HARVEST AND SEASONING
Due to the needs of tobacco harvesting and care, there is little tobacco production in the home or garden for personal use. Another deterrent to indoor tobacco production is the need to age cured tobacco for one to three years or more. The following suggestions are not based on any research experience or information, but are just the writer’s opinion. However, some home grown leaf producers have developed harvesting and processing techniques that are satisfying to them and often share their experiences with others.
Tobacco can be hardened with added heat or it can be hardened with air. There appears to be no practical means for the gardener to use heat for tobacco curing due to the structures that are required. Tobacco could be dried without heat if a room with good air circulation is available.
Air curing temperatures can range from 15-18°C to 30-32°C, and the relative humidity of the air should be around 65-70%. Proper curing should take a few weeks to have good quality. Tobacco that dries too quickly will be green and lack a good aroma and flavor, while mold or rot may develop if the process is too slow. A room that can be opened and closed as needed to control relative humidity and drying speed.
Tobacco harvesting can be done by removing the leaves from the stem in the field and tending them or by cutting the stem at ground level and hanging the entire stem. The leaves would then be removed from the stalk after their drying. If the leaves are removed in the field, there should be four or five harvests at 1-2 week intervals, starting with the lowest leaves.
The first crop would be at the topping or right after and when the leaves show a slight yellowing. If the entire stem is cut for curing, it should be about 3-4 weeks after topping up. The lower leaves would be partially deteriorated at this time. Provide adequate space between the stems to allow for satisfactory drying of the leaves.
Aging (only necessary if you are aiming for a very high quality product)
All commercial tobacco is aged for 45 days to a year or more before being used. Unprocessed tobacco is tough and doesn’t taste good. For the home gardener, aging will likely be more difficult, even more difficult than growing. Aging for or can take up to 5-6 years and does not occur unless the temperature and humidity conditions are favorable.
If the tobacco is too dry, there is no aging and if it is too wet, there will be leaf decay. Unfortunately the correct temperature and moisture content vary widely. The home producer would need the knowledge and skills to properly age tobacco or be willing to experiment with tobacco. The same would apply to the addition of flavoring agents during or after aging and before tobacco is used.