The tobacco plant usually grows one to two metres high. The leaves are large, about half to one metre in length. They are covered with many long, soft hairs that hold a gummy juice.
There are many ways in which this plant is grown, but all commercial tobacco needs a lot of care. Tobacco seed is mixed with fertilizer and corn or cottonseed meal before it is sown. In warm areas, the seedbeds are covered with cotton cloth. In colder areas the covering is usually glass.
In six to ten weeks in most areas, the plants grow twenty centimetres. They develop four to six leaves, and are now ready to be set into fields that have been carefully prepared and fertilized.
As the plants begin to flower, each is topped, which means that the budding seed head is removed. This is done so that the leaves will be stronger and have a deeper colour.
Three or four months after the seedlings have been placed in the growing field, the plants are ready for harvesting. Two methods are used: priming and stalk cutting.
In priming tobacco, each leaf is pulled separately as it ripens. Two to four leaves are removed from a plant each week. This process takes five to eight weeks. In stalk-cut tobacco, the whole plant is cut down.
After harvesting, the tobacco must be cured. The purpose of this is to dry the leaf and bring out the proper colour. A tobacco leaf is curved by heat, air, or sun. in flue-curing, green leaves are hung in small insulated barns that are heated by flues. Stalk-cut tobacco is air cured. Other types of tobacco are strung together on sticks and hung in the sun.
The final stage in the care of tobacco is aging. This is done to mellow the leaf and improve its flavor.