Daring to grow tobacco

 By Kay Braddock

It came about as more of challenging a dare than anything else.
And now that Art Henry’s small tobacco patch has taken hold, with some plants in his backyard garden reaching well past his 5-foot-9-inch frame, Henry is enjoying some well deserved kudos for growing a crop most folks didn’t believe would survive the climate eastern Montana serves up each year.
“Somebody said, ‘No, you can’t grow any tobacco,’ Henry recalled. “And I said, ‘The hell I can’t grow any tobacco!’” 
After purchasing packets of seeds of three different tobacco varieties from a company in Portland, Maine, Art and his wife Kathy seeded the plants inside their home in April. 
“The seeds look like pepper,” Kathy said. “That’s how fine they are.”
The fine seeds required lots of thinning when they sprouted.
“I thought I had two or three, but there’d be like anywhere from five to 20 plants come up,” Art added. 
It wasn’t until the first part of June, when the plants were about 6 inches tall, that the Henrys transplanted the tobacco plants outside in their garden.
The tobacco patch now takes up a 40-foot-by-12-foot section of their garden. It also receives a lot more second glances from those passing by than any of their other plants.
“They ask about the tobacco but they don’t ask about the watermelons out there,” Art said chuckling. “It’s been a real interesting conversation piece.” 
With their wide green foliage, the plants add a unique beauty to the garden.
Besides lots of water, the tobacco plants have required no extra attention. 
Art planted cabbage plants among the tobacco patch where a few of the plants had died. That turned out to be what he now calls “dumb-luck”. After reading an article on the Internet about growing tobacco, he found out that cabbage is typically grown among tobacco plants to help fend off certain diseases and insects.
The couple, who has rolled their own cigarettes for several years, plan to cure the tobacco plants and try them for cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Art is receiving advice on the curing process from his brother who once lived in Kentucky and learned about curing tobacco from his father-in-law who grows the crop.
The plants will be cut off at the stem and hung upside down on a dowel that runs through the stems of about four or five plants. Once the plants have dried, they will resemble leather and can be crushed using a blender or paper shredder.
Art pointed out that by using their own homegrown tobacco they’ll be assured that there are no added nicotine or fire retardant materials in the tobacco they smoke. It will also likely ensure the tobacco is pure in strength.
“(It) might even cause a guy to quit,” Art said smiling.

Published Sept. 29, 2010

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