The point at which we harvest our plants is really a fascinating topic. What are we really looking for and when are those plants at their best for harvest?
Lets start with the second question first. The plant during its final phase of flowering is dying. It is taking its last bits of energy and directing towards procreation. The plant is waiting, longing for fertilization and until it happens (it won’t) the plant continues to protect its flowers with cannabinoids and terpenes. So this is when we want to harvest our plants at the peak of this production.
Most growers tend to take their plants down too early. Information on your strain may say 8 weeks to maturity, but it will likely take longer (seed manufacturers tend to underestimate the time required, marketing). If you do this your Cannabinoids (THC, CBD and others) will not be at peak quality, they will be weak.
Waiting too long though and some of the cannabinoids start to decay. THC, an uplifting psychoactive cannabinoid with change to CBN, the “sleepy” cannabinoid. Unfortunately THC decays inefficiently and only leaves about 1/10th the amount in CBN.
After a period of time our cannabis get weaker and more sleepy. So what is the right time to harvest?
We want to start to “listen” to our plants. Each strain is a little different, but they all give off signs of maturity. Buds begin to change colour, getting more organs, red or purple (and all the colours in between). The pistols or hairs will start to darken and curl. Buds will feel more dense not squishy.
The problem is for every strain these indicators are somewhat different, even growing techniques (adding a late stage bud booster) can change the appearance.
To be really sure we want to look at the trichomes or resin glandes. This is where the good stuff resides, cannabinoids and terpenes. The trichomes or resin glandes are what make the plants sticky and frosted looking. They also are a great way to determine when it is harvest time
Calling them resin glands is far more accurately descriptive term. Under magnification they really do look like a clear mushroom shaped gland. There is a stock and head, not unlike a mushroom. (pic)
Looking at the trichomes can be a challenge. You can use a jewler’s loop with 20-30X magnification. This is easy to handle, but magnification is not really enough to get a good look at the glands
A hand held microscope of 40-60X is better for viewing but because of the magnification a little hard to focus and locate the scope.
I have used both methods and with patience both can work. I prefer the hand held microscope, but it did take awhile to get used to.
The easiest is a hand held digital “orb” like the Carson. Easier to handle, you can concentrate on getting good shots. It can be a little awkward getting your head in the right position to look at the bud you want. You will also need to take your glasses off to look at the loop or hand held microscope properly and you are right under high intensity light. Maybe not the best idea. A digital microscope fixes these issues.
A digital camera is easier to move around, better pictures and you can save and show your friends and family! You do get to show off after all your hard work
As cannabis matures the trichromes begin to change clarity and colour. They will go from a clear glass like, to a milky, plastic looking substance. Some of them will go an amber colour (very rich colour). Again each stain will look different at maturity but lets make some assumptions.
With most plants, when 30-50% of the trichromes turn cloudy or plastic looking and around 5-10% are amber, then we are ready to harvest. Each bud you look at though, even the same bud at a different spot, will appear different. So we will look at a bunch of flowers at different places in the Canopy and get a general idea of what is happening. I will take the bigger, closer to the lights flowers as my real indicators. This is where most of the mass is so we want to pay more attention to these.
Some cannabis plants though do not look this way during maturity. I have a very special Haze (very pure Sativa) that shows almost no cloudy trichomes but does show some really great amber ones. So on this one, amber is my indicator, if I wait for cloudy (that would be 13 weeks of flower on this plant!) it is too late.
One of the best ways to learn exactly what your plants are doing and what you really want from them, is to trial some as your plants mature. So as you are getting close to harvest, take down a couple of flowers and record what you are seeing in the trichromes.
Dry it (I often fast dry here because it is so little and I want to see, amazing how improperly dried, cured and not flushed cannabis can taste so good, if it is grown well!) and try it. Find out when the plants you are growing are right for you. I would recommend cutting down the majority of the plant a little later than earlier, as new growers tend to take pants too early rather that late.
There are two basic ways to dry and that depends on how you want to trim. I started off as a wet trimmer. As soon as the plant come down, you trim off any excess leaves while the plant is wet. You then place the trimmed flowers in a drying rack or tray.
I now trim dry. For this you take your whole plant and hang it upside down to dry. After it is dry you then trim the plants removing leaves from the flowers.
The advantage of trimming wet are the leaves are more firm and tend not to “wrap” around the flower. Dry trimming has a couple of advantages. First because of the way I grow, big flower with not much leaf mass, the leaves curling around the flower is really not an issue. The other is, the plant dries slower.
Drying slower means moisture at the centre of the flower is going to have time to “wick” to the outside without over drying the edges of the flower. It is a more gentle, even process.
My dry room is a little dry naturally so I benefit from the extra leaf mass and it slows my drying down to about 6 days. Drying in racks was a little quick at 3 days. For you if your drying location is wetter, then drying in racks may be better.
Ideal dry conditions
Temp 72-78 deg F
Very light air movement in room, no blowing of air on plants.
Well this is the one area where I can truly say I am not sure. Curing is supposed to improve taste, “smokability” and colour. The problem here is curing is an oxidative process, it degrades organic matter. So while you are getting rid of chlorophyll which is the green colour and makes cannabis taste bad, you are also degrading the cannabis and its vital constituents.
I have tried my cannabis at all different levels of curing, from it just dried to it has been curing for weeks.
It is my belief that when cannabis is grow well and properly flushed and dried the curing process is not as vital.
To cure you will take the dried flowers and place in an air tight container. I prefer glass or stainless steel. Trichromes can stick a little more to plastic and well its plastic, who know what it is giving off over time.
So after trying different methods I now cure for a minimum of 3 days and then more if I want a somewhat better flavour. We will update this section as the information and science evolve but for now, don’t worry too much, if you have grown well, then your cannabis will be wonderful.
Idea Curing environment
Cool Dark Room 68- 76 deg F
Now you have worked really hard, cared for your plants dutifully. Sit back, relax and enjoy, you deserve this!