HARVEST & CURING 101
Harvest time... That make or break time that can end in a pile of dense dank nuggets, or something more akin to dried alfalfa. The secret is in the humidity and temperature and all too often we see beginners drying their harvest way too quickly and destroying valuable terpines and essential oils in the process. This takes away from the overall scent, taste and even potency of your final cleaned product and so just as important as the whole growing and flowering phases is the drying and curing phase. Let’s walk through a harvest together and discuss the pros and cons of each method available and the proper way to dry, cure and store your product.
Cannabis varieties will all finish at different times. The Indicas and Autos will be done weeks before the land race Sativas and Hazes. With so many hybrids on the market today it is best to refer to the breeder or company that put out the seeds and find out the recommended flowering time for that variety. Keep in mind in marketing the seed company will generally give the shortest amount of time a plant has come down "Ready" and tout that as flowering time. Be prepared to add a week or so on top of these advertised flower times. Because we all have different methods and technology available to us, the best way to judge when a plant is done is by the plant itself. There are many visual cues to guide you in knowing the stages of ripening, acknowledging them will give you the patience you need as you wait out these last rewarding days.
The last 2 weeks we have been "Flushing" the medium with 6.5-7 PH water and letting any bottled nutrients you have used dilute and drain. This will let the plant use up the last of the nutrients and start its conversion of acids to sugars. The plants will begin to change color in the fan leaves and the terminal flowers will lean over from their water weight. Tying the plants to stakes is a good way to keep them upright as the nitrogen gets used up and the plants begin to have a rubbery sway to them when moved or touched. As nitrogen gets used the plant will begin to cannibalize the stored micro nutrients and chlorophyll turning the plants fan leaves shades of yellows to reds and even dark purples. By the weeks 8 & 9, the trichome stalks have stretched and a bulbous resin glad has swollen on the top of the stalks. These trichome resin structures will look like tiny bubbles of goo on the leaves and flowers to the naked eye but zoom in on them and you will see tens of thousands of small mushrooms like glands of resin. As the heads on these glands ripen they will turn from clear to an opaque or cloudy before starting to change into a golden brown. As the majority of the trichomes pass from clear to cloudy and start to enter the amber phase it is considered peak time to harvest your flowers for the highest THC content available. After peak harvest time, your plants will start to degrade as they over ripen and die.
Now that you have waited and been patient over the last week, you will see a definite difference in the appearance of the plants. The once beautiful spreading fan leaves are now dying and turning yellow with ugly dried brown spots. The Pistils of the plant have curled and seem to have withered into the buds. The trichomes are stacked so high they seem to drip off the plant by the last week. The scent should have changed as well into a more pronounced sharp smell that lingers in the air. It may be a fruity smell or a minty smell or a rubber smell depending on the varieties you have chosen to grow. But there will be a definite change in the scent to your nose as the flowers exude their natural expressions. For the last week I like to hold back on water knowing that the harvest is coming soon. Water will still be given to help the flush and keep the plant from as much stress as possible as the death throws will cause it to stress as it attempts to reproduce itself before death. Some varieties may begin to throw very limited male flowers, or Banana’s, as growers refer to them.
These male flowers rarely open as the density of the bud presses on them as well as by the time they start being produced the plant is ready for harvest. A highly passed around myth from some growers is to give the plant a dark period up to 72 hours before intended harvest. The idea of a suspended darkened period is to let the plant continue to flower and exude THC content. I can assure you this is false and the only thing it triggers is more stress in stretching as well as rubbery stems and curled leaves searching for light that isn’t available. These are photoperiod sensitive plants that take their cues from the amount of light they receive and by the hours they receive it. If you attempt this on even 1 of your plants as a test for yourself, I can ASSURE you that you will not notice a difference at all in the final product. The only difference is the trimming will be a lot harder as the leaves will be softer and curled from having received no light energy for 3 full days.
So we are ready to cut down our fully ripened plants at this point. You’ve have decided that today, when the lights come on it is harvest time. You have cleaned your house or trim area as well as made a proper drying closet. A drying closet can be just an unused dry closet in your home. You will clean it well to make sure there are no mold spores in it or stray cat or dog hairs as there will be a small oscillating fan to gently move the air around and prevent and moisture from building up on the flowers as they dry. The closet should have string or fishing line run in parallel rows across the top to hang the branches we are about to harvest from the garden. We begin by doing 1 plant at a time and start with the most ripened plant in case we get tired of trimming or run out of time for the day and have to pick up again the next day. You will cut the plant at the base soil line, side cutters are a good option for this job as Cannabis stalks are very fibrous and known to break scissors. Once the plant is cut, bring it over to the trim area where you will pull off the remaining fan leaves. Any leaf on the plant that has a stem that sticks out 4” or more should be cut off and left in their own pile for use in edibles, balms, and higher CBD containing oils. These leaves will contain THC on the stems and even on the leaf, but the concentration of them is not of any real value and if mixed will only take your final products smoking quality down. You can work your way from the bottom to the top of the plant and the best way to do this quickly and without too much movement and handling of the flowers is to section the plant. That is to cut the plant horizontally about 1” above where the branch comes out. You will do this bottom to top and after each branch is removed, or the plant sectioned, work each branch and remove the fan leaves first and then the majority of the smaller leaves. These smaller leaves will be kept in a different pile with your final trim and dried together for use in extracts. This trim will be of higher quality and work well for Shatters, Hashes and powerful edibles. You will notice that each branch has a natural hook on the bottom end from how you have sectioned it horizontally from the plant as opposed to just cutting the branch off flush to the main stalk, this makes for hanging your now wet trimmed Cannabis. It can look a little messy still we are not looking for perfection at this point only to remove some of the leaves to prevent moisture build up as well as speed up the drying time in the closet. Repeat on all plants in grow until you are finished, shut off your lights and begin your cleaning of the growing area for the next crop to go in.
The plants will hang in the dark closet for at least a week and closet should be sitting at about 60* and 40% humidity to let the process of drying happen gradually to preserve the terpines and oils in the plant. The fan will be set to low and not faced on the flowers at all. I set mine on the floor and let it move the air around the area. After about a week you can begin to check your flowers.
They will feel dry to the touch but will still contain moisture in the centers of the flowers and stem. When then the stem snaps easily in your fingers it is time to do your final trim. You will remove every green leaf sticking out of the flower and save this trim as your best trim, you can add it to the second pile you made and dried for extractions. Begin again at the bottom of the branch and cut the buds off the main stalk. Smaller shaper scissors will help here to get right in without butchering each flower. Take your time and remove as much leaf as possible from every bud. I use 2 bowls and transfer each bud from the uncleaned pile to the cleaned pile as I go until 1 bowl is full of nice clean flowers. At this point you are ready for curing.
Curing is an art and one that needs to be learned. There are many ways to cure for the preservation of taste and smell as well as decarboxylate the THCA into psychoactive THC. The way that works for me and keeps my medicine tasting and smelling sweet with a knockout kick for months with no special preservatives or safeguards but a jar in a drawer is as follows...
The first 3-5 days after the final cleaning on your flowers, load them into Tupperware containers and pull the air out. For the first 12 hours you will keep them closed and in the dark and the moisture trapped inside the flower will be drawn out releasing gases with it into the airtight container. After the initial 12 hour period, open the lid and feel the buds. If they feel damper you will keep the lid off for 12 hours, gently toss the buds in the container and replace lid. You will repeat this every day until flowers are dry but not crisp. When you have a pile bud that are dry but spongy, they are ready for curing. A good way to tell is remove one of the medium to larger buds and press on it with a finger. The flower should be dense but give a little and compress under your finger slowly. When you lift your finger the bud should decompress again to almost normal. This is perfect for curing phase. I use large glass jars, well washed pickle jars, pasta sauce jars and snap-top airtight jars are the best. I load all my dry flowers into the jars and tuck them away in a dark drawer. You want to crack the jars for about 20 minutes a day and “burp” the air out by gently tossing the buds or removing and reloading the jars with the bottom buds on top and top buds on the bottom to promote limited air circulation to let the gasses escape from the curing flowers. After a few day of this, your buds are well on their way to curing. As long as the basic rules of no light, no air and cool temperatures are followed, you will have beautiful product for months and can begin smoking your product now. Your jars will be burped as you remove your daily flowers and continue to cure making your last toke even better than your first.
I hope you have enjoyed the 101 blog.
For the next blog we will dial it up a bit and get more advanced as we all learn together or just brush up on existing skills. Always be drilling, always be learning and relearning.