There are obviously going to be various challenges as well as benefits when you decide to embark on making your own cigars. To me, the benefits are well worth it and the challenges are necessary hurdles standing between you and your very own brand of smoke.
Before we move on, I feel it important to address the legalities that come with producing your own tobacco. Take a look at the laws in your country or state before you start growing. In Canada under the Excise Act 25(3):
- from packaged raw leaf tobacco or manufactured tobacco on which the duty has been paid, if the tobacco or cigars are for their personal use; or
- from raw leaf tobacco grown on land on which the individual resides, if
- the tobacco or cigars are for their personal use or that of the members of their family who reside with the individual and who are 18 years of age or older, and
- the quantity of tobacco or cigars manufactured in any year does not exceed 15 kg for the individual and each member of the individual’s family who resides with the individual and who is 18 years of age or older.
With all the legal stuff out of the way, you’re ready to gather what you need to begin. Your first step is going to be acquiring the right seeds and supplies. A simple search for tobacco seeds on Google will give you hundreds of options. Within these sites, you will also have several different kinds of tobaccos to choose from (No, they are not all the same). Since you are at The Aspiring Gentleman, I will assume it’s a nice quality cigar you’re after. You can just buy one type of seed, but for a little bit more depth in flavour, I’d buy at least two. When you roll a cigar, you will be using a filler (This is what’s inside your smoke and where the majority of the flavour will come from), binder (This holds it all together in a cigar shape) and a wrapper (This is the final leaf your cigar is wrapped in which gives it a nice, clean finish). I am a tad biased as I’m a huge Cuban fan, but I’ve read that Havana tobacco is great for all three steps.
Now that your seeds are shipping, you need to think about what you will be planting them in. You will be raising the seedlings inside, so you are going to need soil, something to put soil in and a place to put them. Look at the places where tobacco is grown. They grow in a fairly hot environment with a fairly sandy soil. You will be aiming to replicate these conditions. A mixture of sand and soil is recommended. Now just find a shallow container or a seed tray to hold it and punch a couple holes in the bottom for drainage. When your seeds finally get there, you’ll be ready to plant them. There is no need to dig holes as you will just be sprinkling the seeds on top of the soil. The tobacco seedling is very delicate and finds it difficult to push its way up through the soil. You will notice that tobacco seeds are extremely small, like ground pepper. Don’t be too generous when planting your seeds as the tiniest pinch can result in more plants than you were prepared for.
Sit your seeds in a windowsill or under lamps and be sure to keep them watered. Tobacco grows in a humid environment. You can re-create this by simply plastic wrapping the top of the seed tray. You should note that mould can form inside while your seedling is sprouting, but this will not hurt it.
Once your seedlings hit about 4 inches tall, it’s time for them to head outside (Unless there’s still frost out) where it will now grow into the plant you’ll be smoking. The growth time will vary due to conditions and the species of tobacco you’re growing, but just make sure you keep it watered properly and in a spot where it will get sunlight. Tobacco is closely related to the tomato so any plant food made for tomatoes definitely wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Tobacco plants are a very easy plant to grow, so the effort at this point is minimal. Just water and keep weeds away and wait. At some point, you may see new tobacco plants growing alongside your now adult plants. Pluck these and plant them somewhere else if you want them to grow. When the tobacco begins producing flowers, remove these as well, with the exception of one plant so you can produce seeds for future crops.
You will know when your plant is ready to be harvested. It will be tall and look healthy. Make sure you start from the bottom leaves and work your way up as this is how the plant grows. Ideally you will get a couple harvests from each plant.
You may have thought that you can just pick the leaves off the plant and smoke them straight away, but there are still a few steps standing in your way. Tobacco is nearly 90% water. Because of this, smoking it would be exceedingly difficult and the flavour wouldn’t be so great. The next step is simply drying your leaves. This can be done in many ways. You can simply hang the leaves or even toss them out on the lawn on a sunny day. What you want to look for is a now brown leaf. The amount of time this step takes will vary from plant to plant. Do NOT use a microwave or oven, etc. to assist you in drying your tobacco as this will simply ruin it. Patience is a virtue.
Curing and Aging
I still wouldn’t advise that you smoke your tobacco yet, although you now could, technically. The last step to creating your tobacco is curing and aging it. Tobacco contains ammonia which is potentially harmful if ingested or smoked. The curing process not only removes the ammonia but also gives the cigar flavour. This process is definitely the hardest part, but very important to a good cigar.
The first thing you will need is a Curing Chamber. I’ve found instructions on constructing a fairly easy and affordable one here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Tobacco-fermentation-curing-chamber-for-cigars/
For proper curing, you will want a humid environment and a temperature between 110 degrees and 130 degrees. You want your tobacco to absorb the moisture so that they become flexible, but not wet. The process of curing tobacco should take you about 4 weeks. You will notice almost immediately the smell as your tobacco cures. This is due to the gases escaping. Essentially, this is the stuff that you didn’t want to smoke.
The smell produced from curing tobacco is usually described as similar to that of raisins. You most likely won’t be making any friends with this smell so it might be a good idea to only cure tobacco in an area that is well ventilated and won’t irritate your neighbours.
How long do you cure for? Well it can vary, but basically once you no longer smell that rasiny-amonia smell, you’re done! But what about aging? Well technically your tobacco is ready to be rolled and smoked and will probably even taste fine, but you’re looking for a great cigar that you are proud to call your own and this takes time. The major tobacco companies all age their product for 1-3 years before even using it. I know you’re excited and want to roll it all right away, but why not save some. Roll 20 or so cigars and then put some leaves away for a year. This is the beginning of the cycle and you will be glad you’ve done it. When you grow your next year’s crop, repeat all the steps but only roll your now aged tobacco and put your newest harvest away for the following year. By aging your tobacco, you will be able to produce a far superior product and you’ll be making cigars like the pros do.
Practice makes perfect when growing your own tobacco so don’t be discouraged when bugs attack one of your plants or you get too much humidity while curing and a few leaves mould. This process is all trial and error and you can’t expect to pull it off flawlessly your first try. Keep at it. You’ll be happy you did.
Check out Tim’s site ManInstitute.com, which focuses on all things manly, identifying the manliest accomplishments and people in the history of mankind.