I’ve started growing tobacco in the garden this year. I bought a couple of books but they are pretty much useless compared to the vast amounts of information you can get on these two forums: http://www.howtogrowtobacco.com/forum/index.php and http://fairtradetobacco.com/forum.php
my main source for information is this german forum: http://www.tabakanbau-forum.de/
and this great website !:http://www.tabakanbau.de/de/
. there is a knowlege pool (Wissenspool) a calculator as well as a lot of other good features about tobacco farming.
I can recomment those two sites for everybody who is interested in tobacco farming an can read german.
Thought I’d post a diary of the process for those thinking of trying this.
I guess I'll do the same so we can compare results.
I’ve spent tons of time researching the process. It’s kind of complicated and there is a lot that can go wrong, pests, viruses, weather (hailstorms are particularly bad, for example) for the growing part and mold, drying green, and equipment needs for the curing/fermenting process.
It is my understanding that you do not need to ferment your leaves when you dry them good and as long as possible.
In the previous fall and winter, I developed the part of the garden I was planning on using by tilling it and putting in wood ashes (good for tobacco) from our wood-burning stove and lots of compost. Tobacco uses tons of nutrients. I also put in some organic fertilizer (which I haven’t done before for other vegetables, usually compost has been enough). It’s important not to use certain kinds of industrial fertilizer, since it looks like the problem of radioactive Polonium in tobacco comes from certain types of phosphate fertilizers.
the decision to plant them came in the last-minute to me too so I couldn't grow them out of seeds as I initially wanted to do.
as far as I know the plants grow the best in loosened/sandy soil with a pH-value between 6 and 7.
I've tested the pH-value and luckily the soil is pH 6,5 wich is perfect.
I've hooked the soil were I plant them pretty good so that it is as loose as possible.
I also used the soil from this spot for the pots. so same soil condition for those outside and inside.
first I thought I'll plant all 40 plants into my garden without rain shelter but then decidet to plant 20 in pots on my closed terrace where it is always several degrees warmer then outside and 20 into my garden.
I planted 19 Virginia Bright Leaf, 17 Burley, and 7 Smyrna #9 (a Turkish/Oriental variety).
I plant 7 different sorts; 8 Samsoun Orient, 8 Pergeu Nicotiana, 8 Rot Front Korso, 4 Lorscher Deckblatt, 4 Havanna Nicotiana, 4 Burley Panama, 4 Badischer Geudertheimer.
I started seeds way too late. All the sources say you need to start seeds 2 months before putting them in the ground, but May came around and I realized I needed to order seeds (I ordered seeds from here: http://www.newhopeseed.com/about_tobacco_seed.html) and get them going, but the sources were right, it was too late. The plants start very slowly. Then, just in time, I found there are tobacco farmers online who sell live plants, so I ordered 50 of them from one who is on the forum who still had lots of plants left. He was offering Burley and Virginia, and I asked him if he had any Oriental varieties. He ended up sending me ten Smyrna plants for free as well as numerous extra Virginia and Burley. I ended up getting 70 plants. They arrived in good shape June 4, which is usually about the right time to get them into the ground in my climate.
next year I'll grow them out of seeds but this year I ordered plants from here http://www.tabak-pflanzen.de/
they survived the transport better then I expected but I think it is better for the plant to grow them out of seeds.
But this spring has been especially warm and favorable, so I could have planted them earlier, but there should be more than enough time to get them to maturity. I got 35 of them in the ground right away. I didn’t have room for more, so I put 25 in pots. That day was called away on a 3-day business trip at the last minute, so I was anxious about the plants. But the weather was favorable for transplanting, four days of gentle rain so they weren’t shocked by sun and heat at transplant time. When I got back home, the plants were alive but not looking too good. One mistake I had, since the plants I got in the mail were pretty mature since it was late in the season, is that I thought I was supposed to plant them at the same soil height they were originally, but it turns out it’s better to snip the lower leaves and put the stem in the ground up to the point of the new leaves, like you can do with tomatoes.
the weather here was pretty cold,rainy and windy after I planted them out so I'm greatful that I decidet to put half of them into pots in a dry,warm and windless place on my terrace ! the difference between those outside and those inside is tremendous as you will see. those inside are almost 3 times bigger then those outside. I've planted all at the same time and they were all roughly the same hight at the beginning!
I decided to create another garden plot for the extras, which involved manually digging up turf in an uncultivated part in the back of my property, adding composted cow manure, lime, and fertilizer. A couple of days ago I was able to put 12 more plants in the new plot, putting them in deeper.
after I planted the 20 into my garden I decided after 1,5 weeks of rainy and cold weather to build a roof over them with my grandfather.
But the plants in both plots were still looking weak: yellow leaves except for new growth, small leaves, not much growth. Some of that is normal, tobacco plants take a while, up to three weeks, to get established while they are growing roots, but then when the hot weather comes in July, they take off. But this seemed worse than it should be after they had been in the ground for a week, so I sprayed them with liquid fertilizer and put some in the ground around the plants. That made the difference, now they are looking healthy. They really do need tons of fertilizer at the beginning. And the dry fertilizer I put in the soil (too late, I should have put it in earlier) wasn’t yet accessible to the plants with such small root systems. The trick, though, is you have to stop fertilizing midway through the season, around the time the flowers form. Too much Nitrogen in the leaves at harvest make them cure poorly and burn way too fast when you smoke them.
my plants outside looked quite poorly and small compared two those inside at the beginning too. but now after we built the roof over them the recovered quite good. as it happens we picked exactly the right time to build the roof over them because just a day after we finished it started to rain every day and it was quite cool too !
from what I understand it is best to not fertilize the ground for at least two weeks after you planted them out (outside as well as inside in the pots) !?. I did that . the plants need time to adapt to the soil condition that is in the ground before you think about fertilizing.
also it is important to not water them too much ! the plants in the pot I only watered two times as of now from the top down. now I only water them (not very often) down on the saucers on which the plots stand on so that the roots can develope good. when you over water the soil in the pots the roots do not develope properly and when you water the plants from top down the soil gets denser and denser which is bad for the roots of the plants who need a loosened soil.
plants in the garden who are effected by rain (when you don't have a roof over them) you need to hack arround them. the more it rains the more you need to hack arround them so that the roots have anough oxygen and the soil remains loosened.
the rule for the plants outside as well as in pots is to not water them to much ! on a hot and sunny day the leaves of the tobacco plants slacken dramatically wich is totally normal. only when the leaves do not recover (stand up again) in the evening and night you need to water. and it is best to water them (if needed) early in the morning or in the evening not during the day !
Because of how susceptible they are to a range of pests (which is why it’s hard to find organic tobacco) I had to get serious about pests for the first time in my gardening career. Before, if yields were lower due to pests, so what, they’re just green beans or kale. But tobacco can be destroyed by pests, so I research organic pest control practices. I am using or plan on using pepper spray with soap, diatomaceous earth, neem oil spray, BT (a bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis, approved for organic farming) Spinosad, another bacteria product approved for organic farming, both of the bacteria products are used to control hornworms, cutworms, caterpillars, and other things like that. So does spreading diatomaceous earth around the plants, any worm or crawling insect that gets it on or in them will die, but it has to be dry to work, so you have to reapply it after rains. The soap/pepper sprays will control flying pests like aphids, etc.
I've made a solution out of the strong tobacco (Mapacho tobacco (nicotiniana rustica)) I've left for the aphids wich works miraculously!
If you don't have that strong tobacco you can also use any otherrather strong tobacco and make a solution out of it and then spray it on the parts of the plant that are effected with flying pests like aphids.
For slugs you can put out pans of beer, which is good because I still have some beer in the basement which is old and just sitting there since I went fully Paleo a year ago and gluten-free before that. At least I have a use for it now. So far the pests have been under control, although a couple of nights ago, some animal, either a rodent or a cat decided to try to crawl under the straw mulch I had in the far plot in the back and destroyed one plant. That’s when I decided to make some hot pepper/soap spray, since that will not only kill insects, but also repel mammal pests.
I had a slug problem at the beginning especially outside where the soil arround the plants was pretty wet from the rain. I dicided to manually pick them up. I don't think the beer solution is very good because it attracts them from far distances and that is surely not what I want !
the thing is after we build the roof the soil arround them on the top is now pretty dry and I don't have problems in that rigard anymore. they simply do not like dry grounds.
The next step, in July, is to keep on the lookout for the development of flowers. After the flowers appear, usually sixty days or so after putting them in the ground, you have to cut them off along with some of the top leaves below the flowers. It’s called ‘topping’ and the reason is to have the plant concentrate its energy on developing the existing leaves. If you want seed you can allow a few plants to flower and put pollination bags over the flowers. Tobacco plants are self-pollinating and if you are growing more than one variety, or if anyone else in your county is growing tobacco, you don’t want cross-pollination.
yep. I won't make seeds out of any of them this year because the the cross pollination would be definitely there. I'll just focus on the leave production.
Then, after you top, the plants start furiously putting out “suckers,” or new branches where the leaf and the stalk join. You need to “sucker” the plants by removing any suckers, they will just take energy away from developing the leaves on the stalk.
Then there are two ways to harvest the leaves (this will start in August): all at once but cutting down the whole plant, or by “priming” harvesting each leaf as it becomes mature. I plan to prime, so as not to have too many leaves to dry at once.
I'll do the priming too. I think it is the best way to have a good tobacco at the end.
Then you have to hang the leaves up to dry in a warm, ventilated place, so that they dry slowly enough to turn golden brown. If they dry green, it’s bad.
from what I understand the best temperature for drying them is between 20 and 25 C°. the slower they dry the better the end result will taste and be. one of the most important things in the process of drying them is the light condition. they have to be dried in a shady place and best would be a almost dark place. that slowes down the process of drying even more wich is good for the quality of the tobacco. I dry them in a room wich is dark and I up the humidity with wet sheets that I hang up (high humidity also slows down the process of drying). in the night I role up the shutter a bit and open the window and a door to guarantee a good ventilatation. during the day the rooms is complitly dark
The idea is you don’t want the leaves to die, they need to continue metabolic and enzyme processes for a year or more, even.
After they "color-cure" as the slow drying process is called, you have to ferment the leaves.
I actually don't think that you have to ferment them. when you harvested and dried the leaves properly they will taste pretty good even without
fermenting them. most tobacco that you can by is not fermented isn't it ? fermantation is often used for cigar and cigarillo tobbaco.
I'm not sure if you really need to fermet the leaves when you have dried them pretty good ?
This can be done slowly, just by hanging the leaves indoors for a year, or quickly using a kiln. The kiln fermenting process need only take three or four weeks. The idea is to put the color-cured leaves in a chamber at 115F to 125F and 70% humidity with some ventilation and some air circulation. This is needed to get rid of ammonia and make the tobacco taste good among many other things. People say that unfermented tobacco smells like hay and tastes awful. So at some point I have to build a kiln. There are good designs for kilns using crockpots as both a heat and humidity source.
I don't think I'll ferment them but lets see how the end result tastes after the drying.