When the time comes to harvest cannabis, there are a few things that beginner growers should be aware of. When is the right time to harvest, and what are the best ways to chop, dry and trim your flowers? It's incredibly easy once you know how!
Cannabis flowers are ready to be harvested after several weeks of flowering. The exact time needed to flower cannabis depends on the strain. Cannabis strains bred from tropical sativa may need twelve weeks or more to flower, while indica strains need as little as seven weeks. Autoflowering cannabis, which originates in the cold northern latitudes, only needs nine or ten weeks to complete its entire life cycle, from planting the seed to harvesting the crop!
So how do you know when your cannabis is actually ready? Of course you can just go with what your seed bank tells you, and you’ll probably do OK – but it’s very simple to learn the right time to harvest cannabis just by taking a close look at the flowers.
One visual sign that your cannabis is ready is that the little hairs on the flowers change color, usually from white to a brownish-red. Depending on the strain, the hairs may also turn bright red, orange or even pink. Typically, once around 50%–80% of those hairs have changed, the plant is ready to cut down.
However, this isn’t actually the most reliable indicator. In fact, some strains don’t really change much at all in this respect, and the hairs are still pretty much white when it’s mature. So if you really want to get scientific about it and be as close to certain as possible, you can take advantage of another clue the cannabis plant has so helpfully provided us with. The sticky, sparkling crystals that cover good-quality cannabis – the trichomes – are the key to this method.
If you take a magnifying glass and look at those crystals in early flowering, you’ll see they appear translucent. Later on, as they start to mature and THC levels reach their highest, they will turn an opaque white color instead. A few days after this point, they will begin to turn an amber color instead.
If you want your cannabis to have a clear, cerebral effect, it’s better to harvest when the trichomes are mostly milky. That’s what most growers do – but some like a more sedative effect, so they wait until more of the trichomes have turned amber. This signals that the THC is beginning to degrade to CBN, a cannabinoid that has far greater sedative properties.
Again, a lot of this depends on the strain. Many growers leave sativa-dominant strains for longer, until around 30% of the trichomes have turned amber. If harvested when their THC is at its peak, these strains could actually be less pleasant – extremely high levels of THC without other cannabinoids to “balance” the effect can cause anxiety, paranoia, shakiness and various other unpleasant side-effects.
Tools and Equipment You Will Need
These can be cheaply bought at most supermarkets, and do an excellent job of keeping that sticky resin off your hands!
No, not to entertain yourself while you're trimming (although many a trim session can be livened up by a beer or two!) – here we're talking about high-proof ethanol or isopropyl that you can use to clean the blades of your scissors, or your hands when the shoddy supermarket gloves inevitably break!
Key to the successful trim session. You want them sharp with clean blades! Also, scissors need to have just the right amount of resistance. Too stiff, and your hands will be blistered within the hour! Too loose, and they're just kind of hard to handle.
You should have something to catch the leaves as they fall, especially if you want to save the crystal-covered smaller leaves for making extracts. You can even find specialized trim containers that have a screen to separate the crystals from the leaf matter!
I can't stress this enough – an uncomfortable chair can lead to a cripplingly painful trim session! You may also want to select some decent tunes and some snacks to make the hours more bearable...
You can make or buy a drying rack for your cannabis flowers. To make one, you can use a cardboard box and some string or twine. Make some evenly spaced holes in a row near the top of the box and thread string back and forth so you have a "laundry line" to hang your buds from. Make sure it's properly secured!
You should have one of these for your grow anyway! But it's also useful to have one during the drying period, to make sure conditions are within the right range.
What To Do Next
First, remove the large fan leaves from your plants and discard them (most people throw them away, but some use them in salads, in compost or in various other ways). You can do this before you cut any branches, and it’ll make the whole process a lot easier to handle.
Next, cut the branches! There are various ways to do this – you can start by chopping off the main stem close to the roots. If the plant is small, you could just hang it like that to dry! But larger plants with multiple big flowers should be broken up a little more to dry evenly. If so, you could just as easily start at the top with the biggest buds and work your way down.
You also need to remove the small sugar leaves that surround the buds. You can either cut each branch and immediately trim all the sugar leaves before cutting the next branch. Or you can cut all the branches at once, then trim the sugar leaves. You can even leave the sugar leaves on the buds as they dry, and trim them right at the very end when the bud is dry. This may help to preserve terpenes!
The next stage is to hang the buds to dry. Drying conditions need to be tightly controlled, and don’t change much whether you have left the sugar leaves on or not. The correct temperature range is around 64–73 degrees Fahrenheit (18–23 degrees Celsius). Maintain relative humidity levels of 40–60%. Not too far off your plant’s requirements in life too…
Cannabis flowers in the correct conditions should take around 4–10 days to fully dry, depending on how dense and large they are. When dry, they should crumble easily in the fingers with a little pressure. If the bud feels very spongy, it may need another day or so. The stems should snap easily – if they bend, the bud is not quite dry yet. So there you have it. It’s easy to harvest cannabis – let us know how you get on in the comments!