If you spent 2020 doing your first grow, you may be approaching your first harvest. While that can be exciting, let’s not get ahead of ourselves by slopping it up at the very end. We’re here to help you not make fatal errors in harvesting, curing and storing your cannabis plants. Ready?
NO! You are NOT ready. Do NOT get to cutting down plants just yet. BEFORE you begin, you need to do a little prep. You need supplies: a dark place to let your plants dry (where the whole neighborhood won’t smell your efforts), quality scissors (plant trimming scissors are a great idea), a razor blade, rubbing alcohol, disposable gloves, clothesline and some clips (or some coat hangers), labels, a marker, and you need a good eye to know WHEN to cut them down (trichomes are our friends*). One rule of thumb is:
Indica – 8 weeks after flowering
Sativa – 10 weeks after flowering
Autoflower – 10 weeks from seedling to bud
Preparing to harvest:
Some of our readers get a little fertilizer happy. If that’s you, it’s good to stop feeding your plants 7-10 days before harvesting and use a flushing agent with distilled water to get rid of that chemical smell and taste. Have a space ready where you can hang your drying plants by their ‘trunks’ or by branches, untouched by kids, pets, LIGHT (drying and curing need to happen in the DARK) and have an air circulation system (a fan) that can move the humidity out of the room (without skunking up the neighborhood – much). Hang your line(s) before you start harvesting. You might want to make your labels now so you know what’s what as you go.
Before you get to cutting, here’s a relatively simple 12-step process to make you a harvesting cultivator (read the directions BEFORE you get to cutting):
- Put your gloves on. Powder-free latex are best. MMJ/MJ is sticky. Your bare hands will be sticky in no time. And you’ll contaminate your MMJ. Stop it.
- The time of DAY you cut is critical to your success**. Morning is best. If you are indoors, turn on the lights, make a coffee, watch a half hour of Simpsons, and get to cultivating (nighttime is resin production time, you want to reap the benefits). Some folks have asked whether to cut WET or DRY. We found that each method has advantages. We’ll let you decide for yourself, but, if you decide to trim dry, your product will need less dehumidifying. If you trim wet, you will get better taste if you can be patient and dehumidify properly, but you need to go slow and watch what your plants are doing***.
- Harvesting: Start by cutting a branch or plant; cut your branches at an angle and use an outward motion, cutting away from the plant. If you are careful, you can trim the outer buds first, allowing the inner buds to ripen up a bit more (‘ripe bud method’), but you can also do the ‘whole plant method’ where you cut the whole plant down. Be gentle to not crush your buds. Either way, you want to trim outer leaves from the buds as you go. You can trim the bigger fan-like leaves before cutting the branch from the plant. You want to cut larger leaves as close to the stem (petiole) as possible. If you are dry cutting, you will ONLY want to remove the largest leaves, and if you are wet cutting, you want to remove as many of the leaves as possible****. You want to clean your scissors with a razor blade to save your residue and wipe them with alcohol when they get sticky and when you go to a different plant.
- Hang your plants over your ‘clothesline’ and clip onto the line if necessary. You are drying your plants upside down, like you are hanging clothes out to dry.
- DRYING PHASE: You want your buds to dry in darkness with about 50-60% humidity and temperatures between 65 and 73 degrees. Use an exhaust fan to keep everything going smooth and provide fresh air flow. Check in on your plants each day for fungus and mold; if you find any, put it in a baggie, zip it up and get it out of your drying room.
- You should be getting close to done with the drying phase at five to 14 days. At Day 5, going forward: take a sample from your product, see how well the drying is going. Squeeze your buds for dryness, smell for aroma, and listen for a creaky sound when you bend a stem. It can take up to a month for your plants to dry fully. Do not rush this.
- CURING PHASE: you want to do this to make your MMJ taste better. Three things matter most: temperature, humidity, and light. Okay, FOUR things: glass jars! Mason jars with screw on lids are the best.
- You might want to trim your freshly dried buds for the smaller leaves if you prefer****. Place your newly dried buds in the jars. Make sure the lids are screwed on tight. Place them in a dark place, just like you are storing preserves or canned tomatoes. You want a temperature of around 60 degrees and 50-55% humidity. Curing should take about two to three weeks, tops.
- You want to open the jars each day for 10 minutes for about three weeks. You are degassing your buds.
- Here’s the fun part: taste your flowers each week for ripeness. If your stuff is not flavorful, try putting some citrus peels in the jar for about eight days. This will enhance the flavor.
- At four months (if you have anything at this point), open your jars for 20 minutes a few times a month, at month five, open them once for 10 minutes and you can halt ventilation on month six.
- At month eight, curing stops. Your MMJ will start to lose a bit of its flavor and smell, but don’t think that means it’s gone crap. It will get more sedative in effects. If you like flavor, you can always trade with someone who makes edibles for newbies for flavor-y buds or make your own edibles.
*It is critical to your cannabis strength to watch for the little hairs in the buds (trichomes) to no longer be clear (VERY little THC), half-clear (brief high, THC=meh), half-clear to amber (perfect! CUT, damn you, CUT!), and amber (you’re in the backside of trichome lifecycle – call in sick! CUT NOW!). Trichomes are tiny, usually about 1-2 mm in length. For our fellow ‘half-blind’ readers, use your zoom feature from the phone’s camera and zoom in on a bud to see where your trichomes are. Once you know what you are looking at, you are half-way to being a trichome expert.
Had a pest, fungus or viral problem? You may have to cut sooner, try to stay within the 10 days of optimum harvest if possible. We’ve heard from some growers that when the bud leaves turn yellow and the buds swell-up, you are at peak cutting time, but when the secondary leaves (fan leaves) go yellow, you are passing your peak, but it’s not a big deal. It makes the THC more narcotic-like, despite being milder in flavor, so be prepared to be sleepy when you consume. FYI.
**A theory we hear is that you should leave your plants in total darkness for 36 hours before harvesting. This is SUPPOSED to increase potency by shocking the plant into creating resin with the last of her energy. We can’t guarantee the accuracy of this info.
***Leaf trimming thoughts: if you are in a high-humidity area (over 65%), trim the exposed bud leaves off or you’ll get mold. If you are in low humidity (under 40%), leave the bud leaves on. The leaves will prevent your buds from drying too quick and the smaller leaves will protect the buds, so “leave” them on until the end (if you have 25% or less humidity, a humidifier is a good idea, and leave the fan leaves on for a little while).
In Oklahoma, we have strange weather, so we are covering both schools of thought on wet and dry cutting. Our suggestion to you: check in with 2-3 weather apps and see what the weather is predicted to do in the coming weeks. This will impact your indoor environment (unless you can climate control everything). Use that as a guide. A temperature and humidity monitor is worth the investment.
****You want to keep those little leaves! They have use for edibles as they are THC carriers. De-carb trimmings for cannabutter and edibles.