Beginner's Home Tobacco Growing FAQ
This original content was prepared by deluxestogie (with contributions from many forum members) of the Fair Trade Tobacco Forum (http://www.fairtradetobacco.com).
An overview of growing tobacco.
Tobacco is grown from seed, usually indoors, then
transplanted to the growing bed when they reach about 6
inches tall. The mature size of a tobacco plant ranges from
3 to 8 feet, with most being about 4 to 6 feet tall. The
flower head is often removed prior to maturing, in order to
produce larger, richer leaf. Tobacco is harvested either by
priming (one leaf at a time), or by the whole stalk. It
must be hung and allowed to wilt and die slowly, in
relatively humid conditions, so that all of the green
chlorophyll is broken down, and the leaf turns yellow or
directly to brown. This requires weeks to months. Following
this stage, the dead leaf must be aged, enabling its
natural enzymes to render it smokable. Aging requires
months to years. The aging process can be shortened to
about a month using controlled heat and humidity (a kiln).
Expect 100 to 200 cigarettes per plant; 6 to 12
1.Is it legal to grow your own tobacco?
Within the US, there are (at the time of this
2.Where will tobacco grow?
Tobacco will grow from the tropics to as far north as
Scandinavia. It grows in lowlands, in mountains and places
in between. As for maximum altitude, there is commercial
tobacco production in Nepal. The important factor is that
you have at least 90
3.What varieties of tobacco are there?
There are over 70 species of Nicotiana, the genus which includes smoking tobacco and all its plant relatives. Nicotiana tabacum, the tobacco of commerce, comes in over 2000 named varieties. There are also dozens of named varieties of Nicotiana rustica, originally cultivated by the natives of North America. N. rustica is usually much more potent than N. tabacum. In the discussion below, all reference is to N. tabacum.
4.What tobacco varieties should I grow?
Any variety of tobacco can be used for any purpose. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) classed tobacco into commercial classes, based on their common use.
This is a group of traditionally
They tend to be fairly easy to
These varieties, often just called, "Virginias," grow well
Producing large, dark green somewhat sticky leaves, these varieties are used in making chew and snuff.
These tobaccos resemble the large,
Since most tobaccos can be used as cigar filler, this formal class includes only those that found a major market as filler with cigar manufacturers, either in the U.S., or in its primary growing regions. Varieties that regularly produce leaves which are thick or corrugated or intensely rippled are unsuitable for use as wrapper or binder, since they can not be flattened. Some of these varieties are nearly identical to varieties classified as Cigar Binder. The cigar terms, "seco" and "ligero," refer to leaves lower or higher on the plant, respectively.
Binder is a diverse class of tobacco varieties that tend to produce a leaf with sufficient elasticity to withstand the stress of compressing a bunch of cigar filler. Some of these varieties are nearly identical to varieties classified as Cigar Filler. Their flavors, aromas and burn qualities are not a consideration in classification.
Wrappers for cigars require a leaf (or portion of a leaf)
that is without flaws, both for reasons of air flow as well
as aesthetics. While some are preferred to be thin, such as
Connecticut Shade leaf, others are noticeably thicker, such
as Florida Sumatra, Connecticut Broadleaf, and most wrapper
leaf that is grown in full sun. Traditionally
Also called "Turkish" tobacco. Today, these are frequently
grown in Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and the
Republic of Georgia. Oriental tobaccos have a reputation
These are varieties that appear to be Nicotiana tabacum, but have been subjected to little or no agricultural improvement effort, in comparison to the "wild" type. Their splayed venation patterns may make it difficult to utilize as cigar wrapper or binder. Some have distinctive, sometimes odd, aromas and flavors. Some make excellent and rich cigar filler and cigarette blending leaf.
5.How many plants should I grow?
Depending on the variety, you can expect 100 to 200
cigarettes per plant; 6 to 12
6.Can I grow tobacco in pots?
Tobacco will grow in a large pot, so long as it has adequate drainage, and the sun exposure is sufficient. A minimum 5 gallon container is suggested. Potted tobacco seldom grows as large as that grown in the ground.
7.Can I grow tobacco indoors?
Yes, with expensive lighting or good sun exposure. But indoor growing tends to produce mild, bland tobacco that may not be worth the effort and expense.
8.Where can I acquire tobacco seed?
Free seed is available from this forum, according to the posted rules.
Seed may be purchased from the following sites:
§http://www.newhopeseed.com/tobacco_seeds.html [Tennessee - ships to U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Scotland]
§http://www.heirloomtobacco.com/Seed_Bank.html [location unknown]
§http://www.nextharvest.com/tobacco.htm [bulk order branch of Seedman]
§http://www.tabakanbau.de/de/sitemap.php [German Language. "samen"=seed]
§http://northwoodseeds.com/ [by Skychaser: Washington state - ships worldwide]
§http://www.onlinetobaccoseedstore.com/ [theTobaccoSeed, for US]
9.When do I start my tobacco seed?
Seed should be started 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date.
10.How should I start my tobacco seed?
Tobacco seed is quite tiny (~1/2 mm). A typical packet of
seed will contain 50 to 200 seeds. Using a standard "seed
starting" soil mixture in a small container, moisten the
soil (not soggy) and sprinkle seed uniformly over the
surface. Seal the container with a lid or plastic wrap,
then keep out of direct sunlight, making sure the
temperature is between 70ºF and 85ºF. After four to six
days, the tiny,
11.How do I prepare tobacco transplants?
Seedlings should grow to transplant size (6" tall or more) in about 6 to 8 weeks. They should be kept watered, and allowed good drainage. They will need to be gradually introduced to full sunlight exposure. Starting 4 days before you intend to transplant them, stop watering. The day prior to transplant, water them thoroughly. You should produce about 50% more transplants than you require, in order to replace any field mortality.
12.Where can I buy ready tobacco transplants?
If you wish to avoid the production of ready transplants, you can purchase them to be shipped to you. They travel well, and can be immediately planted in your garden.
§Check this forum for members offering transplants for shipment.
§http://www.newhopeseed.com/tobacco_seeds.html offers transplants for shipment.
13.When do I transplant to the field?
A newly planted tobacco transplant is delicate, and is unlikely to survive a hard frost. The safest date is 1 to 2 weeks after your average last date of frost. Many members transplant with success earlier than that.
14.Where should I place the transplants?
Tobacco should be planted in soil that is not prone to
flooding or prolonged standing water. While the plants
require a lot of water, the soil must drain well. Full sun
is ideal. Second best is at least
15.What fertilizer should I use?
If you plant in newly broken lawn, then no fertilizer may be necessary. You can fertilize prior to transplanting with aged or composted manure. Raw manure should only be used if it will have at least a few months to rest in the soil before planting. With one notable precaution, common tomato fertilizer may be used according to tomato instructions. High chloride in the soil will cause the leaf to burn poorly. So avoid fertilizers which contain chlorides (which can also be called Muriate of Potash). Discontinue fertilizer when the flowerhead is in button stage.
16.How often should I water the growing plants?
Most varieties of tobacco will droop during the heat of the day. If the leaves do not assume the prayer position over night, water them the next day. Over watering is a very common mistake made by home growers. You may never need to water.
17.What about topping?
For highest leaf yield and strength, the bud head should be removed just before the blossoms open. Tobacco is commercially topped when 10% of the plants show at least a single flower in bloom. Weaker plants can be
topped to fewer total leaves, in order to improve production. If you wish to save seed, you must not top the plant.
18.Do I have to remove the suckers?
Small buds will form at each leaf axil (where the leaf stem meets the stalk), and sometimes at the base of the stalk. If these are not removed, they will grow into branches, decreasing total yield. Suckers are stimulated when the plant is topped. A sucker up to 3 inches long can be snapped cleanly from the plant with your fingers. In general, suckers do not cure as easily as main leaf, and will seldom equal it in quality. Suckers can also serve as a nidus for aphid infestation.
19.How and when do I harvest my tobacco?
Individual leaf priming follows the maturation process of the plant, moving from the bottom to the top of the plant. You can prime leaves whenever the leaf tip begins to brown and curl. For cigar leaf, wait until the leaf shows increased thickness and some bumpy puckering of the surface. This is the mature stage. The stem of a mature leaf will snap cleanly from the stalk with a twist of the wrist. Primed leaf can be strung on a wire or sturdy cord for hanging. An entire stalk can be hung by driving a nail diagonally into the base of the stalk, or with any other clever device that can support a 10 pound plant.
20.How does the green leaf turn into usable tobacco?
Color curing takes advantage of metabolic processes within the living leaf to consume carbohydrates and break down the green of chlorophyll. If the leaf is allowed to fully dry (thus die) green, it will remain green. So it should not be allowed to dry crispy until after the green color is gone or mostly gone. Following color curing, the leaf should be allowed to age. The aging process utilizes oxidizing enzymes within the dead leaf to decrease the alkaloid content (such as nicotine), break down the albuminous proteins, and release the resultant ammonia.
21.How can I color cure my tobacco?
There are four common methods of promoting color curing.
Leaf or entire plants are hung in the shade or in a shed, and allowed to slowly die. This requires typically one to two months. Fan circulation is helpful in preventing local pockets of very high humidity to cause rot. Once the leaf is brown, higher humidity is likely to cause mold. At this point, the leaf can be dried down and stored, or left hanging to age. Curing space may be an issue. In a single tier, estimate 1 sq. ft. / plant for primed leaf; ~1/2 sq. ft. / plant for stalk cured (with at least an 8' roof). Watch the weight. An entire tobacco plant weighs over 10 lbs. A 10' x 10' shed hung with whole plants at 0.5 sq. ft. / plant (200 plants) adds over 1 ton of weight to the structure. Primed green leaf @ 1 sq. ft. per plant weighs only 8% of that. Dried leaf alone will weigh only 3% of the weight of the whole green plant on which it grew.
The leaf is fully wilted in the shade, then allowed to hang in direct sunlight until cured. If hung close to the moist ground, green mottling will be kept to a minimum. The process is usually complete in several weeks. The process is tricky.
Most home growers will not have the necessary equipment to
This can be accomplished in a home smoker (as used with meat smoking). The leaf is heated to moderate temperatures (below 140ºF), while being exposed to the smoke of a fire. This requires 1 to 4 weeks, minimum.
22.How do I finish my tobacco?
Immediately after color curing, tobacco can be smoked, but
it will be harsh, and have a "raw,"
During this period, the humidity should not be allowed to remain above ~80% RH for more than a day or two, in order to prevent mold.
23.How can I handle dry tobacco without breaking it?
You can't. If it is hanging tobacco, just wait for a couple
of rainy days. Stored tobacco can be
24.Is there an easy way to stem tobacco?
While the stem will burn fairly well, and is smokable, it
gets in the way of cigar rolling, and is a road hazard for
most tobacco shredding devices. It should be removed. Bring
up the moisture content of dry leaf until the noise of
touching it quiets. Hold a leaf with the base of the stem
away from you, and the underside (ribs are most prominent)
facing up. Starting near the tip, split one side away from
the central vein and gently drag it toward the base of the
stem. Go slowly at first. When done correctly, little or no
leaf will remain on the stem, and each
25.How do I shred tobacco?
Dedicated tobacco shredders exist (search Teck 1), but tend to be expensive. Members have used blenders,
meat grinders, pasta cutters, paper cutters, paper
shredders, knives, chavetas (curved,
26.What's the story on blending tobacco?
It is a rare tobacco that reaches its full potential alone.
Most varieties, in most uses, are improved by blending with
one or more other varieties. A typical cigarette blend is
40% Virginia, 40% burley, 10% Oriental. Cigar fillers
typically blend milder leaf (seco) with various proportions
of stronger leaf (ligero).
27.How do I store my finished tobacco?
Tobacco can be stored completely dry in any container. If
kept with more moisture, the RH should be 70% or lower to
prevent mold. Tobacco can be
28.How can I make my favorite Marlboro cigarette or Punch Cigar etc?
You're on your own here. You will most likely, with time, find many unique blends using your own tobacco. The blending possibilities are infinite, but in the absence of the chemicals added to all manner of commercial tobacco, you may become one of the many forum members who don't just "get by" with home grown blends, but actually prefer them to what is available commercially. The same is true for "premium" cigars.
29.How can I save my tobacco seed?
If more than one variety of tobacco is grown within a range
of 1/2 mile, the varieties may