Growing Your Own Tobacco
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Adele and Dave
Posted on: November 13, 2003

We are interested in growing our own tobacco. You have three varieties; which one would be suitable to grow and use for smoking in Saskatchewan? Also how do you grow and harvest tobacco?

Besides its use for smoking, tobacco is a source of an effective natural insecticide. Aphids in particular are highly susceptible to nicotine. Richters offers several varieties of tobacco with these two uses in mind.

The wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) is the original wild form that was used for thousands of years by North American Indians, and is still used for ceremonial use. It is an annual growing to 1.5 meters (5 ft.) tall and flowers from July to September. It is frost tender, but will produce a crop in areas where the summers are warm and frost-free. It prefers light, sandy soils, but will grow in heavier soils if the drainage is good and it must have full sun exposure.

Wild tobacco is more potent than cultivated tobacco. I am not a smoker so I cannot tell you how it compares for smoking, chewing or snuff, but my impression is that the combination of the higher nicotine content and coarser flavour and taste are the reasons why the cultivated tobaccos are generally preferred. But for natural insecticide use, the wild type is preferred.

Cultivated tobacco is a different different species (Nicotiana tabacum). The variety we designate as "regular" is an unnamed variety imported from Germany. This variety is grown for both insecticidal and smoking purposes.

Delgold is one of the best known varieties for commercial tobacco production. It was developed in Canada in 1980 by crossing wild tobacco (N. rustica) with two popular American varieties, Hicks Broadleaf and Virginia 115. The result was a high-yielding, high-nicotine cultivar that was quickly adopted by growers. Delgold is still considered one of the better yielding flue-cured varieties available. The plant is characterized as light green and quick growing.

Which of these variety is best for Saskatchewan? Delgold is the first choice as a smoking tobacco. But you might want to try all three varieties, even the wild tobacco. Like everything else, there are people who like strong tobacco and might even enjoy the strong taste of the wild variety. The wild variety might be a better choice for your short summers as well.

For smoking tobacco, a key step is the curing step that comes after harvesting. This is a process that changes the chemistry of the leaves to remove unpleasant flavours. Under a process involving elevated heat and high humidity, the leaves "sweat" and change colour from green to the familiar browns and golds of modern tobacco. On commercial farms this step is done in large steel kilns, but it is possible to replicate the process at home.

We have instructions for home growing, harvesting and curing of tobacco on our website, in the InfoSheets section of our website (http://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=InfoSheets/d6492.html).

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