A few remarks concerning the Castor-oil bean.—Ricinus communis, Linn.

Botanical name: 

By D. F. Davenport.

Read before the Meeting of the Georgia Pharmaceutical Association, Savannah, 1895.

Gentlemen of the Georgia Pharmaceutical Association:—You have made a request of me to write a treatise on a subject which very few of us this far South and East know much about. The experiments which have been made in my locality have been made at my expense, and the "returns," on account of the cold, and of imperfect knowledge of their culture, has resulted rather disastrously. Still there are many reasons to believe that South Georgia, and especially Sumter County, is admirably adapted to this "bean."

The experiments began by loaning out seed to the farmers in various localities in small lots, and giving a guarantee of a price per bushel delivered in any quantity at Americus, after September 1, 1894. Only one farmer made a return of the seed, and one other was so delighted with the enterprise that he made his own shipments to the Northern market, and this year he has a considerable acreage in their culture. With the others the continued frosts killed the young plants, and very few came to maturity.

Sufficient to say, however, the plant assumes an enormous size, and yields abundantly in this soil and climate. As to the character of the seed: one large crusher said that the specimen sent from Sumter County was the finest he ever saw, and that if we could grow beans like the sample sent he would give a contract for several thousand bushels.

Just at this time, however, the "Wilson Bill" took 50 cents duty off of castor beans per bushel, and the West Indies up to date has "out-classed" our section.

From meagre observations, however, I am sure that, if sufficiently understood and extensively cultivated, we have the advantage of that now rebellious district, even as it is.

One thing we must understand thoroughly, and that is their cultivation. All depends upon the knowledge of it. A few facts are given, gathered from the St. Louis market, which will be of great benefit to those who expect to engage in the enterprise in this locality.

Almost any soil that will produce wheat or corn will answer for the castor bean. When it can be had, a sandy loam is preferable. The soil should be dry. Wet, heavy soils are not adapted to its successful culture.

One important fact in connection with the culture of castor beans is that it is one of the most fertilizing crops raised. In this respect it surpasses even clover. Many farmers say, for fertilizing purposes, a crop raised upon poor land is worth several dollars per acre to the land, on account of the additional fertility gained by it.

Preparation of the soil.

The ground should be put in good condition for the seed, as for other crops. One thorough plowing, and three or four harrowings, with a heavy harrow, will be a sufficient preparation.

Planting the seed.

The ground is now laid off in rows, 5 or 6 feet apart, each way, except that between every sixth and seventh row, a distance of about 8 feet between the rows is left one way, to admit a horse and wagon or slide to pass, to take the beans when gathered. Hot water, somewhat below the boiling point, should be poured over the seeds, and they should remain in this water twenty-four hours before being planted. The temperature of the water will, of course, be gradually reduced to the temperature of the atmosphere. Applying the hot water once will be sufficient. If planted without this preparation, they are a great while in germinating, many of them not making their appearance for three or four weeks. With this preparation they will soon germinate and come up regularly. Some farmers put in each hill one-half of those which have hot water poured over them, and one-half those which have not; so that if the cut-worms destroy the first that come up, a stand may be obtained from the others, which will come up a week or two later. Good, sound, plump seed should be selected for planting. A bushel will plant fifteen to twenty acres. Eight or ten seed should be dropped in each hill. But one, or, at most, two plants are to be left in a hill. As the cut-worm is quite destructive to the plants, this number of seeds is recommended, so as to be certain of an even stand. Of course, replanting can be done; but it is better to avoid it, if possible, by planting plenty of seed. The seed should be planted as soon as all danger of frost is over. The plants are as easily destroyed by frost as our common bean, and, therefore, planting should be delayed till after the 1st of April.


The cultivation of the plants consists in destroying the weeds and grass, and keeping the soil open and mellow. These objects are chiefly attained by using the horse and cultivator, or small plow, working between the rows both ways. It is also necessary to work among the plants with hoes, going over them two or three times, cutting the weeds away from the plants that cannot be reached with the plow or cultivator, and drawing a little mellow earth to the plants, gradually reducing the number to one plant in the hill, though two are occasionally left. One strong, vigorous plant, however, will produce better seed than two in the same hill, and as great a quantity of beans. After the plant is 2 feet high it is capable of taking care of itself, and grows rapidly. After heavy rains, however, it is still advisable to work between the rows with the horse cultivator, breaking up the crust that has formed on the surface of the ground, and opening and loosening the soil to derive a greater benefit from the atmosphere. It will be seen that the cultivation is as simple as that of corn or of the common bean.

Harvesting the crop.

About the first day of July the beans begin to ripen. They are produced in pods or husks, on spikes of various lengths, and should be gathered as soon as the pods begin to turn brown, to prevent loss by their popping out on the field, as beans, when ripe, pop or burst from the pod quite a distance. They are gathered by cutting off the entire spike. Each plant has a number of these, and they are produced and ripen in succession till frost. Of course, only those exhibiting brown pods should be cut. These spikes are then thrown into a wagon or on a slide, passing through the broad rows, and hauled away to the

Dry yard,

which is made on a piece of land near the bean fields, sloping to the south, so as to get as much heat as possible from the sun to ripen the beans and cause them to burst from the husks. Cut off the sod, then roll the ground down hard, and make a fence around the yard by placing boards up against rails laid on crotched sticks or posts; though the fence is not necessary if the yard is made large enough to leave a space outside the beans of 12 or 15 feet, as many of the beans will pop that distance, and if the fence is not built, or the space left, many of the beans will be lost in the grass or field beyond the yard.

The spikes are occasionally turned over and exposed to the sun, until all the seeds have left the husks, when the old spikes are taken away and a new supply added. The same process is gone through with the entire crop. Great care should be taken to prevent the beans getting wet. Dirty beans command much less price, and sprouted beans are nearly worthless. When rain is anticipated, rake the spikes into a heap and cover them with straw, plank or tarpaulins; sweep the beans up, clean them with a fanning mill, and store in a dry place. Do not attempt to pop them out in pops over the fire, as it renders them almost worthless.

Board floors.

It will undoubtedly pay most farmers to make board floors for their "dry yard" to "pop out" their beans on. In this way they can keep the beans perfectly clean and free from lumps of hard dirt and small stones, which cannot be taken out by a fanning mill or screens. Such a floor can be made cheaply in sections, say 8 feet wide and 16 feet long, by nailing rough boards planed on one side to 2 x4 scantling set on edges, to allow air and rain to pass underneath. These sections can be easily moved by wagon. In case of rain the unpopped beans can be raked into one or more piles on part of the floor, and the other section used to cover them. When the bean season is over they can be used for other purposes, say storehouse for grain, etc., or shelter for animals, and the next season for dry yard floor, and so on. It will probably pay to paint the floor with cheap black paint; black "draws the sun," which will quicken the "popping out" process. The paint will preserve the wood and also prevent the rain from soaking into the floor, thus enabling the farmer to spread his beans again much sooner after the rain is over. No doubt the extra money received for the castor bean will soon pay the entire cost of the floor.

After the beans begin to ripen, the field should be gone over once or twice a week until frost. In hot, dry weather, they ripen more rapidly than in cool, wet weather. Children can perform this work, and a large family of children cannot be more profitably employed than in taking care of a crop of castor beans. The work is all light. With a steady horse, children might do all the work.

Frosted beans.

Are worth from one-half to two-thirds the price of good beans, but must never be mixed with them when sent to the market, as a very few frosted beans in a lot of good will reduce the value very much, from the inability to separate them economically,

Yield, price, etc.

The yield will depend much upon the culture bestowed upon the crop, upon the season, and the care exercised in gathering and ripening the seed. From fifteen to twenty-five bushels to the acre is an average yield. Some cultivators will yield considerably more, others less. Farmers will do well to pay attention to this crop, for which a certain demand exists, and at remunerating cash prices. It will pay better than raising cotton, corn, potatoes, wheat, barley, or almost any other farm produce. It is not a difficult crop to get to market, can be taken by team, or sent by railroad, with more profit than most crops, as the value is greater for the same quantity.

Castor beans have proven a profitable crop. Present market price is $1.25 per bushel.

These directions for the cultivation of castor beans are intended to apply to our latitude. It is thought they are sufificiently explicit to enable any one to successfully attempt their culture.

We wish again to urge the farmers and dealers to thoroughly clean their castor beans before shipping to market. Well-cleaned beans will always bring more, and it is a disadvantage to all but the railroad company to pay the freight on dirt, chaff and hulls.

Castor beans weigh 46 pounds per bushel. The principal markets for us are New York City and St. Louis. The freight rate per 100 pounds in bags or barrels is 79 cents.

There are fixed charges for inspecting castor beans in bulk as follows: two dollars ($2.00) for every bulk car or part bulk car; two (2) cents per sack for every car sacks; three (3) cents per sack on less than carload lots, and that no inspection be less than twenty-five (25) cents.

Grades of castor beans.

Prime Beans are such as are bright and uninjured, and weigh not less than forty-one (41) pounds to the measured bushel when cleaned.

Number 2 Beans are such as are bright and uninjured by rain, weight not less than thirty-eight (38) pounds to the measured bushel when cleaned, and shall be valued at five (5) per cent. less than the value of prime beans.

Rejected Beans are such as are slightly damaged by rain, and weight not less than thirty-eight (38) pounds to the measured bushel when cleaned.

No Grade Beans are such as are badly damaged by rains or damaged by frost, or weighed less than thirty-eight (38) pounds to the measured bushel when cleaned.

Americsu, GA

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 67, 1895, was edited by Henry Trimble.