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.
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 di…
Growing tobacco in pots
At the request of many of our customers, we have posted answers to many tobacco growing questions below, we hope you find this useful.
Where will tobacco grow?
Tobacco will grow in all 50 states, basically anywhere where you have about 100 frost free nights after setting out the tobacco plants.
What tobacco will grow in my area?
I have been asked this question thousands of times by customers over the years, the answer is really quite simple, tobacco will grow just about anywhere, basically if a tomato plant will grow in your area, a tobacco plant will thrive. All tobacco varieties do about the same in hot areas, cold areas, dry areas and different elevations. You should choose a type of tobacco to grow because of how you will use it, if one type will grow in your area, they all will.
How long does it take from the time you sow the seeds until they are ready to transplant?
Most growers state 4-6 weeks, but to be honest, I like to start mine about 6-8 weeks before our estimated last frost, tobacco seedlings transplant well, and the extra 2 weeks growth not only shortens the growing season, it makes for larger, healthier plants when you do transplant.
How much tobacco will a single plant produce, and how much tobacco do I need to make a carton of cigarettes?
Well, tobacco yield will vary among the different varieties, but generally a tobacco plant will produce about 3-4 ounces of dry, cured tobacco ( we normally get 5-7 ounces from our plants, but we offer optimal conditions for growing ). When figuring your tobacco needs, we would advise you calculate 2 ounces per plant to have a little margin of error.
While a commercial cigarette will normally contain about 0.7 grams of tobacco per cigarette, this is “puffed” tobacco and non-tobacco ingredients added. A pound of pure tobacco will normally produce about 2 cartons of cigarettes. As a rule of thumb, figure about 4 plants per carton, this gives you quite a bit of leeway. You should note that the best tobacco is aged, so the first year you grow, you should try to double your normal tobacco needs for the year, this way you can keep some aging each year.
What is the best way to start tobacco seeds? Tobacco seeds really are fairly easy to start, but the seeds are very tiny and if you are not careful, you can have bad results the first time you try them. We start our seeds in regular 1020 growing flats but you can use almost any type of tray or container to start your seeds in, we do not recommend using peat pellets, we’ve always had rather poor results with these.
We fill them with a good seed starting mix. This is important, as a good seed starting mix will be fine textured and allow seeds to lay on top of the soil. Course mixes will allow the seeds to easily wash into the soil, preventing germination. You can usually find a fairly good seed starting mix at most garden centers, Miracle Gro is pretty good, or you can use a cacti plant growing mix in a pinch, as these are usually rather fine textured mixes.
Before sowing the seeds, we soak the soil thoroughly, this is important, as this will prevent you from having to water the surface for a time after sowing.
We then sprinkle the seeds onto the surface of the soil, we sow ours rather thickly, as we plant to transplant the seedlings into larger pots a couple of weeks after germination.
We then cover the 1020 flat with a clear plastic dome to help keep moisture trapped against the soil surface, you do not have to do this, but it really saves you time and effort. If you do not cover the container with plastic, be sure to mist the soil surface daily, if you allow the surface to dry out for only a day, it can kill the germination process.
Opps! I think I bought way too many seeds, how long will tobacco seeds keep in storage?
You can store extra tobacco seeds for 2-3 years and still get good germination normally ( we change out our seed crop yearly, so if you buy from us you know the seeds are fresh ). Store seeds in a dark, dry, cool place such as a linen drawer.
How long does it take tobacco seeds to germinate?
The majority of varieties will start showing germination in 7-10 days, or even a little sooner, but different varieties do germinate at different speeds, it is not unusual for some to take as long as two weeks to show signs of germination, and this can stretch into 3-4 weeks in cold soil and in summer heat.
What should I do when I see the first signs of germination?
As soon as you seed the tiny green specks appear, remove the plastic cover if you have one in place. From this point on, you need to make sure the seedlings have good air circulation in order to prevent “damping off”, a common fungi disease in greenhouses. A good source of information on this can be found at NC State Plant Pathology.
Even though you are providing air circulation, it is still important to maintain good soil surface moisture. Bright light is also important, not directly in full sun, but in bright, indirect sunlight area.
What about fertilizing new seedlings?
Most seed starting mixes contain a small amount of starter fertilize. You can also use a weak ( about 1/4 strength ) solution of water soluble plant food such as Miracle Gro. Use this solution weekly until seedlings are about 3 inches tall, then switch to full strength.
If I have planted seeds too close together and need to separate seedlings, when do I do this?
Tobacco seedlings separate and transplant very well, but you should let them develop a root system before pulling seedlings apart and transplanting, even if they are growing in a close wad or clump. I recommend not trying to separate them until they are 3-4 inches tall. Using a root stimulator solution ( you can find this at most gardening centers ), is very helpful in reducing shock.
How do I transplant them into the Garden?
Same culture as tomatoes, we recommend planting in late afternoon, and watering around plants thoroughly to settle in soil. You should plant in garden type soil, we double the amount of fertilizer we work into the soil in early spring for tobacco areas. It is always a good ideal to have the soil scientifically tested. Your local county extension agent can tell you how to take a representative sample to send to your State Soil Testing Lab, every county has a county agent ( you can usually find the phone number by looking under Government Agencies in the phone book under the title “Conservation District” ). Test results and fertilizer recommendations matched to the crop to be grown will be returned to the grower, just note that you are growing tobacco on the form you send in with the test.
Tobacco plants are gross feeders, we feed ours with a water soluble plant food ( Miracle Gro will work fine ) about once a week after the plants are a foot tall.
How far apart do I space tobacco plants in the garden?
Generally, we prefer to space our tobacco out at about 3 feet apart, in rows 4 feet apart. This allows for plenty of growing room and you can still walk between the rows to inspect the crop during the growing season.
Should I stake my plants?
If you can, it is a good ideal to do so, we drive metal fence posts down about every 20 feet along our rows, then run a small rope ( about 1/4″ is fine ) between each post, and tie the plants off to the rope, this gives support during storms and high winds.
Will bugs be a problem on tobacco?
Surprisingly, bugs love tobacco, but are easily held at bay dusting with Sevin Dust, we use the Liquid Sevin Dust Spray on ours, you want to use something that is safe to use on vegetables, as you will be smoking or chewing this later. Sevin Dust will wash off and is considered safe to use.
Can I grow tobacco in containers?
Yes, tobacco grows very well in containers, buy you will need at least 3 gallon size containers, and you will have to water often.
Hopefully this info will help you get started growing tobacco in your garden, for harvesting and curing information you may want to by our book, DVD or videos.
Jim’s Tobacco Growing Q&A