Thursday, 25 August 2011

Stop! Baccytime.

I think Dreadful's been at my whisky.

Time to start the harvest to the tune of MC Baccy's 'U Can't Smoke Here'. I am indebted to this tip for hanging the leaves to dry. Although sun-drying might not work here. We don't see that thing too often in these parts. In fact, the biggest laugh I had this week was when some idiot tried the cold-call hard-sell for solar panels.

"What's a 'solar'?"

"It gives you free electricity from the sun."

"The what? The shiny thing in the clouds? I've been wondering what that was for. Is it yours?"

Cold callers are fun - and they're paying for the call so keep them on the line as long as you can.

My plants have been somewhat wind-ravaged but it would have been worse before the neighbours put those big fences up. Perhaps I can induce them to build higher ones. It would have been better if I had used six-foot canes to hold the plants up, but lesson learned. I didn't expect them to do so well this far north.

I've already pulled a batch of leaves and strung them up to dry. That's why Dreadful looks a bit sparse around the bottom. There were a lot of slug-ravaged ones and I've left most of those on. If I take them off, the little slimy gits will just climb higher to get their freebies. The slugs, I mean. This isn't a post about politics.

Lately, we are to believe that tobacco is full of arsenic and polonium. There's none in mine. Arsenic and polonium are elements, and plants have not yet developed the technology to create elements. They've already invented tobacco and alcohol and many other things, so they probably feel they've done more than we have anyway. They're leaving the elemental chemistry to us.

If I had a plant that could turn one element into another I'd be feeding it lead and crossing my fingers.

The only places a plant can get any chemical element is the soil, the water and the air. Look at the size of Dreadful up there. If she had absorbed enough of a toxic element to have detectable amounts in her leaves then either the soil, the rain or the air contains so much of it that I, and everyone around me, is already dead. So are all the plants.

Therefore, if a tobacco plant has absorbed enough of any toxic element to pose a risk to those smoking a little bit of one leaf (some of those leaves are at least five smokes' worth, and further south they get much bigger) then that plant cannot have grown at all. So no, I am not in the least concerned by scare stories of polonium and arsenic. They are self-evident nonsense. Yet the drones believe it and if you imagine for a moment that I won't tell them those leaves are radioactive, then you haven't been here before. I still have a little pot of glow-in-the-dark paint from the time I painted the grouting in the kitchen tiles to play 'Hellraiser' with a gullible idiot. Yes, I have a fake 'Hellraiser' box here too. I told him he'd solved it and turned off the lights.

Growing the plants turned out to be easy after a couple of initial errors. I put out the first ones too soon and the slugs minced them. The ones I later put straight into the rubbish soil I have are still alive, but piddling little things.

The best results were with those potted on in the greenhouse until they filled six-inch pots, then put into buckets of decent compost (£3 for 50 litres by the time I needed it, hardly an expensive affair). The buckets had holes in the bottom and stood in cat-litter trays full of water to keep the slugs out. Buckets and trays were from the pound shop so each cost, somewhat predictably, a pound.

The plants grow themselves. Unfortunately they will not dry and cure themselves so now begins the hard part. As far as I can determine, the leaves should feel like thin leather, not dried to a crisp like 'normal' leaves. Then there are several options to choose from.

I could take the Bulgarian advice (in Email) and blanch them in boiling water, then re-dry them. That's the fastest option so one batch will go that way. I have seen options to air-cure, seal in jars or bags, stack and moisten, roll into pods and pour in rum or other spirits, and more. I probably won't have enough to try them all. I expect to get some or maybe even all of them wrong, it is a first attempt after all. In the end, maybe I'll end up with a little bit of something smokeable but every error along the way is a pointer for what to do next year. Remember, the entire experiment has cost not much more than ten worthless British pounds. One or two ounces of smokeable tobacco at the end of this and I break even.

That's for the future. For now I have to concentrate on stage two, drying. In this sometimes warm and always damp climate, moulds are a big problem and I could potentially lose the lot to a fungus. Therefore there will be several drying locations - house, garage, shed and greenhouse. Hopefully the moulds won't get them all. There's only one way to find out and it has cost nothing more from the plant-in-buckets stage.

Worth the effort? Certainly. If I can smoke one single cigarette/cigar/pipe bowl made of tobacco I grew with my own nicotine-stained cancer-spreading fingers, it's all been worth it.

If it doesn't work, I will have seeds and buckets and trays all ready to try again next year so the second attempt will cost less. Plus I'll have one year's experience of buggering it up.

Even if it does fail, the plants are pretty and fun to scare people with. The slug-munched ones will get a coat of paint.


Woodsy42 said...

My first pulled leaves are hanging very like those in the reference article. In my case threaded on stiff wire (fine welding rod!) with a hook bent at each end.
I have air dried in a ventilated indoor location but just inside a sunny window, early tests seem smokable already, if a bit too cigarish rather than cigarette.
But - how the Bl**dy h**l do you shred it fine? I can't find any guidance over that.

Leg-iron said...

Woody - the shredding is a tough one. I have yet to find out how that's done. Paper shredders aren't fine enough.

Cigar or pipe will work for me. As long as I made it, it's a bonus.

Anonymous said...

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Farmer's Bulletin No.1356
Issued June, 1923

"Describes methods for the use of arsenate of lead to control the tobacco hornworm and prevent damage to crops."

I'll feed the accompanying links direct to the spaminator in another post.

But meanwhile the WHO says not to worry about the Polonium

Polonium-210: basic facts and questions

"Po-210 emits alpha particles and is 5,000 times more radioactive than radium. The half-life of Po-210 is 138 days"

"For the general public, normal hygiene measures (such as thorough washing of hands and washing of fruit/vegetables before consumption) are sufficient."


Anonymous said...

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Farmer's Bulletin No.1356

Arsenic use in agriculture and cake decorating

Polonium-210: basic facts and questions

Polonium in ferilizer


George Speller said...

Mine (large pot grown)are mostly picked when starting to yellow, threaded on kebab skewers and the skewers mounted on 3.5 mm holes drilled in the beams of a well ventilated shed (not sufficiently ventilated to allow public smoking!). I spray them from time to time if they feel a bit dry. The advice I got was not to allow too much light, so the shed is ideal. maybe I'll try a few in the now empty greenhouse . . . the last 8 plants which were greenhouse grown and then planted out in the field are not yellowing yet, but very healthy. Should be able to harvest in a week or two. No arsenic or pollonium was used in the process.

View from the Solent said...

Would a food-processor with the appropriate attachment do the shredding? I'm fairly certain that they will shred white cabbage, carrots etc. for coleslaw. Don't know if it will be fine enough for rolling - any cookists out there who can comment?

Anonymous said...

Harvesting the Blossoms

"Tobacco plants began to blossom about the middle of June; and picking then began. Tobacco was gathered in two harvests. The first harvest was of these blossoms, which we reckoned the best part of the plant for smoking. Old men were fond of smoking them.

Blossoms were picked regularly every fourth day after the season set in.
If we neglected to pick them until the fifth day, the blossoms would begin to seed."

"We picked, as I have said, every fourth day. Only the green part of the blossom was kept. The white part I always threw away; it was of no value."

It amused me to find that we had been throwing away the best bit for 400 years.

They don't need curing, just drying, then run them through an ordinary herb mill.


Anonymous said...


My nameless experimental virginia has same pink flowers as yours.

When it's flowers begin to develop lavender coloured streaks on the pink petals, they pull out of the calyx quite easily when harvesting.

At a guess I'd say that was the 4th day of flowering.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Leg-iron

A search on "tobacco shredders" yielded and others.

You can watch someone slicing tobacco by hand, which is strangely relaxing - reminds me of the potter's wheel on the telly years ago. There are a stunning number of videos on Youtube about cutting tobacco.

I read somewhere that in the good old days tobacco was smoked after drying. Curing was developed when dried leaves were shipped east for the enjoyment of those back home and it was noticed that the tobacco aged on the weeks long voyage, plus distribution time was better than fresh dried. People have been experimenting ever since.

You could roll your own cigars with a few dried, uncured leaves. All you need is a dusky maiden.


selsey.steve said...

Here's an informative site:

selsey.steve said...

And here's another site worth a visit:

selsey.steve said...

... and here's how to cut your home-grown.

Anonymous said...

Yours look quite different to mine. Mine look like the Bulgarian's. Mine are cigarette tobacco plants - virginia, monte calme yellow, and maryland 609. Pity he did not put a ruler in the ground to indicate height of plants.
I was very delayed planting out due to cock-ups earlier, but I am not dissatisfied with progress this year.
The way in which the Bulgarian's leaves are hung up (in big batches) does not suggest that sunlight as such is much of a factor. Perhaps dry air is more important at that stage? No mention of a curing chamber!

I read somewhere about spraying the leaves with an ordinary sugar solution for flavour. Must begin to look these things up.

I was thinking of using paper clips (made into hooks) to hang the leaves on lengths of string between my garage wooden beams. They will be in the dark, but the garage is dry and I am in no rush. The garage idea occurred because donkeys years ago I remember some senior guys at the college I attended doing something similar in the loft of the college (Ah for the good old days!). There was no daylight in the loft.

Must all keep on comparing notes.

Zaphod Camden said...

I'm slightly disappointed. I clicked the youtube link expecting to actually hear someone doing a version of that with the words "U Can't Smoke Here" :(

We need to get such a cover version recorded. All proceeds going to Forest or something. Probably too late for Xmas 2011, but we could always make #1 for no-smoking day 2012 :)


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