HOW DO I GROW TOBACCO? -- H.B. OF BELLEVILLE
The price of cigarettes has a number of people thinking about growing their own tobacco, but the hardest part is finding the best seed. Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) was originally found in Mexico but also grows in the tropical areas of the Americas.
There are many species of Nicotiana but you need especially N. tabacum. As with most species of the Nicotiana genus, the seed germinates very quickly -- in about one week if the soil temperature is maintained between 68 and 80 degrees. The young plants need warmth when first growing, and the soil or growing medium should be well fortified with organic fertilizers. Most tropical plants need plenty of food when the roots are first being formed.
They can be transplanted into fiber pots (compressed peat moss) when the true leaves have formed (not the seed leaves called cotyledons which are rather fleshy). Later when the shade temperatures reach 65-68 degrees, the plants can be planted outside. Make small slits on the sides of the fiber pots. This tobacco variety should be planted at least 3 feet apart and rows 3 feet apart as well. The more space allowed, the bigger the leaves will grow.
All through the growing process, these plants need to be heavily fertilized. The more fertilizer you provide, the better the growth. Tobacco plants take a lot of nutrients from the soil.
Back in 1921, a mutant tobacco plant was found growing near Washington, D.C.. It had unusually large leaves and grew to 9 feet tall. This giant, later named the New Maryland Giant, did not flower immediately like other tobacco plants. It flowered only when cuttings were made and placed in a greenhouse of the U.S. Department of Agriculture later in December of that year. The seed produced by these plants produced large plants as well and the plants would only flower later in the year, usually December.
The two researchers -- W.W. Garner and H. A. Allard -- also discovered the Biloxi variety of soybean, which flowered later in September no matter when the original soybeans were planted. They discovered with these two plant varieties the term "photoperiodism" (the biological response by plants to a change in the proportions of light and dark in a 24-hour cycle).
Getting back to the seed, you will want to find Nicotiana grandiflora purpurea or Nicotiana altropurpurea grandiflora in the name. There are several varieties to choose from as this is a hybrid cross with Nicotiana chinensis, a plant originally growing in China and Java.
When is the last date of a killing spring frost in our area? I need to know so that my plants do not get killed by putting them out too soon.
-- W. S. of Caseyville
The average date of the last killing frost in our area is April 15. This means there is a 50/50 chance of a frost on that date. The last true killing frost in our area is actually May 20 according to weather records. So don't plant your plants out until May. Many gardeners are gamblers, so that's the reason for the April date.
Do it now
FLOWER SEEDS: Plant the seeds of spider flower cleome, cosmos, four o'clocks, globe amaranthus, gloriosa daisies, moss rose, and snapdragons directly in the beds where you want them to grow.
VEGETABLE SEEDS: Plant the seeds of radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce and turnips directly in the vegetable garden.
BARE-ROOT ROSES: They can be planted out now.
SHRUBS: This is the best time to plant most types.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.