Cigars: Growing Tobacco Part 2

How Many Tobacco Plants per Acre?Each type of tobacco has an ideal denseness in the field. To ensure a well balanced development of the plant and produce the product required by industry, the grower has to respect spacing between plants when transplanting. The range is quite large, from 4,800 plants per acre for some large and thick dark tobacco to 16,000 plants per acre for lighter tobacco. Even more for the tiny oriental type. Wrappers are generally transplanted at a denseness of 10-12,000 per acre.How Many Tobacco Crops per Year?A tobacco plant grows and ripes within a 5 month period. However, it is nearly impossible to get 2 usable crops in the same year because of the weather condition requirements.Tobacco and WaterAs many other plants, tobacco does not like extreme weather conditions, particularly the lack or the excess of water. Drought will give thick, yellowish, paper type leaves, rich in starch and sharp in taste. Floods wash out the leaves. They are very thin, fragile, unable to ripen properly, with ghastly colors, white veins and bad taste. Tobacco hates putting it’s feet in water !A Tobacco FarmTobacco is grown either in huge plantations or on small farms. The type of settlement depends on the history and the culture of the country where the tobacco is produced. Once tobacco is harvested and cured, the processing requires big volumes. If his crop size is not large enough, the farmer can’t process his own material, and he will sell his cured tobacco to companies that aggregate small crops for processing. Large plantations growing enough tobacco that allows them to process it themselves are not so many, when compared to the millions of small producers all around the world.Harvesting WaysThere are two ways to harvest tobacco when it is ripe. Either leaf by leaf (starting from the foot and picking up 2 or 3 leaves every 2 or 3 days) or by stalk (cutting the plant at once). In the first case, each leave is supposed to be picked up at the right ripeness. In the second case, the tobacco is harvested at an average ripeness condition, that means over-ripe for bottom leaves and under-ripe for top leaves. As far as wrappers are concerned, the leaf-by-leaf picking is the rule!Harvesting Ripe TobaccoRipeness comes first on bottom leaves and goes up day after day. As soon as the green color of the foot leaves starts becoming a light pale, it is time to pick up without delay. If you wait too long, color turns fast to yellow and it is too late: tobacco will come out thin like cigarette paper, with a very sharp taste. In comparison, because they are thicker, top leaves take longer to ripe. Very often, the farmer has to stop harvesting a few days after having picked the upper middle leaves, just to let the top leaves reach the proper ripeness. A just-in-time harvesting is very important for cigar tobaccos in general and particularly for wrappers.Favoring Leaf DevelopmentThe leaves are the useful part of the tobacco plant. The farmer has to remove the greedy and useless parts of the plant: buds coming at the petiole of the leaves and blossoms. The more buds and blossoms are removed, the more nutrients go the leaves which in turn can become very large and thick. For some types of wrapper tobaccos, blossoms are not cut so leaves can stay thin. For some types of fillers, buds are removed and the stalk is cut above the 12th leaf. The leaves grow to 25 inches and up, and are thick like leather.Greedy TobaccoTobacco is a fast-growing plant that needs a lot of nutrients to develop properly. Even when fertilizers are used, the soil is impoverished. It is often impossible to yield tobacco crops on the same land for two consecutive years so farmers must rotate, interspersing regenerative cultivation.Earth Up!In order to ease the feeding and the development of the plants in the tobacco fields, the lower leaves, which are useless, are picked out. Then the grower earths up the plants and new roots are going to grow in place of the removed leaves. Earthing up also helps the plant to stand and to resist better to strong winds.Adjusting leaves characteristics to industry requirementsThe tobacco industry requires leaves with a specific texture and size. To reach their goal, the grower uses different techniques. One is to play with the density: number of plants per acre. The more plants per acre, the smaller and thinner the leaves will be. Another one is to top the plants: less leaves on a stalk, makes for larger and thicker leaves. That is easy to understand: for a given amount of nutrients, the less mouths you have to feed, the more everyone is going to eat. In fact in each growing area, and for each type of tobacco, standards are settled for density and topping.A Ride for Wrapper PickingAs far as wrapper is concerned, tobacco has to be picked leaf by leaf. It’s tough work, it’s generally in summer time, and workers have to be careful not to break leaves. Connecticut growers have invented a very helpful machine to collect the leaves, avoiding too many people walking in the tobacco rows. A 2ft wide belt is laid down between two rows of plants. One end is attached to a core set in action by pedals like the rear wheel of a bicycle. Only one worker goes in the row, picks the 2 or 3 leaves from each plant and puts down the leaves flat on the belt. Once he reaches the end of the row, a guy starts pedaling, rolling up the belt around the core while two people, one each side of the belt, remove the leaves and put them into baskets. At the picking season, you can see tens of these machines aligned on the edge of the fields.

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