Tobacco Seed

A tiny object the size of a candy sprinkle, from which a tobacco plant will grow. A bottle cap worth of seeds can plant an entire cantero, or seed bed, measuring 90 feet long by three feet wide. The seeds are so small that many need to be pelletized, coated with an inert substance such as clay for easier handling. (The coating melts away when watered.) Many tobacco growers get their seeds by selecting their heartiest plants and harvesting the seeds from the flower that grows at the top of the plant. The seeds are planted to create seedlings. In about 60 days, a seed will turn into a seedling a few inches tall that's ready to plant. At that stage, cigar tobacco grows at a furious pace. It takes about two months for a seedling to grow into a mature plant, depending on the type of plant. In weight, a tobacco seed grows by a factor of 20 million in only 90 days. Once harvested, it spends another 40 to 60 or so days in a curing barn. After that, it's time to ferment, and then to age.

The most old-fashioned way of planting seed is directly in the ground. When it's time to move to the field proper, the tiny plant is dug up and then replanted, a traumatic process that results in great mortality of seedlings. Raised beds provide better results, and planting in trays makes it better still, for the root balls slip fairly effortlessly from the trays and are ready to go into the ground.

The seeds' size make them quite easy to smuggle, one reason why Cuban seed has made innumerable trips from the island to such places as Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Some companies, such as A.S.P. Enterprises Inc. in Miami, keep their seed locked in safes and grow sterile plants to ensure that competitors can't steal the product.