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How to harvest cannabis
Growing weed is not difficult, but requires some basic knowledge. At weedseedsexpress.com, we like to share this basic knowledge so that everyone who wants to can grow their own first-class cannabis. Especially of note is the fact that drying and curing (maturing) of weed has a major influence on the quality and can make or break a well-grown cannabis plant.
Once you have followed all the important steps to achieve healthy vegetative growth and to master the flowering phase as well as possible, the next step is to harvest the ripe plants. This article provides basic recommendations at the time of harvesting, harvesting yourself, and how to handle the freshly picked flowers.
It is common for novice growers to focus primarily on the growth of cannabis. However, good after-treatment is perhaps even more important for the final quality of the cultivated weed. It can make well-grown weed great, but it can also ruin it completely. Therefore this blog about how to harvest cannabis.
How to harvest and cut cannabis?
Harvesting cannabis is easy, but it is a labour-intensive job that greatly influences the appearance of your weed. Therefore we highly recommend to follow the steps below. In that way you make sure you do it properly!
Step 1: plan your harvesting moment
After having taken care of your weed plants for about three to five months, a moment will come when you will have to harvest them. A celebratory moment for which you have impatiently waited a long time, but do not just pick up the scissors. After all, a good harvest starts with determining the right harvesting time and that remains a dilemma for many growers.
For a successful harvest, you should know the exact date on which the plants started flowering. If you don’t know the exact date, you should at least have a rough idea. This knowledge provides information about how long the plants need to flower, from which one can roughly work out the expected harvest time.
The flowering times for cannabis vary greatly depending on the variety. Indica-dominant varieties are generally ready to be harvested quite early after only seven or eight weeks of flowering, while Sativa-dominant varieties can take much longer, in some cases even up to 24 weeks. However, most strains don’t take that long (growers generally have to wait ten to twelve weeks to harvest), and numerous Sativa-dominant commercial hybrids mature in less than ten weeks.
You can use two methods to determine whether the hour of truth has arrived for your cannabis plant. The most accurate is to look with a microscope at the tiny tiny resin droplets or the trichomes. A small inexpensive portable microscope works well for this or you could even use a good quality magnifying glass. The trichomes contain all active substances from cannabis and discolour at the end of the flowering phase. Based on the colour, you can see whether the weed is ready for harvesting or whether the plant should continue to flower for a little longer.
When cannabis is not yet ready to be harvested, the trichomes are transparent in colour. As the trichomes mature, more THC enters the trichomes and that causes them to become whitish and cloudy in colour. In the final stage, the THC is broken down again and the trichomes turn brown. However, not all trichomes discolour at the same time and the best harvest time is when most trichomes are white. A small part of the trichomes is then already brown.
When the trichomes are clear, the flowers are immature. If they are cloudy, the THC values are high. If they have a yellowish colour, the THC has started to degrade to CBN. The THC values are often highest when 40 to 70 percent of the hairs have coloured. If you wait too long for this point to be exceeded, the THC degrades to CBN. This can result in a more relaxed effect of the finished flowers and reduce the likelihood of anxiety. This process, in which THC degrades to CBN, also takes place after harvesting and during decarboxylation.
However, knowing the approximate requirements of each variety may not be enough to assess whether the plants are ready to harvest. A useful method is to determine the percentage of white hairs that have changed colour (usually to brownish-orange, although some varieties may also have pink or purple hairs). Plants should only be harvested when at least 40 percent of the hair has coloured. Another way to determine whether it is already harvesting time is to take a good look at the tops themselves. This method is less accurate but is sufficient if you do not have a microscope. The flowering hairs, buds themselves and the leaves are three indicators that you should pay attention to. Your weed is ripe for harvest when about 80 percent of the flowering hairs are brown and shrivelled. At the same time, the buds will look thick and swollen and some of the leaves will be yellowed.
Tip: for more detailed information about this subject check our blog “When to harvest cannabis“
Step 2: prepare to harvest your cannabis plants
Before you start harvesting, make sure you have the following tools:
- A pair of good quality rubber or latex gloves
- A sharp and clean household or hedge trimmer
- A large plastic tray or tub in which cut branches can be placed
- Some string or cord to hang up the branches to dry
- Something to hang the branches on, like a clothesline, a clothes rail or something similar
It should be borne in mind that the use of gloves prevents resin from sticking to your hands and at the same time makes it easier to collect the resin if you want to make hashish. Resin also accumulates on the blades of the cutting tools and can be scraped off to produce hashish. For this reason, the scissors used should always be kept clean!
The more accurately you cut, the more beautiful your weed will eventually become. Start by picking the large bracts – generally parts of the flower that don’t quite look like a petal. In cannabis plants, these are the largest leaves of which you can clearly see the stalk. The easiest way to pick them is by hand while the plant itself is still in the ground.
Step 3: harvest your cannabis to carry out the harvest
If you are well equipped and prepared, it is time to start harvesting. How you cut the plants mainly depends on their size. If they are small, you can confidently cut them off on the main stem. However, if they are large and heavily branched, it is advisable to cut off the individual branches.
The plants must be cut carefully so that the flowers are not damaged. It is also important to ensure that a sufficient airflow can circulate the flowers when drying. Cutting up the plants branch by branch should ensure this.
After the branches have been cut off, you can collect them in plastic containers, for example. As soon as all branches are gone, you can tie them with a little cord or string near the intersections. This allows you to conveniently attach them to a clothesline or the like to hang them up. If you hang them over collecting trays, the leaves that fall when you cut or dry them can be caught.
Once the branches have been hung up, it’s time to trim the large fan leaves. This is easier if the plants are still fresh! If you cut the leaves off with scissors, you will increase the airflow that circulates the flowers. You can confidently use the cut fan leaves for any other purpose, but the flowers certainly don’t need them.
When you have removed all bracts, cut the branches one by one to cut them clean above a tray. The tray ensures that the small sugar leaves are collected so that they are not lost. The small leaves that protrude from the buds contain a lot of trichomes and can, therefore, be used for cooking, making cannabis oil or simply for evaporating.
Take a pointed pair of scissors and cut off all the leaves that are still attached to the plant and stick out of the buds, as close as possible to the buds. When you are ready you can proceed to the next step: drying.
Tips for a successful harvest
- If the plants are outside, harvest in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
- If you are too impatient to wait for the perfect harvest time, you can start harvesting the flowers of the upper half of the plant. This ripens first and if you harvest it, it does not affect the rest of the plant. The lower half can then be left to mature.
- The flowers of the lower half of the plant have a slightly different colour composition than the upper. This is because they mature later.
- This tip is really important and bears repeating. The colour of the trichomes can be seen with a magnifying glass. If they are cloudy (and not transparent), the flowers are ready to harvest. At this point, they have the highest THC content. If the trichomes have turned yellow, the THC values decrease because the THC degrades to CBN (this may even be desirable if the flowers are to achieve a somewhat milder high).
- If you are harvesting for the first time, you should harvest the flowers at different times. This enables you to get flower samples from different harvest times and can get a better picture of future harvests.
- When harvesting, you should leave large branches untouched. You quickly learn to appreciate the natural “Y” or “V” shapes of the branches, as they make hanging and drying much easier.
- Good tools should be used and the plants should be handled with extreme care. The harvest is as important as the growing process itself and you really don’t want to have to sacrifice the delicious trichomes.
Step 4: dry your weed
If you want to make sure that the flowers are of the best possible quality, then they have to be dried and fermented correctly. This phase has a significant impact on the end result of the harvest.
As soon as the plants are cut and the fan leaves removed, the drying process begins. For this to be successful, the environment must meet certain conditions:
- If it is too cold or damp, it takes too long to dry and there is a risk that the flowers will be affected by mould.
- If it is too warm or dry, the flowers dry too quickly and develop a strict, “green” taste when smoking.
- The flowers may also dry unevenly in a too warm or dry environment. They are crispy and dry on the outside, but still moist on the inside.
Allow the cannabis to dry slowly
Drying weed can be done in two ways, hanging upside down on a clothesline or lying on a drying rack. The first method is preferable because buds that dry while lying down are thereby flattened a little. The taste remains the same but it just doesn’t look that good. So hang the cleanly cut branches on a line or cut the tops of the branches and place them in the drying rack.
To get the best taste in the weed you have to dry slowly and in the dark. This works well in an empty grow tent or cupboard. To prevent mould, change the air in the drying room. Therefore, only switch on the extractor fan when drying, but also leave all fans off. When you use your grow room in this way to dry, the odour is immediately filtered through your carbon filter. If you are drying in a different room, it is advisable to install an extractor and a carbon filter there too.
The drying must be done slowly, so do not set the heater extra high to speed up the process. After ten days you can check whether the weed is dry enough to be stored for curing. You do this by subjecting the branches to a crack test. Bend a few branches to see if they break with an audible snap. If this is the case, the weed is dry enough but the branches do not break, the weed must dry a little longer.
The best way to dry cannabis is to hang the branches on a clothesline or similar device in a room where the temperature is constantly between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity is kept between 45 and 55 percent. Besides, the flowers should be stored in the dark when drying, as light leads to faster degradation of THC.
When hanging the branches, it is important to make sure that they do not touch each other, as this favours moisture residues and therefore there is a risk of mould formation. You can reduce the likelihood of mould infestation by running a moving fan at low speed during the drying period.
The plants need to dry for at least three to four days before you can start curing (which we’ll discuss in detail later in this article). Some growers let the branches hang for seven to ten days and do not ferment at all. Only trial and error will allow you to find the best method for the respective conditions and varieties.
Tips for successfully drying the flowers
- The flowers should be inspected daily to look for signs of mould or uneven drying.
- Early detection of problems helps to fix them quickly and before it is too late.
- Drying too fast or too slow leads to problems. For this reason, there is a recommendation regarding temperature and humidity. Drying too quickly creates a strict taste when smoking, too slow can lead to the formation of mould. One should keep as close as possible to the recommended temperature and humidity values.
Step 5: Time to cure!
The curing process is the last step in every cannabis cultivation – and it’s just as important as any other step. Some growers underestimate the importance of curing. If the flowers are not cured properly, losses in taste and aroma cannot be avoided. Therefore, curing weed is important to ultimately obtain a high-quality, rounded product.
After drying, it’s time for the final step: ripening the weed or curing. You can, of course, sample some of your weed, but after curing it will definitely taste even better. The curing has a dual effect, on the one hand, the last moisture present in the top disperses itself and on the other hand, part of the leaf green breaks off during curing. After curing, your weed smells and tastes optimally, the grass-like odour disappears and gives way to the wonderfully sweet smell of the resin from your weed.
Curing works best in glass preserving jars, such as Mason jars. After drying, cut the tops off the branches and put them in. Fill the pots about 80 percent so that the tops are loosely on top of each other. Place the closed jars with weed in a dark place at room temperature. In the first two weeks of curing, gently shake or stir the weed every day and open the pots for 15 minutes. This allows the last remnants of moisture to escape.
After 2 – 4 weeks in the cure pots, the weed is ready to smoke, enjoy it!