Beat the rise in Cigarette Duty – Grow your own

The region I live in (Kardjali), is a large producer of aromatic tobacco
and as smoker of the said weed I was quite interested how it was done. As well as providing the main source of work for many in the area since
the rule of the Ottoman empire. Tatoon, as it is called is a very labour intensive product to grow, and although prices range from 2.5 lev a kilo(3rd Class)
to 7 lev a kilo (First Class)
you really need quite alot of tobacco if this is your main profession. The majority of my village (Samodiva) grow it varying from, 1 or 2 Deka
which helps keep many a pensioner off benefits, to those whose whole livelyhood depend upon it, who manage 8 deka (1 deka = 1000sqM). The
majority of which do so without the aid of a tractor, still relying heavily on horse (or even donkey) drawn ploughs.

Never one to be put off by a bit of hard graft, I thought I should continue the village tradition and decided to grow some for myself. Not only did this
ingratiate me into village life, and give the locals many a laugh at the silly Ingleez’s expense, but I got an idea of how hard these people work
just to make ends meet.

So for those interested this is a typical tobacco farmers calender, with pictures of my plants being eventually turned into
Victory Cigarettes (Any fan of Orwells 1984 will appreciate a communist country having a Victory brand of cigarettes)

Early March a seed bed usually in your own garden is created, the seeds planted, and covered with mini poly-tunnels. These are meticiously weeded
and watered whenever the need arises. This was the only step I did not do.

Ploughing, of fields is also begun depending on the weather.

After the last expected frost circa 15 April, the seedlings are planted out (by hand) this is quite litreally back breaking work. My neighbours were starting at 5
in the morning and doing a full shift of nothing but planting seedlings out, and not getting home before 7. My pub was very quiet whilst this was going on.

The planting of seedlings lasts, depending on how much you are planting right through to mid May

The next step as with all gardening is keeping your crop weed free. There are no crop sprayers here, this is again all done by hand (or at least hoe). I helped a few of
my neighbours with this. It is not such a strain on the muscles, but again 12 hour shifts are the norm, normally lunch is a picnic out in the fields.

Here are my quite large seedlings – Not weeded properly – I know, and have been told many times. I leave the weeds just to antagonise them!

My Tobacco Seedlings With Weeds

By the time all of your seedlings have been weeded, you either start again, or if like me you don’t really have that much (30 Plants), the next stage is
picking the leaves. I picked my first ones (today – 7 June 2010). The plants should look like this before you make the first pick:

My Plants Ready to be plucked

Your picked leaves are then threaded on to long strings and stored in larger poly type tunnels, this, so I have been told is an important part of
the process. Getting just the right amount of sun. My friends and neighbours norally spend from 5 in the morning until lunch time picking leaves,
the afternoon is then spent sewing the leaves individually, normally in the shade of a large tree. Mine took 5 mins to stick onto a bit of wire
and is hung up in my garden as seen here:

My Tobacco Drying

The process for the full time farmers continues right through until the end of August, the only days taken as rest are when the weather dictates.
There are not that many rainy days in a Bulgarian summer – one of the reasons that I moved here.

As and when the tobacco leaves have had the right amount of sun they are then taken inside to continue the drying process. When this is completed
a well earned rest is taken.

Come October the final stage is upon us, this entails baling by hand, into nice square bales that are weighed and taken away after the
quality control expert has done his check. As soon as this is completed, go and get your cash from DSK!
A very popular time in which to have sto gramme!
This year as with many other things the current government has temporarily mislaid 120 million
leva of subsidy that was supposed to be paid to the tobacco farmers of Bulgaria, and I thought Labour Ministers were bad back in the UK.

Since joining the EU and in fact in the 2 years that I have been here, the price of cigarettes has doubled, and as it is not a nice substance I can understand
the reasons why. I am certainly not going to defend large tobacco firms. However the poor farmer, who under the Zhivkov regime saw it almost as a patriotic duty
to smoke Bulgarian cigarettes have seen there income dwindle. This has led many of the farmers (me included) to turn their crops direct into cigarettes
and cut out the middle men (including the tax man). So instead of handing over my 2Kgs of Tobacco to Socotab for 9Lev, I kept mine and cut it into thin
threads.

My Own Tobacco

Then with the use of a machine that cost 4 lev from all good Bazar’s and some empty filter and papers 1 stotinka each (no rizla here!) I created my own
cigarettes!

My Own Tobacco

My Own Tobacco

My Own Tobacco

My Own Tobacco

My Own Tobacco

My Own Tobacco

Victory at last! They make Capstan Super Strength seem like Silk Cut!

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