Harvesting your cannabis crop is exciting – you get to see how all your hard work has paid off. The problem is that cannabis harvests don’t work like most other kinds of harvest. Usually, harvesting is the process of collecting fruits, seeds, roots, or leaves. It’s easy to tell when a seed or fruit is ripe, and roots and leaves are ready when they’re the size you want.
Cannabis is different. Cannabis buds aren’t fruits or leaves – they’re flowers. This means harvesting them takes some knowledge and some effort. After all, plants are designed to hold onto their flowers much more strongly than their leaves or seeds. Here’s how you can harvest your cannabis plants so you make the most of your crop.
When to Harvest Cannabis
Deciding when to harvest your cannabis can be the most stressful part of the whole process. A perfect crop can give a mediocre high if you harvest too early or too late. So, choosing the right time to harvest your plants can make or break your grow.
The trick to a great harvest is watching the trichomes. These are the tiny, sparkly hairs on marijuana buds, and they’re where you find the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. You can judge the relative levels of cannabinoids in your plant by the color of the trichomes. You may need to get a microscope to see the specific color, since trichomes are very small.
As cannabis buds mature, the trichomes change colors. They start their existence clear, before turning cloudy white, and finally turning amber. These color changes track the development and decay of THC, CBD, and CBN – the three most important chemicals to most cannabis growers.
When trichomes are clear, they are still immature. They haven’t developed all the cannabinoids that you’re looking for yet. If you harvest while some trichomes are still clear, then you aren’t allowing your crop to fulfill its true potential. In fact, there may not be much THC at all, and you’ve wasted all your growing time only to kill your crop without a payoff. Waiting until your crop is truly mature is worth it.
Trichomes start to cloud over as they mature, looking milky and hazy. This is the time when THC is building. The more trichomes appear milky, the more THC in the bud. The standard harvest for non-medical cannabis is when most trichomes are cloudy white.
However, by the time most of your trichomes are white, some will have started to shift into amber. Don’t worry! Amber signals that those trichomes have reached their peak CBD levels. While THC declines during the amber color-shift, it decays into CBN, which is a mellower but still psychoactive compound. If you want a high that’s heavier on couch-lock and relaxation, you can wait to harvest until more trichomes turn amber. A good ratio for a calm high is 70% white to 30% amber trichomes.
If you’re just not sure whether your cannabis is ready to harvest, you can also check the pistils. These are the fluffy white parts of the cannabis flower. Cannabis is mature and ready to harvest when at least half of the pistils have turned brown. If your pistils are mostly brown and your trichomes are mostly white, it’s time to harvest.
Equipment for Harvesting Cannabis
To harvest your marijuana, you’ll need some standard gardening equipment. The right equipment can make the whole process go much more smoothly.
The mandatory tools for harvesting cannabis are:
- Garden shears
- Sharp plant-trimming scissors
- Drying lines
- Rubber gloves
Garden shears allow you to cut the plant down. Trimming scissors help with detail work around the buds. Drying lines or racks are for hanging your cannabis. Its best to wear thick gloves when harvesting cannabis, to prevent the loss of THC to the oils on your hands (plus its gets super-sticky). Finally, once your cannabis is dry, you should store it in air-tight jars to cure.
- Mesh screen
- Trim trays
- Rubbing alcohol
Mesh screens and trim trays help you gather lost trichomes. Fans circulate air around your plants, so they dry more efficiently, while a dehumidifier or humidifier will help you control the exact speed of drying. Finally, rubbing alcohol sanitizes and removes stickiness from your harvesting tools.
Steps to Harvest Cannabis
Harvesting cannabis requires just as much patience as growing it. The best bud is dried slowly and carefully. Cutting down your plants is just the first step in the process.
Cut Down Your Plants
Before cutting your plants down, strip the old leaves from around the base. If you’ve been lollipopping your plant, there shouldn’t be many leaves to strip. This is mostly to keep the plants tidy and less bulky when you’re hanging them to dry later. Leave some smaller leaves to slow the drying process and protect the buds.
Next, using sharp garden shears, cut your cannabis plants down. If you’ve been training your cannabis plants into a bushy form, you can cut each branch separately. Be careful to avoid jostling your buds, as it’s very easy to accidentally knock off trichomes, which reduces potency.
Hang Plants to Dry
Using string, clips, or rubber bands, hang your plants upside down to dry in a dark, dry room. Gentle air circulation can help keep fresh plants from getting moldy, but don’t blow fans directly at the plants. This can also knock loose trichomes off.
Wait for at least 4 days. Drying should be a slow process, in order to preserve the cannabinoids in the plant. An ideal drying time is 7-10 days, but can go even longer. The plants are dry when stems crack instead of bend.
Trim Dried Plants
Now you can trim off anything that’s not bud. Wearing rubber gloves and using a sharp pair of hand trimmers, remove the buds from the stems. Then carefully trim off the leaves around the bud. This is an aesthetic choice, mostly – you can leave as many leaves as you want. They are perfectly safe to consume, and should be full of trichomes.
If you want, trim the buds over a trim tray and mesh screen. This can help you recover any trichomes you lose; trichomes on their own are called kief, which many people consider the best kind of cannabis. The trimmed leaves can be used for edibles, as well.
Cure the Buds
This step is technically optional. Once your buds are dry, they are smokable. However, curing your bud takes it to the next level. Take the individual buds and put them in airtight jars. They can live there until you use them.
The curing process takes about ten days. For each of these first ten days, you should open each of the jars and let them breath for a few minutes before resealing them. This gets rid of the last little bit of moisture in the bud, which helps it smoke more smoothly. While it isn’t technically necessary, it is a great finishing touch for a great crop.
Harvesting cannabis is one of the most rewarding parts of the whole growing process. This is when you find out for sure how much bud you’ve earned through your weeks of hard work. By harvesting your cannabis crop correctly, you can lock in potency and prep your pot for long-term storage.