Ah. It’s the season for the Yellow Waves of … Tobacco?! Yes, tobacco.
From about Perugia, northward to the mountains and the source of the Tiber river is fertile ground for tobacco. All along the river plain and up into the valleys to the east and west you will see field after field of tobacco. It is a huge cash crop for the farmers around here.
It is used to make cigarettes and also the Tuscan cigars. Umbria is one of three regions in italy to grow tobacco, the other two are the Veneto and Campagnia.
Farmers practice rotation of their fields. The rotating crops are: sunflowers, corn, winter wheat, tobacco, and one year the field is fallow. Sometimes they plant legumes and plow them under in the fallow year. It enriches the soil.
I figure it’s none of my business who grows what and I don’t mind if they grow tobacco. I won’t be smoking it but many people do. And to tell the truth, it is a beautiful plant. Especially now when it turns from dark, forest green to bright lime, to yellow.
Tobacco facts… …
I found out it is in the same family as eggplant, pepper, petunia, potato, and tomato. Tobacco has a small seed, which cannot be sown directly in the field; seedlings are raised in selected and tended seedbeds where protection is given against heavy rain and excess sun; young seedlings are planted out by hand or mechanical transplanter, and spacing between seedlings and rows varies with the kind of tobacco and with the location. Tobacco is picked when leaves are “ripe”. Leaves ripen progressively from the bottom of the plant to the top, so lugs (the bottom leaves) are picked first and tips picked last.
Life cycle in pictures
The plants must be watered throughout the growing season. Most fields are within a short distance of a water source so water can be pumped to irrigate the fields. This field is just beside the Tiber river.
Rich and green before it begins to ripen.
The plants do get flowers and many farmers de-flower them so they don’t go to seed. Some don’t seem to do that. The foreground plants were left to bloom.
The blooms are pretty, ranging from pink to red.
Beginning to ripen. Typically tobacco is picked six times, with three leaves taken per pick and six leaves in the final pick. Gradual picking may continue for 2 months. These have the very bottom picked already.
There are harvesters that take just the leaves from the bottom off and work their way to the top as they ripen to leave the stalks. The leaves are piled high into green farm wagons pulled by tractors to the ovens found throughout the area. Here is a row of ovens. The tobacco is half dried here and packed and shipped for final processing.
It is a seasonal rite around this area so I look forward to watching. And it is a part of the rhythm of life. The beginning of Autumn.
I didn’t know a lot of it so it was an interesting thing to look into. They are pretty in their yellowness!
What we do for our tunes! I had another comment about the use of pesticides on the crops about which I don’t have good information but it’s probably good you didn’t stay long on that job!
Hi — thanks for your thoughtful comment. I didn’t look into this issue for the blog. But I did after this comment and it seems the use of pesticides is regulated and limited here in Italy, on tobacco. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t used to some extent. I read several reports about illness from contact with the leaves of the plant. All interesting things. I also do not think they are subsidized by the government here as I could find no references but that could still be the case. I am happy for your comment which makes me think.
Hi Nancy, thank you for sharing this article about tobacco growing in the upper Tiber region, an interesting read and lovely photographs to back it up. You stated ” I figure it’s none of my business who grows what.” In my opinion there are too many unknown factors about this business that I feel we should be better informed as to who is doing what with regard to the tobacco crop. My concern is about the pesticides that the farmers are spraying on the crop. Being a keen cyclist I am out and about on my bike quite regularly and cycling in an area where there has been recent spraying the air is pungent, I avoid the area as quickly as I can. Years ago I started asking questions about the pesticides being used as in many areas there were other crops growing adjacent to the tobacco fields. Needless to say my enquires got me nowhere other than hearing about a specific type of cancer that was unique with folks who did manual labour in the tobacco fields. Today much of the work has been mechanised and that is progress. However,I believe that the farmers are still being subsidised to grow tobacco and if that is the case I think it is wrong; why encourage farmers to grow a harmful crop? If one could imagine a world without cigarettes think of the benefits to mankind, mainly from a medical point of view. I believe that it is the additives that go into wine making that cause headaches the next morning and similarly I can not help but think that it is what they spray onto the tobacco that causes many of the medical problems associated with smoking. I offer this submission as food for thought.
Funny enough, that was my first job at 14. Working the tobacco fields of Connecticut. They used to come to the schools (I lived southwest Mass) to offer jobs to the kids and they would have buses that went around all the towns to bring them there. It was hot, hard work. Haaa..I stayed just long enough to save money for a cassette player stereo to replace the 8 track I had.
So interesting! I see this everywhere here and did not know all the facts about it. Thanks for the explanation!