Steaming Tobacco Beds

| January/February 1982

1213 South Fouirth Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53204

This article is in response to Bruce Atkinson, who is interested in the steaming of tobacco beds. Although there are many ways to steam tobacco, I will tell you how we steam, here in Dane County. The purpose of steaming is to kill weeds and sterilize the soil. Seedbed sterilization can be accomplished by using methyl bromide in the spring; in the fall methyl bromide or vapam can be used.

Early April, if the weather is mild, the steaming of tobacco beds starts. A typical day starts about 5:30 a.m. with the firemen cleaning the flues and fire box. The next step is starting a fire and while waiting for the steam to rise there might be time to have a quick breakfast. When the steam temperature reaches 125-150 lbs. in pressure, the process begins. A six-foot by sixteen-foot pan, that is attached to the rear of the steam engine, is pulled from farm to farm. The pan is laid over freshly plowed ground. A steam hose is placed under the pan and the pan is banked with ground to prevent the steam from escaping. Each area is steamed for approximately 20 minutes.

After the seed beds have been steamed, 6- or 8-inch boards are placed along the edge of the area. The bed is then raked down and sprouted seed is applied with water through a sprinkling can. About one ounce of seed is applied to 8 to 10 rods (or 800 to 1000 sq ft).

NOTE: Too heavy a spread of seedlings encourage plant bed disease and results in weak and spindly plants.

A canvas is laid over the bed to keep the heat in and to protect the bed from cool nights.