You made it through the flowering phase, the rewarding moment is around the corner! But before you enjoy the flowers of your hard work and dedication, harvesting is an important milestone you should remain focused on. This article should help you make your harvest a success.
Harvest time seems like an achievement. Your flowers have matured, and now is time to enjoy, ain’t it? Well, not so quick. This last phase is a demanding one. You’ll need to trim, dry, and cure your buds to maximise end product quality. The way you work your way through this phase will determine your smoking experience. It will also determine how long you’ll be able to store your harvest.
During this phase, timing is of essence. Cannabinoids and terpenes concentration will be impacted by timing. Managing humidity during curing is also very important.
We’ll cover below each step of the harvest process to ensure the best smoking experience and highest quality product.
When should you harvest?
You first need to remove flowers and branches from your plants. But when should you do this? Harvesting at different times will significantly impact the characteristics of your buds. Everything from taste to chemotype can be changed according to how early or late you choose to harvest.
Each strain has a different estimated flowering time. This data helps in preparing for harvest, but it’s not always exactly precise. Your growing environment can extend or shorten the flowering phase. Indica varietals usually mature faster and will bloom for 6–8 weeks, while their sativas typically take 8–12 weeks.
You should also pay attention to your plants anatomy, or phenotypic expression. As they ripen, some parts of the plants will change in appearance. Pay attention to these traits to make the right decisions. First, you’ll need to get familiar with certain tissues, glands, and organs, in order to know what to look out for.
Fan leaves change in color
Toward the end of flowering some leaves will start to turn yellow. This is not a sign of nutrient deficiency at this stage. Fan leaves are the large, broad leaves that emerge during the vegetative phase. These leaves will start to turn yellow and may even fall off when harvest time is close. This happens as your plants are directing all their energy towards the buds.
Trichomes change in appearance
Trichomes are the tiny, mushroom-shaped glands that you find on sugar leaves and flowers. These glands produce cannabinoids and terpenes in the form of a sticky resin. Plants produce this resin to protect against heat, mould, pests and bugs. As growers, that’s what we’re looking for.
Trichomes represent an accurate indicator of how close your flowers are to be fully ripe. You may decide to harvest more or less early according to your resin characteristics preference.
Trichomes are visible to the naked eye, though using a magnifying glass will prove useful to make a thorough assessment of maturity. You may also use your camera to take photos with a macro lens. More advance growers can use microscopes.
Trichomes are clear and translucent during the early stage of flowering. This indicates that they are still young and will only be producing low levels of cannabinoids. Buds are still small. It’s not time to harvest yet.
Towards the end of the flowering phase, trichomes become cloudy or milky, which means flowers produce cannabinoids. When over 50% of trichomes are cloudy, maximum THC production is reached. If you harvest now, flowers will provide a more intense high.
You can also wait for trichomes to become more amber in color if you prefer a more relaxing experience upon consumption. When amber, trichomes start degrading THC and producing more CBN.
Calyxes are the first elements emerging from the nodes at the beginning of the flowering phase. They remain at the base of each bud. Calyxes are where you find the most resin in the plant. They hold buds together and host seeds upon pollination, which hopefully didn’t happen during flowering if you intend to harvest consumable buds.
Pistils will become orange and brown
Pistils are the sort of antennas or hairs at the top of calyxes. Their mission is to catch male pollen to allow calyxes to produce seeds. Again, unless you intend to breed seeds, you don’t want any pollen to touch your pistils. Pistils are indicators of maturity though. During the early stages of flowering, they’ll be white, before gradually turning orange and then brown. THC production peaks when around 70% of pistils are orange/brown. When 90% are colored, CBN production takes over.
You don’t have to harvest the entire plant at the same time
The buds at the canopy will usually mature earlier than those on the lower branches. If you want to have a consistent finished product you can do progressive (aka staggered) harvesting, meaning that you’ll harvest some buds before others and keep monitoring the less mature buds until they ripe. As you harvest the top buds, make sure to also cut off branches and leaves that could cover lower buds.
Trimming (aka manicuring) is a demanding task which will require essentials such as a tray, some latex gloves, and a pair of scissors. You can do wet or dry trimming according to your preference.
Wet trimming consists in manicuring your buds right after harvesting, when the moisture is still high. This reduces the risk of mould formation because all of the sugar leaves are removed before drying, preventing moisture from becoming trapped. The inconvenience is that it’s a very sticky method. Gloves are required. The advantage is that you can make hash from the resin that sticks on your scissors.
Dry trimming consists in manicuring your flowers once they are dry. It’s a safe approach in a low humidity environment where risks of mould are unlikely. Dry trimming also results in buds being more tight and compact.
You may combine both methods but don’t waste the sugar leaves as they can be used to make hash or butter.
Drying your harvest
Drying cannabis is critical to prevent mould formation and to preserve terpenes, which define flavors. You will need a dedicated space to dry your harvest. You can either hang the branches inside your grow tent or use a dedicated drying rack.
For optimal results, you should dry slowly. Terpenes, the chemicals that give cannabis its flavor, are volatile and degrade at high temperatures. Keep your room temperature between 19°C and 22°C with a 50% humidity. Use a hygrometer to measure these elements. Use your climate control devices (fans, heating, dehumidifier…) to adjust your environment as needed.
It will take between 3 days and a week to complete drying. You should check your drying buds daily (moisture, mould formation, smell) to decide when to move your harvest to curing. A good indicator is to trying to snap a stem. If it breaks, your plants are dry. If it folds, you may want to wait another day.
Curing your harvest
Curing is critical to ensure a smooth taste. Insufficient curing usually results in a harsh experience for your throat. Curing consists in removing the moisture from the inside of the buds. You basically make the buds sweat. Curing enhances the taste of your finish product. This process also concentrates cannabinoids. In particular, in converts some THCA into THC, though most of this conversion happens during combustion.
You can use mason jars to cure your harvest, or buy a dedicated curing container. Don’t fill your jars entirely, but at 3/4 maximum capacity. Close them tight and put them in dark place for a week. You’ll notice your buds will sweat moisture out. Open the jars for a few minutes every day and let fresh air exchange happen.
During weeks 2 and 3, you may open the jars only once a day or every other day for a few minutes. At week 4, you should be good to taste your harvest. Some growers prolonge this process for 2 full months. Once done, close your jars tight, keep them in cool and dark place. You may also place humidity packs in the jars to control moisture.
Enjoy your harvest!