Rocky Patel Factory Tour – Seed to Plant

I’m finally caught up on my work from spending much of last week in Honduras at the Rocky Patel cigar factory, and I wanted to share some info, pictures, and descriptions from the trip. I figured the best place to start is the same place all of our cigars start – with some tiny seeds. If you weren’t aware, tobacco seeds are incredibly small, they are basically the size of dust particles. You can hold tens of thousands of seeds in something as small as a soda cap, and it really is incredible that these big, beautiful plants are born from something that appears so insignificant.

The process gets started by scattering thousands of these itty bitty seeds into trays of peat moss where they can germinate. Once the seeds germinate and begin to grow, they are selected based on how healthy the little plants are, and are then transplanted into their own spot in the large peat moss tray. After about 45 days, they’re ready for the next transplant, out into the fields. Before they go, they are “shocked”, which is a process where they are cut by a blade at a certain height, clipping off the tops of the leaves. The logic behind this is that a little adversity will help them to grow stronger and be more resistant to the elements that they were not subjected to during their sheltered early life.

Nimish shows us how small tobacco seeds are

Once in the field, the tobacco is planted permanently in rows about 3 feet apart, to allow someone to easily walk through the rows. You’ll see in our gallery some photos of a field that is nearing readiness for harvesting, with the leaves large, thick, and lush. It looked so nice that I was about ready to pull one off and light it up! Fortunately I had a tasty Thunder by Nimish to enjoy for our walk through the field so I didn’t have to resort to that. There are two major ways to grow tobacco outside, Sun Grown and Shade Grown. The field pictured in our gallery is utilizing the Sun Grown technique, which is basically to just let them grow naturally in the sun. The nutrients tend to make this type of tobacco a little richer and stronger. Shade Grown plants are covered with cheesecloth, obscuring about 30% of the sun’s rays. This technique forces the plants to grow larger as they stretch for the missing sunshine, and it yields a milder, smoother tobacco.

Nimish shows us the root system of a young plant

The tobacco is harvested by primings. Each priming is a layer of leaf, and they start at the bottom of the plant with the Seco leaves. This is the mildest tobacco on the plant. Next up are the Viso primings from the middle of the plant. These leaves are typically medium in strength. The last leaves to be harvested are the leaves at the top of the plant, the Ligero primings. These are the strongest leaves of all because they’ve been subjected to the most sun and have absorbed the most nutrients.

Once harvested, the tobacco is dried in the large drying barns by being hung in layers. Due to the cycles of the growing/harvesting seasons, these barns were empty for our visit, but Zak and Josh still managed to have some fun climbing around in the barn.

So that’s it in a nutshell, from seed to harvest. Check out the full gallery of shots from this portion of the tour, and stay tuned for the next installment which will take you through the processing plant where the tobacco leaves are sorted, fermented, and prepared to be distributed to factories for rolling.