Here on the Aspiring Gentleman, we’ve written about growing your own tobacco in the past, and on our twitter feed have pointed to various tobacco-growing resources over the years. However, it is not often that a book comes out dedicated to the craft of growing tobacco, so it is with great excitement that we recently received our copy of “How To Grown Your Own Tobacco: From Seed To Smoke” by Ray French.
This book, coming in at around 150 pages, including images and diagrams, is short in size but large in knowledge, covering everything from selecting seeds to harvesting, drying, and curing, to rolling your home-made tobacco for personal use. The book starts off with two obligatory chapters on “Getting Started” and “The History of Tobacco.” If you’ve been smoking cigars for some time, you might tend to skip these chapters; however, I’m glad I didn’t as I learned several interesting facts. One such tidbit is that the practice of flue curing, which involves using heat and moisture to cure the tobacco, was discovered by accident in 1839 after a worker in North Carolina fell asleep while tending a small curing fire. The large fire didn’t ruin the tobacco, but instead imparted a pleasant aroma and rich golden color.
The third chapter covers various grades, types, and varieties of tobacco, including Virginia (or flue-cured), Cavendish, and Cuban amongst others. The subsequent chapters was one of the most interesting to me, focusing on organic growing for the home gardener. This chapter goes from creating a journal to preparing your garden, covering such topics as how much sun is required (6-8 hours per day). Significant attention is paid to developing high-quality soil using organic methods before French turns his attention to seedlings, transplants, and growing of the tobacco.
Following the chapter on growing, focus is turned toward controlling tobacco diseases and pests, such as blue mold, aphids, spider mites, and other natural inhibitors of your tobacco’s healthy growth. Once you have your tobacco grown and all pests controlled, the next step covered in the book is harvesting, drying and curing. For those with some previous gardening experience, this might be the most difficult of steps. Up until this point, growing tobacco is not so different from growing other plants, but the stages of drying and curing require care particular to tobacco, so reading and re-reading of this chapter is recommended.
To conclude the book, French includes an appendix on rolling your home-made tobacco for consumption. Covering the entire stage of tobacco growing from site prep to rolling, this book is a thorough guide to growing your own tobacco. It is clearly and thoroughly written, making it a great resource for someone wanting to try their hand at tobacco production. Also, French includes numerous hints and tricks from years of expertise, making this book valuable even for those already producing their own crops of tobacco. For the cigar smoker with a green thumb, or an aspiring green thumb, “How To Grow Your Own Tobacco” is highly recommended.
Lastly, for those further interested, I include here the original press release for the book:
(Brentwood, TN) – Ray French, product director of Floragem, one the of most successful plant propagation companies in the world, is author of the upcoming How to Grow Your Own Tobacco: From Seed to Smoke (Cool Springs Press, September 2011). French is a master grower – with a complete and pure understanding of the ancient practice of creating the perfect soil. His growing habits are uncompromised and of the classic form: plant on time, create good soil, water with precision, prepare the climate, and watch the sun. He knows exactly how to grow.
French’s horticultural interests are vast and mixed. In any given season, French’s travels may take him to Mexico on hunt for a rare tropical plant or the Netherlands for a summit with the world’s finest breeders. His quest for the rare and the beautiful gives him exclusive plant knowledge that precedes the market often by months or even years. In this country, he plays a role in shaping what we buy and what we grow in our own gardens.
So, tobacco. French’s interests were peaked. With a finely tuned knowledge of sustainable agriculture, he was eager to apply the same principles of good gardening to organic tobacco growth. He tackled the notoriously tricky processes of drying and curing with the same simple practices (manage water and know the climate) and transformed his own three acre lot, patio and office space into a home-grown tobacco facility.
How to Grow Your Own Tobacco is French’s diary of sorts – documenting the process from seedling to transfer to picking, drying and rolling. His delicate handling of minuscule seedlings – with spoon and toothpick – is almost parental; and his pointed watering advice climaxes with a do-it-right-or-die scenario. Drying and curing chapters are marked with advice only a true agriculturist could know with drying strategies that any home grower can duplicate. “You can make a tent with plastic sides that hang over a portable heater with a wet pair of jeans draped over top to control moisture,” says French. “This process doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs your attention.”
Deep in his element, French eliminated all pesticides from the typical process of home tobacco growth and relied, instead, on his trusted solution of liquid soap, minced garlic, dried lemongrass and a chopped jalapeno. His yield, a combination of six varieties, is enough to save a typical smoker a year’s worth of commercial cigarettes, not to mention the consumption of some of the world’s deadliest toxins.
French is proud of his harvest, and admits the flavor is deeper and richer than any commercial cigarette. His Virginia Gold #1 performed the best in the soil of his Fairhope, AL, garden – but recommends and outlines a dozen varieties that any home grower can attempt. Even though tobacco typically requires several months and even up to a year to reach peak flavor, French liked the flavor of Virginia Gold #1 after six short weeks of drying. “Just grab a bundle from the rafters of your garage and cut it with a sharp knife,” he says.
How to Grow Your Own Tobacco is one of only a handful of resources available to those attempting a backyard tobacco crop. French brings his experience in large scale farming, botany, and a specialty in nursery crop production – to what is arguably a centuries old art form.
About the Author:
With a strong history of large scale farming dating generations, French graduated with a degree in Agriculture specializing in Nursery Crop Production and Botany from Auburn University. Upon graduation, French managed some of the largest commercial growers in the country. He is now a consultant for a large home improvement retailer and travels globally in search of new plants. In this role, French can claim credit as an integral part of bringing some of the most popular plants to market, such as the Knockout Rose, Encore Azaleas and SunPatiens.