A Step-by-Step Guide to Cannabis Harvest Processing
The harvest process for cannabis is similar to that of many other crops in that there is no single right way to do it.
It takes at least eight weeks for indoor cannabis plants to finish the flowering stage. It takes even longer for outdoor cannabis plants to be ready for harvest. After waiting patiently for the cannabis flowers to reach peak maturity, cultivators must take on the task of harvesting. Depending on the size of the garden, harvesting cannabis plants can be a very time consuming process. This has many cannabis growers turning to automation devices, which can alleviate some of the labor associated with the harvest. As with other crops, a cannabis harvest is generally done in stages. Although every garden is different and harvest techniques will vary from garden to garden, there are some steps that every cannabis grower should follow during the harvest process. After all, the way a cannabis plant is harvested and/or processed after the harvest will have a significant impact on the quality, potency, and longevity of the finished product.
Cannabis horticulturists with commercial operations stand to benefit the most from streamlining the harvest process. Having an efficient harvest process can reduce costs associated with labor and increase the overall return on investment. There are three stages that all cannabis horticulturists must go through at some point during the harvest process. The three stages are: the removal of the large fan leaves, trimming or removing the remaining leaves in close proximity to the flowers, and removing the flowers themselves from the stems. Aside from these three steps, which address the physical removal of portions of the plant, other crucial stages of the harvest process include the drying, sorting, and curing of the cannabis flowers.
Cannabis Fan Leaf Removal
Once a grower has deemed his or her cannabis plants ready for harvest, the first stage is to remove the large fan leaves. The large fan, or sun, leaves are easily identifiable as the stereotypical cannabis leaf. These leaves can be plucked by hand, cut with scissors, or removed with a device, such as a hand-held hedge trimmer. The large fan leaves do not contain a high amount of the sought-after cannabinoids like the leaves closer to the flowers or the flowers themselves. Because of this, many growers simply dispose of them. Once the fan leaves are removed, a cannabis grower has two choices: to trim the remaining leaf material while the plant is wet (wet trimming) or to begin the drying process and remove the remaining leaf material by hand or with an automated trim machine after the plant has dried.
(Read: Cannabis Trimming: Wet Or Dry?)
Drying the cannabis plants is either done after the wet trim method or right after the large fan leaves have been removed (if the grower is opting for a dry trim method). Cannabis plants are usually hung upside down to dry and are either cut into smaller, more manageable sections (branches) or left as an entire plant during the drying stage. The ideal conditions for drying cannabis are temperatures between 65-75 degrees F with humidity levels around 45-55%. If possible, drying should take place in complete darkness as UV light from the sun or artificial lights could damage some of the cannabinoids or terpenes in the flowers. Generally speaking, it should take roughly 7-10 days to dry the cannabis plants. A grower will know the drying process is complete when he or she can bend the stem of a dried plant and the stem snaps.
If a wet trim method was implemented and the drying process is complete, the flowers can be de-stemmed and stored in the appropriate holding containers for the curing process. A cannabis cultivator who chooses a dry trim method and wishes to use an automated trimmer should begin the de-stemming process after the plants have dried. A sharp pair of garden scissors can be used to make a cut at the base of each flower to remove it from the central stalk. Although many growers de-stem by hand (with scissors), there are automated devices available that actually remove the flowers from the stem. Automating the de-stemming process can save a lot of time and effort, especially for commercial cannabis operations. You can find more information, here.
Sorting cannabis flowers can be an important step in maximizing the efficiency of the harvest process. Separating the dried cannabis flowers into different sizes allows the cultivator to further process the flowers more effectively and efficiently. For example, processing the same size flower material in an automatic trim machine equates to more timely and more effective trimming. Automating the sorting of the cannabis flowers can have a dramatic impact over the entire harvest process, especially for large scale operations that already utilize other automated devices. Once the cannabis flowers are sorted, they can be further processed in a trim machine or other processing device depending on size. Sorting can also be done after the trimming process is complete. Sorting the trimmed flowers by size can make them more marketable.
When done by hand, dry trimming can be a tedious and slow process. When done by the right machine you can achieve the hand-trimmed look while maintaining quality and saving an immense amount of time. Thanks to gravity working its magic during the drying process, the leaves that need to be removed are now stuck against the flowers. The purpose of dry trimming is to remove as much of the leaf material surrounding the flowers as possible, thus exposing just the flowers (the most potent part of the cannabis plant). When dry trimming is done by hand, commercial cannabis grow operations need multiple workers to assist. Hired hands are not only costly, but also require micromanagement and increased security measures. This is why so many serious cannabis growers are relying on automation devices like commercial trim machines. After the flowers are properly dried and de-stemmed, they can be placed in the automated trim machine to receive a final manicure before the curing process.
For those who opt for wet trimming, this would occur before the drying process. Many growers choose a wet trim method because it makes it easy to access the leaves. For a smaller grow operation, where the leaves will be trimmed by hand, a wet trim method may be the most efficient way to trim. For large scale operations, where growers are using more automated methods, trimming the material after the flowers have been dried is often more efficient.
The curing process is the grand finale of the harvest process and is done after all trimming has been completed. During the curing process, the flowers continue to dry very slowly and this enriches the flowers’ flavor. Containers used for the curing process should be stored in a cool, dark place where they can be examined daily. For the first week or two, the containers should be opened (“burped”) once or twice a day. This lets out some of the built up humidity and allows some fresh air in. After the first week or so, the containers can be opened less frequently (anywhere from once a day to once every other day). After a couple of months, the curing process is complete and the cannabis flowers should be at their peak flavor. A proper cure can prolong the shelf life (potency, flavors, and odors) of the cannabis flowers.
The harvest process for cannabis is similar to that of many other crops in that there is no single right way to do it. However, as automation devices become more commonplace, more and more commercial operations will follow the particular methods that best maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Automation devices that aid in the trimming, de-stemming, and sorting of cannabis flowers are essential tools for commercial cannabis growers who wish to remain in an evolving, competitive market. These tools will not only reduce the costs associated with labor, but will also ensure the cannabis flowers get processed quickly and efficiently in order to best preserve the cherished potency, flavors, and odors.