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Getting Ready for the 2023 Grow Season!

Growley Monster

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Got my seeds sprouting, and got my new tobacco patch tilled. I still have time to bring in 10 or 15 yards of compost, which will raise the bed up for better drainage as well as increase friability, moisture holding, and nutrients. This year I am planting Moldovan 456, Connecticut Broadleaf, Golden Burley, Big Gem, Monte Calme, Piloto Cubano, and Yellow Leaf. I will only be setting out 5 or 6 seedlings of each, except the Moldovan will be 10 or 12 seedlings. Depending on the long range forecast I will likely be transplanting first week of March. In a couple of weeks I will start my backup seeds, in case a freak of nature late frost kills my babies in the ground, I will have more to set out right away. I still have to finish raking out the grass rhizomes. That's my electric rototiller right next to it. In the background against the fence is last year's patch. This year it will be okra, cabbage, broccoli, etc. Behind me are two 2 x 4 x 8 foot raised beds that I will use for Jalapeños and other stuff. I will do a separate bed on the other side of the yard for tomatoes. Eggs are getting ridiculous so we might also build a coop and start a few layers.

Tilled_20230118_152339359.jpg
 

Growley Monster

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Tobacco has been in the ground for about three weeks now. Bugs got some. I ended up planting 32 seedlings. Four each of Yellow Leaf, Monte Calme Yellow, Golden Burley, Piloto Cubano, Connecticut Broadleaf, Big Gem, and eight of Moldovan 456, just cause I had a good feeling about that one from the very few pics I have seen of it. And in fact, the 456 was the most aggressive in germination and early growth, and most bug resistant, followed by the Connecticut Broadleaf. My selection was very burley heavy, and my objective is to end up with lots of nice big yellow to light tan wrapper leaves. Only the Piloto is really a filler variety, because nearly all of last year's crop is good pretty much only as filler. So next year it will probably be just one wrapper variety and one filler variety, and only about 10 plants of each.

Other stuff planted: three varieties of Jalapeños, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, celery, carrots, (a short French variety) 1015 onions, bok choy, radishes, cilantro and other herbs, two types of broccoli, Golden Acre cabbage, several types of lettuce, okra of course, sunflowers, Boxcar Willie tomatoes, swiss chard, and other stuff. With the warmer temps of the last two weeks, everything has exploded with growth, particularly the carrots interplanted with the onions. It is a jungle in there. A lot of stuff languished until nighttime temps were up in the 70's and them wham, look out. I will be setting up soaker hoses on the main rows, and next year I will probably use landscape cloth to hold the weeds down. So far we have enjoyed a lot of radishes and romaine in salad, and a few tiny carrots that I had to thin out to get some sun on some pepper plants. We also had a lot of broccoli that survived the winter and came back with some nice big side shoot heads. Let's see... green onions, too, and lots of cilantro. So here it is first half of March and we are already eating from the garden, and I have even rolled and smoked a stogie from last year's tobacco crop. We are still eating on last year's okra that I cut, seal-a-mealed, and froze.

The vacuum sealer has definitely paid for itself.I had to harvest a lot of two foot tall cilantro that was starting to bolt, and I bundled half fist size portions into sealed bags and froze them. I have also successfully prepped and froze celery and onions, and of course the okra. When you remove all of the air and freeze within an hour of harvest, you can get very good results. I may set up a brine tank for quick freezing later this year but really, stuff frozen in the sous vide bags retains all of it's flavor and color, and most of its texture. So yeah, the chest freezer will also pay for itself this year.

Broccoli and lettuce and some other cool weather crops are really hard to grow here in New Orleans, especially in the summer, but much of that I planted in the back bed, against the neighbor's 8 foot high board fence, which shades everything in the afternoon. Additionally I planted the okra in a row along that fence, and on the east edge of that bed I planted a row of sunflowers. Both of those plants cast a lot of shade and usually top over 8 feet. With mulch, soaker hose, and shade, I hope to be harvesting even the lettuce through all except mid july through the end of august. The broccoli that Mrs. Monster planted last year survived and grew during the summer under partial shade, just didn't bear well until winter, so I am not worried about the broc. Okra of course is right at home in our climate, as are the peppers. We use more of those two veggies than anything else except onions.

I learned my lesson last year. The tobacco will be getting about 10 hours sunlight out of every 12 of daylight, and I will stake every plant, and sucker aggressively. I really want to see some nice looking plants with lots of big leaves. With so few plants I can do a black light patrol every evening and keep the worms in check. I haven't used any pesticides so far and cutworms I think got the Sun King broccoli. The Castle Dome seems to fight off the bugs better. I may come out with some diatomaceous earth and some sevin dust next week. I have seen a few snails and I think the diatoms will discourage them. and sevin dust isn't particularly toxic. Thinking about BT and ladybugs, too.

Bee activity has been heavy. The bolted cilantro and bolted bok choy from last year had a huge bee following, and I started feeding them. Hopefully I will get some good pollination action this year.

Pics in a couple of weeks.
 

Growley Monster

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BROC-ZILLA!

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Almost 12" across and over 2-1/2 lbs. Picked a couple hours ago, immediately pieced, blanched, chilled, vacuum bagged, and frozen. This is the second one so far. The first one was a little pipsqueak, at 1-1/2 lbs and 10" or so across. We stir fried that one with sliced brisket and celery and jalapenos from the garden, and it was delicious. Variety is Castle Dome, and it is the best I have ever planted.
 

Growley Monster

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Had to pick three more today because they were ready. I cut the florets at the main stem, blanched them, chilled them, vac bagged them and threw them in the freezer. 8 meals worth of broc florets, and another three of stems and leaves, which I like to cook like collard greens.
 
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Our cilantro and asparagus have been growing out of control this year. The broccoli didn't sprout though.

Oh well, now I have like two years worth of dried cilantro.
 

Growley Monster

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A video tour of the garden, 26 April 2023. Yeah it took me that long to move it from phone to laptop, then upload to youtube. So fire me already.
 

Growley Monster

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Picked about half of what remains of my tobacco today. I hadn't noticed how big the Monte Calme Yellow leaves had grown. Here's the bigger ones from the single plant that survived the bugs. 29" long, the biggest ones. Got about 16 leaves from it, still some top leaves left on the plant. I waited too long on the Piloto Cubano. The lugs caught some kind of blight or fungus, and I got a lot of bug bites in the leaves I really had my eye on.
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So I am still liking the Golden Burley. Good producer, fast maturing, leaves almost as big as the Monte Calme, and it cures to a beautiful yellowish tan. I was disappointed in the CT Broadleaf this year. I might try it again next year or maybe not. The Moldovan 456 came out pretty good. So my next crop will definitely be big on the Golden Burley, for wrapper and binder leaf, and maybe some of the Piloto for filler. A couple of stalks of the Moldovan and Monte Calme, just for variety and to give them another chance to win my heart and mind. The Yellow Leaf and the Big Gem were just so-so. Interesting leaf shape on the Big Gem. Sort of long and narrow. Curious to see the leaves after curing. Might make a good wrapper for a Long slim cigar. However I am gravitating toward short, stout double ender torpedoes. I cut my binder and wrapper into a big curvy "S" shape so I want fairly broad leaves. Anyway, Yellow Leaf, Big Gem, nice to meet you, but so long sayonara, adios, hasta la byebye,
 

Growley Monster

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Here is what's left of my tobacco harvest of 2022. I lost a lot to worms while it was hanging. Lost a lot to mold, from hanging it improperly. Rolled a little bit, gave away a few pounds to cig and pipe smoking friends.What's left is about 17 lbs of basically all mixed filler.

I opened a couple of bags and let the leaf air a little. The aroma after being bagged all winter and into the summer is unexpectedly intoxicating, very exotic, nutty, fruity, resinous, a hint of pine needles and jasmine. Mrs. Monster even likes the smell. A light and joyous aroma, pleasant and surprising. Meanwhile about 80% of this years crop is in the barn. It's not much, probably about 5lbs cured, but there will be some wrappers in there, this year. I will pick the last of it in a week or two. Planting some seeds next week in case I go for a second crop. I am leaning toward just Piloto Cubano and Golden Burley. I have a good feeling about that combination.

The Moldovan, Burley, and Monte Calme are all curing to a nice yellowish light tan color. The leaves are a little mottled, most of them, but I think the color will blend and smooth out as they age. Maybe 1/4 of the crop has wrapper and binder potential. The Big Gem and Yellow Leaf will not be planted again. Next year I will try the CTBL again in the back bed where it did fairly good last year. The side bed just doesn't seem to be a place that CTBL likes. I know the CTBL is a good race and has a lot of potential but the GB was much more robust, and a nicer color, nicer leaf texture IMHO, and the Monte Calme threw much bigger leaves. I may end up dropping the CTBL, Need to smoke some cigars rolled in the other varieties before I commit fully.

I am really curious how the Moldovan will taste as a wrapper and binder. Nice looking leaf, but if the flavor or aroma clashes with the fillers, it's outta there. Plus, if I can't get down to just two varieties, I will settle for three. Four is just too much for the scale of my operation. If there is a fall crop, it will only be a dozen plants or so. There is not much point in me growing too big of a surplus. Fewer plants means I can take better care of them and better care of the product.
 
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The smell of fresh cured Virginia is so intoxicating. I can still remember that smell from my childhood. Now you have me wanting to go hang out at a tobacco farm and see if I can find some Burley that is curing. o_O
 
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