I’ve been pretty busy of late so posting here has been light. My time has been consumed by summer activities including my gardening and working some really strange hours. The good news is, that my gardening labours are finally bearing fruit. Or leaves. Depends on how you view it. I have been harvesting tobacco for the past month or so. One leaf at a time.
The plants took off about two months ago after lying still in the garden for four weeks or so. Suddenly they started to go up, and out. Taking the advice that I could find on internet forums, I have been harvesting leaves as they yellow on the stalk. The leaves get hung on strings in my woodshed and they die slowly and turn a rich golden brown colour. This is known as “colour curing” and is necessary unless one wants to smoke green leaf, which isn’t particularly attractive either to the eye or the palate. I have invented a system that allows me to add leaves to my strings at one end and remove finished leaves at the other. Henry Ford would be proud of me. The leaves are heavy when picked but dry out to be extremely light. Some of that weight will be put back as curing goes on as I need to rehydrate the leaves later, but that’s another story. As my leaves dry, I store them in a cardboard box where they will wait for further treatment. One can decide to simply leave them hanging where they are and they will naturally air cure over about six months to a year. I can’t wait that long so I decided to attempt fermenting my leaves.
There are several ways to achieve fermentation. The simplest is to stack the leaves in piles and monitor the internal temperature of the pile. A natural fermentation will generate heat and when the centre of the pile reaches 50° one simply opens the pile and rearranges the leaves. Fermenting tobacco releases unwanted substances and will generate a smell of ammonia. Once that smell is gone, the tobacco is ready for aging or storage. This process requires constant monitoring and a lot of work. Not really my cup of tea. If you screw it up, you get compost.
I decided to build a fermenting cabinet. One needs a container large enough to hang tobacco bundles in, a heat source, humidity and circulation. I considered building a cabinet out of wood and styrofoam. I had made plans and drawings. I consulted with other growers. And then a miracle happened. Our old refrigerator broke down. I now have the perfect container for my fermenter and my dear lady has a new fridge. Everyone’s happy.
My set up is simple, because I’m not a genius and I hate complication. Keeping it simple has always been my motto.
So.. I ran an electric lead into the fridge through the condensation outlet, so I didn’t need to get too technical with the tools. I hooked up a light bulb and an old computer fan to the lead and plugged it into the wall. Hey presto, light, heat and circulation. Humidity is supplied by an old paint tray filled with water. That gives me a large surface area of water to evaporate and it provides the exact 75% humidity I need to ferment. Luckily, I get the right temperature from the light bulb too. Had it been too high, a weaker bulb would have done the job, too little and a stronger one would have had to be inserted.
I found an old tubular curtain rod and cut it to length so that it fits across the top shelf supports in the fridge. My tobacco gets hung, in tied bunches, on that.
I hung a thermometer in the fridge together with an old hygrometer from a humidor. That gives me a method of controlling the heat and humidity inside the cabinet.
I fitted a locking latch to the door to keep it firmly closed and, finally, I drilled a couple of holes in the sides of the cabinet to allow air in at the bottom and out at the top. Air comes in at the bottom left and out at the top right. Heat rises, as does the water vapour and it appears to work as I want it to. I can see steam leaving the outlet holes in the evening. The fan provides circulation inside the box.
I paid pennies for the whole set up. Cheapest thing I ever built.
All I need to do, is top up the water tray in the evening and check the tobacco for mould. If that appears, then I’ll stop the process, dry the tobacco again, brush off the dead mould and then restart the fermentation process. Apparently, that’s OK and is not detrimental to either the tobacco or me.
My first tobacco will be ready in about two weeks. Then I’ll have to figure out how to store it and age it. The best of it all is, that it will be smokeable from that point on.
I can’t wait to try it!