Its an exciting time! You’ve spent tons of time and energy into growing your crop and its finally getting close to harvest time and its tempting to claim victory and get busy reaping the rewards. There are 3 steps left though:
- Harvest the plant
- Dry the flowers
- Cure the bud
You’ve invested too much time and energy to rush past the last steps. Harvesting too early can drastically decrease potency, since the THC has not finished maturing. If the buds aren’t dried enough, they can grow mold. Don’t cure for long enough and your bud will taste like hay and may make you anxious or paranoid. In this guide, we will cover when to harvest, how to dry and cure your bud for the best results.
When is the best time to harvest?
The amount of time spent in flowering varies by strain, but generally, your buds will be ready to harvest 8-12 weeks after flowering starts. There are two simple methods for determining when your cannabis plants are ready for harvest that will optimize potency, and give the best-finished product overall.
Most Precise: After a percentage of trichomes have turned milky or cloudy
Simplest: After a portion of pistils have darkened in color.
Using Trichome Color
Trichomes are mushroom looking structures that form the crystal structures on flowers – often referred to as resin – that contain the cannabinoid compounds we all love. To the naked eye, trichomes appear as the white dust that forms on the flowers and sugar leaves growing out of the bud structure. The ‘Fruity Jack’ from Philosopher Seeds above shows extreme trichome growth.
Young trichomes are clear when they first form and turn milky white as they mature. Trichomes that have just turned white are higher in the psychoactive compounds (like THC) that create cerebral effects. Fully mature trichomes turn amber and are higher in compounds like CBD and lower in THC, thus causing sedating or ‘couch-lock’ type effects. Counting the percentage of trichomes that have turned amber will let you know exactly when to harvest.
|80%||20%||High psychoactive effect|
|20%||80%||Raised sedative and lowered psychoactive|
The images below show trichome development as the plant matures.
To observe the trichomes up close, you will need a strong magnifying glass, jewelers loop, or handheld microscope. Measure the percent of clear versus milky trichomes on several buds and take the average.
Using Pistil Color
While not as precise as looking at the trichomes, this is the simplest method since it requires no additional equipment. The white hairs growing out of young marijuana buds are called pistils. As the flowers mature, the pistils darken into brown or red colors.
|Light Pistils||Dark Pistols||Effect|
|50%||50%||High psychoactive & milder sedative|
|10%||90%||Raised sedative & lowered psychoactive|
You can observe pistil color with your eye alone. Measure the percent light versus percent dark on several buds, and take the average. The pistils in the ‘Purp Pac’ below show that it is almost ready to provide a balanced effect.
As your plants are getting closer to harvest, there are a few things you’ll want to do to get ready.
Cannabis nutrients can leave behind salts and other trace residues that can negatively impact the smell, taste, and overall quality of the final buds. You can clean most of these from your plants a week or so before harvest with a nutrient flush.
To flush, use large amounts of water (or optionally with a flushing solution) to remove leftover nutrients and salts from the soil. Use at least an equal quantity of water to the size of the container. Flushing two weeks before harvest and using only organic nutrients for the rest of flowering can improve the buds flavor and make it smoke cleaner.
Prune Fan Leaves
It’s often easier to remove fan leaves while the plant is still standing, so many farmers snap them off in the weeks before harvest. To do this safely, grab the leaf stalk at the base and pull upwards while snapping the stalk. If you don’t pull upwards, the stalk will pull bark off the stem, and cause extra stress to the plant.
Many farmers believe that extending hours of darkness near harvest can improve resin production as the plant believes that the season is almost over, and kicks growth into overdrive. While the science behind this isn’t clear, it doesn’t seem to hurt.
This one is easy: cut the plant at the base of the stalk.
To dry the plant, hang it up. You can hang the entire plant or cut off individual branches. You will remove and manicure the individual buds from the branches AFTER they are dried.
Keep the relative humidity between 30% & 60% and the temperature between 65F & 80F (18C & 26C). Avoid too much airflow to keep the plant from drying too fast.
If drying takes less than three days, you are drying too fast and want to increase humidity, decrease air-flow, or decrease temperature next time. If drying takes more than seven days, you are drying too slow and will want to reduce humidity, increase air-flow and temperature next time.
When is it dry?
Dry cannabis flowers have the following properties:
- The outside of the bud is crispy and dry.
- The inside is still moist and supple.
- When you press it, it should retake its shape.
- The small stems are crispy and snap easily.
- The large stems do not yet snap.
What if I let it dry too much?
This is recoverable during the curing phase in most cases, as the cannabis will reabsorb moisture from humidity packs.
What if I I didn’t let it dry enough?
Just let it finish drying. Weed that is packaged wet will always have a funky smell, might grow mold, will smoke poorly, and will generally not be a great experience. Just put these back out to dry.
Is it ready to smoke now?
Kind of. Dried cannabis is technically smokable, but won’t burn as clean, flagrantly, or as smooth as it will after curing. Uncured cannabis can also cause increased anxiety and uncomfortable feelings. Curing your weed correctly will make sure that you get the most out of the time, energy and money you’ve invested in your garden.
Is there an easier way to dry and cure?
Professionally made equipment, including drying racks and curing containers can help. Check out this list for more information.
The curing phase is when your cannabis will improve its flavor profile and increase potency over a series of natural processes. During this time, you want to keep a stable humidity between 50% and 60% with reduced airflow.
Step 1: Remove and manicure buds from stem.
This is a messy step and your hands will get sticky! Using scissors or shears, cut the buds off the stems and then manicure sugar leaves. How much you focus on making the buds look pretty is up to you. Just make sure you save the shake (stuff you cut off) since it can be used to make edibles and extracts.
Step 2: Put in glass jars.
Put the cannabis into glass jars (1 qt/liter jars work the best). Just drop the manicured buds in, do not pack them into the jar or they will become overly compressed and not cure. Drop a humidity pack in the middle of the jar, and then close the lid.
Step 3: Wait.
Cannabis benefits heavily from curing for the first 6 weeks, and then has diminishing returns. For the first couple of weeks, open the container once or twice a day to let it breath for 5-10 minutes.
Step 4: Smoke!
After curing for at least a few weeks minimum, your cannabis is ready to smoke! Enjoy, you’ve earned it.
How important is the curing step?
Very. If you skip it, your pot will be less potent and more likely to cause anxiety and negative feelings. The temptation to sample is high when the buds look and smell so amazing, but it’s worth the wait. We recommend a full six weeks, but there’s no law against sampling a little along the way.