Organic Pesticide with Tobacco

Tobacco Field and Barn of Yesteryear

When I was a child we’d make annual pilgrimages to South Carolina for family reunions. The trips from Virginia, along Interstate 95, were grueling for a girl, but one of my fondest memories is of the acres and acres of tobacco—as far as you could see. Those tobacco fields are all but gone now but the footprint of that heritage remains.

I began growing tobacco years ago, here in Pennsylvania, and loved seeing my few plants surge in growth in the warm months, finally giving way to a delicate blossom.

David cut the mighty stalks and hung the plants, inverted, to dry in the smokehouse over the winter months.

When I first mentioned I wanted to grow tobacco, I was met with the “why??” almost out of the gate. Hmmmmm. Had to act fast—I was about to take up a row of precious garden real estate with a plant I “just wanted to grow for the fun of it.” I researched the other uses of tobacco and came upon (drum roll, please): Organic Pesticide.

Nicotine in tobacco is highly toxic and will kill or repel the pests on flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables. It’s inexpensive and organic (but double-check your source).

Steeping Tobacco Juice

To make your “pesticide,” combine a handful of tobacco leaves, a tablespoon of dishwashing soap and a gallon of warm water. Cover your mixture and let it steep overnight. Strain off the solids and add to a spray bottle. Coat your plants you’d like to protect—remember the underside of the leaves as well!

The cucumber beetle which wreaks such havoc tore into our pumpkin plants during it’s first life cycle (see the Cucumber Beetles blog).

Either the beetles were on the backside of their first cycle in this photo…or the tobacco juice went to work….or both.

See the new green, baby shoots?

Pumpkin Plant Coming Back


Cycles of all sorts…

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed (host plant)

Milkweed plant “going to seed”

I plant tobacco. I love it. It reminds me of growing up and taking family trips down I-95, seeing fields and fields and fields of this majestic plant with gigantic leaves. I’ve rarely seen insects on or around our  tobacco plants; the leaves are sticky. And although I find the scent appealing, I imagine in the bug world there might be something off-putting about it. So,  I usually don’t bother to check the plants for pests.

Tobacco Budworm

That all changed a few days ago, when I noticed these worms on the tobacco. I assumed they were corn earworms—after all, they looked like them and were less than a foot from the overhanging corn leaves. Maybe they just dropped onto the tobacco from the corn leaves?

Wrong. I was amazed to find I have tobacco budworms.

A very close relative of the corn earworm, the tobacco budworm attacks field crops—tobacco, soybeans, cotton (which, by the way, is planted at the end of the tobacco row). A common predator is the wasp. Host plants include beardstem, lupine, and sunflower to name a few—all of which are present at our place (including the wasps!).

Just goes to show:  there are so many “mini-lifecycles” going on every day all around us…if we just take a moment to notice—like those pictured here.