So you’re coming to the end of your marijuana grow op and it’s almost time to call it a day. Everything has gone smoothly so far, and the fat buds are glinting and gleaming under those LED lights, ripe for the picking. It’s time to harvest.
Harvesting is an exciting step for any grower, but that excitement can quickly be forgotten if the final product falls short of your expectations. Sometimes a low-quality product has to do with something that happened early on in the grow op, like too many climate fluctuations or not enough nutrients.
But sometimes, it has to do with improper harvesting, drying, and curing practices. This guide is focused on the final stages of the grow op to ensure that you harvest, dry, and cure cannabis bud that not only meets but exceeds your high standards for weed.
When Is the Right Time to Harvest?
One of the easiest mistakes to make as a grower is to harvest the plants at the wrong time. The window for the ideal time to harvest is a small one – think of it as a porthole window on a ship (yeah, it’s that small).
It’s All About the Trichomes
Deciding on the right time to cut down the plants and dry them for curing can be tricky, but the key is to pay close attention to the trichomes. Trichomes are tiny, crystalline hairs that cover marijuana buds and contain all the yummy stuff like THC, terpenes, and other flavonoids.
These tiny hairs start to change color as it gets closer to harvesting time. They start out as clear and translucent, eventually turning a milky white followed by an amber color. When they’re clear, it’s too early to harvest since that’s a sign of very little THC. Milky white frosty trichome coloring means that the high will be short-lasting but powerful, and amber indicates a more narcotic high.
It’s up to you whether you decide to harvest when the trichomes reach milky white or amber, but just avoid pulling the plants when they’re still clear. These buds won’t be potent, and all that hard work will have been done for nothing.
Use the Right Tools to Examine the Buds
So far, you’re probably thinking, well that’s not so hard… the trickiest part of all is the fact that these trichomes are basically microscopic, so observing the changing-colors isn’t always easy. A magnifying glass can definitely help, but you’re better off using a digital microscope.
The best digital microscopes for growers give you a clear image that’s up to 1000x magnified, and some of them even give you high-end video footage. Check out these digital microscope reviews to find the right one.
Flush the Crop Shortly Before Harvesting
Many growers think that flushing plants with water containing no nutrients is only necessary when there are problems like nutrient lockout and pH imbalances. One of the most important flushes, though, happens about a week before harvesting.
A pre-harvest flush forces the crop to use up the nutrients they have stored up over time. It’s not good to harvest when there’s a large nutrient buildup; this can affect the flavor and smoke of the finished product.
When you flush, all you’re doing is running pure water through the soil (or whatever medium you’re using). You’ll want to make sure the water is properly pH-ed (between 5.5 and 6.5 for hydro and between 6 and 7 for soil) and contains no nutrients at all.
All About Drying & Curing
Unfortunately, the work isn’t over once you cut the plants down. To end with the quality you’re hoping for, you need to properly dry and cure the bud. It’s tempting to speed through this process since it’s the final stage after months of hard work, but take your time with this.
If you dry and cure the plants too quickly, you’ll be left with wet, weak bud. By removing the moisture with drying and minimizing airflow with curing, it’s possible to enhance flavors, terpenes, and smoke quality.
Steps for Drying
Drying is fairly straightforward. After harvesting, cut the plants into 12-16” branches and trim off any unnecessary leaves. Using wire hangers and string (a clothesline always works), hang the branches so that the buds are hanging down. It’s also possible to use drying racks, but that involves more works since the buds have to be trimmed and manicured for drying.
The most important part of the drying process is the climate you store the branches/buds in. Store them in a dark room with temperatures between a 60-70°F range and humidity between 45-55%. There should be some airflow, so use an oscillating fan to circulate the air around the room.
Drying can take anywhere between 5 and 15 days depending on the size of the buds and the climate conditions. You’ll know the drying process is over when the flowers start to feel a bit crunchy. Another sign is that the smallest branches will snap off when you bend them.
Steps for Curing
After drying, the final step is curing. If you haven’t trimmed the bud, now is the time to do it. Once the buds are nicely trimmed, secure them in some type of airtight container. This can be a mason jar, plastic storage box, or cooler, just make sure whatever you use is airtight.
Be sure to pack the flowers loosely and store the containers in a cool, dark place. The entire point of curing is to allow the remaining moisture from the inside of the flowers to rehydrate the plant, and this can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks.
The main thing to remember when it comes time to harvest it that patience is truly a virtue, and jumping the gun is one of the easiest ways to make all your hard work go to waste.