Are you new to growing cannabis and about to embark on your first harvest? It’s an exciting time but also nerve-wracking as you finally feel and see the final product of all your hard work.
Let us help with our ultimate guide to harvesting cannabis, which will take you through the preparation stages to final storage solutions!
Before Harvesting Cannabis
The first step in our ultimate guide to harvesting cannabis is the pre-harvesting process. Before cutting down and trimming the plant, you should complete the following steps to ensure a safe and quality crop harvest.
Inspect for Faults & Contaminants
Before harvesting, take some time to go through the crops to look for impurities and potential contaminants. These could include fungi, pests, and anything else you don’t want to see in your harvested buds.
Discard any damaged parts of the crop and use this time to gauge the size and color of your plants to determine if they’re ripe for harvesting.
Cut Fan Leaves
Fan leaves are the large primary leaves on the cannabis plant that everyone would recognize—even if they’ve never used cannabis before. If the fan leaves on your crops look big and healthy, that’s a good sign!
Before harvesting, you’ll want to prune and remove the fan leaves so they’re out of the way. While fan leaves don’t contain the cannabinoids and trichomes of the buds, they can still be useful. Many harvesters use the fan leaves to create topical skin creams, oils, or baked edibles.
Flush Crops (Optional)
Before harvesting, you’ll want to decide if you’ll flush your crops or not. Flushing the crops means removing the remaining minerals from the plant, so the crop uses the nutrients already in its tissue.
Some say flushing makes the cannabis plant more potent and smoother for inhalation, while others say the difference is negligible. All you have to do is water the plants like usual, wait about 20 minutes, then water again to flush out the minerals—but be wary of yellow leaves and overwatering.
You’ll want to flush cannabis crops around the final stages of bloom—which can be three days or two weeks before harvest, depending on the plant.
How To Know When It’s Time To Harvest
One of the most common mistakes among growers is mistiming the harvest—usually doing it too soon and winding up with an inferior cannabis crop. There are two accurate ways to judge when the crops are ready for harvest—examining the trichome or stigmas.
Trichomes are the preferred method for many growers as it’s a reliable signifier of plant maturity. To correctly inspect trichomes, you’ll need some visual enhancement—magnifying lens, microscope, or a jeweler’s loupe.
Take a close look at the cannabis flower and the crystals covering it—those are the trichomes. A mature cannabis crop features cloudy or milky white trichomes that cover nearly half the plant. The plant isn’t mature enough if the trichomes appear transparent and translucent.
Trichomes, as they mature, turn a brownish-orangish amber color. A little color is good, but too much is a sign the plant is getting old, and the THC is degrading.
There’s also the stigma method for examining crop maturity. Stigmas are the little hairs that sprout from the bud’s calyxes and are the plant’s pollen catchers.
At first, stigmas sprout white, but as they mature, they turn a darker color—typically orange, red, or brown. When about half of the stigmas on the cannabis plant are darkened, they’re ready for harvesting.
How To Harvest Cannabis
Finally, we can get into the actual harvesting procedures and methods of the cannabis plant!
Equipment You’ll Need
Before you can harvest, you’ll need some cannabis harvesting equipment, assuming you’re trimming by hand. Essential tools for harvesting include:
- Sharp scissors
- Rubbing alcohol
- Trimming tray (to place buds in)
- Gloves (disposable)
Or you can always invest in an automated hand trimmer to take care of the grunt work of harvesting and get the process done quickly and more consistently.
Whole vs. Sectional Harvesting
Cannabis growers can do whole or sectional harvesting—also called ripe bud harvesting. Either method produces quality buds, but for bigger plants, sectional is typically best for more consistent quality.
Sectional harvesting means harvesting just the buds on the upper branches, as they typically ripen first, and letting buds on the lower branches take some more time to mature. It’s more time-consuming, but if consistent quality is your goal, it’s the better option.
Dry Trimming vs. Wet Trimming
After cutting down the stalks of your plants, it’s time to trim. There are two methods for trimming—dry or wet. Each has its advantages and is commonly used by growers.
Dry trimming entails hanging up the plants after cutting them down so they can dry a while before trimming. This drying technique allows the THC in the plant time to better convert to its psychoactive state and increase potency.
Usually, this process takes about five to seven days for a plant in a temperature controlled (approximately 70 degrees), dark room with mild humidity (45-55 percent). After the plants are dry, use the scissors to remove the sugar leaves—wiping and dabbing the scissors with alcohol to prevent stickiness.
Wet trimming skips the weeklong drying process and goes straight to the trimming. The process is faster and easier and prevents the potential of mold forming during the drying process.
Some growers say the result isn’t as quality a crop as wet trimming, but that’ll be up to you to decide. Trim the crop the same way with dry trimming—removing the sugar leaves and stems by cutting the flower and base with scissors and alcohol.
Once you’ve got your cannabis crops harvested and trimmed, it’s time to cure the buds. Curing concentrates the flavor and potency of the plant by allowing the remaining moisture to evaporate.
Pack the buds loosely in an opaque glass container or mason jar, seal it tightly, and place it in a dark room. You’ll want to let the cannabis buds sit and cure for about two months.
Burping Your Buds While Curing
While curing, you’ll want to release moisture and condensation from the containers with burping. Open the containers briefly—about a minute—to release trapped moisture and condensation and allow fresh air to circulate into the jar.
Burp every container once a day for the first two weeks, every other day for the next two weeks, and once every five or seven days for the last month.
Once they’re cured, you’ll want to keep the buds and containers in long-term storage. You can use new containers or the ones you cured the buds in.
Keep them in a dark place away from the light and tightly sealed, and the buds can last in the proper storage conditions for up to a year.