Friday, January 17, 2014

Why You Should Grow Tobacco (and How To Grow It)

Homegrown tobacco, homemade pipe.
Homegrown tobacco, homemade pipe.
I wrote this in-depth article last year for Unfortunately, there was a business reason that forced them to take it down... so they gave it back to me.

In light of my pro-tobacco post from a few days ago, it seems fitting to re-post it this week. Enjoy! 

-David the Good

For the last few decades, we’ve been told smoking is the cause of everything from lung cancer to heart disease.

There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in this debate. If you’re a smoker, you’re an outcast… a pariah… a Very Bad Person.

However, the truth about smoking isn’t nearly as cut and dried as you might think. Did you know that lung cancer rates rose even as smoking declined? Or that some studies showed longer life expectancies for pipe smokers than for non-smokers?

Strange but true. (Just don’t ask me for the documentation right now, ‘cause I used it to roll my own.)

Wherever you fall on the smoking spectrum, there’s one thing that’s sure: smoking isn’t going away. And this presents an opportunity for the hard-core prepper. Why?

Keep reading.

Why Grow Tobacco?

A lot of folks need their daily nicotine. Business gurus will tell you that meeting needs is a great way to profit. Though you can’t legally sell your own homemade cigarettes right now, there may come a day when regulations fly out the window and the free market takes over again. Even if it doesn’t, being the guy that has what people need is a great place to be.

Imagine shipping gets shut down, or the cost of tobacco shoots to the stratosphere due to regulation or the rising cost of fertilizers or any of a number of reasons.

Even if you’re not a smoker, having some tobacco around could be very useful. Say you have a nice tobacco patch in your yard that you grow each year. Your friend needs a smoke really bad. You want help on a fence, you trade him some leaves and bingo: that tobacco patch has paid for itself.

Sounds pretty smart, right?

“But,” you may ask, “How in the world do you grow tobacco? I know nothing about the plant other than the fact that it smells like burning manure? Dave! Help me! I’ll trade you some .22LR rounds and a can of beans!”

Alright… because you asked so nicely… and because I’m hungry… and because .22LR is roughly equivalent to gold bars these days… I’ll help you start growing your own tobacco.

How To Grow Tobacco

Growing tobacco is pretty easy. I’ve grown tobacco for almost a decade in my home garden. Though my method may not be the best, it works well for me and has been tweaked over the years into a pretty fail-safe operation. You need a few things, but all of them are really easy to find (with the exception of seed).

Materials list:  

Tobacco seed

Fine soil
Planting container

Spray bottle

Plastic wrap (optional)

To get started, you need seeds or transplants. If you live in tobacco country, you might be able to buy some transplants locally; otherwise, you need to seed your own. Unfortunately, starting tobacco from seed isn’t the easiest thing in the world – yet it’s not as tough as you might think.

Tobacco seeds are even smaller than poppy seeds and will get you in less trouble. A pinch of them contains hundreds of potential plants.

Because of their minute size, they need to be planted differently than most other seeds. To add an extra layer of fun, they also need light for germination – and when they do germinate, the seedlings are really, really tiny. This is why it’s really difficult to direct-seed tobacco in your garden. Chances are, the sun will wipe your plants out before they develop into anything – even if you have a totally perfect little square foot bed – so instead of planting them right in the soil, it makes sense to start them in carefully managed flats. These flats can be made from just about anything. I used to use egg cartons but I found that the soil in them dried out too quickly so I switched to using home-made wooden flats that are about 4” deep.

To plant tobacco, prepare a fine soil surface in your flat or container, make sure it’s good and damp, and then simply sprinkle the tiny seeds across it. Mist your seeds with your spray bottle, and make sure the flats are in the shade – if they’re not, you may dry out the soil and kill the plants before they emerge. If you live in an arid climate, you might want to cover your flats with some plastic wrap to keep in moisture. To avoid mold problems, I’d take the plastic off once a day and mist the ground when I did. If you don’t cover with plastic, try and remember to mist your flats about twice a day or anytime you think of it. (If they do dry out a bit, don’t freak out. Moisten them well and keep your fingers crossed. I’ve had tobacco pull through even when I’ve been less than religious about my watering. That said, do your best!) In about 10-14 days, you should see tiny seedlings begin to emerge from the soil. They’re so small you almost need a magnifying glass to see them at first.

Within a week or two, they’ll get bigger – and in a month or so, they’ll likely be an inch or so in height. As the seedlings grow, I thin out the flat with a pair of scissors, decapitating unwanted plants rather than pulling them out and disturbing the roots of their neighbors. Give each little plant its own space and their growth rate will be much higher. When your plants get about 2-3” tall, transplant them to a second flat until they’re large enough to transplant – or, if your weather is mild and the sun isn’t too brutal, put them directly out into the garden. I usually wait until they hit about 6” before placing them in the garden, but I’ve had good luck with smaller plants as well. Once tobacco is transplanted, it grows really fast. Feed it compost, manure or whatever you have available. I've had them do okay in poor sand, but they do amazingly if they get a little more care. In a couple of months, your plants will be huge. At this point, you can start picking nice leaves. Watch out for hornworms, though – they’ll take a tobacco plant to pieces really quickly. Other than those, you’ll deal with minor pests like aphids, but overall, I don’t get too much loss. If leaves get chewed up, they go in my “pipe and cigarette” tobacco pile, if they’re broad and intact, they go in my “attempt to make cigars again” pile. After a few months, depending on your climate and average temperatures, your tobacco will burst into bloom.

Each one of these pods contains enough seed to plant your entire yard.
The flowers are pretty and resemble their cousin the petunia. Commercial tobacco farmers remove the buds to force larger leaf growth, but I keep them for seed and because, well, they look nice. (For a video on growing tobacco, check out this one I made a couple of years ago.)

Curing Tobacco

Now here’s the artistic part of this whole odyssey: curing. People will tell you it’s “not worth growing tobacco because it’s a pain to cure.” However, it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a smoke, all you need to do is dry and smoke the leaves. I used to park my car in the sun with the windows cracked open and spread leaves all across its dashboard.

One afternoon in the sun and they were nice and crispy.

I’ve also hung leaves in the barn for a year to dry and cure (those tasted better than the dashboard leaves.)

 If you’re used to the taste of cigarettes, know this: that taste isn’t what raw natural tobacco tastes like. It’s a product of factories and flavor sprays and special blends. The taste of raw tobacco is smoky, grassy, biting… and yet still enjoyable.

If you’re more of a cigar smoker, you may not ever be happy with your homegrown smokes. Curing cigar tobacco is an art, much like wine-making. It can most definitely be done, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

For pipe smokers, I’ve found it’s possible to make a pretty good latakia/English pipe blend imitation by taking dry leaves, soaking them in water and molasses, then putting a basket of them in the smoker for a day. I used hickory chips, which I’m sure is totally wrong, but it tasted great.

Like smoking a pipe of beef jerky.

After taking the whole leaves from the smoker, I cut them into little bits with a pair of scissors, then let them dry to a good smokeable moisture content. Not bad at all.

If you’re more of a “Captain Black” smoker, you’ll have to look around for pipe tobacco flavoring – I haven’t been able to make a decent aromatic blend from my homegrown leaves, though I’ve used black cherry juice concentrate, vanilla and other experimental flavorings from my wife’s collection of spices.

Speaking of spices, if you like smoking cloves, you’re in luck. A decent clove mixture can be made by simply taking dried tobacco, sprinkling it with ground cloves, then rolling that in your wrapping paper of choice.

Been there, done that, got a numb mouth.

A Final Puff

Yes, it’s true that tobacco has earned some of its deadly reputation – yet if you really want to talk about a health crisis, you should talk about sugar/high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The very people that often condemn smokers don’t seem to realize that their diets of processed foods and Coke aren’t any better than putting away a few packs of cigs a day.

The key, as always, is moderation.

Growing your own tobacco without pesticides and not adding weird additional chemicals in the processing phase is a pretty good way to minimize risks. It’s ORGANIC, for goodness sake. And we KNOW organic is good for you, right?

Besides – even if you grow tobacco, no one is going to force you to smoke it. In fact, you can’t barter something you’ve already consumed. Think of your tobacco patch as insurance for the future.

One other thing about tobacco: beyond smoking it, you can also use it as a powerful organic insecticide. Boil leaves or cigar butts into a tea, then strain and spray as needed. Just don’t spray it on tobacco, peppers, eggplant, potatoes or tomatoes, since those plants are all related and may share viruses. (You also might not want to apply it to your salad greens – too much nicotine, like many things, will make you sick or kill you.)

Now, finally, I realize that every time tobacco comes up, some gal is likely to get all weepy or angry and point her finger and yell “How dare you say anything good about tobacco? My dad/aunt/mother/grandpa/ brother/demon lover/best friend’s sister’s baby daddy/hamster died of lung cancer!”

Yeah, I know. I’m very sorry.

Got a match?

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At January 17, 2014 at 10:26 AM , Blogger Dr. Mom said...

What is your favorite seed varieties?

At January 17, 2014 at 10:27 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

I've been growing a small-leafed "Havana" cigar variety for years now, but I'd like to expand into the huge-leafed burley types. The flavor on what I have ages out very nicely... dunno how the large types will compare. I need to keep experimenting.

At January 17, 2014 at 12:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said... just for reference

At January 17, 2014 at 4:28 PM , Blogger PioneerPreppy said...

I grow a dark and a light Burel (Sp?) every year. Some years I don't even bother to start my own as I often get many volunteers that have been cross bred from the two varieties I started with.

As you mentioned the curing process is the hardest part especially when trying it in small amounts. I have been working on a fermenter set up that uses some heat from my wood furnace but have had issues figuring out the moisture retention issue.

Even if you do not cure your own tobacco the plants are amazing at acting like a trap for hornworms. Either variety (Tomato or Tobacco) hornworm will go straight for the tobacco plants and leave my tomatoes almost untouched. My assumption is the moths prefer the tobacco to lay on over the tomatoes but the worms are much easier to find on the tobacco plants.

I have also had good luck mixing my cured tobacco in with store purchased varieties which extends my supply out by almost 100% at times without sacrificing too much flavor.

At January 17, 2014 at 5:05 PM , Blogger Warlock Sundance said...

Thanks for this article.

At January 17, 2014 at 5:29 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Good link. I think that's where I got my original tobacco seed years ago.

At January 17, 2014 at 5:31 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Great ideas and input, PioneerPreppy. I've also noticed how much hornworms like the tobacco. Heck, I've considered drying and smoking the worms just to get back what they ate.

Curing is the big deal. I haven't pulled off good cigars, though it's on my list of things to do before I die.

At January 17, 2014 at 5:31 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

You're very welcome.

At January 17, 2014 at 9:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. The truth about smoking is cut and dried(pun intended).

2. Sure, there's middle ground in the debate. Lots of people don't think that smoking make a person "very bad". Some just think that smokers are weak spirited and are engaged in a destructive habit that will lead to premature death and a loss of "quality of life" in their final years. Some people might be disappointed that a professed Christian would encourage what they consider sinful behavior. Some couldn't care less.

3. Why would any sane person waste perfectly good garden space to grow tobacco when they could plant grapes or corn and make booze.

At January 17, 2014 at 9:44 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Cut and dried? I don't think so. Lung cancer rates continue to increase even as smoking has declined. Plus, cigarette smoking isn't the same as pipe or cigar smoking. It's like saying nachos are equivalent to fresh corn on the cob... yet they all get lumped in together.

Those who think smokers are weak spirited or engaging in a destructive habit that's going to kill them are free to feel thus... just as smokers are free to point out that most of the Standard American Diet is more likely to kill you than cigar smoking.

As for the spiritual angle, I'm with Spurgeon. Smoke to the glory of God... and thank Him for tasty tobacco.

On #3... you do have a point. The lesson is: make more garden space, then you can have it all.

Thanks for stopping by.

At January 18, 2014 at 12:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lung cancer rates can increase while smoking rates decrease because current lung cancer rates do not reflect current tobacco use. They reflect past trends in tobacco use because the ill effects of such use don't normally show up until years after a person starts smoking. Lung cancer rates are also affected by other environmental factors, such as exposure to exhaust fumes or occupational exposure to carcinogens.

Spurgeon ended up as an overweight man who died prematurely from diseases caused or aggravated by smoking and drinking. Because of failing health and the growing temperance movement he eventually gave up smoking and drinking

On an unrelated note, are you experiencing "greening" on any of your citrus?

Thank you for your informative and thought provoking blog.

At January 18, 2014 at 3:59 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

"the ill effects of such use don't normally show up until years after a person starts smoking"

I don't buy that. Smoking has dropped for years and years... long enough that the data should show significant declines in lung cancer.

Also, doctors calculate "smoking deaths" by determining if a deceased patient smoked at any point in their past. If so... smoking-related death.

Spurgeon's real problem was food (like most Baptists).

As for greening, I don't seem to have it here, but I did have to take out my mom's navel orange down south.

At April 26, 2014 at 9:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

should i do anything to enrich my sandy Florida "soil" (really, it's just sand here) before transplanting young tobacco plants into the ground? and is peat moss ok to start the tobacco seeds?

At April 27, 2014 at 5:45 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Peat moss isn't the best. Sand is good enough and a not-to-chunky potting soil is another good option.

I plant tobacco directly in into the ground here and fertilize them with chicken manure or compost or whatever else I have laying around. It's pretty tough stuff.

At September 26, 2014 at 3:54 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

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At October 17, 2014 at 5:38 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

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