Tobacco growing in the middle of Orange Grove

Polk County is the right place to locate in Florida. Its climate is the best to be found in the State. Its soils are varied, consisting of hammock, high pine, flat woods, prairie, and muck. Its products include the entire list of semi-tropical fruits. It has a most excellent system of public schools--tuition entirely free to all of school age. This county is the center of the Pebble Phosphate industry. The county has an assessed valuation of over $3,500,000 and is entirely free from debt, with a good surplus in the treasury. A system of good hard roads is being built up throughout the county. The material used for paving roads is convenient in all sections, and a like material is found in no other county. Has more deep clear water lakes than any county in the world. Has a large area of grazing lands suitable for cattle and sheep raising which is a prominent and profitable industry. Building material is cheap and abundant---best pine lumber $9. per 1000 feet delivered. Has a large number of fine bearing orange groves which will bear many thousand boxes of the choicest golden fruit this season. Her farmers are rejoicing over the largest corn corp in the history of the county, which is being harvested now. Pineapple growing is becoming a very common and profitable business. No finer pines are grown in the State than here.


Since the war in Cuba there has been a large and rapidly increasing demand for fine cigar tobacco, and Florida has had to come to the rescue. Polk county has made such a phenomenal success at producing the genuine Vuelta Abajo cigar leaf, that the eyes of the tobacco world have been turned this way, and in order to meet the demand for information, which comes from every quarter of the earth, the Bartow Board of Trade has collected the most reliable information obtainable on the subject and presents it herewith beginning with an interview with a gentleman of integrity and splendid intelligence, who says that he is sixty years old and seventeen years a tobacco grower in Cuba, and who furnishes the Board of Trade answers to the following questions:

Ques. How many counties have you examined in Florida, and which one presents the largest area of land especially adapted to the growing of Cuban tobacco?

Ans. I have examined several counties, especially DeSoto, Lee and Polk. I am satisfied that Polk has the best land that is adapted to the growing of Cuban tobacco, although I am not now engaged in raising tobacco in Polk county, but if I were to select lands for others I should certainly select them in Polk county.

Ques. What color ought the soil to show and what sub-soil should it have?

Ans. The soil should have a darkish color and mixed with a yellowish sub-soil.

Ques. What is your reason for selecting this class of soil?

Ans. Because it gives a finer and more silky leaf and requires less fertilizer. It furnishes more gum to the leaf and makes it more elastic for the purpose of wrappers.

Ques. What is the difference between the tobacco grown upon white, sandy soil, of which you see so much in Florida, and the tobacco grown on the soil you described in your last answer?

Ans. The soil just described suffers less from heat and spots the leaf less, while the sandy soil produces a light-weight leaf and requires a great amount of fertilizer.

Ques. Do you always analyze the soil before you risk a crop on it?

Ans. I do not. I can judge it by the eye from my long experience.

Ques. Does all soil which looks alike on the surface always analze the same?

Ans. It does not. Sometimes there is more of one ingredient than another, which is necessary for the tobacco plant, and it is better to select that soil which contains the greatest amount of natural plant food. This class of land can be easily selected by one of long experience.

Ques. Will you explain in your own way just what the soil must contain before you would plant it?

Ans. Ammonia, potash, lime in samll quantity, and phosphate.

Ques. Will you say what fertilizer you would always use and how many pounds you would put to the acre? Also its cost per ton?

Ans. Peruvian guano, with at least 200 pounds of potash to the acre, and if possible, a plenty of stable manure. I should use thirty pounds of guano at planting and thirty pounds at the second hoeing, to every 1,000 plants. The cost of this fertilizer is about $50.00 per ton. There is no real Peruvian guano---it is all manufactured.

Ques. How many plants would you put to the acre and how far apart do you plant them?

Ans. About 12,000 to the acre, allowing for space not occupied, to be set in rows thirty-four inches apart and the plants twelve to thirteen inches apart in the rows.

Ques. How many pounds, pole cured, ought you to get from the first cutting per acre?

Ans. This depends largely upon the season. As a general average the first cutting will yield 300 pounds per acre.

Ques. How often can you cut from the crop which is set out about the middle of February?

Ans. Three times. And from the first to the middle of September planting you can cut two crops, virtually making five crops a year from two seed plantings.

Ques. How many pounds per acre will the second cutting yield as compared to the first cutting? How much less?

Ans. That depends on the season, but you can calculate the second cutting to be almost as good as the first, or about 200 pounds to the acre.

Ques. Will the second cutting be of as good quality as the first, and will it bring as good a price?

Ans. It will be a smaller leaf but a finer texture, and it will yield more of the medium wrapper than the first cutting, and therefore it is the more valuable cutting of the two.

Ques. How will the third cutting, compare in weight, quantity and quality and price with the former ones?

Ans. The third and last cutting will mostly make fillers for cigars, with some few binders. In weight in good season, the third cutting will be nearly as good as the second, and will yield nearly as many pounds per acre.

Ques. How many acres can one man attend in one year, and what will be the cost to him besides his own labor, per acre?

Ans. One man could attend to 18,000 or 20,000 plants, or about one and a half acres.

Ques. At the present prices of tobacco, what ought one man to clear, net, of all his expenses, in one year, doing all the work himself?

Ans. He ought to clear from $300 to $400. This of course would depend largely upon the kind of season had.

Ques. Can five men working together make five times as much as one man working by himself?

Ans. Two men, however, can work together to the best advantage.

Ques. If you were to hire all the labor done, buy all the fertilizer, what profit could you make upon the best Polk county tobacco lands per acre, at the present price of tobacco?

Ans. With intelligent labor one should clear from $150 to $200 per acre.

Ques. Do you know of lands outside of Polk county, in Florida, that would yield you the same results?

Ans. There are no other such lands that I have seen.

Ques. What would the average barn, large enough for five acres of tobacco cost if you labored on it yourself?

Ans. A five acre crop would require a barn 48 by 30, by 16 feet high, and the cost would be about $200.

Ques. How many poles required usually to the acre---their length and cost, and how long will they last?

Ans. About 250 poles to the acre. Thirteen feet long, two inches square; sawn poles will cost five cents each, the round pole with the bark taken off, delivered, costs three cents each, and with proper care will last a number of years.

Ques. How many days (average) after planting the seed before they are large enough to be set out, and when do you plant your seed beds?

Ans. Generally forty-five days, when land has plenty of fertilizer. Seed should be planted for the fall crop in July, and for the spring crop about the 15th or 20th of December.

Ques. How many days after planting in the field (average) before the plants are ready to cut?

Ans. From forty-five to fifty days.

Ques. After cutting, how long (average) before the tobacco is ready for the bale and the market?

Ans. Can be sold as "pole cured" within sixty days, but for the finished product it will require about five months.

Ques. How long after the first cutting before you cut the second crop, or suckers? And the third?

Ans. A man that understands it will begin to cut the second crop in about twenty-one days, if he knowns when to let the suckers start upon the original plant. And the third cutting follows in about twenty-one days after the second cutting.

Ques. Are the worms any more numerous in Florida than in Cuba?

Ans. In the fall crop I think they are much less. There are many less here than in Cuba. In the spring crop the number of worms are about the same.

Ques. Can you raise exactly, in every respect, as fine a quality of tobacco in Polk county, Florida, considering color, weight, aroma and flavor as you have raised in Cuba?

Ans. I think that the tobacco raised in Polk county will come up fully to the average of any Cuban tobacco, as far as I am able to judge at the present.

Ques. With present prices and the present duty upon Cuban tobacco, can tobacco growing in Florida be as profitable as it has been in Cuba before the present war.

Ans. With the present prices and the duty, Polk county tobacco gives just double the amount of money to the grower that it did in Cuba before the present war began. The duty alone on tobacco is more than we could ever get for a pound of our tobacco in Cuba, consequently, a man can make twice as much money in raising tobacco in Polk county as he could in growing it in Cuba, and can produce, in my present opinion, exactly as good an article. The author of the foregoing answers is not a land agent nor interested in any land or tobacco company in Polk county, nor does he own any land in Polk county.


The statements as to the yield per acre and the amounts realized for the crops have been fully verified in a number of instances this spring. The COURIER-INFORMANT, of Bartow, in its issue of August 4th, contained the following authentic notice of sales:

"Mr. Sam M. Wilson, who resigned his position as deputy postmaster last spring to engage in the tobacco business, sold his crop of 1,000 poles for $1,000, which, as he figures, is more than 50 cents per pound, the buyers taking it down and removing it at their own expense. "Mr. Wilson harvested these thousand poles from about four acres of tobacco and really got only one cutting, when, if the weather had been favorable, he ought to have had two cuttings at least. The entire expense of putting this crop into the barn was about $470, Mr. Wilson having hired all work done. Thus it will be seen that the net profits were over $125 per acre, and this from one cutting and everything hired."

"For a small crop, grown on less than half an acre, by Doc Lightsey and Mose Lampkin, at a cash outlay of $21, the purchaser paid $125 taking it as a lumping trade. Uncle Mose, who is an old darkey, made this crop at odd times, keeping up all his other work as usual, so that the figures his $62.50 as so much money picked up."

Mr. L. N. Milam has just disposed of his crop of 5,000 pounds, taken from eleven acres, at 40 cents per pound or an even $2000. Col. E. L. Roche, the president of the Board of Trade, for himself and his associates, Messrs. J. M. Reed and L. T. Drane has seven and a half acres cultivated this spring, from which they harvested 2,100 poles. This crop they disposed of the day before we go to press at highly satisfactory prices---such prices in fact as to warrant us in saying that they realized 100 per cent on their investment in making the crop. They will largely increase their acreage for the fall crop. Quite a large number of additional sales might be mentioned, but as the price has been about the same in all cases, it appears useless to refer to others. Every grower, who has sold, is highly pleased, and will continue in the business with the full assurance, too, that the succeeding crop will be even better in quality, quantity and price. All these sales were of the pole dried tobacco---the purchasers will bitune, select and bale it, and it will then be worth two to four times as much as they paid.


Hon. John M. Estes, of Wisconsin, Special Tobacco Agent of the Government, who was employed to make a tour of all the tobacco districts of the United States and report facts specially for the World's Fair at Chicago, says: "We know that for several years Florida has produced the highest grade of cigar leaf." Florida wrappers and fillers were awarded both medals at the Cincinnati Centennial in 1888 and have won highest awards at several other expositions. U. S. Senator Pasco, of this state, whose home is in the Middle Florida tobacco belt, in discussing the new tariff measure on the floor of the Senate, said: "So far as the rates of duty are concerned, the people in my state are interested not only as cigar manufacturers, but as tobacco raisers. A very fine quality of tobacco is raised in Florida, and the farmers and planters who raise tobacco believe that it can be used successfully instead of the Havana tobacco for a wrapper. This fine quality of tobacco is raised in several of the counties of my state, and in Polk county it is claimed that a grade of leaf is raised that can hardly be distinguished from the real Havana."---Congressional Record, page 2,363.

Dr. Battle of the North Carolina Experiment Station, reports on samples from every tobacco district in the United States: "The sample furnished Dr. Battle from Florida was grown on hummock land which had never been touched with domestic or commercial fertilizers. It was from the sixth crop on the same land. In his table showing the comparatibve analyses of typical tobacco from all the tobacco districts in the United States, the sample from Florida showed the 'highest marks of superiority of any other,' except Pennsylvania seed leaf, which exhibited a fraction more potash, but of course that was supplied in the heavy application of fertilizer used, but it showed also more chlorine. It is conceded that the burning quality is the chief point of excellence in cigar leaf. The match was applied to thirty-two different samples at the end of the prepared strips, and the Florida sample was the only one that burned completely out to the other end, consuming the entire strip." The issue of the Toledo, Ohio, Sunday Journal of August 1st, contained an admirable description of a trip to this county, by Mr. C. C. Packard, the owner and editor of the paper, from which we extract the following: "Tobacco is becoming a favored and profitable industry touching which I will not undertake now to say more than merely that many are now engaging in tobacco raising and finding it profitable; that before the war South Florida tobacco ranked as high as that of Havana, and that today tobacco is hanging on the sticks at Bartow which, later, we of the north will smoke and consider it favored leaf from Cuba. Indeed, this is one of the chief difficulties under which the Florida tobacco growers suffer, for the reason that much of their production is vended under the name of Havana goods, thus depriving them of their due and proper credit. It is now selling for 35 to 40 cents per pound (on the poles), at which price there is a handsome competency each year for the moderate tobacco farmer."


It is known that many of the small growers sold their tobacco, both last fall and this spring, on the pole, which is only about sixty days after the cutting, to purchasers at from 40 to 65 cents per pound. Pole cured tobacco includes the main stem as well as the leaf and represents only about two thirds of the actual leaf weight; hence it can be seen that even at 500 pounds per acre, a very large profit is quickly in hand to the grower, and with this money in his pocket he is ready to grow another and still larger crop. The tobacco grown in this county last fall was bituned, graded, as the Cubans grade it, some thirteen or more different grades, and put into packages tied with strings of bamboo and the bale encased in the leaves of royal palm, and delivered to the manufacturer of cigars in Tampa, who purchased the same, in the same manner as tobacco is prepared and shipped from Cuba to Tampa and the cigars made therefrom have been most highly satisfactory. The new tariff bill has fixed the rates of duty at $1.85 per pound on wrapper, and 35c. on filler, and provides that same must be collected upon the weight of the package upon arrival, while the tobacco is damp. This will largely increase the duty and will have the tendency to still further increase the demand for Florida grown tobacco which is in reality superior goods. It is to be seen from the foregoing and there is abundant evidence from other sources to prove, that a man can employ hands and superintend them and not do any manual labor himself, and net at present prices and tariff on tobacco, from $150 to $200 per acre per year, over and above all expenses pertaining to the growth, curing and sale of the crop. The question arises, what other country [sic] in the United States can yield such a profit to labor per acre?


Louisiana and Cuban experts pronounce Polk county lands of a fine grade for growing sugar cane. They have proposed a sugar mill, to manufacture our cane into sugar, costing from $125,000 to $170,000. If a sufficient crop of cane be secured, we will get the mills. From twenty to forty tons to the acre can be grown. The grower will get from $80 to $150 per acre for his can, delivered at the mill. Cane is planted but once in four or five years---as it rattoons, or comes up from the stubble, every year. It is less trouble and expensive than a corn corp. The mill will buy the cane, or convert it into sugar and syrup, take out toll, and deliver back your portion, which can be held indefinitely for the highest market price. Best fertilizer "cow-penning" or cotton-seed mearl; 500 to 1,000 pounds to the acre---cost from $5 to $10. South Florida is the only portion of the United States where cane has as fully matured as it does in Cuba. One man from his own labor can grow and harvest five acres of cane each year, besides other small crops. In tobacco and cane, we have two important, profitable and staple products for which the lands of Polk county are more especially adapted than any other county in Florida, and which are not perishable like other products that have to be sold whether the market price is high or low, but which can be held by the producer without damage or loss until the highest possible market price is obtainable. Tobacco is like wine, it improves with age and then brings a higher price as it grows older---it is an interest bearing article. Cane can be reduced to sugar and syrup and wait for the best prices.


Improved and unimproved lands within the tobacco region of Polk county can be bought from $5 up to $25, owing to their relative location to the towns, macadamized roads and the railroad stations, as also the character of improvements. We would suggest that a personal investigation be made by all who are interested.


Bartow is the county seat of Polk. It is 210 miles south of Jacksonville, on the Plant system of railroads. Has a population of 2,500 and continues to grow steadily. The South Florida Military Institute, fostered by the State. An excellent system of water works, owned by the municipality. All the leading Evangelical churches have good house of worship. The sale of intoxicating liquors is prohibited both in the city and county. There are several small hotels, but a most excellent opening for a larger one. There are lodges of Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and Woodmen of World. Summerlin Institute, a $20,000 public school building, in which are employed ten teachers. Twenty miles of the now famous "Bartow Macadam" streets---the finest in the State for wheeling and driving. All the conveniences of a small city, such as an Ice Factory, a National Bank, Operal House, Printing Offices, Livery Stables, Machine Shop, and Electric Light Plant, a large Brick Market, owned by the city, etc., are here. Bartow and Polk county want those who are seeking a home in the most desirable portion of this delightful land to come and see for themselves. Those interested can have a handsome illustrated pamphlet mailed free by addressing the BOARD OF TRADE, Bartow, Fla. E. L. Roche, President. D. W. Stanley, Secty.

[Source: Homeland; a description of the climate, productions, resources, topography, soil, opportunities, attractions, advantages, development and general characteristics of Polk County, Florida. By Sherman Adams, 1885.; Tigner, Tatum & Company, Bartow, Florida. Transcribed by Sheila Pitts Massie, Coordinator.]

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