Preparing To Harvest: It takes at least eight weeks for indoor cannabis plants to finish the flowering and blooming stage. It takes even longer for outdoor cannabis plants to be ready for harvest. After waiting patiently for the cannabis flowers to reach maturity, growers must next begin the process of harvesting. Depending on the size of the garden, harvesting cannabis plants can be a very time-consuming process. This has many cultivators turning to automation devices.
This can help with some of the labor that comes along with the harvest. Just as with other crops, a cannabis harvest is generally done in stages. Although every garden is different and harvest techniques will vary from garden to garden. There are some steps that every cannabis grower should follow. After all, the way a cannabis plant is harvested and or processed after the harvest will have a huge impact on the quality and potency of the finished product.
Harvesting your plants at the precise time will allow for maximum bud growth and THC production (potency). After a certain point, THC will begin to break down losing quality and potency.
Several important points to consider when choosing the optimum time to harvest your cannabis crop. There is a difference between Sativas and Indicas in bloom duration and final effect. Also, there is a difference between early and late harvest to encourage head or body high. There is also the issue in terms of the ripeness which relates directly to the chemical nature and state of the plant at harvest.
Preparing To Harvest: The “Window”
This term indicates the period during which the plant is at its optimum state of ripeness. The window opens when the plant is first ripe. Somewhere along the line, the plant becomes over-ripe which signifies the closing of the window of harvest. For most Indicas, the window of harvest is about two week’s long. This gives or takes a couple of days for various strains. Indoors, if going directly from an 18/6 hour vegetative light cycle to a 12/12 hour bud cycle. Most Indicas take about eight weeks to fully mature.
In the Northern Hemisphere, many outdoor growers like to harvest Indica outdoors in the second to third week of October. For Sativa grown either indoors or outdoors, the window may be open much longer. Some Sativas take up to thirteen weeks to mature indoors. Outdoors many will go well into November and even December if conditions are right.
Cannabis growers with commercial operations will benefit the most from streamlining the harvest process. Having an efficient operation can reduce costs associated with labor and increase the overall return on investment. There are three stages that all cannabis cultivators must go through at some point during the harvest process.
The three stages are:
- Removing the large fan leaves.
- Trimming or removing the remaining leaves in close proximity to the flowers.
- Removing the flowers themselves from the stems.
Aside from these three steps, which address the physical removal of portions of the plant. Other crucial stages of the harvest process include the drying, sorting, and curing of the cannabis flowers.
Fan Leaf Removal
Once a grower has decided that his or her cannabis plants ready for harvest. First stage is to remove the large fan leaves. The large fan leaves are easily identifiable as the stereotypical cannabis leaf. These leaves can be removed by hand, cut with scissors, or removed with a hand-held trimmer. Large fan leaves do not contain a high amount of cannabinoids like the leaves closer to the flowers or the flowers themselves. Because of this, many growers simply dispose of them. Once the fan leaves are removed, a cannabis grower has two choices: to trim the remaining leaf material while the plant is wet (wet trimming) or to begin the drying process and remove the remaining leaf material after the plant has dried.
Drying the cannabis plants is either done after the wet trim method or right after the large fan leaves have been removed. Cannabis plants are usually hung upside down to dry and are either cut into smaller, more manageable sections or left as an entire plant during the drying stage. The ideal conditions for drying cannabis are temperatures between 18-23 degrees Celsius with humidity levels around 45-55%. If possible, drying should take place in complete darkness as UV light from the sun or artificial lights could damage some of the cannabinoids or terpenes in the bud. On average, it should take about 7-10 days to dry the cannabis plants. Growers will know the drying process is complete when he or she can bend the stem of a dried plant and the stem snaps.
If a wet trim method was used and the drying process is complete, the flowers can be de-stemmed and stored in containers for the curing process. Cannabis cultivator’s who chooses the dry trim method and wishes to use an automated trimmer. Should begin the de-stemming process after the plants have dried. A sharp pair of garden scissors can be used to make a cut at the base of each flower to remove it from the central stalk. Although many growers de-stem by hand (with scissors), there are automated devices available that actually remove the flowers from the stem. Automating the de-stemming process can save a lot of time and effort, especially for commercial cannabis grower.
Sorting the cannabis flowers can be an important step in maximizing the harvest process. Separating the dried cannabis flowers into different sizes allows the grower to further process the flowers. Automating the sorting of the bud can have a massive impact over the entire harvest process, especially for large scale operations. Once the cannabis flowers are sorted, they can be further processed in a trim machine or other processing device depending on size. Sorting can also be done after the trimming process is complete. Sorting the trimmed flowers by size can make them more marketable.
When done by hand, dry trimming can be a very tedious and slow process. But when done properly you can achieve a great look that goes a long way for the consumer. Thanks to gravity working its magic during the drying process, the leaves that need to be removed are now stuck against the flowers. The purpose of dry trimming is to remove as much of the leaf material surrounding the flowers as possible.
For those who opt for wet trimming, this would occur before the drying process. Many growers choose a wet trim method because it makes it easy to access the leaves. For a smaller grow operation, where the leaves will be trimmed by hand, a wet trim method may be the most efficient way to trim. For large scale operations, where growers are using more automated methods, trimming the material after the flowers have been dried is often more efficient.
The curing process is the grand finale of the harvest process and is done after all trimming has been completed. During the curing process, the flowers continue to dry very slowly and this enriches the flavour. Containers used for the curing process should be stored in a cool, dark place where they can be opened and checked daily. For the first week or two, the containers should be opened once or twice a day. This lets out some of the built-up humidity and allows some fresh air in. After the first week or so, the containers can be opened less frequently (anywhere from once a day to once every other day). After a couple of months, the curing process is complete and the cannabis flowers should be at the peak of their flavour. A proper cure can extend the shelf life (potency, flavors, and odors) of the cannabis flowers.
The harvest process for cannabis is similar to that of many other crops in that there is no single right way to do it. Automation devices that aid in the trimming, de-stemming and sorting of cannabis flowers are essential tools for commercial cannabis growers who wish to remain in an evolving, competitive market. For the small-time grower, having a method that works for you and sticking to it is the key to success. The method you choose that works for you will reduce the costs associated with labor, but will also ensure the cannabis flowers get processed quickly and efficiently in order to best preserve the potency, flavours, and odors.
Written, February 2019
~ Medical Cannabis Seed Bank