Sugarcane Crop

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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In July or August, slave gangs prepared the cane pieces for planting by slashing and burning grass, shrubs, and old cane. The work was dangerous, as slaves contended with swinging machetes, smoke, snakes, and armies of rats that inhabited the fields. (One plantation caught 3,000 rats in just six months.)

Next came cane holing, the backbreaking job of digging precisely measured holes and building ridges around them from scooped-out soil. Then pairs of slaves inserted three cane tops into each hole and packed it with manure, seaweed, or sludge before covering it with earth. As the planted cane grew, the slaves reinforced the ridges, weeded the thousands of rows between the cane holes, removed dry stalks, and pruned. Many plantations staggered their planting schedules so that slaves finished the dreaded job of cane holing in one field only to repeat it in another. See sugarcane agriculture.