Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tobacco Farming and Rain Water Harvesting

So you are asking yourself, "What the heck does tobacco farming have to do with rain water harvesting in the desert?" Those of you who are horiculturally astute may know that there are varieties of tobacco that grow wild in Arizona. The Native Americans have grown native strains of tobacco for centuries and use it in ceremonies.

Tobacco grows wild in the city of Tucson in yards and allies. You can find it particularly in older neighborhoods where many citizens have cultivated native plants and small patches of wildness. (Midtown and downtown can be contrasted with the dirt-colored suburban developments that are characterized by rocks, cement, and a few neatly manicured cacti. Meow.)

If you have seen tobacco growing in fields in Kentucky, you may not recognize the wild tobacco in Tucson. I can remember driving around Kentucky in the 1960s on vacation with the family. We passed miles and miles of tobacco fields. These plants were relatively short (3 feet) and had huge leaves. The tobacco plants growing around Tucson are much taller (up to 10 feet or more) and have hand-sized leaves and pretty yellow flowers.

A friend of mine planted wild tobacco in her university-area desert garden. These plants are at least 8-10 feet tall and offer a nice blind and shade her outdoor picnic area. One day while enjoying breakfast in her yard, I decided to become a tobacco farmer. On the west side of my yard, there is a 5 foot block wall that separates my yard from the two duplexes next door. Ever since I purchased this midtown property, I've been contemplating what beautiful, hardy, tall, fast-growing, drought-and-sun tolerant plant I could put there to screen my yard from the duplexes. Tobacco is that plant.

Lucky for my new seedlings, I also have the downspout from my roof on the west side of my house. If you read any of my rain water harvesting posts from last summer, you know that I planned to put in a rain water collection cistern. Well, that project hasn't happened yet. (Good news for the tobacco; bad news for me because that means I am still transporting rain water around the yard by hand.)

I have a rectangular garbage can that collects water from the downspout, but during a hard monsoon rain, it is filled in minutes. Last summer, the overflow created rivers and lakes in my backyard. (To see last year's photos click on water harvesting link on this blog). This spring, I created a trench from the rain water collection bin to the planting bed along the wall where the tobacco seeds will be planted. I have been waiting for the summer rain to plant my seeds. Thursday we had our first big rain of the summer season. It was glorious. Tomorrow, I'm planting my first tobacco crop.

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