Step 4: Fermentation and the DIY Fermenter

Cigar tobacco producers ferment tobacco naturally by creating huge piles of air cured leaves. Essentially creating a compost heap where the internal temperature is carefully monitored along with the humidity levels.

Basic idea of the home chamber is to simulate the internal temperatures of a tobacco pile as seen at tobacco production facilities. Basically you need heat (approx 120 degrees) and humidity of about 75%, if this can be sustained for approx 4-6 weeks, fermentation will be complete.

In this fermenter, these conditions are achieved by a light bulb heat source, directed by a reflector dish towards the pile of air cured tobacco under it.

Paper towels misted and saturated with distilled water is placed on top of the cured tobacco hands with some plastic wrap over it to hold in the moisture, I do a good deal of misting with distilled water about twice a day.
Did this ever work to produce good cigars surf monkey ? Im going to do the same thing with an iquana light i have and a plastic tub with a lid ... I also might start my tobacco plants inside during jan ... Thoughts ? Btw i subbed you on youtube
<p>Hi - What are your thoughts on smoking unfermented tobacco. I have grown some and do not want to ferment it. It is cured/air dried in a carport. Thanks</p>
Hi guys. First time grower. Just wanted to see how it's done. Does my curing chamber look like it will work? It's half a keg with a bin lid and a light globe for heat. Was going to make a wooden box but this was easier as I had the bits.
when air curing has happened with my plants there are vast diffrents in colour between the diffrent leafs some are dark brown - light brown but some are a very dark green.. they are cured they just seem to hold there colour..? mayb to much nitrogen locked in the leaf... what do you think
sounds like the uneven curing is due to inconsistent humidity and too dry of an environment. If parts of the leaf remain green, it has dried too fast. Did you dry indoors? This is typically the culprit. The best time of year to dry outdoors is during the harvest season, end of Summer, before the first frost, humidity is typically perfect in most areas of the USA. Simply hang in a sheltered area and let nature take its course.
im in manchester uk.. i have tried drying in about 4 diffrent places now over 2 years .. i dried that lot in the loft so there was temp fluctuation. and all so i listened to my mums idea of putting it between news paper which was silly thing to do, it stuck to the sheets of paper and when mouldy! proberly down to the paper.. the best way i found was hung up in a garrage. it was cold and had good air flow. i will try outside next year just abit worrie about things eatting them .. the slugs around here seem to have a nicotine addiction.<br> this pic is just a couple of late bloomers that iv put in a pot outside if you notice on the dried leaf there is type of mould when cured outside have you had this proble befor or has this happened because its still attached to the plant?<br>has not been a good year for growing this year but the other plants were about 5ft with broard leafs what was left after the slugs
i hope this works because all my tobacco is in there.. iv got a brewing heat pad about 30 watts put a storage box on top will 2 lt of water. some plastic corks to keep the purple basket out of the water - filled the purple basket with the tobacco and put quite a thick bit of plastic over the top the plastic has been stretched and taped in place.. it has all been cleaned because this sort of condition breeds mold.
this is a couple of hours later.. its a little sweaty box now
this methored did not work the tobacco turned to compost in a few weeks.. to much humidity.. the way i would change it is having the inside tray highter and only puting a cloth over the top so air can escape.. i only put a small hole in the top and this was not enough.
Hey thanks for all these follow up posts and pictures! I didn't realize you had all these messages! Good job documenting your work! Yes I agree that there was too much moisture. The biggest difference is that the plastic box did too good of a job sealing in the moisture, and perhaps there was too much to begin with. Also without an insulator, there would be a lot of heat loss, you would need higher temps than a psudo greenhouse.<br><br>The cooler method traps in heat, but because the seals are not air tight there seems to be a lot of air exchange going on. In the cooler situation, I am fighting to keep things moist enough...in your case it looked like it was the opposite effect! It was a good shot at it though! And it sounds like you will be able to modify your system for next year!<br><br>Just one note! From your pictures, your plants were very immature, their growth stunted mostly due to the small pot size. Remember these are monstrous plants that are supposed to reach 7' tall, if you can provide a minimum 5 gallon pot, lots of full direct sun and water, your plants will flourish! You will also have healthier, more mature/thicker leaves that will respond better to air curing and fermentation...a little more meat to chew so-to-speak.
<p>the pic was just of some plants that had mold growth on them.</p><p> i plant them in the ground so i achieve maximum height. </p><p> only grown one plant this year. and still have some tobacco from afew years ago.</p><p> i think il try the box with water in and a towel on top after iv dry the tobacco this year.. only using a heat pad. </p>
Built a box frame 2'6&quot; sq. x3' high lined with 1 1/2&quot; styrofoam 3 100w heaters in bottom controlled by cookerstat,fed in moist air from a humidifier.Humidity 80% temp 120/130.Cured leaf for 4 weeks. smokes well,mild,smells a bit like cigar.
<p>Im from west Wales in the UK. To cure my tobacco i air dry it in my shed. If I think the tobacco is drying to quickly I give it a light misting with the distilled water. Once the tobacco is dry to my liking or touch. I then start fermentation I do this in a burco boiler. I have it running on a low heat for up to two hours checking on the tobacco and turning it throughout the process. Once this is done I remove it from its leaf stems. The tobacco is best if the leaf stems are still slightly most when you remove from the stems. I never over fill the boiler with water or leaves. This will always depend on how much you grow and how big your boiler is. Mine is 40ltr any old water boiler come tea earn will do. You will need to make a platform inside the boiler to keep the leaves out of the water. always use distilled water in the boiler. </p>
<p>how long you been using that method andrew,how is the smoke,just new to this first year growing tobacco,any chance you could post more detail of youre method,is it the steam that ferments the tobacco ,how long do you do this for, you said you have it running on a low heat for two hours,how many days do you do this for</p>
To me the way you have this all set up is nothing more then a fire hazzard. Now I do think I have a better way to accomplish this process. Which I am getting from my experience with raising tropical reptiles and snakes. It would be slightly more expensive but the concept is entirely the same. <br><br>What you would need is a fish take with a lid. The lid can be a screen lid for if you think that you need to remove some of the ventalation from the chamber. You simply need to take tin foil or plastic wrap and wrap the lid. <br><br>Now for say jackson chameleons who require just about the same conditions as you are describing. They do like it slightly cooler but they do love the extra humidity. So what I would do instead of wrapping the screened in lid is I would simply add a second clamp lamp and or maybe a strip floresent light with a day light bulb. This would take away some of the extra spaces allowing the humidity to escape. Also instead of a 30 watt bulb I would use atleast a 90-150 watt incadecent bulb. <br><br>This give you the heat source you would need to keep it around the temps you are talking about. Then for the moisture you just need to either set up the tank with either a water dish on one side. When the water evaporates out you simply need to add more water to this dish and you are all set. <br><br>I have not tried this my self yet since I recently decided to start growing my own but I will be taking my knowledge of keeping tropical reptiles alive and mixing it with the process you are talking about. Also I want to note that if you are noticing that your cured leaves are getting slightly to dry simply make sure that you place the light over the water and not over the leaves. This way you are not forcing them to dry out but instead giving them the humidy and heat from the water. It will make the water evaporate alot faster but to me this sounds like it would be a much safer and reliable solution. <br><br>If any one feels like trying my method out please feel free to contact me and let me know if it works while I wait for my first plants to grow.
Thanks for your comment Tim The-Tool-Man Taylor, <br><br>There are many ways to make an omelet, you are free to create your own instructable if you experience any success, but &quot;more power&quot; doesn't always equate to a better product. There are just a few points in your redesign that are counterproductive to the point of this instructable which is &quot;affordability&quot;. If you want to invest good money in this, there are many more expensive DIY projects that utilize expensive materials: repurposed refrigerators, foam insulation fermentation closets, and even a &quot;UL rated&quot; solution suggested in the below comments using an egg incubator for fermentation. <br><br>Regarding this project being a potential fire hazard: YES! It is best done outdoors with an outlet fitted with a GFI. However it is a measured risk with the low wattage (30w) bulb and careful monitoring of temperatures, (much lower than combustion). <br><br>Remember we are trying to mimic NATURAL fermentation processes that take place in compost heaps, SLOW and STEADY wins the race. <br><br>As suggested in your comment, a 150w bulb burns very hot, a glass enclosure is for all intensive purposes is burn proof, but the fire hazard still exists, and the odds of a fire increases with greater intensity light. The heat differential vs. distance from bulb will be vary greatly especially in an uninsulated glass container (also with an open top?). You may have an 'Easy Bake Oven' directly under your light source while the corners of the aquarium will be barely above room temperature due to the heat loss in the uninsulated glass. This is a much more expensive system which will burn 5x as much energy to create less-than-ideal fermentation conditions; I don't believe reptiles like living in the center of compost heaps.<br><br>At the very end of the instructable, (as insulative and non-porous as a foam cooler is), I mentioned the chamber needed modification. I actually found it difficult to maintain high temperatures and humidity as this was built; the vent holes are now plugged and the leaves are now placed in twist tied plastic bags to hold the humidity. With this fix it works like a charm!<br><br>Tried and true, cheap and easy!
<p>got two of these this year 100w and 150watt might work for the dehydrate part instead of the light buld. also the setup i used with the purple basket might be better suited for mushrooms. i don`t think i will make the box for this bulb out of Styrofoam il make a timber box.. was there any need to put holes in the side if so where they better towards the top or bottom</p>
i have used a heating pad that is for home brew before.... they can take abit of humidity/damp and a towel on top can control the temp (distance from heat source) the one i have is only 30w but is about 1ft x 1ft
hello, I wanted to ask you something, I am beginner in the production of tobacco. When I burn my tobacco, it is not burning and not burning black, turns off soon. What is missing me? the leaves are already dry and crispy yet not burn. <br> <br>Anyone can help me pleaseee :)
Tobacco takes about 6 months to dry. Also, natural tobacco will self extinguish and is hard to stay lit if rolled to tight. I know this is an old post &amp; i hope you got it resolved already. <br>
Sounds too moist. How are you using it? Cigarettes? A pipe?
loved both the video and this instructable. I can't wait to try it on my Aztec Rustica tobacco!
Your Instructable doesn't say where you are, if you live in the southern U.S. would you try putting your hanging leaf in the attic crawl space of the house? It seems to me you would have plenty of heat and humidity.
Pretty inventive set-up you have there. How did the tobacco smoke after it was finished curing ?
Hey there! Thanks for the comment! As a test, I rolled a leaf right after air curing, lit it up, and it wasn't pleasant. After fermentation, about 5 months ago I rolled a small cigarillo sized cigar and its was much better! Pretty smooth and just like one of the aromatic phases of fermentation had a slight taste of raisins...but I think it still can be better with time! One thing I didn't mention above was the amount of time it takes to 'age' tobacco. Commercial cigar tobacco makers store the cured leaves in a controlled humid environment (approx 65 RH) for about a year, (sometimes much longer), before sending to be rolled. After a cigar is rolled it is held in humidors by retailers or customers up to another 5-7 years and the tobacco only gets better with age, (unlike cigarettes)! My leaves are probably ready to smoke now, but I plan to wait until October to roll last year's leaves into cigars, (which are stored in a loosely taped cardboard box, I check occasionally for mold and to rotate the leaves), I don't expect it to be equal with the boutique cigar brands, but as i made it myself I do expect the smoke to be all the more sweeter! (figuratively speaking). I'll document my rolling experiences in another instructable.
curing tobacco is very simular to aging wine <br> if you make red wine then drink it straight away it is not nice <br> but leave it for 6 months it takes on a new flavor but leave it for 1yr -1yr 1/2 its is proberly the best it will be...
Thanks for the upload- I feared an indoor fire too, when I saw the articles they had on these things already! had to settle on polystyrene sheets in the end tho, those coolers are rare and expensive over here! suprised that a 30W bulb would be capable of generating the right heat tho? was considering the use of a computer fan in the base, after all, cool air and a medium heat source is how a food dehydrator works ; ) let me know what you think
a masons thermometer had temp and humid and are very cheep.. for the heat source .. a brewing heat pad could be used that gives of a gentle heat...
Oh shoots! they don't sell styrofoam coolers in your area? They are $3 here in common grocery stores here in seattle! Polystyrene insulation sheets will work just as well though! You will see at the very end of this instructable in the Q&A I eventually plugged up the vent holes in my cooler and essentially created a closed chamber with a light bulb. I did this because with any sort of ventilation, the container didn't get hot enough. I think your computer fan idea will be too much ventilation. But on the other hand, the UL people wouldn't be very thrilled that people are putting a light bulb in a closed container either, (its not very safe). Definitely use discretion when playing around with this project. A fan of this project, Eric D., e-mailed me an alternative idea that is UL rated and you buy it ready to go! A Hovabator! Its intended to incubate chicken eggs, its a closed heating system with adjustable thermostats and the whole 9 yards, but creates a very similar environment to what this project is trying to do. You create humidity with moistened perlite at the bottom of the unit. I've never tried the Hovabator idea, but if you got an extra $70 and want to give this a try, it may be a easier and superior method to the cooler.
Oh, I just re-read your question. You were trying to create a dehydrator, this is a fermentor, which is the final stage of tobacco preparation. By this time the leaves have already been hung to dry and are 'color cured', appear brown in color and already has 90% of the water removed from the leaf. Fermentation assists in further ammonia removal and stabilizes the leaf from decomposition. In order for the fermentation process to take place, you need sustained heat and moisture, so you definitely don't want your leaves to dry out completely. For the purposes of fermentation too much ventilation will lower your temps and take away too much moisture.
Ahh, I see. Thank you for the information here, its inspired me to make a few useful mods to the chamber idea I had in mind ; )
Just a thought: there are some devices used for pet reptiles that might give off the same heat without being as potentially dangerous. They even have heating elements that screw into light bulb sockets. I'm not an expert though, so I can't say for sure if it would work or not.
True, also you can use a computer fan with adjustable speeds to control humidity. I've seen a chamber built out of one of those Rubber Maid standing plastic cabinets, with a reptile heater at the bottom and the shelving cut out and covered with screens to hold the plant material. The guy also used a thermostat to control the heat. It worked very well. I intend to build one myself.
The fermentation chamber I saw also had a hygrometer mounted in the door so better observe temperature and humidity
a masons thermometer had temp and humid and are very cheep.. for the heat source .. a brewing heat pad could be used that gives of a gentle heat...
not a good year for growing tobacco in the uk this year... the plants got eaten alive.... but i got lots of seeds for next year.. what i did get from the plants i also ruined by drying them in news paper and not checking them... for drying i should have hung them up in a cool dry place i find this works best. so they don`t dry to quick but this way can be prone to mould growth hence the area has to be dry...
Surf Monkey Coconut: I purchased some Havana seeds from you a few months ago and I am eager to plant them. This sounds like fun and if all goes well ill be able to enjoy my work.<br><br>I do have a question, would the fermentation process be able to take place in a food dehydrator? <br><br>Also could I use an aquarium with the temperature maintained and do the same thing by putting the tobacco leaves in a bag misted with water?<br><br>How long does it take for the fermentation process to complete? How do you know when the process is complete?
Awesome! The 2010 crop where the 2011 seeds came from was a fantastic year, the germination rates were off the charts! But this was mostly due to our growers and the fantastic weather we got back in 2010. They will perform admirably for you next year!<br><br>Oh these are biig questions! I will try to answer quickly. You can also check out our youtube vids for more info, under username: surfmonkeycoconut<br><br>A food dehydrator will be too effective at drying out the leaf. For a proper color cure, &quot;the slower the better&quot;. It is actually best to hang your leaves outdoors in a sheltered area (out of the rain) so that it gets the benefit of the relative humidity in the air. Harvest time, (Sept-October) is the perfect weather for color curing leaves, mild temperatures, mild humidity, mild winds...Its just like nature designed things this way! In these conditions the leaf will gradually turn to a dark brown while staying supple over the course of 2-3 weeks, if it is too humid, or there is low air circulation you may need to watch for molding and direct a fan on the leaves or something. But this is usually not a problem. <br><br>If you dry in a very low humidity environment, you garage, or in a dehydrator, your leaves will cure green and will be brittle and crispy to the touch.<br><br>You could use an aquarium for the fermenter, perhaps make a similar environment to a reptile cage on steroids, but remember you need 100+ temps and there will be lots of heat loss due to the glass. You may want to wrap your aquarium in foam insulation, but then you are back at about the same thing as the foam cooler...albeit the glass is more fire proof.<br><br>Fermentation takes about 6 weeks! of continuous heat and moisture! Figuring out the completion of this process is just a matter of calculating the time and using your instict. In this instructable I describe the visual and aromatic stages of fermentation.<br><br>Last update to the final statement at the end of this instructable is that I used a cooler with no air holes. In this scenerio, the cooler gets cumulatively hotter and hotter, to counter-act this I have put the cooler light bulb on a timer to go on every 45 mins for 30 mins then back off. This seems to be the right amount of heat!
Well, I just ordered some seeds from your ebay store (didn't see the link above). I saw this a while back, and thought &quot;man, I wish tobacco would grow up here in upstate NY&quot;. Last year, I had a friend that had six beautiful plants (I think Connecticut variety) growing in his back yard. He definitely proved me wrong.<br><br>Since I didn't get a jump start on it over the summer like I told myself I would, I'm going to give hydroponics a try. I have an amazingly sunny apartment, and a home grown hydroponic garden, so why not? The only downside is that I'll have to cut back on my lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes in order to make space... or maybe I'll start another garden.<br><br>I think it's worth a little experimenting. If you have any tips for hydroponics that don't come in your little booklet, I would be happy to hear them. <br><br>Hopefully, I can figure out the whole fermentation thing when the time rolls around.
Hey there!<br><br>Hope everything is going well there in NY for you! Seems the windy season is in full swing for you guys on the east coast!<br><br>If you've seen our you tube channel, you will know we are no strangers to hydroponic systems! There are a few things you may run into with hydro Tobacco, but it would be worth a shot if you have the time and inclination. <br><br>For sowing, we recommend to grow your seedlings in a sunny window sill for the first 3 months, after this time we recommend moving outdoors where they will grow like a monster and their nutritional requirements surge, but if you indeed have enough sun in your apartment and can accommodate a 7' tall plant, then go for it! <br><br>The tobacco plant will love the readily available nutrients in the hydroponic solution and will love all the moisture, in this case I don't see overwatering as a problem, (if you are doing bubbleponic and observe some root rot, you might want to try 'ebb and flow'). <br><br>The natural climate of tobacco is in areas of tremendous full sun, temperate climate, and moderate/heavy humidity. During the Winter, an indoor climate would be good for temperature but you may need to supplement humidity if your heaters dry out your indoor air, and perhaps the low winter sun may not be enough, but you could supplement with cfl grow lights, a terrestrial plant needs light in about the 6,000k range. If they aren't getting enough light, I suspect you will run into stunted and/or anemic looking (white-ish leaves in lieu of dark green). <br><br>Also, you may need a substantial sized net pot/normal pot with holes and a substantial aggregate to support the large root system and to support the 7'+ tall plant.<br><br>It may be difficult, but that's not to say it can't be done.<br><br>Happy growing!<br>SMC
what kind of conditions would be best to dry your tobacco in? and can you skip this step if you want to use the tobacco in a pipe or something like that?
Hey Matt, Just posted a response above about air curing (drying) the leaf. You need to air dry (color cure) the leaf before fermenting, its just part of the process as you cannot ferment a fresh picked green leaf.<br><br>If you meant can you skip fermenting, the answer is no, because even after the leaf is dry, it will still contain (urea?) ammonia which will give you a headache when smoking it. All commercial tobacco products are fermented to some level to get this undesirable chemical out. They typically do this on the large scale in compost heaps.<br><br>Honestly, tobacco is a lot of work, which is why you don't see a lot of people doing it. However if prices continue onward and upward, there will be a point where the effort will pay for itself! Some who need a hobby or have some free time have probably already found this to be worth the effort!
i didn't know that tobacco had to be fermented first. i thought you just dried it. <br>also, i was wondering is it IS possible to somke a just picked leaf (would it hold an ember?)
Hey there! <br><br>Yes, it is possible to pick a brown leaf off the tobacco plant roll it into a tube, light the end and smoke it, as it will hold the ember. But this is NOT recommended as you will get that ammonia headache I was talking about. Pretty much any dry leaf will hold an ember, but watch out some plants are poisonous and will kill you if you indiscriminately smoke the leaf!
Surf Monkey, how do I know when the leaves are &quot;just enough&quot; air dried and not too much? I tried growing tobacco and my leaves turned to paper, which promptly molded. That's no good!
You will want to hang them individually or in pairs under a sheltered, outdoor area. I use a string and zip tie around the leaf stem. Find a nice, dry spot, but hopefully your area is slightly humid. If it is unsheltered, exposed to rain, it will mold, if it is too dry, (indoors or your live in the desert), the leaves will dry but remain green. <br><br>You want a slow natural progression of dryness until the leaf reaches a rich tobacco brown color. Typically about 3 weeks-ish. Its really just a matter of observation and watching the color. Once color-cured, you can bring it indoors and store in a cardboard box, until you are ready to ferment. <br><br>You can't really over dry the leaf, I think what you've experienced was a little too much moisture which led to the mold.
No plastic bag,there no oxigen. No oxigen _ no oxidacion_no fermentation
You are right, this is a form of aerobic fermentation however there is oxygen trapped in the plastic bag, definitely enough to fuel the biological processes for the periods between rotation of hands. <br><br>Remember, we are trying to simulate the tobacco compost heaps of the boutique tobacco estates. The magic happens in the center of the piles were the heat and humidity are monitored carefully, once the goal temps are reached, the heaps are taken down and rotated to control ideal temperatures, this process also oxygenates the pile. <br><br>Similarly, the leaves in this DIY fermenter need to be opened, shaken and rotated as well, in intervals.<br><br>Friendly FYI: Don't forget however, there are forms of 'anaerobic fermentation', (fermentation without oxygen), however this is a completely different subject and not ideal, (or the goal), for this project. :)
I have to wonder if another kind of smoke-able plant would benefit from this process? Nice article, btw.

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