No. III. Culture of the Beet. Climate. Few of our cultivated plants thrive under more varied conditions of climate than does the beet. It is grown in Europe, from the shores of the Mediterranean to very near the Arctic circle, and from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea, so that in few portions of the United States would meteorological conditions offer any obstacle to its successful cultivation. The relative season for sowing, so that it can be harvested in the right time, can be so regulated by the intelligent cultivator, according to the degree of latitude, so as to suit the exigences of the manufacturer. Heat and moisture being needed in considerable quantities for its perfect development, very cold or very dry localities will alone prove antagonistic to its profitable production as a sugar plant. The seed germinates at a temperature of 44 Fah.; the root rots on thawing if exposed to a cold much below the freezing point. Soil. The beet vegetates in all soils, but a sandy loam or an argillaceous soil is the best suited to its nature. In chalky soils or very sandy ones, its development is stunted. It prospers in light, silicious ground if this be rich in humus or in manure. A medium consistence between stiff and light is the best for it, but too stiff soils are preferable to too light ones. The soil for beets must be loose, fresh, and free from stones, If water is contained in the subsoil, it must b artificially drained. A certain amount of lime in the soil is advantageous, bu1 it must contain no excess of potash or soda, as these salts have a deleterious influence on the ulterior production of sugar during the process of manufacture. It is best, for many reasons, not to grow beet as a first crop on newly-cleared lands. This plant having a long, tapei root, the radicles of which penetrate far down into the ground, the necessity of a deep and well-pulverized soil is apparent. Preparation of the Ground. The instructions for this purpose may be summed up as follows: Plow deep in the autumn or early winter ; better twice than once; This may best be done by means of two successive plowings with aii ordinary plow or by the use of a subsoil plow. The following spring pass a heavy iron-toothed harrow over the land, and follow this soon after by a scarifier. After this, ppread your manure equally over the land and plow it in to a depth of four or five inches. Harrow and roll with an iron roller so as to equalize the surface and break up clods, and the field is ready to receive the seed. These last operations must, if possible, be performed before the month of April. Sowing. Our instructions in this case are: In the first place, purchase your seed, fresh imported, from a reliable dealer, or import it yourself until you can make your own (which will require two years). The amount needed per acre will be from ten to twelve pounds, which can be purchased in New York, at present prices, at 50 cents per pound, for small quantities of from ten to fifty pounds, with a very liberal discount for larger amounts. The seed, before sowing, is soaked in water for 24 hours, and piled up into small heaps until signs of approaching germination are manifested. It is then rolled in fine dust-bone black, which forms a dry adherent coating. The land by this time must have been very carefully "marked," or laid out in regular superficial lines or grooves running at right angles to each other. This is done by means of a special implement drawn by a horse. These lines are so distanced that those in one parallel series are placed at one foot six inches, and those in the other at one foot ten inches from one another. One beet root is destined to be grown at the angle of each quadrangle formed by these intersections, so that one acre of land produces between 21,-000 and 22,000 beets. The marking has to be done with great accuracy, as the subsequent horse hoeings would be impossible if the regularity of the rows was imperfect. The seed is sown by manual labor or by horse power. In the first case this is done by special hand machines, which rapidly deposit the seed along with a minute quantity of some dry, pulverulent fertilizer at the angle of the square " marked," as above described. It is then covered by passing a roller over the ground. More generally, however, the seed is drilled into the land by a sowing machine, drawn by one or two horses, that sows several rows at a time. These machines, of which many various kinds are at present in use in Europe, generally open a groove in the ground, drop the seed in a continuous stream into this groove, deposit along with it a small amount of superphosphate or other finely-comminuted fertilizer, and finally cover the seed, all in one operation. The seed ought to be buried at a depth of from 1- to 2 inches. If the season is propitious, the young plants will show themselves above the surface in from eight to twelve days. The time o f year for sowing the seed must, i n the United States, vary according to localities, from the 1st of March in the Southern States to the first week in May in the Northern. The average for our Middle States, East and West, would correspond to about the 15th of April, or as near to this date as circumstances will allow. Care of the Growing Crop. Very soon after the young beets have fairly shown themselves, or even before this, if weeds are thick, and the original drill lines or marks are still visible, a horse hoe is lightly run across the field between the 18-inch rows. This implement is made to take from three to five rows at one time, in which cases it is, respectively, drawn by one or by two horses. As soon as this operation has been performed, the small beet plants are "thinned." in the rows by means of a broad-bladed hand hoe, which is by two successive strokes of the laborer made to clear a little less than one foot ten inches of the space to be left between two plants in the same row. With skillful drivers, this operation may also be performed by the horse hoe; the implement in this case being so constructed as to allow of varying at will the distance between the hoes. A workman, or woman, with a small, short-handled grubber now follows, and stirs the earth carefully around each plant, so as to loosen the soil, and to leave only one beet at the end of each determined interval. A few rows of young beets must be left in each field un touched, or only " thinned/' in order to allow by transplanta* tion the filling up at some future period (generally after the second hoeing, or when the root has attained about half an inch in diameter) of any vacant spaces in the line produced by the non-germination of seed, late severe fronts, or other accidental causes. The transplanting is done by hand, and the replanting with . a blunt-pointed, hard, wooden borer, great care being taken not to injure the young roots when taking them up or during their transportation. These last operations are often satisfactorily performed by means of a " deplantoir" or " transplanter," a special instrument constructed for the purpose. After this period, two successive horse hoeings will, in most cases, generally suffice to keep the ground clear of weeds until the foliage of the beet itself will become a self-protector by smothering all spontaneous vegetation between the rows. In some instances, however, when the soil is particularly foul, or when it has become caked by the combined influence of excess of rain and heat, it may become necessary to repeat the hoeings once or twice more, and it may prove beneficial to " earth up " the beets, either by means of special contrivances adapted to the "horse hoe itself or by using a very light mold-board plow. As the plant is a biennial, harvested during the* first year ( of its growth, it cannot be called ripe or mature at any time ] before maturation of seed, but the proper season for its ex- traction is indicated when the thermometer in the autumn months has, during several successive days, fallen as low as 45 or 50 degrees of Fahrenheit's thermometer, and when consequently the first frosts may be anticipated. Harvesting. This is done with hand graips, or much better with a mold-board or gridiron plow, the coulter of which has been removed. The plants are taken up, well shaken, and laid in rows, with the roots pointed all one way. The tops, or collars, are then cut off by means of a strong, heavy, sharp knife, which does the work by one stroke. Care must be taken to " decapitate " the beet root fully, so as to prevent vegetation or sprouting of new leaf buds during the winter months, which would develop themselves at the expense of the sugar. The roots must be cleaned, but without excess, as a little dirt left on them will hurt them much less than* Tough handling and bruising. The season for harvesting will vary from the beginning of September to the end of October, according to localities, seasons, and periods of sowing the seed. The later the harvest is gathered the more advantageous will it prove to be in the end to the manufacturer. Preservation. The beginning of the beet root harvest and of sugar making for the campaign are simultaneous. The beets needed for immediate consumption, or for use within a few days after the gathering, are laid in the open air in layers, which must not exceed three feet in thickness, and must be frequently stirred if their sojourn is accidentally prolonged beyond this length of time. The roots destined to be worked during the winter months must be preserved from frost, and are placed in long trenches dug in the ground near the factory buildings. These trenches are generally made about ten feet wide and seven and a half feet deep. Their bottoms have a gentle slope from each side toward the center, where longitudinal drains are dug out for the purpose of collecting any water which might percolate through the pile of beets. This water is carried off by a long, narrow ditch, dug at a lower level than the trench, and put into connection with it by means of drainage pipes. The bottom of the trench is next covered with small poles * or faggots, laid across so as to bridge the central drain, and the beet roots are carefully filled in, care being taken to leave air holes or chimneys (made by converging poles or boards) at distances of every twelve or fifteen feet. The beets are piled somewhat higher than the upper level of the trench. As long as the weather remains fine, and no frost is apprehended, all that has to be done is to cover the upper surface of the beets with a few inches of straw, or dried leaves, in order to protect them from the action of the sun, which is apt to induce heating and consequent fermentation and putrefaction. As soon as the cold weather sets in, a portion of the earth dug up in making the trenches is placed in a layer of from 1 to 2 feet in thickness on the top of the covering of straw or dried leaves. This protection is only removed as the beets are needed for the supply of the works. One single thing has to be attended to during the winter, namely, to close the air holes or chimneys whenever the weather is frosty, and to open them on mild or rainy days. Place in Rotation of Crops. It is improvident, and bad farming to cultivate the beet root twice or more years in succession on the same piece of land. In Europe it is brought once only in a triennial or quadrennial system, this last being preferable as requiring the labor of only one manuring during a period of four years. Here are examples of rotations such as we can conscientiously recommend: i. 1st year. ..................Beets, manured. 2d " ....................Barley or oats. 3d " ....................Clover or sainfoin. 4tli " ....................Wheat. 5th " lt..................Bee*ts, manured. IL 1st ye r....................Beets, manured. 2d " ....................Wheat. 3d " ....................Clover. 4th " ....................Rye or oats. 8ih " ....................Beets, manured. in. 1st year....................Potatoes, well manured. 2d " ....................Beets, not manured. 3d " ....................Wheat. [age crop. 4th "....................Clover, hay, or some for- 5th "....................Potatoes, manured. Manure and Fertilizers. In order to obtain a twenty-tun crop of beet root without impoverishing the soil on which it has been grown, we have to return to it the whole of the leaves which were cut off at the period of harvesting, and further, to add by means of farm-yard manure, and by other fertilizers, either natural or artificial, the following substances per acre in the quantities here given: Nitrogen...................... 747 pounds. Sulphuric acid........ ........ 45 " Phosphoric acid................ 166 * 5 " Lime.......................... 189 Potash....................... .1,125 These figures, with a large allowance for waste and losses, will allow intelligent agriculturists to make their own calculations as regards the needed quantities of the manure they may choose to employ. Let us remark, in conclusion, that during the processes of making beet root sugar many very Valuable refuse, or so-called waste substances are produced, all of which are of the highest value as fertilizers, and are carefully collected as such. These are : The waste dust or refuse bone-jplack left after washing; the exhausted lime of defecation; the pressed scums; the worn-out woolen sacks from the pulp presses ; the ashes from under the boilers ; the small roots and rootlets from the root washer; and, finally, the dung of the animals fed upon the beet root pulp after the sugar has been manufactured therefrom. We learn that a bill for the inspection of steam boilers has been introduced into the Pennsylvania Legislature. It provides that within thirty days the Governor shall appoint one suitable person, to serve for three years, in each Congressional district, as inspectors. They shall examine all except locomotive and low-pressure boilers, and shall keep a " lock-up " safety valve on each boiler. The owners shall have their boilers ready for inspection when notified, and shall pay four dollars for inspection, and shall attach a low-water indicator, connected with the steam whistle.
This article was originally published with the title "Beet Root Sugar" in Scientific American 20, 15, 234-235 (April 1869)