You can grow your own tobacco

Tobacco plant: cultivation, care, harvest and use

The types of ornamental tobacco (Nicotiana x sanderae) are particularly popular as tobacco plants for the garden, which spread a very special evening atmosphere with their night bloom on the terrace and balcony. But not only the culture of ornamental tobacco is possible in our latitudes, also smoking tobacco (Nicotiana) for the production of cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco can be grown in your own garden.

Where does the tobacco plant come from?

The cultivation and culture of the tobacco plant are not that easy. You have to take their origin into account and offer them conditions similar to those in their homeland. The main distribution area of ​​the tobacco plant is in South America, the USA and Australia, where tobacco was consumed by indigenous peoples a long time ago. With Christopher Columbus, the tobacco leaves came to Europe as incense, where they quickly established and spread. Today's main growing areas are in India and China. When growing in your own garden, the main thing for us is to protect the tropical to subtropical plant from wind, precipitation and cold. But the member of the nightshade family also has very special requirements when it comes to care.

Growing tobacco plants yourself - is that allowed?

The answer is yes. The domestic cultivation of smoking tobacco for personal use is completely legal in Germany and also tax-free. According to the Tobacco Tax Act (TabStG) of 2009, "Tobacco products or products that are equivalent to tobacco products made from home-grown raw tobacco or tobacco substitutes and used for personal use" are exempt from tobacco tax. According to current legislation, private tobacco cultivation is also permitted in Austria and Switzerland. This should of course be kept within a range of small plants and not include more than 100 tobacco plants. In addition, the products may not be traded.

Is it worth growing tobacco plants?

Growing tobacco plants is not much more difficult than growing many other garden and useful plants. The manufacture of tobacco products from home-grown tobacco, on the other hand, is extremely time-consuming and complex. It takes some expertise and many weeks (up to months) of care and patience to produce a tasty tobacco blend from the plants. Making cigarettes and cigars from a home-grown tobacco plant is not child's play, but rather a task for specialists, tinkerers and enthusiasts. However, garden tobacco is definitely "healthier" than conventional cigarettes because no plasticizers, flavors or other additives are added to it. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether smoking, chewing or sniffing tobacco generally makes sense - it is of course not recommended.

The planting of tobacco

There are only a few of the many types of tobacco that are suitable for the manufacture of smoking tobacco. The most important are Virginian tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and peasant tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). The latter, however, has a very high nicotine content and is therefore not available in stores in Germany. In any case, it is not that easy to get tobacco plants - they are not normally offered in hardware stores or garden centers. However, there is a large selection of seeds and young plants online that can be easily ordered.

From the end of March, the tobacco seeds can be grown in seed trays on the windowsill. The light germs are only scattered on the earth and lightly pressed. Keep the seeds moderately moist and the seeds will germinate within a week. When the first leaflets have developed, the seedlings are pricked out and placed in individual pots. From May the small tobacco plants can be planted in the garden. Tobacco plants prefer loose, sandy, humus soil. Clay soil must be loosened and improved with sand before planting. A plant spacing of 30 centimeters should be maintained, as the fully grown tobacco plants can reach a height of up to two meters and also grow quite expansively.

What do you need to consider when it comes to care?

After planting out, it is important to protect the young plants from snails. Four weeks after planting, the soil around the tobacco plant should also be loosened and piled up. If the tobacco is to be used as a purely ornamental plant in the garden, the maintenance measures are already complete. If, on the other hand, the tobacco is grown as a useful plant, it must be further treated as follows: In order for the tobacco plant to stick its vigor and flavor in the leaves, it should be "decapitated" as soon as it has developed two or three flowers. This means that the flowers are cut off at the main stem to prevent the plant from investing unnecessary energy into flower and fruit formation. In addition, tobacco plants, like tomatoes, have to be stripped regularly. This means that the young new shoots in the leaf axils are removed in order to regulate the branching and ripening of the plant.

Discipline is required when watering the tobacco plant - its root ball should never dry out, its water requirement is very high. The substrate in the pot or the soil at the planting site is ideally permanently moist. In summer two waterings per day can be necessary. You can use tap water for watering - the lime it contains is good for the tobacco plant. In addition, make sure not to wet the leaves with water, but only to spread it in the area of ​​the roots. Wet leaves quickly lead to plant diseases in the tobacco plant.

In order for the tobacco plant to grow as large as possible and to develop many leaves, it needs energy. For a sufficient supply of nutrients, organic fertilizers with a high potassium content should therefore be applied regularly, either incorporated directly into the soil (granules) or administered via irrigation water (liquid fertilizer). Start fertilizing as soon as the plant has moved outdoors, i.e. after the ice saints in May, and continue until October. Long-term fertilizers in the form of sticks are also suitable for potted plants.

Check for diseases and pests

Unfortunately, tobacco plants are somewhat susceptible to certain plant diseases and pests. Wilted leaves can be a sign of an inadequate water supply as well as an infestation with, for example, wireworms or white grubs that tamper with the roots. Tobacco hawk moths (Manduca sexta), tobacco beetles (Lasioderma serricorne) and the aforementioned snails are also a problem. Since the soil around a tobacco plant has to be kept permanently moist, the occurrence of fungal diseases and mold is also favored.

How are the tobacco leaves harvested?

Once the leaves of the tobacco plant are mature, they can be harvested. This is the case just a few days after planting out. Tobacco plants ripen from the bottom up, that is, over a period of a few weeks, ripe leaves are regularly torn from the mother plant from below and hung up to dry. Ripe tobacco leaves can be recognized by the fact that they turn lighter in color from the edge, initially light green, then yellow-brownish. Only the lower and middle leaves of the plant (the "main crop") are harvested, as they are milder and the nicotine content in them is less concentrated. The upper leaves, the so-called "Obergut", remain. The tobacco leaf is not cut from the stem during harvest, but torn horizontally from one side to the other. Never tear the leaves from top to bottom, otherwise the stalk will be injured for a long time!

Use as smoking tobacco

First of all, in the production of smoking tobacco, a distinction must be made between cigarette tobacco and cigar or pipe tobacco. Since an aromatic taste can only be achieved by correctly mixing different tobacco types (Virginia, Orient, Burley or similar), it makes sense to grow different types of tobacco next to each other. After the harvest, the tobacco leaves are dried for at least six to eight weeks, depending on the variety. To do this, hang the leaves on a line as airy as possible in a place that is damp in the morning so that they dry slowly - but without drying out. An open barn or a rainproof shelter are well suited for this. A high level of humidity is an advantage in finding the right level, but not that easy: If it is too humid, the leaves threaten to go moldy, if it is too dry, they become crumbly and crumble. Tip: Mark the rows of leaves with their name and harvest date so that you can tell them apart later.

The tobacco is then "sauce" in a sugary solution in order to obtain special flavor nuances. There are a wide variety of recipes and procedures for this. Exception: darker, spicier types of tobacco such as ‘Geudertheimer’ dry very slowly - for up to a year - and are then processed further without sauce. The remaining proteins in the tobacco leaf are broken down through subsequent fermentation lasting several days, so that it becomes supple and aromatic. After a cool post-ripening phase lasting several weeks, the tobacco can be crushed and mixed.

Growing tobacco plants yourself: the most important things at a glance

  • Do not plant outdoors until after the ice saints (May).
  • Choose a warm, sunny and sheltered location in the garden.
  • The soil should be loose, well drained and rich in nutrients.
  • Water regularly and thoroughly.
  • Fertilization with emphasis on potassium from May to October.
  • For incense, only harvest the lower and middle tobacco leaves.