27 Aug 2010

Growing tobacco

We've experimented with growing tobacco over the last three years, and had good success with growing and drying. However, we haven't yet found a device or cutter that will make it possible to cut very finely for cigarettes, like commercial hand-rolling tobacco. Nonetheless, this is a lovely plant to grow.

The seeds require warmth to germinate, but tobacco grows well in the UK.

Tobacco seeds and seed pods.
Tobacco seedlings.
Tobacco seeds and seedlings are tiny.

Young tobacco plant.
Row of tobacco plants.
They grow fast.

Tobacco plants in pots and in the ground.
Grow in pots, inside or outside; or grow outside in the ground.

Beautiful flowers

Tobacco flower heads.
Tobacco flower with hover fly.

Beautiful roots

Dried tobacco plant roots.

Beautiful leaves

Green tobacco leaf.
Dried tobacco leaves.
Pressing and cutting

We read of and tried a method used by sailors, who used to wrap rope or twine around rolls of tobacco leaves to allow them to mature under compression. They cut slices from the end to smoke, rubbing the slices to open out the strands. This came to be called 'navy cut' tobacco.

Tobacco block tied with rope: Navy Cut tobacco.
Navy cut.

The two on the left are commercial cigarette rolling tobaccos. The one on the right is ours. It's OK for a pipe or cigar filler, but it needs to be much finer for cigarettes.

Buying seeds

We bought our tobacco seeds over the internet from Plantation House. We bought Maryland 609, Virginia and Monte Calme Yellow seeds; all suitably light for cigarette tobacco. There is a great deal of information on their site, as well as a forum of growers.

The law

The position with growing and using tobacco in the UK seems to be that if it's for personal use, no one's going to trouble you.

This is from a letter sent by Customs & Excise to Plantation House in October 2001:
There is not a great deal of home-grown tobacco smoked in the UK and we will certainly not be targeting potential domestic tobacco producers. Nor do we wish to devote a disproportionate amount of resource to the control of hobby growers and manufacturers.

You may wish to point out to your customers that duty only becomes due once the tobacco can be smoked, i.e. when the cured tobacco leaves have been shredded. There is no duty on tobacco seeds, which are quite legal to buy, or on the tobacco plants themselves.

Additive-free tobacco

List of additives to cigarette tobacco.
A major consideration with growing your own tobacco is that it can be organically grown and additive-free.

In 2006, Gallaher listed on their site 366 additives to their cigarette tobacco. However, later that year they were taken over by Japan Tobacco, who don't list the info on their site (they state that that section of the website is currently under construction - at 22/04/09).

[Update 21st July 2011: The Japan Tobacco site now shows the ingredients added to tobacco. The info for the UK is here.]

Free Jack, non-additive tobacco.
If you are not growing your own and you want to smoke tobacco without additives, you can buy Free Jack Non-Additive Tobacco (that's 'non-additive', not 'non-addiCtive'). This one is sold in Spain, but a Dutch company makes it, so it's likely available elsewhere too. Unfortunately, it says very little on the tin, except for mandatory large health warnings, so there are no exotic-sounding names of tobacco varieties in the blend or of far-away places where it was grown.
(A bit of a disappointment. Old Holborn proudly states on its packet: "It takes 25 varieties of premium grade tobacco, harvested from four continents, then cured gently and allowed to reach maturity, to produce the unique, full taste of Old Holborn Original." A much richer description; though it, too, is a Japan Tobacco brand, and there's likely more than tobacco in it.)

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