Introduction: Growing Tobacco
As part of an on going self sufficiency experiment I decided to have a go at growing my own tobacco. I know a lot of people don't like smoking but I do smoke so I figured I could save some money by growing my own.
The only issue I had was that I didn't have anywhere to grow it as I rent a flat there is no garden, but here in the UK there is a Remanent of World War II (maybe even earlier) that would assist me. Allotments, I don't know if other country's have these but here in the UK the are large patches of land that are divided up in to smaller patches know as an Allotment. The purpose was to allow people a place to grow their own vegetables when food was not abundant. These are still in use today but people use them for many different things, some people turn them in to a garden, or use them for there main purpose and grow vegetables. This allotment cost me £5 a year!! plus i had to join the allotment society which cost me £20, so £25 for a year of renting a piece of land, not bad!
I will use the allotments to grow tobacco which caused something of a stir in the allotment community as not a lot of people know it is legal to grown your own tobacco even here in the UK. However there is one rule here which is important, you can grow tobacco in the UK and dry it legally as long as it not for commercial use. you can even dry it and chop it up to a smoke-able product provided you do not sell it.
You should check the laws in your area to see what you can do.
Step 1: What You Will Need
Seeds, I got Burley, Virgina Gold and Samsoun and also Adonis which is a German tobacco which i got free with the other seeds I ordered. I got mine on ebay fairly cheap.
Seed Tray, Germination tray with a lid
Weed fabric or ground sheet (optional)
slug pellets, in the UK the slugs love tobacco plants.
in the US there is something called cut worm, these things will literally cut the main stem of the plant at ground level, you can put a large diameter plastic pipe in to the ground so it sticks out about 2 inches.
some string to hang the tobacco
note: its important to know that cigar, cigarette and rolling tobacco are not just one type of tobacco they are blend of various tobaccos, the tobaccos I am planting are the ones used in cigarettes and rolling tobacco. You may want to investigate the different types of tobacco used in what you smoke. you can roll your own cigars but you will need to ferment the tobacco for this once you have harvested and dried it.
so you know how many roughly you need to plant, virgina gold tobacco has a large narrow leaf, burley has a large wide leaf and samsoun has a small heart shaped leaf not much larger than a male hand. Adonis has a very large wide leaf as well.
Step 2: Germinating the Seeds
the seeds are tiny, you can see from the picture of them next to a penny, place them on a piece of paper so you can see them clearly.
fill your seed trays with compost, using the tip of your finger just press gently on the seeds and they will stick to your finger, you only want a few per compartment around 10 should be enough. try and get them in the middle if you can.
put a tiny little sprinkling of compost on the top, we are talking a dusting.
using a spray bottle of just plain water dampen the compost and cover it with foil. you may want to mark the rows so you know which seeds are which.
place in a warm place to germinate, an airing cupboard is good for this, if you don't have one a good cheat is a cardboard box with a light in it, but you want to make sure the box doesn't get too warm so put a thermometer in there. you can also put the try on a heat mat or a heated germination box. If there is enough sun shine you can put them on the window sill where the sun light gets to it.
after a few days you will start to see sprouts.
Step 3: Thinning Out
once you have the little sprouts remove the foil and put the lid on the tray and put it on a window sill or somewhere it can get sunlight.
within a few days you should see some small leaves, now is the best time to thin out, we only really need one seedling per compartment, using tweezers remove any that are not straight or near the center. leave about 5 in each compartment, well spaced apart.
this will give you some options later on as to which one you want to keep.
when they get a bit bigger remove all but one that you want to keep, make sure its as straight as you can make it.
the keen eyed ones of you will notice that my trays have changed color, thats because I did 2 lots the first was a trial run, i then did it again for my allotment ones.
Step 4: Preparing the Planting Area and Planting
I laid down weed fabric which I held in place with metal tent pegs which i sharpened the tips using a grind stone. you can buy proper pegs for this but tent pegs were cheaper.
I also ran a hose between each of the rows which i punched holes in so that I could be lazy when watering them, turns out the water pressure wasn't great at the allotments but it still worked as the fabric allows water through the ground still ended up soaked.
for each plant we want to have 2ft diameter around the plant, if you have the space give it 3ft.
I used a knife to cut a small hole to put the seedling in, put your hand over the pot with the seedling loosely between your figures and gently remove the pot, and place the seedling in a small hole in the soil. Press it down firmly, you want to have good contact with the new soil. they are easier to remove if you cut the pot away from the main tray.
The time you want to get these in the ground is just after the last frost has gone. here in the UK thats the end of march beginning of April normally, but it may differ in different parts of the world.
carefully water them, then put down some slug pellets to stop the slugs destroying your hard work.
Step 5: Watering and Topping
the best time to water is in the early evening when the sun is going down, if water them during the day the sun will scorch them. if you water them in the morning the water doesn't penetrate the ground enough and some of it will evaporate off and not get to your plants. They should be watered daily, it will take a couple of months for them to get to the right size for harvesting.
if you are growing one type of tobacco only then you will not need to top the plants, that is if there is not tobacco growing within a mile of your tobacco plants. Otherwise they could get pollen transferred to them from insects thats have been on other tobacco plants, the resulting seeds would then be a mix of the 2 tobaccos.
its worth knowing that tobacco plants are not male or female so you can use a fine paint brush to pollinate from one flower to another even on the same plant. I did this with a Samsoun plant i kept separate in a pot on the window sill at home and a Virgina gold in a pot in the garden. Tobacco plants have a nice pink / purple flower and can look nice in the garden.
for my plantation I had mixed plants which I did not want to pollinate with each other so I had to cut the tops off before they started to flower.
NOTE green fly and other bugs love these plants, you may need to do something about these bugs, a good way to deal with them without sprays is to use lady bugs. you can buy them online by the 1000 just tip a few out on each plant. you don't want to use sprays of anything on the plants as you want to smoke them, you don't know whats in these sprays it's likely to be toxic esp if smoked.
Step 6: Harvesting and Drying
Harvesting is easy enough, put your hand on top of the leaf at the base of the stem and push down, it should make a satisfying cracking sound. Make sure you keep your leaves in separate piles so you know which ones are which. Tobacco leaves are very sticky so wear gloves.
to dry them you need to hang them in a warm place out of direct sun light, a shed or a barn would be good for this. I used a shed.
put 2 leaves back to back and punch a hole through the stem, feed through some string, i found it easier to tie one end off to where i was hanging them and just pull the leaves across. make sure the leaves don't touch as this could cause them to go moldy. I had this one some of my Adonis leaves which was fine as I only grew them because they were extra seeds i got with the batch.
the Samsoun I put together in batches using a rubber band, you can bind 2 of the big leaves together with a rubber band and hang them over the string, I started to do this once i realized it was easier, make sure the rubber band is tight, it should keep a grip on the leaves while they shrink as they dry.
check on them every few days to make sure they are drying evenly and not too quickly, if they dry too quickly they will be green.
once they are dry take the band off and put them in a cardboard box for a couple of months to cure.
when they are cured they will be brittle so be careful, to rehydrate them a little, put them a few leaves in a plastic bag and using a spray bottle spray a little water in the bag. Wrap the bag over so its air tight and put it in a warm place overnight like an airing cupboard.
now you can chop them up, you can buy tobacco shredders or you can make your own, or compress the leaves in to a block and use a very sharp knife to take fine slices off the block, when you have cut it up, fluff it up and put it in a air tight container. People have tried to use things like paper shredders and pasta shredders to varying degrees of success, but honestly you are better off using a proper shredder or a good sharp knife. at some point i hope to make my own tobacco shredder I am thinking of making one based on an old Victorian design, which i will write an instructable on when I have done it.
if you want to make cigars then you will need to ferment the tobacco and this is a very good instructable on making a fermentation box.