History: Tobacco growing - General
With a study of the tobacco cultivation in Bemmel belongs of course a piece of history about the tobacco culture. Hereby must be answered questions like what is the tobacco culture, where and when is it created and how did it come in the Netherlands (and specifically in Bemmel).

The tobacco culture
Tobacco is a crop from the nightshade family and is known under the genus Nicotiana. It contains about 60 species and many varieties. The best known are the Nicotiana Tabacum and the Nicotiana Rustica. The origin of the Nicotiana lies in South America, from where, after its discovery by Columbus in 1492, this plant was taken to Europe by the Spanish and Portuguese. Initially, around 1550, the plant appeared only as a medicinal herb or as an ornamental plant in botanical gardens in Europe, including the Netherlands. In South and Central America, the plant was already being cultivated by the Indians. The Spaniards and Portuguese learned the cultivation of tobacco from the Indians and brought the tobacco leaves to Europe. The French envoy to Portugal, Jean Nicot, sent seeds and parts of the plant with instructions for its cultivation and use as a medicine to France in 1560. The plant was named after him a few years later. This was the Nicotiana Tabacum.

The Brazilian Indians used tobacco as a smoker and the sailors adopted this use. They took a rolled-up palm leaf, put dried, crushed tobacco leaves in it and lit it, after which they sucked in the smoke. Smoking was the main method of use. Chewing tobacco seems to have come into use only after 1660. The effects of the tobacco were also known very early on, as stated in the following terms: 'it fills many people with such joy and pleasant loss of senses, that they cannot keep away from it and cannot abstain from it for a moment. it seems to refresh them and make them drunk'. It is referred to as being as dangerous as opium and bilge weed. Initially, tobacco smoking was not an accepted activity. It was considered as 'drug use', something decent people and right-minded Christians should not do. Smoking was therefore strongly disapproved of by both Church and worldly authorities. Measures to combat smoking included church censorship, denial of communion and excommunication, but there were also severe physical punishments such as flogging, nose cutting and even the death penalty! (Then the anti-smoking campaigns are more friendly nowadays). The opposition from religious motives comes from the fact that smoking was done by the heathen Indian priests to get into a trance. A true Christian was therefore not allowed to use tobacco!

Tobacco growing in the Netherlands
Commercial tobacco growing started in Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. First in Holland and England between 1610 and 1620, later in France and Germany among others. Tobacco was originally grown in South America and sold to merchants from Holland, England, Spain and Portugal, but since Spain did not want their trading monopoly in their area of power affected, measures were taken to undo the trade by other countries. This disrupted the supply of tobacco and people tried to grow it in Europe. The first tobacco cultivation occurs ca 1610 in Veere and ca 1615 in Amersfoort. Tobacco growing spread further across the Veluwe and later into the Betuwe (1654 in Elst (OB), 1676 in Bemmel). Tobacco growing was something entirely new in agriculture and was able to spread so widely because demand for it was high, enabling growers to make a good living despite the risks involved. In the Netherlands, however, growers were highly dependent on the weather conditions during the growing season. This also determined the quantity and quality. Tobacco needs a period of 90-120 frost-free days between planting and harvesting. After that it still has to be dried. Tobacco was initially sown in cold soil, usually around mid-April. Later, warm containers, or tobacco boxes, were used, which meant that good plant material was available sooner and there was less waste. Fresh horse manure was used as fertiliser, sometimes mixed with sheep manure. In order to make the soil warmer and drier, raised beds or banks were made in the spring and hedges were used for protection against the wind. The land was divided up into sections (also known as quarters, parks or flowerbeds), creating a hedge landscape which was typical of tobacco farming. A characteristic feature of tobacco cultivation in the Netherlands was the heavy fertilisation with fat sheep manure, possibly supplemented by pigeon manure, and cultivation on the same piece of land, year after year. In the Betuwe, cattle manure was also used as fertiliser. It should also be noted that tobacco was sometimes used as a signet in the standard orchards, as was the case in 1760 at the Pollenbering house along the Loostraat.

Working method
After planting the tobacco, the plants had to be dug up, hoeed and 'tilled in'; this is the process of raising the soil around the stems with a shovel or scraper. The entire bed was raised with soil from the path and the plants became more stable. This was followed by 'topping' the tobacco, which is the pinching off or breaking out of the tops or hearts of the plant. The earlier and lower the plant is topped, the thicker and wider it becomes. In the Betuwe people used to top later and higher, which made the leaf less fat and thicker and better suited for the cigarette leaf and binder leaf. Topping produced thorns or suckers, which are offshoots from the leaf axils. These had to be removed, but after the leaves were plucked the top ones were left on, so that there was still a post-harvest from them. The tobacco leaves were harvested as follows: first the bottom leaves (the sand-goods and the earth-goods, together also called bottom-goods) and then the top leaves (the top-goods or best-goods). Finally, the runners were harvested. The plucked leaves were taken to the barn and an incision was made in the lower part of the middle vein of each leaf, about 10 cm long. This was the cutting of the tobacco. The leaves were threaded through the incised slit onto bars so that they did not touch. These bars were pointed poles of ash or willow wood and were about 150-180 cm long and 2½ cm thick. The poles were then hung up to dry the leaves. This drying first took place in the houses of the tobacco farmers and later special tobacco barns were built, especially on the Veluwe. The drying of the sand and earth goods took about 4 weeks and of the best goods 5-6 weeks. If necessary, a fire was lit in the barn or the house if the weather was damp. It goes without saying that this was very dangerous and was repeatedly forbidden. When the leaves were dry, fermentation (a kind of heating process) ensured that the tobacco leaf became 'real' tobacco; the leaf had to be shiny and elastic.

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