Growing Cannabis for the first time can be slightly overwhelming, especially when it comes to the final stages. You have spent all that time nurturing your plants from seed to the point they are as tall as you and now arrives the most anticipated part of the entire cycle...harvesting! Below is a beginner’s guide to harvesting, trimming and drying covering all you need to know, to achieve the perfect flower.
The Harvest Window
You may have heard this term used before and not been entirely sure what constitutes as the harvest window. Is it the flowering time stated on the seed pack, or down to the size and how swollen the buds are?
There are actually five factors that should be taken into consideration before chopping your Cannabis plants down.
How the plants look once you have hit the recommended flowering time is one way to judge things, however yield and production should not be the deciding factor. Using the ratio of brown to white pistils is also not the most reliable way, and the appearance of the mature plants should be considered a long side trichome maturity and how swollen the calyx are.
- Flowering Time
The flowering time stated by seed banks can often vary depending on the growing conditions, lights, and nutrients used, phenotype, outdoor environment and plant size. Marking each day off a calendar will allow you to keep a precise diary, although don't be hesitant to surpass the stated flowering date, if the appearance, calyx development, and trichome maturity do not look ripe and ready for harvest.
- Calyx Swelling
Oftentimes impatient growers can harvest their plants too early and not allow the calyx to swell up, and really stack up. When a bud shows signs of foxtailing characteristics, the assumption is made that plants were over fertilized. Different cultivars will display different bud structures but giving the flowers time to truly reveal themselves and swell up is how you will achieve your bigger yields.
- Trichome Development
The trichome is what contains all of the essential oils, terpenes, and cannabinoids, that make each cultivar unique. Under a microscope, a trichome gland will have a neck and on top a glass ball. It is by looking deeper into the head of the resin gland, where you will be able to see the state of the trichome and from the color, get an indication of peak terpene profile, as well as potency and effect. Generally the rule of thumb is to observe the trichome head to see if the color of the trichome head is clear, silver and cloudy or dark yellow with hints of reds. The darker the resin gland then the more potent the effects will be.
- The Flush Period
If you are using bottled nutrients, then you will be feeding your Cannabis plants at high levels of salt-based nutrients, that over time become undissolved. You should take 2 weeks to clean out the growing medium and root zone using plain water, in order to push the plants to use up their internal reserves, break down any undissolved salts, dramatically improving the final flavor. So unless you are 14 days into your flushing period, then harvesting the plants should not be a concern, no matter how tempted or practical it may be.
What To Avoid When Harvesting Cannabis Plants
- Any buds that have mold should be cut away from the plant and discarded.
- Leaves that show signs of powdery mildew should also be thrown in the trash.
- Picking your plants too early and losing out on the ultimate flavor and effect.
- Harvesting based on the number of brown to white pistils is no good.
- Harvesting too late and losing peak terpene profiles.
Drying Your Harvested Flowers
The worst thing that you can do is become careless when it comes to the drying. So many growers waste their hard work by speed drying causing a low quality flower. Before you do harvest your plants, decide which way you will trim them.
Wet Trimming Or Dry Trimming?
This basically refers to taking the time to remove all the fan leaves, smaller leaves, and cut each bud individually, before the flowers have had a chance to dry. Growers who enjoy being hands on early doors with trimming scissors and gloves will place the buds on a drying net to air out over a 10-14 day period.
This method is also an excellent way to obtain fresh frozen live resin plant material. As the buds have not dried, they will not have a chance to decarboxylate causing a much more unique terpene profile to reveal itself after being washed for bubble hash or pressed into rosin.
For those who hate the idea of cutting down each bud fresh and trimming straight after harvesting or simply have too many plants, dry trimming involves removing all the fan leaves and allowing the entire plant to hang for 10-14 days. Only once the buds are totally dry, then the removal of the sugar leaf surrounding the buds can begin.
When trimming dried plants, be sure to have a tray or sifting screen to collect the fallen trichomes. Unlike ice water hash, this pollen can be immediately smoked and not required to dry out.
Hand Trimming VS Machine Trimming
The traditional and best way to really clean up a flower to perfection. Of course not all commercial operations are able to hand trim their buds due to logistics and impracticality, in comparison to using machine trimmers, or other equipment such as trim bins.
Oftentimes frowned upon by true connoisseurs, using machine trimming can be a lifesaver when it comes to trimming large quantities in a short time. The buds may need a second clean up, however commercially they are extremely advantageous. Some may argue the buds lack that personal touch to a home grower can afford to do.
How Long Will The Buds Take To Dry?
If you are wet trimming and allowing the buds to air out, or have chosen to hang the entire plant, you will need to give a time frame of preferably 14 days. Smaller buds may be ready to be smoked, or cured after 10, however it is best to leave for 14 days in most cases.
The temperature of the dark drying room should be as close to 15 degrees Celsius as possible, with a humidity close to 50%. Grow tents are perfect for drying, or a makeshift drying room with air extraction will be fine.
What To Look For
- The flowers will have reduced in size, however will have a solid density to them.
- To touch they will be dry and have a loud aroma when handled.
- The twigs attached to the buds will be light colored and break easily.
- Any remaining smells of chlorophyll have completely gone.
- The buds are sticky but dry, and have not become lifeless and airy.
Curing Cannabis Flowers To Enhance Flavor, Aroma, And Effect
Curing cheese or ham adds value, flavor and brings out new levels, so the same is to be expected when curing Cannabis flowers. There is a misconception that curing is the same as storing, which is not true as curing is an oxidation process.
The principle behind keeping buds in an airtight glass jar or tub, and allowing the tub to be opened for 10 minutes each day is to cause buds to react with the air and as a result degrade from THC to CBD. The effects will be different and offer a much more physical effect bordering on narcotic and ultimate couch lock.
Learning about how each plant grows and finishes differently takes time and hours in the garden. Once you have a strain dialed in and know exactly when to flush, chop, and cure then you will be on your way to growing some of the best flavors possible. Like everything else, drying and curing is a learning process that can easily go wrong, so make sure you cover every angle before making the final chop.