As we have explained before, the first step towards the cigar is to sow the seeds of the tobacco plant in collective seedbeds. The next stage occurs after roughly 18 days, and that is what we will describe in detail in this article: the transplant of the germinated seeds to trays containing substrate for their development.
“We put the seeds to germinate in germinators or in collective seedbeds or trays, where the seedlings will germinate. In about 18 days, we already have the seedlings at this level. We take them out and place them one by one on the trays. Soon, they are all grown up. We fill the trays with substrate and the seedlings will take it from there. Afterwards, we will add some fertilizer,” explains our expert, Atanasio García.
“This is how we choose the seedlings from the seedbeds. The biggest ones are taken out, pulling them by the little leaves at the top, one by one, day after day. After removing the seedlings, they are placed in a bucket of water for transplanting,” our specialist shows in this video.
And he goes on: “Grab them by the top leaves, make a hole and put the plant in, making sure that its first leaves are above the surface of the substrate. That is the limit to put the seedlings into the substrate. If we put them in too deep, they can rot or die. This process is done one by one,” he explains.
50 days from seeds sowing to transplanting in the field
It takes approximately 45–50 days from the time the newly planted seeds are first watered until the plants are ready to go to the field. That is when they are already strong, tall and with a well-formed root system, so they can now be taken to the field. During all this time of seed germination and plant growth, the field was being prepared.
“What we do in the field is, in general, from the moment we first water the seed, to start working in the field, plowing it with the tractor,” points out García. It is worked again after 15 days, so that when the plant is about 45 days old, three steps have already been taken. The steps are like cuts made in the field, tilling the soil.
In case it rains, and weeds start to sprout, the field is given another cut. “This way we remove weeds from the soil and prepare it for transplanting the plants,” he says. In this way, after 45 days, the plants and the soil are ready, and the planting begins. Depending on the size of the farm, this is done manually or with machines. Generally, in the Dominican Republic it is done manually because the lots are not that large, and it is harder to mechanize the process.
When the plant is taken to the field, the earthing up begins: adding soil around the plant together with the fertilizer, favoring the anchoring of the plants. This step also makes the plants more resistant to strong winds or rain. Fertilizers and some pesticides are then added to protect them from soil pests and insects, as well as from diseases affecting the leaves.
Before planting, soil samples are taken to the laboratory and the proportion of nutrients in the soil is analyzed. Depending on that ratio, fertilizers are designed according to the needs of that soil. That is very important because fertilizers are balanced depending on the needs of the crop, which in this case is tobacco,” says Atanasio García.
The process in the field, from sowing the seed to recollecting the leaves, takes about 90 to 120 days. Specifically, the harvest begins 55–60 days after the tobacco seedlings are transplanted into the field.
When the flower bud starts sprouting (after 35–40 days depending on the seed variety), it is removed, and the axillary buds are taken out of the leaves’ axils. After removing all axillary buds from the leaves’ axils, all the energy gathered by the plant from the soil and from photosynthesis goes to the leaves, leading them to their physiological maturity. When this maturity is reached, around 50–55–60 days, depending on the variety, the harvest begins.
In general, we harvest two leaves, that is, two leaves are removed in each cut. They are taken to the curing house where they are bundled or tied in “hands”, and after four days, another cut is made where two more leaves are removed. And so forth, until all the leaves are harvested. In the curing house, they are also sorted by foliar level.
Foliar level harvesting
Usually, the first foliar levels have less strength and the last foliar levels are the strongest. Therefore, when classifying the tobacco that is already fermented to make the cigar, the tobacco is destemmed and classified by leaf levels: seco, visoand ligero. Secois the mildest, while visois of an intermediate grade and theligerotobacco is the strongest.
When it comes to producing the filler, it does not matter if the plant receives or not a lot of sun because these are the leaves that go inside the tobacco and it is not very significant if they are very thick or have a little sun spot. “The wrapper production is much more delicate, since the wrapper is the cigar’s ‘dress’, therefore, it must be a thin, clean, unbroken, and spot-free leaf…,” emphasizes Atanasio García.
To produce the wrapper, the intensity of light must be reduced by 30 to 40 percent with some kind of covering system. If the tobacco for the wrapper receives too much sun, leaves become thicker and their veins will be more pronounced, which is not aesthetic for the wrapper, according to our expert.
In the Dominican Republic, the sowing season is approximately around October. However, the ideal time is between the beginning of November and during the month of December. Those months have the coolest temperature conditions. The most suitable temperatures for a good development of tobacco are between 20 and 26 degrees. “That is when we have that temperature,” concludes García.