An Alternative To Flue Curing Tobacco At Home (Experiment)

So I just recently grew my first small crop of 6 tobacco plants. The variety of tobacco I grew was Virginia Gold which is a flue cure variety.

When it comes to tobacco and curing the leaf there are three main types.

Burley Tobacco which is an air cure type of tobacco and is cured by simply hanging up the leaves to dry in a well ventilated area. With this process most of the leaves will naturally turn golden brown when finished. This type of tobacco is used for cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

Virginia And other Bright Leaf Varieties, are cured by a process called flue curing, which in simplest terms is done by hanging the leaves in heated barns where the high temperatures and humidity color the leaf yellow in just a few days by converting the natural starches in the leaves to sugar.  Then they lower the humidity and raise the heat to finish the drying process quickly. This type of curing is mainly done for cigarettes and creates a very light golden colored leaf.

The last type is sun curing which is done with oriental types of tobacco in which they simply hang the tobacco leaf in the sun to dry. This type of curing is done in humid areas.

So with that being said once it was time for me to harvest some ripe leaves and attempt to color cure them, my only option was to try air curing. Even though I knew the tobacco type I had grown was a flue cure variety, I decided to give air curing a shot and proceeded by hanging the leaves on a string in my garage. After about 3 weeks I ended up with about 75% leaf that dried green and 25% that was nice and golden brown. This was very disappointing, and I knew for the next batch of leaves I attempted to cure I would have to come up with a different way. The picture below is of my first attempt of air curing.

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Air Cured Virginia Tobacco That Dried Green

So after reading up a bunch on curing tobacco. I came up with a plan on how I would try to cure my next batch of leaves.

Not really sure what this method would be considered or if it will even work, here is what I decided to do. First I took a large plastic storage container and strung the tobacco leaves the container hanging on the inside. Next I made a couple of cheap humidifiers with old sour cream containers and dish sponges and put one inside on both sides of the box. I put a portable thermometer and hygrometer in side the box so I could watch the temperature and humidity. Then I simply put 2 black plastic trash bags around the container and let it sit in direct sunlight.

Before I harvested my leaves for this set up I checked my local weather 10 day forecast to make sure I would have at least a week of sunny days. I should also note my daytime temps were around 70 degrees fahrenheit and nights around 60 degrees fahrenheit. Living off the coast in Southern California these temperatures are pretty average year round. But if you live somewhere where you have different seasons then this method may only work during certain parts of the year.

My idea behind this kind of set up was during the day under the sun it would kind of mimic flue like curing conditions, with high heat and humidity and help in the yellowing process. The temperatures inside of the box when covered and under the sun ended up being around 110 degrees fahrenheit and 85% humidity which I think is similar to the inside of flue curing barns, but I’m not sure. Then at night I would just take off the black trash bags and let it air out outside over night which is basically air curing. Then the next morning I would refill my humidifiers and cover with trash bags again, repeating this process until my leaves turn yellow. Then once yellowed I plan to leave uncovered outside for the remainder of the drying which would be similar to sun curing and air curing.

Below are pictures of my set up. And I will be sure to keep updating this post with pictures for the remainder of this experiment.

 

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Picture of the outside of the curing box under the sun. (day 2)
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Picture of the temperature and humidity level inside of the curing box. (day 2)
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Picture of DIY humidifier inside the box. (day 2)
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Tobacco leaves hanging inside box. (day 2)
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Picture of inside of DIY humidifier.
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Holes poked in the top of DIY humidifier.

After giving this experiment a week in my contraption. Some of my leaves were still drying out green and I knew that this was not the genius way to color cure my tobacco that I thought it would be. And after this batch of leaves were fully dried out I still ended up with about 50% green dried leaves.

The solution:

Frustrated about losing most of my first crop due to improper color curing. I decided that with what plants I had left, I would take a more simple approach, and just cut the plants down whole and hang them upside down in the sun in my backyard to dry whole.

To my pleasant surprise the leaves on the hanging plants went from green to yellow, to a light tan golden brown in a couple of weeks. Even the very small leaves at the top of the plants had color cured perfectly.

At this point once all the leaves had changed color, I harvested the individual leaves from the stalk and put them in an open cardboard box to completely dry out.

Now I have a very small amount of perfectly colored cured tobacco aging in my garage.

My theory on why this simple method of hanging the whole plant works perfectly for color curing, is that by keeping the leaves on the main stalk the leaves stay alive longer and dry out slower because they are still connected to the thick stock that is full of moisture.

So far with my crop that I have growing now, I only harvest individual leaves from the bottoms of my plants that are very very yellow with no green left in them at all and let them dry outside in the sun and they color cure perfectly. But for the bulk of my harvest for this grow I plan to hang the whole plants to dry once most of their seed pods have matured and turned brown and easily fall off.

An Alternative To Flue Curing Tobacco At Home (2017)

So it has been a little over a year since I started messing around with the hobby of growing tobacco at home. As you can see my first attempts weren’t very successful, but after lots of reading and research, I think I finally figured out how to produce homegrown tobacco for cigarettes.

Do NOT prime your leaves unless they are 90%+ yellow on the plant.

After looking at this old post I feel like I just did not know enough about the leaf science and was just over complicating things with out actually knowing why I was doing them. So lets give this another shot.

I figured it out while reading about oriental tobaccos and sun curing. Sun curing is basically letting the leaf wilt and yellow not in the sun, and once the leaf is mostly 90%+ yellow you then hang the leaves in direct sunlight to dry out for 12 to 30 days. This process has a similar effect to the tobacco that you would in a flue cure situation. What flue curing is in simplest terms, is, in a very controlled environment where the temperatures are kept very precise, they first yellow the leaves and then quickly dry out the fully yellowed leaves, so they stay a very bright yellow or light golden orangish color when dried. The reason for this is the when the leaves turn from green to yellow that is the starches in the leaf converting into sugar, so at this point when the leaf is yellow and full of sugar you want to heat up the leaf and quickly dry it out, so that the sugar will set in the leaf and will not be broken down any further by enzymatic process in the leaf. This is why flue cured leaf is different than air cured leaf, air curing will dry out over a longer period and cause the the sugars in the leaf to be further broken down and by the time the leaf is fully dry over 8+ weeks most of the sugar will be gone from the leaf. Sun curing works very similar to flue curing, by using the heat of the direct sun to heat up the drying leaves, causing the sugars to set in the leaf, and dry out over a much quicker time frame than air curing, leaving you with a leaf that is light in color and high in sugars.

So what is the deal with sugars in the tobacco leaf? Sugars in the leaf are what give you cigarette type of smoke. Cigarettes are acidic, and the sugars is what cause them to be acidic. Air cured tobacco that is low in sugars will be more alkaline and be harder to inhale and be more like cigar or pipe tobacco.

So basically if you want to produce a product similar to flue curing at home, sun curing is the best option for you and will give you a product more suited for cigarettes than air cured tobacco.

If you want a more full flavored and stronger cigarette I would recommend growing a burley variety as well to air cure and then add that into your cigarette blend.

So this year I will be experimenting with sun curing my Virginia Bright Leaf, and Turkish tobaccos, as apposed to air curing like I did last year. Some of the tobacco from last year did turn out nice air cured but the smoke is closer to that of cigar smoke. So I will see if the sun curing will give me more of that cigarette type of smoke, and then I can even blend it with my air cured from last year for a more full flavored smoke.

I came up with this as being the simplest answer for the home grower without over complicating by building a flue curing device, because I was reading about the history of tobacco and cigarettes. Sorry I don’t have my source, because I was reading so much on the topic and forgot to bookmark it. But anyways this book said that some of the first cigarettes ever made were 100% sun cured turkish tobacco. And that got me thinking, so I read up on the leaf chemistry and tried to find as much info as I could on what happens to the leaf in sun curing, as opposed to flue curing and found out they were very similar. So here is my experiment from this year 2017, where I will be using sun curing as an alternative to flue curing.

There is not a lot of information on sun curing tobacco on the web and a some conflicting information from different sources. Some sources say the sun cured leaf is low in sugar, but I think they are wrong. Here is a direct quote I took off of the official British American Tobacco website:

Sun-curing:  Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days. The sun’s direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content.  Oriental is the most prominent of the sun-cured tobaccos.”

Harvesting My Plants Whole

Letting the Plants wilt for a day

Hanging whole plants in the shade to yellow

taking leaves off the stalk that have turned yellow and putting into bunches of 4-5 leaves

Hanging yellowed leaves in direct sunlight for 2 weeks to a month

Taking out the main rib from the leaf

Storing in Cardboard boxes

 

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