What to consider in regards to growing tobacco?

ClareBroommaker's picture

A couple years ago, I bought tobacco seeds but got called away from home for a week while they were seeded and in need of close monitoring for soil humidity. They are tiny, dust-like seeds and can dessicate quickly. When I got home the seeds were goners.

I just found a secondhand book about growing and processing tobacco, so I bought it. My mate was kind of appalled. I am again intrigued.

Now, I don't expect the US tobacco industry will go down suddenly, so I don't think I'd likely supply anyone's addictive need, but I kind of want to grow a little tobacco. I don't smoke; have absolutely no interest in it.

What do you think I should consider? Is tobacco growing a skill I should/should not work on? Actually, I've grown ornamental tobacco. That was easy. I imagine it is the processing for smoking that takes some learning. Guess I'm asking about the ethics, because if I processed it, I would give it to somebody to try.

For whatever it's worth, I found a sentence in A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (a nominee for GW canon). It's just a throwaway line about all the stuff in nature that we don't understand. Leopold say tobacco grows best in soil that has been preconditioned by giant ragweed. (!!!)

So if anyone plans to grow more than the odd garden/patio plant, consider clearing a ragweed patch. Your neighbors will probably thank you.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Well, holy smokes (ha-ha, I didn't do that on purpose), I have been hoeing giant ragweed from one end of my ornamental garden and that end kind of has an empty space. Maybe it is wishing for tobacco.

My couple plants are still in the take-out container I started them in. They have turned out to be peculiarly fragile, but I feel sure they want to get into some substantial soil. I've had them indoors most of the time because they are so whispy and pale. I take them out to try to give them a few minutes of sun to build some chlorophyll, then put them back in the house. But they have not gotten green enough for me to feel good about full sun all day. I think I should never have started them indoors. They are "Virginia Gold" if anyone recognizes that.

I found a copy of Sand County Almanac on an interstate bus ride a couple years ago-- as a matter of fact it was on the trip where I left my ungerminated first batch off seeds in the care of my husband who didn't realize there was anything to water, so when I came home I thought thet were ruined. Never read the book-- talked with little kids the whole trip.

A perfect example of "silly synchronicity"! Will the tobacco plants need some shade starting out? Take notes and keep us posted.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I finally started some seeds last night. This is the coldest spring I remember in the 38 years I've lived here; the seeds have a chance to rot before or as they sprout.

Honyoker, I look forward to your photos

ClareBroommaker's picture

Well, a few seeds have germinated. I was afraid I might have cooked the seeds because I left the pot out in the sun inside a plastic bag to retain both heat and surface moisture since the seeds are surface sowed. One day the soil got hot, I'd guess 130F. I brought the pot inside to keep in a window out of direct sun. I kept the bag over it and today found four delicate sprouts. I'll wait to see if there is more germination and wait for the seedlings to bulk up a bit before I prick them out and repot. After that, I'll set them in the garden.

I've been experimenting with growing tobacco as a trade good since I don't use it myself any more. Pinetree Garden Seeds has a fairly good selection of varieties for sale. I'm pretty far north for growing outside, but I've found that you can grow very large plants in a fairly small pot in a window during the winter months. They seem to do well with limited amounts of sunlight. You can also harvest the leaves and then cut the plant back to a two to three inch stem as long as you leave two or three nodes. The plant will then grow a new main stem and put on more leaves for a second crop. I'm still at that stage so I don't know yet if it's possible to cut that stem back and go for a third crop from the same plant.

I've also started plants inside and transplanted them into a hoop house during the summer months. They seem to like a lot of heat if you can keep them watered well. They tend to grow to about 6 feet tall with very large leaves in the hoop house.

The part I haven't mastered yet is curing for final use. I think humidity might be my problem. I'm basically in a high desert environment here.

I harvested the 2nd bunch of leaves from the plant and then cut the second stem back to 3 nodes about 2 weeks ago. A third stem is now growing from one of the remaining nodes so it looks like I might get 3 crops from one plant. Tobacco seems to be tolerant of poor soils because the plant is growing in a 7-inch diameter and 7-inch high pot. It has had only one application of organic fish emulsion fertilizer since I planted it. The fertilizer application was last spring, but it's still going strong. It also seems to be tolerant of low light because, at 45 degrees North latitude, the daylight has been short for the past few weeks, The plant is in a south-facing window, but the window is shaded on the east so it gets direct sunlight for only a few hours each day.

The third crop of leaves from the same plant root system is almost ready to harvest. After I harvest, I'll cut the stem back again and try for a fourth crop. I'll try to keep you all posted.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Do you think it acts like a perennial if you don't let it bloom and keep it indoors in winter?

I'm sorry it took so long to get back here. I never could get the photographs to load on the old website and then until recently I had a hard time getting on this site. The attached photos are from spring of 2018 and show the plant as it was then. The first photo shows it before harvesting all of the leaves and the lower leaves have previously been harvested. The second photo shows a new stalk beginning to grow. Since the photos were taken, I have harvested four more stalks of leaves from the plant and another is beginning to grow. The plant is still healthy and growing well. I did give it one dose of fish emulsion fertilizer last fall but, other than that, it has only been watered on a regular basis. Just to see what would happen, I allowed one stalk to blossom and make seed before I harvested it and it didn't seem to affect the plant at all. It's still growing as a perennial.

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Here's the second photo.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

What an interesting idea to grow tobacco indoors. I never would have thought of it. I'm in the Mississippi river valley where summers are hot and humid. I also have a detached shed/garage where I could cure it, also a pressurized hand sprayer I could set to mist to quickly raise humidity if pans of water or wet tarps set in the shed are not enough.

I found on the internet that 31,000 acres of tobacco were grown in my state in the mid 1990s, so others have found it worthwhile as a commercial crop. That's not what I'm looking to do, but it encourges me that it's possible.

You know, I don't remember where I go my seeds, but it might have been Pinetree (superseeds.com) because I do order from them every two or three years. Do you know how long an open seed packet, not stored away in the fridge, might be good? Actually I have no idea where I put the leftover seeds. My seed stock is a disorganized mess, all over the house and basement

If it's only been two or three years, I'd bet the seeds would still be viable. Even if you could only get a few to germinate that would be enough to start your own seed saving. Each flower makes a pod with a lot of seeds in each pod and, in my experience, there are usually 10 to 12 flowers per plant. I've also noticed that if you let the plant go to seed indoors, you usually get several small plants that start themselves in the same pot and can be transplanted to where you want them.

David Trammel's picture

I don't see anything wrong with growing tobacco (or for that matter marijuana), they are both really to me "medicinal herbs" which have gotten a bad rap because people take the occasional use too far and make it into an addiction and abuse.

I don't use either at this time. I have smoked a cigar or two when offered but the amount of nicotine you get has left me slightly nauseous and I don't finish the cigar. Cigarettes, never. I have used tobacco ceremonially in Native American rituals I have participated in though if Missouri passes a law which allows it in the coming decade like I expect many states to, I may grow some pot in my retirement.

I would say go for it.

Blueberry's picture

Made from tobacco to control insects in the veggie garden, just do not use on tomatoes. One oz of seed is like 10000 seed very small and expensive. I have grown the stuff just for fun was able to buy plants from folks who started and sold plants funny none of them were smokers, Just do not try and sell the stuff tobacco is under a federal marketing order. In the past was also used as a wormer for cows they love the stuff.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I would not have thought to bring my tobacco indoors if not for Honyocker. Here is what its bloom looks like. The variety is Virginia Gold.

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Blueberry's picture

Clare might want to try your hand at using a pollen brush, ie a small oil paint brush. Good looking picture.

David Trammel's picture

I can't imagine what a huge field of these blooms must have looked like. How big is the flower?

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I'd like to grow my own pipe tobacco. What kind of wizard doesn't have a pipe?

I enjoy tobacco on occassion: cigars, pipes, a couple cigarettes a year at family gathering's every few months. I think the stigma against tobacco will gradually fade. I bought a pouch of rolling tobacco a couple years ago for a campout and I never finished it all in more than two years -so yeah I enjoy smoking, but don't let it dominate me. (I did smoke regularly from age 14-21... when I quit then I've never returned to daily smoking.)

From a magical/spiritual perspective it can be used in prayer & connecting to spirits of the land. At the same time it is also useful as a mild anti-depressant and nicotine boosts serotonin. Useful for ceremonial & ritual purposes. It's a "power" plant -one of the gifts of the new world alongside chocolate!

I also think that this would be a useful crop to sell / barter with as we go down the steps. Knowing how to cure it and make it into a good smoke would be useful.

Both tobacco and marijuanna are cash crops in Kentucky. I suspect they will remain so. Kentucky is actually a very well poised state in terms of collapse, because they already have an economy in horses, bourbon, tobacco, marijuanna.

Serinde's picture

Can't grow nicotiana tabacum in this part of the world (we'll continue to specialise in distilling, I suspect), but I think that adding the skill of processing the tobacco plant to the list of "things that'll stop the ravening hordes from killing you outright" is a good idea. Up there with doctoring, midwifery, distilling of alcohol and brewing beer!

I also suspect we'll be a lot less finicky about "ethics" as our social systems head down the slope...

David Trammel's picture

Could you post a picture of the seeds Clare? I'll start a thread in the Book of Plants with the pictures you've posted. Put a quarter in the picture to give a size reference please. Oh and a picture of the overall plant with the bloom would be get too.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Probably I could get my mate to take pictures of the seeds, but the pictures of the plant would be atypical, since it has been grown entirely in a very shallow container. It has become sort of miniaturized. Tobacco is normally a big plant with big leaves. The biggest leaves on mine are only about 7 inches long. Maybe Honyocker or someone else has a photo of the plant.

In general, I won't be able to provide photos, since I do not take them.