As tobacco plants are taken from the nursery to the field, they must be taken care of so that they can grow healthy and strong. A plant that grows in the right conditions will yield top quality tobacco. For this reason, this period is as important as the previous steps: planting the seed and transferring the plant to the field. How should tobacco plants be cared for in the field?
Cultivation of tobacco plants in the field
The cultivation of tobacco plants consists of perforating the ground with blades to aerate it and provide soil for hilling and fertilizing. Cultivation can be carried out using animals (horse or ox), or mechanically using a motorized cultivator or tractor. This task is also important for weed control. Additionally, the field is continuously cleaned to remove weeds.
Hilling is carried out to add soil and fertilizer around the plants, which favours their anchorage. It also provides the plants with greater resistance to possible falls caused by wind or rain. “Three hillings are carried out during the tobacco development cycle,”explains Leoncio Cruz, the process coordinator for La Aurora.
The first hilling, called ‘tapado de palillo’, is done during the first application of fertilizer. This is carried out between the 1stand 7thday after transplantation. The second hilling is carried out between the 15thand 18thday, with the second application of fertilizer. “This hilling is taller and wider than the first”, points out Leoncio Cruz. The third hilling is carried out between the 22ndand 28thday after transplantation, together with the last application of fertilizer.
Irrigation of tobacco plants
All plants need water to grow; therefore, irrigation is a very important activity in the field. It specifically favours the development and growth of tobacco plants. In addition, it facilitates the absorption of nutrients and contributes to the effectiveness of microbiological processes. As Cruz explains:
Depending on the type of tobacco, irrigation can be done as follows:
- Sprinkling: using irrigation devices that distribute water in the form of rain.
- Furrow (flooding): small furrows or ditches are formed between the cultivation rows, through which water passes.
- Drip: a series of tubes connected to each other with small holes placed at the foot of the plants through which water leaks out in small quantities.“This is the most efficient method”, highlights Leoncio Cruz, who worked as a researcher for the Black Tobacco Programme at the National Institute for Agroforestry Research (IDIAF).
Maestro Leoncio Cruz says “Tobacco plants require constant humidity for their development. Therefore, it is necessary to irrigate every week. In the beginning, the layer of water applied should be low and as the plants grow, more water is added”.Leoncio continues “Once the tobacco reaches maximum development, the layer of water must be reduced”.
Around 24 to 30 days after transplantation, the lower leaves close to the foot of the plant must be cleaned away to provide increased aeration of the plantation. This also helps prevent infection from some diseases. These leaves are removed from the plants and taken away from the farm.
Topping the tobacco plants
Between 48 to 50 days after transplanting the tobacco plants to the field, the flower bud begins to form in most of the ‘Habanenses’ (Havana) plant varieties.
There are two types of topping:
- ‘A la caja’: this must be early and the flower bud is removed.
- Deflowering: this is late and can be high or low.
This involves the removal of the axillary buds or baby plants. This task must be carried out before they exceed 5 centimetres in length. Also, this must be done as any times as necessary. Suckering is done either manually or chemically.
The reason behind these last two stages in the care of tobacco plants is to remove the flowers so they cannot absorb the nutrients and weaken the leaves. In the cultivation for Premium cigars, the leaves are the most important. In other words, all nutrients and care must be for the leaves with which the cigars are produced.