Photo courtesy of Broken Coast Cannabis
Harvest time is an especially exciting time for a novice cannabis grower. After all, being able to experience the fruits of one’s labor is what makes growing your own cannabis so rewarding. Up to this point, first-time cannabis growers have been focusing their efforts primarily on the actual growing process.
Dialing in the atmospheric conditions of a growroom, in addition to providing the plants with adequate lighting and nutrition, is usually more difficult than most rookie growers expect. However, once the garden is up and running, the bright light at the end of the tunnel is harvest time.
Harvesting cannabis plants is a relatively straightforward process. Still, there are certain tricks of the trade that can make all the difference in the quality, flavor, and aroma of the finished product. Cannabis enthusiasts who educate themselves on proper harvest techniques can avoid the common (and costly) mistakes made by many new growers.
It is not just the quality of the flowers that needs to be kept in mind during the harvest process. Inefficient methods can lead to increased labor costs and the loss of valuable byproducts that could be used to increase a grower’s overall return on investment. Essentially, each step of harvesting should be studied individually to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall harvesting process.
The number one mistake made by first-time cannabis growers is harvesting too early. I must admit, I was just as guilty of this offense as anyone. As Tom Petty noted, “the waiting is the hardest part.” This couldn’t be truer for first-time cannabis growers, but believe me, it’s worth the wait. In fact, most of a cannabis plant’s essential oil and terpene production happens in the final weeks of flowering.
It is also during the later stages of flowering that cannabis plants pack on flower density. In other words, harvesting early not only severely impacts the quality, odors, and flavors of the flowers, it can also drastically reduce the crop’s overall yield. The ideal time to harvest cannabis plants depends on the strain.
The average flowering time for a cannabis plant is eight weeks. However, to decide on the best time to harvest, a grower should pay close attention to the trichome development on their flowers. With a jeweler’s loupe or pocket microscope, a grower can closely examine the trichomes on their cannabis flowers. As the flowers ripen, the trichomes turn from clear to milky to amber in color. For maximum tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency, the optimal time to harvest is when the majority of the trichomes are milky. At this point, most of the pistils (little hairs) will have turned from white to brown or orange.
Growers who wait until their plants (more specifically, the trichomes) are fully ripe are rewarded with the most potent buds.
There are many different approaches to trimming cannabis flowers, including wet trimming methods, dry trimming methods, and automated trimming methods. There are multiple acceptable ways to trim and high-quality buds can be obtained with all types of trimming. That said, another common mistake made by first-time growers is inefficient trimming methods. If the cannabis flowers are handled more than they need to be, it can cause a reduction in quality and an increase in labor costs.
When trimming, a good rule of thumb is to not disturb anything until necessary. Every time the flowers are recut, transported, shifted, or jostled, a grower runs the risk of losing some potency. Although there are different ways to approach trimming, the best methods seem to take a systematic approach. For example, first remove the large fan leaves while minimizing any contact with the flowers.
Next, carefully remove the leaf material close to the flowers, touching and bumping the flowers as little as possible. There is no reason to get too crazy with this. Growers shouldn’t be afraid to touch the flowers; it is just a good idea to get into the habit of handling the flowers as gently as possible during the harvest process. Flowers handled gently will retain the highest amounts of terpenes and essential oils.
Leftover Trim Material
Don’t throw away all that trim material! Another mistake commonly made by some growers is deciding which trim materials should be kept and which should be trashed. Generally, the large fan leaves are not worth the effort.
However, the leaf material that was trimmed away from near the flowers will contain a good amount of essential oils. In fact, many of these leaves will have trichomes visible on them at harvest time. So, any of this leaf material that is not brown or dead and that has visible trichomes should be saved for making extracts or edibles.
Drying, Curing, and Storage
More specifically, many first-time growers dry their marijuana flowers too quickly. The two biggest culprits of undesirable drying are air movement that is too vigorous or dehumidification that is too aggressive. It is very important to dry cannabis slowly. Cannabis flowers should be dried for seven to 14 days in a room kept at a temperature of 65-75°F and a humidity range of 45-55 per cent. This humidity level ensures the flowers dry at the proper rate.
The drying room should also be kept in total darkness. Ultraviolet light from the sun or artificial light sources will degrade the THC and other components in the essential oils.
Once the plants have dried to the point where the stems snap instead of bend, the flowers are ready to be removed from the stems and placed in containers for curing. The curing process allows the remaining moisture in the cannabis flowers to dry over an extended period of time.
Once the dry flowers are placed in the airtight containers, they should be “burped” every few days during the first week or two to bring fresh oxygen into the containers to allow the flowers to breathe. Curing often takes anywhere between two to eight weeks, and some cannabis varieties show their full potential only after a few months of curing. A proper cure also extends the shelf life of the cannabis flowers.
Properly cured cannabis flowers can be stored for a year or more without losing quality or potency.
After waiting eight (or more) long weeks for a cannabis plant to mature, it is extremely difficult to extend one’s patience through the harvest process. However, growers who wait until the trichomes on their plants have fully developed automatically set themselves up for a larger yield and a more potent product.
To retain the powerful flavors and odors of the plants, a horticulturist must dry and cure the flowers slowly yet effectively. Trying to take shortcuts during the harvest process is a great way to turn flowers that smell like fruity, skunky goodness into ammonia, hay-smelling nastiness. But don’t be deterred if that happens, though. As with most things in life, growing quality cannabis takes practice. There is no reason to get discouraged during the first few attempts.
As they say, experience is the best teacher. A cannabis grower gets better and better each and every time a crop is harvested.