While looking for a good supplier of heirloom seeds I found a company that sells “homestead” packages based upon the USDA zone you live in. While looking at what was in these seed packages, I noticed a collection of seeds specifically for poultry farmers. As you can imagine, it contained all the same seeds as a scratch grain mix, but what surprised me was that it also contained tobacco seeds.
A little research told me that dried and pulverized tobacco can be used as a dust to repel mites. It made some sense so I wanted to try it myself. Today’s post doesn’t get into the specifics of using, growing, or drying tobacco. As the sprouting process deserves its own specific post.
Its not that sprouting the seeds is extremely hard, actually tobacco is a relatively easy plant to grow. With proper planning and preparation it can be grown almost everywhere.
What makes the sprouting difficult, at least for me, is that tobacco seeds are extremely small. They are not much larger than a pin prick and care should be taken when sowing seed as to not sow to thickly.
Seed should be started indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost date. This is because tobacco seeds require warm temperatures for germination (75-80 degrees). Start by sprinkling the tobacco seed onto the surface of a sterile seed starting mix and lightly water in.
Do not cover the seed with any soil as they need light for germination and covering can slow down germination time or if covered too deeply the seed won’t germinate at all, watering in lightly is all that is needed.
Seed will begin to germinate in about 7-10 days with some tobacco varieties taking a few days longer to begin germination. If your seed don’t germinate right away be patient, it can take up to 2 weeks for some tobacco varieties to germinate.
Keep the soil moist but not soggy and never allow it to completely dry out. The seeds are very small, and the seedlings are very sensitive, so take care when watering emerging tobacco seedlings because the force of the water can uproot the tiny seedlings and kill them.
The best way to water seedlings is from the bottom. This means you should use a pot with holes in the bottom, allowing you to sit the entire pot in a container of water, so that water will be wicked up to the seedlings.
Once the seedlings get large enough to handle individual plants, you need to transplant the tobacco seedlings into a larger container such as a pot or transplant cell tray so that they can develop a good root system. This should take around 3 weeks from the time when the seedlings first germinate.
Transplanting is easy to do, and is best accomplished by making a small hole into the soil and inserting the roots of the tobacco seedling and backfilling the hole with a little soil mix. Once you have them repotted, water them with a plant starter/fertilizer solution such as miracle grow or fish emulsion.
The initial fertilizing you gave at the potting stage should be sufficient food for the plants until they reach transplanting stage, which normal takes another 3-4 weeks. If your plants begin to yellow or look stunted another dose of fertilize may be needed but do so sparingly, over fertilization while in pots or trays may burn the plant’s roots and may also lead to overgrown spindly plants.
Tobacco plants are considered ‘transplantable plants’ meaning they, like tomato plants, can be planted bare root with out the need for any soil attached to the roots. (which is how I did it in the video), If you have large containers or seedling flats you can sow the seed very thinly and leave the seedlings there until they reach the size for transplanting outdoors and pull the plants and transplant directly into your garden but I recommend using pots or celled trays.
However, as I discovered, while this is a much easier way to to do it, if does cause some ‘transplant shock’ where some or most of the largest leaves may yellow and wilt and the plant may appear it is going to die, but it will not, the main stem and bud of the plant will continue to strive and in a week or so will begin to grow and flourish. By growing your seedlings in containers or celled trays there is no transplant shock and plants begin to grow immediately.
This transplant shock killed many of my tobacco plants this year, and next year I plan on transplanting using celled trays.
If you are growing your tobacco seedlings in a greenhouse or indoors they should be “hardened off” before you transplant into your field or garden, but is not always necessary as long as your plants are not spindly and weak and weather conditions are favorable. This period allows the plant to adjust to outdoor weather conditions. A week of hardening off should be ample time but 2 weeks is even better.
Tobacco is a heavy feeder and if grown continuously in the same spot will deplete the nutrients in the soil. So use a 2 year rotation in your growing space by planting 2 years in a specific location and waiting a year or more before you plant your tobacco back into that location again. Tobacco also requires good amounts of nitrogen and potash both of which can be achieved with a good compost but we recommend a good garden fertilizer if you do not have or use compost.
I plan on researching more on tobacco, as it has many uses other than smoking. Nicotine was developed by the plant as a defense against bugs, and I want to take full advantage of that.
I also am interested in the curing process and how cigars and twist tobacco were processed in the pioneer times, even though it is a lot like my wine-making, I like doing it more than using it myself.
So stay tuned, for more posts on this topic over the next couple years.