Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, Day 100

Day 100. A close-up of a fine specimen.

Greetings Friends,

It is Day 100 of the Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment and we are still here and thriving. It is safe to say that the transplanting was a success. The tabaco plants have grown tremendously since the last post (6 days ago) so this means that the roots have taken hold of their new terrain. It has also rained the last 4 days so the plants are receiving good natural water and thus have exploded in size. Everyday, I am inspecting whether there are any signs of pests and, luckily, the plants have not been discovered by herbivorous insects.

Now as long as there aren't any major storms or wind, insects or other acts of nature to damage the plants, we can expect to harvest the leaves for smoking consumption in another 45 to 60 days. The "drainage system" works well and we can expect a great harvest. Now we play the waiting game and smoke some cigars (preferably Devil's Weed cigars) as we watch the tabaco plants grow! Take a look at the photos.

Day 100. Field-view of the crop. Nice.

Day 100. Western-half of the crop.

Day 100. Eastern-half of the crop.

Day 100. Is this the MVP?

Day 100. Or is this plant the MVP?

In case, you couldn't tell which of the photos was the long-running holder of the MVP, it was the first one. All the plants are getting plenty of water, nutrients and space for the roots to thrive that nearly all are MVPs.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, Day 94

Day 93. Tabaco in the rain.
Greetings Friends,
Today marks the 2nd day since we transplanted the tabaco plants to the garden plot in our backyard and the specimens seem to be doing fine so far. Yesterday (Day 93) was a little worrisome since a shower passed through the area and I wasn't sure how the transplants would respond so soon after transfer. In the end, they were fine.
I failed to mention in the last post a little tip regarding the laying of the ground tarp. In order to maximize the use and control of water, I recommend punching a few holes in the "valleys" of the ground tarp. This way the water that is collected from rain is drained and absorbed into the soil which will in turn be absorbed by the tabaco roots. Otherwise the water will just stay, stagnate and create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
At this stage of tabaco cultivation by the professional commercial growers, it is ideal that the plant does not receive water directly onto the leaves. It is better if the plant absorbs the water from the ground via its roots. Why is that you ask? Water applied onto the leaves can result in water spots and commercial growers try to avoid this since the goal of tabaco cultivation is to have the highest wrapper yield (the most profitable grade due to its high aesthetics). But again, since this experiment is only teaching you how to grow tabaco for your own use, it is entirely up to you how you are to water the plants (as long as they receive some H2O).
Moreover, you want to be sure to not over-water the plants because if they absorb too much, then the leaves can wilt due to the oversaturation. (Again, I suppose if you do not care about wrapper yields, it may not matter if your leaves have some slight damage due to wilting). The commercial growers in Central America call the tabaco plants that have received too much water and result in wilted leaves drunk tabaco. In addition, too much water can also result in mold or fungal growth. Just be sure to monitor the condition of your crop.
Enjoy the pictures as we took some during the shower on Day 93 and the drier aftermath on Day 94.
Day 93. Singin' in the rain.

Day 93. Notice the valley collecting the rainwater.

Day 93. Ah, refreshing.

Day 93. Close-up.

Day 93. Watch the wilting.

Day 93. Drying off.

Day 93. Let the growing commence.

Day 94. Overall crop view. Notice the drainage from the valleys has occurred.

Day 94. Wilting can occur from too much heat or water. Take care!

Day 94. Not bad.

Day 94.

Day 94.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, Day 92

Day 92. A couple of happy tabaco plants.
Greetings Friends,

We have just completed an all-important step in the Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment: transplanting. We will divide this entry into 2 parts for a simpler illustration: 1. preparation of the land and 2. transplanting. Enjoy the read!
Preparation of the Land:
As I mentioned yesterday, the preparation for the actual plot of land to contain the tabaco plants was done around Day 30. The first step at this stage is to choose the part of your backyard that is to be used as a garden. The highest part of the backyard is ideal but more importantly, the area has to have plenty of sunlight and no aerial obstructions. Next, if the chosen area is just dirt, you're good. Otherwise, if your situation was like mine, there was grass. If this is the case, then I recommend a good plower or other similar gardening equipment to pull out the grass and expose the soil. In my case, I went old-school and used a shovel to lift out the top-layer of grass. After some back-breaking work, I tilled the soil so that there were a series of "valleys" and "mountains". As you can see in the illustration below, this layout is ideal as it allows for water to be contained and not flood the tabaco plants in case you are hit with a shower storm or two. The plants will be placed on top of the "mountain" for maximum protection. Next (although not necessary), I placed a garden picket fence around the border of the plot. I was forced to do this as we have a couple of Labs that like to roam the backyard. If you do not have dogs or other backyard pets, this is not necessary (but it is still good form).
The steps up to this point were actually done last year when I used this layout for the last growing season. What I did on Day 30 of the GABTE was this next step: laying down the black "garbage bag" plastic tarp on the ground. Although this step is not necessary as well, I highly recommend implementing this cover. Reason One: you do not have to worry about weeds and pulling out weeds so often. The tarp kills off and prevents any grass, weeds or other plants from growing underneath its surface (the reason I do this early on is to deprive sunlight to any grass and weeds on the plot and to let them die off and ferment before we transplant our tabaco plants). Reason Two: the tarp is able to contain and store water from a shower or hosing session. Reason Three: the likelihood of any pests getting to your plants is lower. Many strawberry farmers use this tactic to grow their fruits (especially here in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, the strawberry capital) for the previous reasons and also to retain heat in the ground. Again, this step is not mandatory but it helps you out in the long run.
Take a look below at the cross-section of the plot to better understand how we will prepare our plot.
Cross-section of tabaco plot.
As far as the dimensions and where we will physically place the plants, look below at the bird's-eye view of the plot. It is important to leave enough space in between plants so that each can develop in peace and quiet without infringing on the next plant's space and nutrients. Notice that we leave about 4 feet between plants in the same column and when we look at column-to-column, we stagger the placement of the plants (like many houses that use brick on their facades). This is illustrated by the dotted lines "connecting" every other column. I have also left some space between the plants and the fence (if you decide to use a protective barrier of some kind).
In the end, the preparation is rather simple but very important. Once we transplant, expect an exponential growth rate from these "unconfined" plants. I have noticed that the growth rate of tabaco can be controlled by how long and in what size container you place the plants. Since the root system of tabaco grows out extensively, once the roots hit a boundary, the plant does not grow as much. I believe we could have shaved off 2 weeks in this experiment if I transplanted the tabaco earlier and if I transplanted the seedlings from the common plastic bin (during germination) to each individual plastic container earlier, as well. However, I left the plants as long as I did for their protection. Regardless, we are here now and ready for the transplant.
Bird's-Eye View of the tabaco plot.
After checking the prepared plot of backyard, I was ready to transplant the all-stars. I recommend doing this step at dawn or dusk so the plants don't have to worry about the daytime heat of the sun (this step is a stressor for the tabaco anyway; plus you are more comfortable as well). I water the plants in their containers so that when I actually pull out the plants, it is easier and the plants are held intact.

Day 92. One quick survey of the plot.

Day 92. The plants are ready.

According to the drawn layout, I go to the spot where the transplanting process is to occur. Secondly, I use a small gardening hoe to cut out a small hole in the trap. This is where the plant will be placed. Next, I dig out enough soil so the plant (with its container soil) can be placed level with the ground. After the ground is prepared, I carefully dig out the tabaco plant from its plastic container. Do not worry if some soil is left behind with leftover roots. The plant has a dense root structure. Next, I place the plant in the hole and pack the soil around it in place. This keeps the plant intact and secure.
I repeat these steps with the other plants and lay them out according to the plan. When I am done, I lightly hose the plants with water (not putting the stream into direct contact with the tabaco but rather letting the ground around the plant absorb the water). From this point on, when you water the plants, it is better to water them in this way. Water spots are more likely to form on the leaves if you water directly onto the leaves.
From here on out, the growth rate should be quick. As long as the soil is moist, the bugs are kept at bay and the plants get an adequate amount of sunlight, the crop will be plentiful and the leaves thick. Stay tuned for updates regarding the open-field growing stage. Happy planting!

Day 92. Ready for liftoff.

Day 92. Pierce the tarp for plant entry.

Day 92. Opening the entry.
Day 92. The open hole.

Day 92. Dig out some soil for the plant.

Day 92. Taking out the plant.

Day 92. High above ground in a ball of soil.

Day 92. Notice the impressive root structure.

Day 92. Packing the soil to secure the plant.

Day 92. This is the last home for the tabaco plant.

Day 92. Another successful patient.

Day 92. Expect major and fast growth now.
Day 92. An illustration on the "staggering" placement of the plants.

Day 92. The all-stars have been transplanted.

Day 92. Full-view of the crop.

Day 92. Another angle of the plot.

Day 92. A job well done.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, Day 91

Day 91. A curious toad enjoys the tabaco garden plot.

Greetings Friends,

And so we have just completed three full months in our humble project, the Great American Tabaco Experiment, and we are ready for the next stage: Transplanting. This will be done tomorrow but we wanted to show you the progress up until this next step. The plants are about 5 to 6 inches in height and should withstand the inherent stress that comes with this stage.

Take a look at the plants and their healthy state. With every new level of leaves that appears, comes thicker and greener leaves. Many of the leaves at the bottom (the first leaves to appear) of the plant are becoming lighter (whiter) as they are deprived of sunlight. This is natural and I recommend pruning/picking them off if they are too weakly. This assures that the energy going into the plant from the roots (from water and soil) is allocated to the strong and newer leaves.

The last photo is of the plot of the backyard that will contain the tabaco plants until they mature and its smokeable leaves are ready for harvest. I will go into more detail tomorrow, but essentially I wanted to show you how it looks and what the plants can expect. On a side-note, I began preparing this plot on Day 30 and this is what it looks like today. But as I said I will go into more detail tomorrow; as a matter of fact you can expect tomorrow's post to be separated into 2 parts: 1. how to prepare the plot of land that you will use to grow tabaco plants and 2. the actual transplanting steps. Important stuff so stay tuned and enjoy these pictures. Oh and that toad you saw in the beginning of the post was pretty friendly. I just hope I don't catch any warts.

Day 91. One more day until transplant day.

Day 91. The first group looks good.

Day 91. The second group looks good.

Day 91. The third group looks good.

Day 91. The prepared plot that will be the site for the mature tabaco plants.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, Day 86

Day 86. I'm ready for my close-up.

Greetings Friends,

Another week has gone by and the progress continues. These plants have more than doubled in size and they seem eager to be transplanted to the open backyard. And thus, our little project, the Great American Backyard Tabaco Experiment, continues its straight course. The plants average a height of about 5 inches and they are a healthy green color with thick leaves. In terms of maintenance, not much has changed . I check the plants at least twice a day (once in the morning and one more time in the afternoon or early evening), make sure the soil is hydrated, and see that pests are not present.

There have been no problems except that the area has not seen showers so I am forced to water the plants everyday. I have also taken the tarp off the last 2 days to see how the plants respond to direct sunlight. I saw some slight wilting this afternoon but nothing major. I am doing this to prepare the plants when I transplant them and leave them out in the open backyard. At this point, you will definitely see an exponential increase in growth (as the roots are not constricted to any closed-off area). You can see that the roots right now are dense and even showing themselves at the surface.

I had originally planned to transplant them by this point but maybe I will wait until this weekend as this will leave the plants with enough time to acclimate to life without the shade-tarp. Before then, I will add a post about how the area of the backyard is to be prepared for your tabaco garden. So until the next post regarding the GABTE, check out the photos taken on Day 86.

Day 86. The All-Stars.

Day 86. The guys in the middle are standing straight.

Day 86. The MVP (in the back) is getting some competition.

Day 86.

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