Saturday, February 20, 2010
tobacco- a review of our first year
The curing and aging of the tobacco is not the most difficult part of the process. Topping and worm picking are. These worms are no ordinary worm. They make the tomato worms seem little in comparison, in fact I am convinced a small child could use one as a ride on toy in a pinch. These worms have a huge appetite and can devour a plant in short order. The best control for them is picking them off and stomping them. Elder wisdom says to mashum up and make a spray of their parts and spray the plants. Good idea but even more time consuming than the pick n stomp is. The top/pick sessions take a good amount of time daily. We had about 100 plants and it took us between an hour and two hours nearly every day.
One would think, or I thought that tobacco wouldn't have many pests. After all it is pure nicotine and one of the most potent insecticides there is. WRONG, it has plenty of pests and with the sheer size of the plants and leaf area it means oodles of pests and oodles of spray to counteract these pests. A pump sprayer and not a spray bottle is what we would recommend to folks growing any amount of tobacco.
When we first started researching tobacco and growing it for ourselves the average yield per plant seemed very low at 3-5 ounces each. This is no lie, it really does shrink down to that little bit of nothing. For the two of us here that equals approximately 3 days of tobacco. Needless to say we are fixing to run out of tobacco.
Not all tobacco is considered equal. We grew three type of tobacco one of which was awful. Be prepared to try a couple of different strains and see what works for you in your situation. Our silkleaf variety last season was our favored tobacco for growth, amount of yield, curing and flavor. This season we are going to try a a couple burley varieties and see how they do.
Space is a huge factor when growing your own tobacco. From seed to storage it requires space and lots of it. A couple hundred seedlings takes a fair bit of space to house. In the field it requires a good 4 sf per plant. We tried skimping a bit on the spacing and this year we will go with at least that spacing, maybe increasing it to 5 sf. Once pruning and harvesting begins you need to have a weather proof area to hang it all to dry. On the individual leaves hanging is best done in small groups by a string that pierces through the leaf vein. Tying a string around the cluster works well until the amazing shrinkage begins and they begin falling to the ground. Of course you don't want to hang too many together or hang them to closely, because, in humid, wet weather it will mold. Airflow is crucial. If you live in an area where temps go below 55 or so any unfinished tobacco will need to go to an area where temps can remain above 55. At that temperatures it no longer dries or cures well, ask me how I know.
In our ever greedy, money driven world a person is led to believe they need high tech equipment to grow your own tobacco This is untrue. It is just another thing to get you to go out and spend your hard earned money on stuff that isn't needed. With a bit of improvisation, common sense and piecing things together to make it work for you it shouldn't cost several hundred dollars.
And finally if you smoke think about papers, how many you will go through in a given amount of time and where you are going to purchase them all. Switching to a pipe may be the best alternative for you as the cost of papers adds up over time and you can bet it will only keep rising as more people switch to growing their own instead of buying tailor made smokes. Pipes are not the most convenient thing to smoke from while out and about working but for sitting around relaxing they work quite well and are cheap to come by.