If you have put in the work and developed good habits in growing, you will eventually arrive at the best part of the whole process, harvesting the crop.
Don’t harvest too early or too late, or your buds won’t be as potent as they could be. Drying and curing will enhance the overall flavors and potency as well. Knowing the right time to harvest and how to prepare your marijuana for use are important skills for any grower to have.
When To Harvest – Trichome Identification
Trichomes are teardrop shaped appendages that appear on marijuana and which hold vast amounts of THC. These trichomes are the key to determining when the appropriate time to harvest your marijuana is.
As the hairs of your plant start to turn red, you will want to begin examining your trichomes. Some people use the hair color as a signal to begin harvesting, but the hairs contain no THC. You should use trichomes to determine the appropriate harvest time, not hair coloration.
The difficulty with using trichomes to gauge when to harvest is that this cannot be done with the naked eye. Some form of magnification is needed to examine the trichomes and make a proper identification on whether it is ready or not. This can be done with as little as 30x magnification, but I like to use 100x so it is very apparent what stage the trichomes are at.
To make a determination, remove a small bud from your marijuana plant and put it on a flat, easily contrasted surface like a piece of printing paper. Use your magnification device to examine the trichomes closely. The color in the head of the trichome is what you are concerned about:
- Clear – Not ready to be harvested. No real THC development.
- Opaque/Cloudy – Produces a “mental” high, more focused on brain activity than body.
- Amber – Produces a heavy, couch-lock type high.
The most ideal times to harvest your marijuana will depend on the type you are growing. If you have a sativa strain, then it is best to harvest when the trichomes are clouded. If it is an indica strain, then harvest when they are predominantly amber. If you want a little bit of both worlds, there is nothing wrong with harvesting when half are cloudy and half are amber. Experiment with your strain and find the harvest time you prefer best.
Flushing Your Plants
Healthy plants require the use of nutrients and heavy metals. Many of these can bring about an unfavorable taste or harshness to your marijuana especially when smoked. That is why it is wise to flush your plants 1-2 weeks before you plan on harvesting.
Flushing is the process of putting only fresh water in your hydroponics system rather than adding nutrients and pH buffers. Flushing gives your plants time to clear their systems of particles that can ruin the experience when using the marijuana.
Cutting and Trimming
When you decide the time is right to harvest, you need to start cutting up the plant and trimming it down. Start this by cutting each branch off individually and putting them all in a container of some kind.
Once I have all the branches cut off, I have made it a habit to immediately clean up the hydroponics system, the tank, and all other devices. This helps encourage me to start my next grow right away rather than later by having clean equipment to jump right into rather than having my first step in my new grow be a cleaning process.
After everything is clean, turn your attention back to the branches in the container. You will want to trim off the large fan leaves that have no buds at all. I also trim a little bit around the buds as well to help with the drying and curing process. The more leaves you have, the more moisture that will be in your system which can slow drying and be a haven for mold. However, trim too much and you might be trimming off good THC. Find a balance that works for you.
The purpose of drying is to get as much moisture out of your buds as possible. As mentioned earlier, the problem with moisture in the buds is that it becomes a breeding ground for mold which can ruin your end product completely.
After you trim your branches, you will want to hang them up in a well ventilated room. Make sure you examine the branches regularly and try to detect the growth of any molds. If you find any, it is best to get rid of those buds so the mold cannot spread to the others and fix any problems that may have caused the mold in the first place.
You want the humidity to be low so moisture can readily evaporate from the buds and to keep the risk of mold down. You also do not want any fans or such blowing directly on the branches. This will cause your buds to dry too quickly and can ruin the flavor and potency of your buds as well.
You will want to dry your plants anywhere from 1-2 weeks depending on environmental conditions. In areas with less humidity, drying will take less time, and higher humidity means longer dry times. You will know the drying process is completed when the branches are breakable. If the branches will only bend, there is still too much moisture, and you need to dry longer.
The process of curing is a lot like the drying process in that one of its primary functions is to remove moisture. However, this process is where flavors and potency can really be developed if done correctly.
After you have determined that the buds are dry enough to begin the curing stage, you will place them in an air tight jar. Keep them in a dark, cool place because both light and heat are detrimental to potency.
I have cured both in my cupboards as well as the refrigerator. I prefer the refrigerator because it seems to pull out moisture a little faster. You will want to allow the plant to dry out in the air every day. I suggest pouring out your buds onto a paper bag each day to help soak up the excess moisture then put them back into the jar and in their curing cave.
Curing should be done for at least a week, but some people cure as long as 4 or even 6 weeks. The idea behind it is that the more the marijuana is cured, the more developed the bud’s flavors and potency will be. I usually cure for about 2 weeks, but I definitely encourage you to try different timings for yourself. You could even cure the same crop different amounts of time to see which range is the best.
- Get a way to magnify your plants to be able to inspect and identify the readiness of your plant’s trichomes.
- Once ready to harvest, trim your branches and clean your hydroponics equipment. Dispose of excess plant matter (or save and make cannabutter).
- Set up a room where your plants can be hung and kept in a dark place with good air circulation. Check for mold daily.
- Place your dried marijuana into air tight jars in a dark, cold place. Air out and dry regularly.
- ENJOY THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR!