Tobacco starts it life as a seedling and spends the first 2 months of its life in cold frames or hotbeds to stop attacks from pests because when these plants are young they are at risk from flea beetles which once had such a damaging effect on tobacco production that it destroyed almost half the tobacco plants in America.
Once the tobacco plant is established, and has matured, it is transplanted into the field. When the tobacco plant is moved, it is put into a hole in the earth with a tobacco planter which can make the hole, fertilise it, and guide the plant into position, years ago this was done with a tobacco peg. After about 8-10 weeks sometimes the leaves area cut so that the remaining leaves grow better.
Different countries have different methods of harvesting the crop. In America for example the crop would be harvested by machinery but in other countries such as Africa the crop is harvested manually, this method involves cutting the plant from the stalk with a sickle. The harvesting processing can last for 2-4 months. After this the tobacco is then ready for curing.
During the curing process the leaves change colour turning yellow, orange or brown. It can be a painstaking process as the tobacco needs to obtain a particular texture, colour, and flavour.
Curing and aging the tobacco allows the slow oxidation and degradation of organic pigments in the tobacco leaf. This helps the aroma and smoothness of the smoke.
There are four major techniques of curing tobacco
Air Cured - the tobacco is hung in a ventilated barn and left to dry for a period of roughly 4–8 weeks. This produced tobacco is low in sugar.
Fire Cured - where the tobacco is hung in a barn with a low fire. This can take between 3 days to 10 weeks. This produced tobacco is low in sugar, but also has high nicotine content.
Flue Cured - this is where tobacco is heat cured in barns using fires but the tobacco is not exposed to the fire. This can take about a week; it produces tobacco which is low in sugar with a med to high level in nicotine.
Sun-Cured - this is where tobacco is cured in the sun; this is generally used in Mediterranean countries. It produces tobacco which is low in both nicotine and sugar.
Tobacco leaves more commonly know as Nicotiana tabacum are then ground up and used in a variety of ways; cigarettes, pipes, snuff (sniffed through the nose) and chewing (known as smokeless tobacco).
Many moons ago tobacco crops would be cured, tied into “hand” and sold on a basket. But today they are sold in much bigger quantities such as 60 – 100lb bales and sold at auction.