Harvesting, Drying and Curing Marijuana
Growing your garden all the way from seed to harvest is hard work. However, following our detailed guides and cool tips, you are now in front of a fully-flowering marijuana plant, filled with resinous buds. We know you can hardly wait any longer, but there are some things you should do to know exactly the right time to harvest marijuana plants.
Before you get started, you’ll need:
- A pair of sharp scissors and secateurs for the harvesting process;
- A magnifier glass or a digital microscope to determine the right time to harvest;
- A drying rack for your freshly cut marijuana;
- Quart-sized mason jars for the curing process.
When To Harvest Marijuana For Best Results
Identifying the right window for harvest is perhaps one of the most challenging parts of growing. Not only because it will test your deduction skills, but mostly because you will need to keep yourself from chopping down your buds prematurely.
Fortunately, once you learn how to read the signs, marijuana plants are easy to decipher. As your buds reach maturity, they will start merging and tiny, crystals (trichomes) will start becoming visible around the flowers. Also, the white hair-like pistils around the buds will begin to turn brown. These two are going to be your biggest allies when it comes to harvesting marijuana.
To make your life easier, obtain a magnifier so you can take a better look at the buds. There are many options, from jeweler’s loupes and magnifiers to digital magnifiers that can connect to your laptop. In any case, the ability to see the buds clearly is going to be instrumental.
Observing the Trichomes
The trichomes are the mushroom-shaped glandular stalks that grow on the buds. They produce the resin where we find the biggest concentration of cannabinoids. Their changing color is perhaps the most reliable sign about the state of your buds.
There are several types of trichomes growing on cannabis buds, but not all of them contribute to the potency of the final product. As the trichome color changes from clear to a milky white, your plant will be nearing harvest. When the percentage of clear/milky trichomes is 50-50, then your buds are ready. If you wait long enough, the trichomes will eventually start turning amber, meaning that THC breaks down to CBN. The longer you wait before harvest, the more intense the bodily effect will be.
Of course, every plant will produce a certain amount of cannabinoids dictated by its genetic predisposition. However, optimal THC amounts can be achieved by harvesting when the plants are half clear/half milky white.
Looking at the Pistils
A second, less reliable method for determining the proper harvesting time is by looking at the pistils forming around the bud. When the pistils on your marijuana plant are white and sticking out, the plant is still too young. You need to wait until 50-70% of them start turning brown and curling inwards. Most of the time, it is better to look both at the pistils and the trichomes to determine the right time to harvest marijuana. Bear in mind that according to their genetics, some plants will continue to produce white pistils even when they are almost ready to harvest. If you are unsure, check the trichomes too. This will give you a better idea regarding the status.
How to Harvest Marijuana
Assuming that you’ve done everything right (some mistakes can also be forgiven, depending on the strain you chose), your plants should be ready for harvesting. The process is not complicated, and you will only need a pair of sharp secateurs or scissors to do it. Also, two weeks before cutting down your plant, it is advised to perform a thorough flushing of your growing medium. This will prevent a buildup of salts in the buds and will lead to a better tasting product.
How to Flush Your Marijuana Plant
Marijuana flushing should ideally be performed slowly over the course of two weeks. During this time, you should only water your plant with distilled water and cut back on any nutrients. In soil, you should be able to do that by watering your plants with neutral pH water (around 6.2).
In hydroponic systems, you just need to run clear water through the system and don’t use any nutrients. In both cases, it is normal to experience some leaf discoloration as your plant will be running low on nutrients.
Harvesting and Drying Marijuana
Just before you cut any branches, you should use a pair of scissors to remove the larger leaves. You can cut down the smaller ones as well, but it is recommended to leave them on throughout the curing and drying process, as they protect the trichomes on the buds.
Do not chop and hang the whole plant to dry. Instead cut each branch separately and hang them out to dry independently. Make sure they don’t touch when they are hung out to dry, as this will increase the likelihood of mold development. For the actual drying, you can be as creative as you want! Use a cloth drying rack, a mesh rack or whatever you think will do best. The important thing is that the drying area is not too humid and has excellent air circulation. You can use a fan to aid proper drying, but don’t point it directly at the plants.
DO NOT attempt to speed dry your buds. The proper time frame should be around a week, give or take. It is better for your buds to be a little moist than overdried. When the smaller stems snap off the plant, and the outside of the buds feels dry, it is the best time to move in the next stage. Remember: We need the buds to be somewhat moist for the curing process to work!
After your buds have finished drying, it is time for the curing process. Although you might be fed up with waiting up to this point, your buds will not taste that good if smoked right now. Curing is a process that can take anything from two weeks to three months, and it is necessary to bring out the taste, smell and potency of your buds.
Luckily, the process is as simple as placing your buds in the mason jars and open them daily to allow fresh air inside. This will let them dry out evenly and bring out their best taste. Notice that buds which feel wet to the touch should never be closed in jars, as mold can quickly form. This process should take at least two weeks, while a month is an optimal timeframe.
- The harvesting period officially begins when the plant stops growing new pistils, and 30-40% of them have darkened and curled. On the other hand, when trichomes start turning grey (after four weeks into harvesting), your buds will have lost almost all of their psychoactive properties, and they are only useful as a sleeping pill!
- To achieve the highest levels of THC, harvest when most of the trichomes have turned milky white, and 60% of the pistils have turned brown. If you use a powerful enough magnifier, you should be able to see it without problems. Hazy trichomes have a higher THC content.
- Conversely, if you want to achieve the highest possible CBD content, try to harvest at the end of the harvest window, when 20-30% trichomes have turned amber, and the pistils are almost all dark. It goes without saying that to get the most CBD, you should grow a strain with the appropriate genetics (for example, a Haze variety will never reach insane levels of CBD). As the THC degrades, it turns into CBN which gives us a more relaxing feeling. This is an excellent tactic for users who grow medical marijuana.
- Do not harvest while the trichomes are clear and translucent. Also, don’t harvest when the pistils are white and straight. If you do, you will end up with a disappointing yield.