tramp in the seed by going around the bed, one foot following the other, with toes pointing outward, making a smooth, well-tramped surface. Firming the soil is very essential to success, as the compact surface