Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chapter 10: In which I discuss the merits of tobacco

Among the many new things that we try every year, this year we are growing tobacco. Aleks has wanted to try to grow it for quite a while and this year he is giving it a go. He selected Orinoco tobacco, a variety that has been grown in this country since the 1600's when John Rolfe obtained the coveted seeds. Rolfe shunned the harsh product grown by the local Indians, Nicotiana Rustica. It would never sell in London. Somehow he obtained seeds from the coveted Nicotiana Tabacum strain then being grown in Trinidad and South America--though Spain had declared a penalty of death to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard. Jamestown was wildly successful in their tobacco venture, in part due to the better Spanish strain and in part due to improved cultivation methods. When in 1614 the first tobacco arrived in London, it was in almost immediate demand. Though King James I despised the crop, he knew that the colony depended on it for survival and the import duty on tobacco meant that the English treasury grew with every shipload sold. Tobacco cultivation soared in Jamestown (they were even growing it in the streets!), so much so that the colonists had to be forced to devote a percentage of ground to grow food crops. By 1639 the colonies had exported 750 tons of tobacco to England, thus ensuring the once doubtful survival of this fledgling colony.
Now, why would we want to grow such a horrible, cancer causing substance? Tobacco is used as an insect repellant in the garden and it's also used to worm animals. The remarkable stimulant properties of tobacco were utilised by early American Indians in curing wounds, swellings, coughs, tooth-ache, rheumatism, and stomach disorders. Tobacco was administered to patients in several forms, and was used in emergency treatment for snake and insect bites. We believe, as with most things, that proper use of an herb can be beneficial, but abuse, of almost everything, is detrimental. Tobacco can be tricky to grow though, so this year might not be a success but if not then we'll try again next year!
Lastly, this is Asa's 8 month portrait. I debated about posting a picture of his little naked heiney but I couldn't resist!


  1. Is there a possibility of your other crops getting the tobacco mosaic virus? Pardon me if my question is ignorant...but I thought tobacco had the virus and it could spread to tomatoes, cukes and other crops. This is why I've had my reservations about using it as a pest repellant.

  2. I just knew there had to be a useful reason for you to try growing tobacco ;-) Anyhow, much of what makes cigarettes sooo bad is what is added to the least that is always what I understood. Do let us know how it goes!

    As for Asa....adorable!