Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

The Baccer Patch

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Ammons.

Planting baccer

 

The Baccer Patch written by Ed Ammons

The worst memories of my young life are of the ‘baccer patch’. It all started in the fall and winter when Daddy would pile up a huge pile of brush, let it dry and then burn it completely to the ground hoping the fire would kill all the fungi and weeds that could harm the new tobacco plants.

He would then build a frame around the bed using freshly peeled poplar poles. Next he and Mommy would rake the dirt inside free of any rocks, roots, or dirt clods. Then they would mix tobacco seeds with corn meal, to get the seeds to spread more evenly, and sow them in the bed. They would cover the seeds and corn meal mixture with the back of the rake and their hands so as not to cover them too deep. They covered the bed with a thin gauze cloth which was tacked around the sides to the pole frame. The cloth was thin enough to let in light, air and rain. If the weather looked like it might get too cold, they had an assortment of old quilts, blankets, and anything else that could be thrown across the frame to protect the tender plants.

When there wasn’t enough rain the plants had to be watered. Mommy would take her cupped hand and throw water on the plants so she could get just enough water in just the right place. One neighbor would give his tobacco plants an extra boost by watering them with tea, water that had been filtered down through a barrel of composted horse manure. More often than not Mommy and Daddy would end up having to buy some plants every year.

When Mommy and Daddy decided the new plants were big enough and the weather was warm enough, it was planting time. The field had to be plowed first. Daddy would hitch up the horse, when he had one, to a turning plow. The ground had to be just right. Too wet and it would dry out into clods the consistency of a used brick. Too dry and the plow would run only a couple of inches deep. To make it tougher parts of the field might be dry when other parts were wet.

Next he would use a float or a harrow to break up the rough ground left by the plow. A couple of years I remember him cutting down a small tree, hitching it behind the horse and dragging it around the field to smooth it even more. If he was lucky it wouldn’t come a hard rain and wash ruts across the freshly prepared field and force him to do it all over again. Or maybe the rain would wait until the plants were in the ground then come and wash everything away together.

Daddy never had much luck with horses or mules. He didn’t have money to buy young ones, so he ended up burying one horse and selling one that got too old to work. I don’t remember it, but he told me about an old blue mule he had that broke its neck skidding logs. I don’t know whether blue was the color of the mule or his name.

On years Daddy didn’t have a horse, he might borrow one from a neighbor. On years when a neighbor needed a horse, Daddy would loan his. Sometimes he would pay someone to come and plow. It wasn’t unusual in those times to see an old farmer with his horse or team fully harnessed dragging its singletree or their doubletree with a plow attached. The plow would be on its side so as not to wear out the point or plow up the road. The farmer would bring up the rear, strolling along at the horses’ plodding pace, occasionally turning his head aside to squirt a stream of brown ‘baccer juice; from his mouth. You could hear this combo long before you saw it. One neighbor had a horse that knew how much his owner loved to talk and would stop automatically whenever it passed someone along the way.

Looks like I’ve wandered away from the ‘baccer patch’. Anyway, as modern times approached and farmers were becoming mechanized, nobody was loaning their tractors. So Daddy did the best he could with what had. He bought a ”garden tractor” which had two big wheels under the engine with handles that extended back to the operator and held the throttle and direction controls. To crank it you had to wind a rope around a pulley, put the choke on and jerk with all your might. If you were lucky the thing might start after the 155th try. There were several attachments to be had but Daddy only had a plow and disc harrow. The plow wasn’t like its ”hillside turner” cousin that could be flipped over the end of the row and go back the other direction. This plow was stationery and you had to plow in circles with it like you do in the flatlands.

—————–

Pap never raised tobacco nor did his Daddy or Grandpa that I know of so I don’t have any first hand knowledge about growing tobacco. I have heard Pap describe how his mother started tomato seeds in the early spring. She did it almost exactly like Ed’s parents started their baccer seed.

Ed’s line: “Or maybe the rain would wait until the plants were in the ground then come and wash everything away together.” reminded me of the Poor Man song remember it? If you missed it you can go here to hear it.

I hope you enjoyed Ed’s baccer memories as much as I did. Leave him a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it!

Tipper

 

You Might Also Like

33 Comments

  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    May 6, 2020 at 10:36 pm

    Both of my Great Grandpa’s grew tobacco patches like this and both chewed. They made plugs & twist. My Grandpa Dalton would chew all the taste out and save it on the top rail of the porch, when it got dry enough he would crumble it up on a square of brown grocery paper and roll it up into a big cigar and smoke it on the porch every Sunday.

  • Reply
    Quinn
    April 20, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    This post turned up at the bottom of today’s post, so even though it’s years old I’m going to comment because I enjoyed reading Ed’s memories about growing tobacco, although it doesn’t sound like it was all that enjoyable to do it at the time! People are surprised when I say there is an area in Massachusetts where tobacco is grown. I used to drive the road that ran alongside the drying sheds every day at one point.
    Tipper, do you know about the picture? That horse looks like a Morgan to me!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      May 1, 2019 at 8:23 am

      Quinn-I don’t know about the horse-but you’re probably right 🙂

  • Reply
    BILLY AMMONS
    April 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    I enjoy these stories, cousin Ed ommited one event that stood out in memory was the “baccer check drunk” that some of the citizens would pull, making the hard work and poverty even worse.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    April 25, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I remember the Backer patches. My daddy helped grow a lot over the years. He and my cousin would go in together on a patch. Tipper did you know that Wayne newton passed away the 18th of this month? He would have been 81 this past Monday on the 23rd. Died 5 days before his birthday. He found out he had stage 4 bladder cancer a month ago. He helped do my last book. He always talked about how he loved following your blog. Hope you all are doing good.

  • Reply
    Becky
    April 12, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I love these memory stories. My mind sees them played out with the words as they are read.

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    April 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Great post, My dad growed tobacco. He had to plow with an old mule too.

  • Reply
    RB
    April 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    We never grew tobacco up north where I was raised, but when I was young, we always had a large vegetable garden to supplement the bought food for our large family. We had a well – a lousy one that went dry for a spell nearly every summer by July or August if not sooner – so watering the garden with a hose or sprinkler was out. I do remember, however, having rain barrels by the corners of the house which we’d dip buckets into so we could go and water each little plant individually with an old tin can. Good thing there were lots of kids, cause it was hard work, but it had to be done so we’d have food to get by on.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    April 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for the article. No-one in my immediate family raised tobacco, though I’ve seen bits and piecess of the work from a distance.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Who remembers what a pinhooker is?
    Missy Cindy-The lady in the photo might be your Grandmother. Tipper provided picture.

    • Reply
      Johnnie
      April 25, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      Pinhooker tried to buy your stock at stock sale before you got em off the truck

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    April 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I remember all the work in raising baccer although we did things a little different in some of the operations, I remember Dad would haul all the dead wood he could find to burn the 5-100 ft. plant beds and when he was ready he would start a big fire on the 12 ft wide bed burner and burn beds all day long and up to 11:00 at night to get it done, the rest was kind of like Ed said except when we harvested our crop we cut the stalks and speared them on the sticks we dropped and after it wilted we hauled it to the barn and hung the stick of baccer on rails as many as 8 tiers high and let it cure so when it rained enough we could take it down and strip it off the stalks into as many as 7 grades and tied the hands with 2 baccer leaves then put 12 hands on a stick and press it into a flat then hauled it to market, didn’t aim for this to be this long but was the only way I knew to tell about it. Thanks a lot for the memories Ed.

  • Reply
    carynverell
    April 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    i sure am glad to know that raising a little bit of tobacco was hard back then and things have not changed much either..this year i am experimenting with two kinds of tobacco.got the seeds to germinate just fine..but wow, they sure take their time getting bigger than a mosquito. it is challenging though, and i am hoping for success-i really want to see these plants flower which is why i am fooling with it in the first place. and those seeds are tinier than carrot seed for sure!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Tipper,
    and Ed…so many reminders of times past, in the comments as well…
    My Dads family had a large farm and grew tobacco.. I don’t think in the beginning there was an allotment..
    If there was it was based I think, on the acreage owned…It was hard work and I may have told the story one time of the picking of ‘baccer worms walking up and down the many rows. My Dad hated it! There were many ways to cure this problem, besides the pick and stomp method! There were five brothers and one rooster that picked the worms. The rooster being addicted to tobacco worms would run from row to row following them up and down gobbling up the worms…One day they were out in the field and he just up and died, feet stuck straight up in the air…It was one of Grannies favorite roosters as he was not so mean..”He just “foundered” his self on baccer worms”, Dad said….LOL
    Used to be that every farm you passed in NC had a little seed patch or two or three of white gauze out on the side of the hill in the spring…No more, the great days of tobacco are gone forever…Not good for you they say and I know, but kept many a family alive, hard work in hard times..Seems today that other cancers are up and fats and no exercise are our culprits..Let alone countin’ car wrecks and/or shot by a jealous husband/wife or a drive-by shootin’ in the big cities….I think (although I don’t)I’d take my chances on a good home-raised cigarette…LOL
    By the way all my Uncles, Dad and Pap quit smoking…even though they were raised with it and it brought in a large portion of the family income…
    Thanks Tipper and Al
    I love the stories and what fun it is going to a ‘baccer auction!

  • Reply
    Ken
    April 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Tipper,
    Thanks for letting Ed tell his
    story of ‘The Baccer Patch’. Folks
    can learn so much from our past
    just reading the daily posts and
    comments here on the Blind Pig.
    When I was growing up, we never had any experiences of ‘baccer’
    growing, but our fields were
    plowed using a horse, and I can
    remember the long hard days when
    neighbors helped each other.
    …Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Tipper—I enjoyed Ed’s reminiscences about a “cash crop” which was once a staple source of income for many a mountain farmer. He doesn’t mention the size of the family allotment, but Bill Burnett mentions allotments and that was the case with everyone. Incidentally, as I learned about the time I married, the whole approach to tobacco in the mountains varies from that elsewhere. One is sun-cured, the other flue-cured; one is picked as the entire stalk, the other leaf by leaf; one is burley tobacco and one isn’t.
    My wife came from a tobacco-growing family in southside Virginia, and from what some of her family members used to say, there was absolutely no nastier job than suckering tobacco and squeezing tobacco worms. There tobacco allotments were an important factor in the sale of land, and her mother sold the family farm without ever consulting us, and I fear she didn’t pay much attention to the tobacco allotment. She had been widowed and the burden to dealing with tenants, allotments, and the like was too much for her.
    Ed Myers mention he’s growing tobacco. I don’t know whether he realizes it, but he’s making some mighty fine protective material for storing seeds. Grandpa saved all his seeds in jars and dusted a liberal dose of snuff over all of them, although he told me that formerly he had just crumbled up dried baccy leaves.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    April 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

    My grandfather and his brother were the last handmakers of cigars in Newark, NJ. I know absolutely nothing about growing tobacco, but I remember watching him dry, hand roll, cut and etc. a cigar. When he passed away, so did the business. I never liked the smell of tobacco products, but I respected what he did for a living. It was a true art.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    April 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

    My mom and her family raised tobacco so I have heard many stories about the hard work involved. When my parents first got married, they raised tobacco also in addition to their full time jobs. Thankful, they quit growing it before I was born, so I didn’t have to work in it. My grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles and cousins were still raising tobacco when I was growing up, so I am familiar with the process and saw it in various stages.

  • Reply
    Shirla
    April 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Many folks bought land because it had a baccer base on it, only to have the government force them to sell all rights in recent years. I am one of those people.
    I grew up in a mountain area with very little flat land. I had never seen a tobacco plant and knew nothing about raising it. When I moved to the big city as a newlywed, I saw my first field of freshly set tobacco plants. I asked my husband why anyone would need to plant that much cabbage. I guess everyone in the county heard that story for twenty five years.
    Great post, Ed!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

    My Dad never had an allotment but my Grandpa Breedlove did so we would trade out work in the “Baccer Patch” for his help in our Cornfields so Ed’s tale sure brings back the memories, not all of them pleasant. Another thing Ed brings out was how the farmers would help each other. A cousin of ours had a good Draft Horse but little pasture so we would pasture his horse in exchange for the use of the horse as we never owned a horse. My ousin lived on the other side of the Little Tenn. River so when he would get word to Daddy that he needed his horse it was my job to “Gear her up and ride her across the river and approx. three quarters of a mile to his house, when he was through, I would walk back up to his house and bring her back to our barn where I would remove the gears, wipe her down with a Toe Sack, feed her some grain and then turn her out into the pasture. When I first started gearing up the horse I was so short that I’d have to take a run ago and throw her collar and hames up around her neck, with the harness attached this was no small task. I wasn’t supposed to ride the horse in the pasture but as most “Country Boys” know this was a challenge to do just that. After several “discussions” with Dad about my cowboying he finally just gave up and ignored the fact that I was the Lone Ranger and that Neil was really Silver. We fought outlaws many a mile around the pasture but I’d make sure to stay out of sight of the house as the discussions were harder on the Posterior than the galluping ride on a draft horse. Thanks for keeping the memories alive Ed and Tipper.

  • Reply
    S Kalvaitis
    April 9, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I do think I just read what could get me to quit smoking. “Grow your own” would not be for me.

  • Reply
    Steve
    April 9, 2012 at 9:06 am

    It won’t be long until there is no one around who remembers horse or mule drawn plows. I do, but it is distant. I remember their replacement, the “poppin johnny” a little better. I recently bought two old horse drawn plows at a charity auction. Your post reminded me to get some paint and a wire brush and do what I can to restore them. As I do, I will remember the hard work done by those who went before us.

  • Reply
    Cee
    April 9, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Although we never raised tobacco, my Dad was a farmer and I can relate to Ed’s remembrance of the baccer patch. It was a rough but good way of life and I wouldn’t want to have been raised up any other way. Thanks Ed…I really enjoyed reading your post.

  • Reply
    Ron Perry, Sr.
    April 9, 2012 at 8:59 am

    At one point there was an “allotment” where the government told you just how many plants each person could grow. Government inspectors would come by at times and if you had too many plants, could have you remove them and give you a warning and if you continued to plant too many after so many warnings could actually fine you. Thanks for the story. I never grew tobacco, however, my wife’s aunt and uncle did and we would visit and they would proudly show off their crop. Don’t forget the tobacco worms, huge ugly creatures.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 9, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I never did any baccer, but I remember seeing the little beds covered with what looked like cheesecloth. Thy seemed to be everywhere, then later you would see acres of adult baccer plants.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 9, 2012 at 8:12 am

    A story well told. Thanks Ed. That looks like my grandmother in the picture at the beginning.
    My grandparents had a tobacco allotment but in all my memory they didn’t grow the tobacco. There was an old man and his wife that grew the tobacco and split the profits with my grandparents. I should be able to remember that old man’s name but I don’t seem to be able to retrieve it at the moment.
    I do remember that it was back breaking work.
    My grandparents never had a tractor but they usually had a horse to work the garden.
    It took strong people to survive in those times!

  • Reply
    Mark Selby
    April 9, 2012 at 8:08 am

    “Doing the best with what he had” resonates with me as well. It reminds me of the saying, “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” Still good words to live by today.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    April 9, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Thanks to Ed for sharing his story about baccer. I can’t recall ever seeing it (except in mam-maw’s stuff jar) as I was growing up. It seems that times were tough back in these days no matter what you were try to grow or for that matter what ever way you were “makin a livin”. Thanks again Ed!

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    April 9, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Well, Ed, I’ll tell you, this year, for the first (and probably only) time, I’m growing tobacco in an overlarge garden out front. The seeds have been started and the plants should just be big enough by mid-May to set. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

  • Reply
    Marianne
    April 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I can totally relate to the “Doing the best with what he had” it’s the way I was raised and have tried to teach my boys the same. Thank you for sharing, I love all the wonderful stories. (my son discovered the FoxFire books this past weekend, was very surprised I knew about them!!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 9, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Thanks, Ed, for the excellent essay on “Backer” and getting the plant bed seeded and protected early. I don’t remember tobacco plants as much as a bed for other plants: tomatoes, cabbage, collards and others. And getting the land ready! What an “operation” that was, with the turning, harrowing, “laying off” the rows. All hard and necessary work. And if we cleared a “new ground” to allow for another cultivated patch, that was another story altogether. Growing up on the farm definitely made men and women of us because we learned early on that hard work and responsibility were the name of life’s game!

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    April 9, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I have worked many a day in a Baccer patch from pulling young plants,setting them ,pulling suckers,hoeing, priming them, handing and tying, and then once cured stripping the stick for the sale. It was hard dirty work and I don’t miss it. Working in Baccer gave us kids incentive to get good grades and get out of that mess. It kept food on the table growing up. I still love the sweet smell of a barn of fresh cured tobacco. I don’t miss the cool dewy mornings of hitting the field to take care of the Baccer!

  • Reply
    Bradley
    April 9, 2012 at 5:50 am

    I enjoyed this post. I guess the main reason is that I can relate to it so well. The statement about his Daddy, “Doing the best with what he had” sure describes us. Great post; it sure gave me some poignant yet beautiful memories from my past. You sure make the day Tipper!

  • Leave a Reply