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Late harvest problems in PA: albur18

albur18

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Hello all,

I just found this forum this year after I had gotten my first ever tobacco crop in the ground. I quickly ordered Bob's new book and found it absolutely spectacular. Most of my questions were answered eloquently in the book, and I am indebted to Bob for this wealth of knowledge, however I find myself in a situation...

I planted 28 plants this year of several varieties but because I was still trying to figure everything out from scratch, the entire process ran late and I didn't get my transplants into the ground until around June 25. This I assume is pretty late for western PA, but the plants grew well (I had worked hard to get the soil amended). They reached full height fairly quickly but by the time most of the leaves were mature so that I could stalk cut everything, it was into the very end of September. Then I got busy with a bunch of things and didnt get the plants cut and hung until around october 18! After reading and rereading the applicable sections of Bob's book, this is what I gather: it seems that when harvest timing is normal, the bigger concern is actually temperatures that are too high, which can dry out the leaves too fast and potentially dry them green. Also, ventilation is important to avoid mold. From what I understand, cooler temps arent a bad thing as they will help the leaves to dry slower, as long as the temps don't drop below freezing which if frozen, would damage the leaves. However I am so late into the autumn season that, although temps have been bouncing between lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s, I worry that the air is getting dryer as we get closer to that bone dry winter air. Could the lower humidities be hurting my late season air curing? Are the temps that I'm seeing ok for which to air cure my tobacco still? How cold is too cold? The reason I'm asking is because some of the leaf tips, as they brown, seem to get getting brittle and crinkly. Is this normal? I know mold is normally an issue but these leaves seem so dry in my current conditions that I'm wondering if I should mist them? Help! I attached a pic of when I first hung them and a pic from today. They have been hanging for about a week now.20201025_112159.jpg20201018_174649.jpg20201018_164701.jpg
 

ChinaVoodoo

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You would do good to have a digital hygrometer in there. Particularly one that can show you the highs and lows.

You want it between 65 & 75% while the leaves are still green. If it's higher than 70%, you ought to have an occilatiing fan. Stalk cured leaves have a bit more forgiveness on the lower end as the living parts of the leaves can still extract moisture from the stalk, but they are more prone to mold because they often stick together.

With burley, a week or so after it turns yellow, it won't matter much if it freezes. It's when green tobacco freezes that you have problems. I've cured in the 30s plenty of times.

The humidity only drops indoors if it's heated in the winter. Outdoor humidity levels are usual fairly high because cooler air can hold less moisture, and we're looking at relative humidity which is the ratio of how much is in the air versus how much it can hold.

If it's too moist in the barn, heating it will not reduce the actual humidity, but it will reduce the relative humidity because it can hold more.

On the flip side, if it's warmer in the barn than outside and the air is too dry inside, opening the doors and cooling the air will increase the relative humidity because that same air will be able to hold less moisture. The ratio relative to the max therefore increases.
 

albur18

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Pennsylvania
You would do good to have a digital hygrometer in there. Particularly one that can show you the highs and lows.

You want it between 65 & 75% while the leaves are still green. If it's higher than 70%, you ought to have an occilatiing fan. Stalk cured leaves have a bit more forgiveness on the lower end as the living parts of the leaves can still extract moisture from the stalk, but they are more prone to mold because they often stick together.

With burley, a week or so after it turns yellow, it won't matter much if it freezes. It's when green tobacco freezes that you have problems. I've cured in the 30s plenty of times.

The humidity only drops indoors if it's heated in the winter. Outdoor humidity levels are usual fairly high because cooler air can hold less moisture, and we're looking at relative humidity which is the ratio of how much is in the air versus how much it can hold.

If it's too moist in the barn, heating it will not reduce the actual humidity, but it will reduce the relative humidity because it can hold more.

On the flip side, if it's warmer in the barn than outside and the air is too dry inside, opening the doors and cooling the air will increase the relative humidity because that same air will be able to hold less moisture. The ratio relative to the max therefore increases.
Thanks you so much for this detailed response. I will get a digital hydrometer in there today and see what I have going on and report back. What am I to make of the dry crinkly tips on some leaves? So from what you said, I gather that it wouldn't be a good idea to put a kerosene heater in the garage as this would decrease relative humidity, correct? I have one ready to go in case I am looking at a stretch of nights below freezing so I can prevent the leaves from freezing when still green.
 

ChinaVoodoo

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Thanks you so much for this detailed response. I will get a digital hydrometer in there today and see what I have going on and report back. What am I to make of the dry crinkly tips on some leaves? So from what you said, I gather that it wouldn't be a good idea to put a kerosene heater in the garage as this would decrease relative humidity, correct? I have one ready to go in case I am looking at a stretch of nights below freezing so I can prevent the leaves from freezing when still green.
I would only heat it if it's too humid.

If the dry crinkly bits are brown/yellow/orange, this is what you want. If they are green, it's too dry.

Kerosene would do the trick if it's too humid ; however, you should be aware that it may increase the TSNAs in the tobacco due to the presence of sulfur in the exhaust.

Edit ; I'm no expert. I'm just pretty sure I read that somewhere.
 

albur18

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I would only heat it if it's too humid.

If the dry crinkly bits are brown/yellow/orange, this is what you want. If they are green, it's too dry.

Kerosene would do the trick if it's too humid ; however, you should be aware that it may increase the TSNAs in the tobacco due to the presence of sulfur in the exhaust.

Edit ; I'm no expert. I'm just pretty sure I read that somewhere.
Ok I do think the dry parts are brown. I should ask a very beginner question here because I have never done this before...

When tobacco air cures, by the time it is totally browned, will it always get dry and crinkly? In other words, is this the end that you seek with air curing? And if so, how do you avoid damaging the leaves to get them cut off the stalk, sorted, and stored for aging?
 

ChinaVoodoo

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Here's how you calculate heating.


Absolute-Humidity-air-CF.png

Let's say you have a reading of 80% Rh, and 50°F. That means you have 6.1g water per kg of air.

So then you ask yourself at what temperature will 6.1g of water per kg of air be 70%rh? Following down the 70% column, you will see that it needs to be 53.6°F.
 

deluxestogie

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Nice crop. I'm not sure what varieties you have going there. If this photo is how the tobacco looks now, I think you're well on your way to success. Given the apparently huge size of the shed, I don't think I would attempt to modify the temperature within. With uninsulated walls, the interior temp would likely vary by a wide margin from floor to roof. If it freezes, you'll lose some of the upper leaf.

With shed doors/windows closed, the interior should avoid the 1-2 hour frost dips just before dawn, so I wouldn't worry about that. If you get wacked with a hard, long freeze, I doubt your efforts would make much of a difference. (I have the luxury of an unheated curing shed, so I've just adopted a fairly passive attitude about this.)

Once tobacco is fully color-cured, it will cycle in its moisture content (case) along with the weather. To handle the tobacco after it is cured, just wait for a couple of consecutive, rainy days, and...voilá! it will come into case.

Bob
 

ChinaVoodoo

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Ok I do think the dry parts are brown. I should ask a very beginner question here because I have never done this before...

When tobacco air cures, by the time it is totally browned, will it always get dry and crinkly? In other words, is this the end that you seek with air curing? And if so, how do you avoid damaging the leaves to get them cut off the stalk, sorted, and stored for aging?
No, if you kept it at 65-75% rh for several months, the leaves would eventually be cured without ever going crinkly.
 

albur18

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No, if you kept it at 65-75% rh for several months, the leaves would eventually be cured without ever going crinkly.
I'm actually now wondering if the plants got hit with a frost before I got them harvested, any chance this could cause them to get crinkly? What happens if they get frosted before cut? I do recall some dry tips when k was stalk cutting.
 

albur18

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Nice crop. I'm not sure what varieties you have going there. If this photo is how the tobacco looks now, I think you're well on your way to success. Given the apparently huge size of the shed, I don't think I would attempt to modify the temperature within. With uninsulated walls, the interior temp would likely vary by a wide margin from floor to roof. If it freezes, you'll lose some of the upper leaf.

With shed doors/windows closed, the interior should avoid the 1-2 hour frost dips just before dawn, so I wouldn't worry about that. If you get wacked with a hard, long freeze, I doubt your efforts would make much of a difference. (I have the luxury of an unheated curing shed, so I've just adopted a fairly passive attitude about this.)

Once tobacco is fully color-cured, it will cycle in its moisture content (case) along with the weather. To handle the tobacco after it is cured, just wait for a couple of consecutive, rainy days, and...voilá! it will come into case.

Bob
Your words are very encouraging, thank you! This has been a sharp learning curve but for my first ever attempt, I'll take it. The plants in the front row on the front right are PA Broadleaf, and generally speaking, the PA Broadleaf turned out the nicest, somehow not getting hit with hornworms like the other plants did and also flowering later and less and suckering way less, not sure if I got lucky or if that is characteristic for PA Broadleaf. Some of the other varieties that k grew are FL Sumatra, CT Broadleaf, Dominican Olor, PA Red, and two Havana varieties. And yes this garage is large, about 30 x 40 feet with 11 to 12 foot high trusses. If necessary, there are two large sliding doors that I can open on each end.
 

ChinaVoodoo

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Your words are very encouraging, thank you! This has been a sharp learning curve but for my first ever attempt, I'll take it. The plants in the front row on the front right are PA Broadleaf, and generally speaking, the PA Broadleaf turned out the nicest, somehow not getting hit with hornworms like the other plants did and also flowering later and less and suckering way less, not sure if I got lucky or if that is characteristic for PA Broadleaf. Some of the other varieties that k grew are FL Sumatra, CT Broadleaf, Dominican Olor, PA Red, and two Havana varieties. And yes this garage is large, about 30 x 40 feet with 11 to 12 foot high trusses. If necessary, there are two large sliding doors that I can open on each end.
You will have more tobacco than you started with. I guarantee it.
 

deluxestogie

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This has been a sharp learning curve but for my first ever attempt
As Grandfather says in Little Big Man (a wonderful film from 1970), "Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't."

Some tobacco growing seasons are just fabulous. Some are terrible. Most are in between. Everyone learns a lot during their first grow. If it happens to be one of those terrible seasons, then there is a temptation to quit, or consider it to be just not worth the effort. But during one's fourth or fifth or sixth grow, a better sense of the variability of it sets in, and it becomes easier to relax, and just sit back and get what you get.

My season in 2020 was the absolute worst ever. But I'm enjoying it, and enjoying what I'm learning and producing. (On the bright side, a very late season is less work, and will often confuse the bugs and hornworms.) Yours looks just dandy to my eyes.

Bob
 

albur18

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Thanks all for the encouragement.

I wanted to follow up because I finally got a hygrometer in there. The tobacco has now been hung for about 3 1/2 weeks, and it looks to be browning nicely, BUT, at this time, it is very dry. I cant even touch most of the leaves or I risk cracking them. This is what was concerning me. All the crinkly ones seem to be fully brown so they are not flash drying green, but will them getting this dry harm the leaf quality? I know that if cigars drop too low in humidity for a stretch, it is thought that although you can recover them so that they smoke well again, it is possible to lose some flavor that can never be recovered. Is this a concern while air curing? The temps have been unseasonably warm, with highs in the 70s and lows in the high 40s, and it has also been dry, with no rain in about 6 days. The hygrometer in the shed read only 42% midday, and after I opened the doors for awhile, it increased to 52%. Should I be doing something differently?
 

ChinaVoodoo

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I know that if cigars drop too low in humidity for a stretch, it is thought that although you can recover them so that they smoke well again, it is possible to lose some flavor that can never be recovered.
That's simply not true. It's just one of those things that get parroted around until it becomes gospel. (You may discover more of said falsities).
 
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