Monday, April 29, 2013

Hanging Tobacco in the Barn

"Housing Tobacco"
16x20 oil on canvas
Burley tobacco is a very labor-intensive crop. The harvest is all done by hand. Because the leaves are so brittle, it can't be mechanized. The plants are cut down using a special tobacco knife that looks like a small hatchet. Then, using a sharp, cone-shaped, metal spike, five stalks are placed on a four-foot tobacco stick. The spiked tobacco is left in the field for several days so it will wilt and be easier to handle. Then it's loaded on trucks to be hung in barns.

The trailer loads of tobacco are pulled into the barn. Tobacco barns are designed with rows of wooden tiers about three feet apart, just the right width to hang the sticks of tobacco. 

Then the sticks of tobacco are handed up to the waiting men

who hang them on the tiers

or pass them on up to the guys above them.

Up and up they go,

over and over again,

all the way to the top!
The tobacco will stay in the barn for six to eight weeks to cure. The leaves turn golden brown. On damp, rainy days in October, it will be taken down, stripped from the stalks and packed in bales of various grades. 

"Up, Up, Up"
18x36 oil on canvas

Friday, April 26, 2013

Winter Work: Stripping Tobacco

I've just finished these two paintings of workers on our farm preparing burley tobacco for market. The process is called "stripping" since the leaves are stripped from the stalk and sorted into grades.
"Winter Work"
16x20 oil on canvas
The painting above will hang over Pa's desk along with four others that tell the story of growing burley. The painting below will be a gift to the worker I painted.
"Stripping Tobacco"
16x20 oil on canvas

Several years ago on another blog I detailed the process of stripping tobacco. Here is an exert from that post:

October 20, 2009

Yesterday was a foggy October morning so I ventured out with my camera...

crossed over the fence where I discovered a sparkly spider web,

and headed up the path to the tobacco barn...

where I got to watch some G-rated "strippers."

Before you get too excited, I should tell you that the process of removing the leaves from the stalks is called stripping tobacco.

Back in August when the tobacco was hung in the barn, it was a yellowish green.  After two months or so in the barn, the leaves have turned a golden brown.

On damp, foggy mornings, tobacco takes on moisture or "comes in order" and becomes pliable enough to be taken down without crumbling. It's carefully stacked onto wagons and carried to the stripping room.

Pa and his workers remove the leaves from the stalks.

They sort the leaves into four grades according to color and stalk position.

Each worker pulls off a different type of leaves and passes the stalk down the line.

They work under the watchful eye of their supervisor, Kate.

The piles of leaves are carried to specially-made baling boxes and stacked according to grades.

When a bin is full, the leaves are compressed into a bale with an air jack.

Kate finds the finished bales useful for scratching her back.

The bales are carefully tagged according to grade and quality.

Out go the empty stalks! They will be spread on the pasture land as organic fertilizer.

Tobacco has been sold in bales for only the past twenty years or so. Before that, it was stripped into bundles called "hands" of tobacco. While at the barn, I asked Pa to tie up a couple of the old-fashioned hands to hang up on the porch.

He gathered the leaves in his hand and carefully arranged them.

Then he took a single leaf and wrapped it around the stem ends of the leaves.

Finally, he tucked the wrapper leaf between the others in the bundle to secure it.

The hands of tobacco were artfully arranged on those big wooden tobacco baskets that are often found in antique shops today. In November and December, the crop was sold at auction in big tobacco warehouses located in almost every town. It was an exciting time of year for farm families. Now the crop is simply delivered to tobacco companies at receiving stations... the romance of a bygone era is only a memory.

Jenny Matlock
I'm linking this post to Alphabe-Thursday at Jenny Matlock's blog. W is for Winter Work!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Tobacco Auction

"Tobacco Auction"
16x20 oil on canvas
For many, many years, tobacco was sold at auction. Many towns across Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia had tobacco warehouses where the crop was brought to be sold in November and December. During the 1990s, Pa co-owned and ran a tobacco warehouse. It is closed now, but this movie clip was taken at one of the last auctions there.

For some reason, the Quicktime movie above may not be visible on an iPad, so here's a photo. 
But you'll miss the chant of the auctioneer saying,
"SOLD to Phillip Morris!"

While the auctioneer had the most vocal job at a tobacco auction, the man behind him had the most difficult one. The ticket marker listened to the chant and recorded the buyer, the price and the grade of each pile of tobacco. He wrote that information on the ticket, all the while listening to the auctioneer selling the next pile. That took a lot of concentration and an assistant to place the tickets on the piles.

Due to federal legislation, tobacco is now contracted with the tobacco companies before it is grown. At the end of the year, it is delivered to a receiving station run by the company. Farmers receive payment for their year of hard work, but somehow it's just not as exciting. The romance of the auction is a thing of the past.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Daffodils mean it's undoubtedly spring!

After several weeks of cold weather, today the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. It's finally  spring! Buttercups, jonquils, daffodils, narcissus... whatever you prefer to call them, they are undoubtedly one of my favorite flowers. I am lucky to have several varieties that were given to me by my mother. 

I don't know the names of most of them, but this one is Thalia. It is creamy white and sweet smelling. Thalia often has two or more blooms on a single stem. I love the little glass basket too. It was my mother's and I can remember filling it with buttercups when I was a child.

This little narcissus blooms profusely with three or four flowers on a stem and a wonderfully strong fragrance that means spring to me!

Another white daffodil, this one has a ruffled pink trumpet.

 photo file_zps70496037.jpg
16x20 oil on canvas
Several years ago I did this painting of an arrangement of daffodils from my yard. It hangs in my kitchen so I can enjoy "spring" all year long. Can you find the varieties in the photos above? 

Daffodil Tips and Tricks

One of my favorite things about buttercups is that they return each year with no effort on my part! All I have to do is remind Pa not to mow down the foliage until it turns brown in late June or July. Daffodils use the foliage to store food in order to bloom the following year. If they are mowed down too soon, they will not continue to bloom! 

Another nice thing about daffodils is that the bulbs can be dug up and shared with others. Wait until they have finished blooming, preferably when the foliage has died down, to dig them. Then plant the bulbs 4 to 6 inches in the ground. Add a little bone meal to fertilize them. Next spring, they'll bloom and will return each year. Easy!

A vase with a narrow opening works well with buttercups. If you want to use them in an arrangement that requires floral foam or oasis, insert a floral pick or a toothpick in the hollow of the stems to make them more sturdy.

Jenny Matlock 
 I'm linking this post to Jenny Matlock's AlphabeThursday... for daffodils mean it's undoubtedly spring!!!

And I'm linking to Tutorials, Tips and Tidbits at Stone Gable.