Harvesting cannabis is only rewarding if you snip your strain’s buds at the right time. Granted, in the moment, it will probably feel gratifying to cut your juicy cannabis nugs. However, if all these colas are cannabinoid-depleted, you won’t feel so hot about your harvest later on.
The “How” Of Harvesting Weed — Tips For Timing Your Cannabis Harvest
Timing a cannabis harvest takes patience and practice, but there are many visual cues you could use to gauge your pot’s potency. The more familiar you are with these signs, the more confident you’ll feel in determining when to break out your shears and harvest your cannabis plant.
Read Up On Your Strain’s Average Lifecycle
You should always focus on visual cues when evaluating a cannabis strain’s “harvest-worthiness.” However, you should also have a rough time horizon to manage your expectations.
In other words, you should look up the average harvest time for your strain before it moves into flowering. There are plenty of cannabis forums online that have detailed growing data on all the major cannabis strains. Unless you’re growing a super obscure hybrid, chances are you’ll find the average harvest time for your marijuana strain.
Please spend time researching what other cultivators say about the average growth rate for your chosen strain. While your plant may not follow the precise schedule posted online, it’s safe to say it will fall in a similar range. Plus, this data will help dissuade you from snipping your nugs too early (an all-too-common mistake with over-eager new cultivators!).
By the way, if you’re cultivating autoflowering cannabis flowers at home, you could learn the expected seed-to-flowering time in our previous “Autoflowers 101” post.
Turn Your Attention To Those Trichomes!
As buds emerge on your cannabis plant, so will trichomes. Since these mushroom-shaped protrusions hold the bulk of cannabinoids and terpenes, they are of central importance to cultivators and consumers. Interestingly, trichomes are also the best barometer of when a cannabis strain is ready for harvest.
As your flowering cannabis plant matures, trichomes will undergo three dramatic color changes. In the early stages, most trichomes will be see-through. As the days progress, you should notice these trichomes take on a slightly “cloudy” appearance. In the late stages, trichomes will shift from primarily white to an orange-amber hue.
The worst time to harvest marijuana is when most of these trichomes are clear. If tokers had to choose, most would prefer nugs harvested late rather than early. In fact, some cultivators deliberately cut their nugs when most trichomes are amber.
Why is harvesting early so bad? Cannabis plants with mostly clear trichomes have very few cannabinoids, so using these nugs will deliver subpar results. If your goal is to feel the full intensity of THC or CBD, you should always ensure there are virtually zero clear trichomes when you decide to harvest.
In most cases, you want to harvest your buds when most of the trichomes are a pale milky color. These opaque trichomes signal they are filled to the brim with psychoactive THC. However, as these trichomes turn orange, the THC steadily oxidizes into another cannabinoid called CBN.
There’s nothing “wrong” with CBN, but it doesn’t have the same psychoactive potency as delta-9 THC. Many tokers argue that predominantly amber strains have a more “sedative” effect due to CBN’s influence, but there’s no scientific data to back this up. Chances are higher late-harvested weed will get you “higher” than early-harvested nugs, but not everyone is a fan of CBN’s effects. You’ll have to test a late-harvested weed strain for yourself to determine how it affects you.
Since trichomes mature at different rates, it’s impossible to harvest a cannabis crop with 100 percent milky-white trichomes. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a mix of white & amber trichomes.
Most cultivators argue it’s best to look for a 70/30 mix of white-to-amber trichomes for an optimal harvest. However, if you’re a fan of CBN, you might not mind 40, 50, or even 60 percent amber. Just be sure you don’t snip your cannabis plants when there’s a high percentage of clear trichomes!
When inspecting the trichomes on your cannabis flowers, please use a magnifying glass. Nobody could get an accurate read on these tiny trichomes with the naked eye. Most cannabis cultivators have great results with a 30x jeweler’s loupe for trichome inspection. You could also buy a high-powered microscope to inspect samples from your plants.
Take A Peek At The Pistils
Trichome color is always the key feature to evaluate before harvesting weed. However, other secondary signals could help you confirm whether it’s the right moment to start harvesting your plant.
For instance, you could look at the spindly “pistils” while examining each bud’s trichomes. Like trichomes, pistils will take on a different pigment as harvest time draws near. Early in the flowering stage, these pistils will have a bright white appearance. You must wait until more pistils start to take on darker colors and curl before you think about harvesting.
Most expert cultivators recommend avoiding harvest until at least 60 percent of these pistils are dark colors like orange or red. The higher the percentage of dark pistils, the more likely there will be extra CBN in your harvested nugs.
Again, you shouldn’t rely on pistil appearance as much as trichome color, but it’s an excellent visual signal to note.
Are Your Fan Leaves Falling Off Yet?
Many new cannabis cultivators freak out when they notice their fan leaves turning yellow late in the flowering stage. However, yellow fan leaves are a good signal you should start harvesting. It’s perfectly natural for fan leaves to take on a yellow pigment and gradually fall off your cannabis plant close to harvest.
As plants reach their last stage of growth, they’re not going to send as much energy to these fan leaves. Instead, all of the nutrients are going towards producing dense cannabis nugs. So, when you see these fan leaves wither away and fall off, that’s a clear sign your cannabis plant is on its “last gasp.”
Remember, we’re talking about fan leaves that fall off late in the flowering phase. In all other circumstances, yellow fan leaves could signal severe issues with your nutrients, light intensity, or pH balance. For more information on the most common causes of yellow cannabis leaves, check out this previous International High Life blog.
Look Up Plenty Of Trichome Pics Before Harvesting Your Weed!
Today’s cannabis cultivators have so many resources at their fingertips. For instance, you could easily Google “cannabis trichomes” and see what people mean by translucent, opaque, and amber trichomes. Heck, you could even type in your specific strain to see what it usually looks like at harvest time.
Please take your time examining pics of what cannabis trichomes and pistils look like when they’re ready for harvest. If you need to, print out a few images or save a few on your smartphone to compare with your flowers. Knowing when to harvest cannabis should become second nature as you become more familiar with these visual cues.