How To Grow Marijuana Step 4: Harvesting & Drying
Step 4 in our Grow Series; the signs to look for that signal your weed is ready to harvest, and how to dry to get the best yield.
Yes! Those beautiful buds are mesmerizing. You salivate every day you look at them, aching for them to be ready. How do you know it’s time? How do you dry it? HOW LONG UNTIL YOU CAN SMOKE IT?
Why Dry? Why Cure?
If you have ever had that harsh smoke, the kind that tastes like lawn clippings or hay and burns the throat, you have smoked poorly dried and cured bud. If you spent the money for great seeds or clones, why ruin all your hard work by skimping on the last steps?
Properly drying and curing breaks down chlorophyll, dramatically improving taste. It reduces harshness, so you won’t cough or get a headache. It brings out the subtle flavor notes of your strain. It makes the smoke less likely to cause paranoia or anxiety. Most importantly, many growers agree that a proper drying can increase the potential potency of your buds! On a more financial note, proper drying allows you to store your buds much longer without them losing potency or going bad. Think about that moldy cucumber in the veggie drawer in your refrigerator. Yeah, eww.
How Do I Know It’s Time To Harvest?
If you bought your seeds or clones from a reliable source, you should have been informed of the strain, its specific grow patterns, and how long your plants will spend in the flowering stage. With many first-timers, however, we often start with bagseed. In this instance, we don’t have a clue other than maybe knowing what the strain was called, and that isn’t always accurate.
Your first clue to the end of the flowering stage is that your lower leaves are going to start to yellow and possibly fall off. Don’t freak out, it means your plant is cannibalizing all the nutrients in its body and sending them to the buds. You will know harvest is close when the trichomes start to change from clear to milky or amber in color. As SOON as you see this occurring, stop using nutrients!!! They aren’t needed, and if they stay in your plant, they will harsh your smoke. Only use ph corrected water from now on. This is called the “flush”.
Harvesting Too Soon vs. Too Late
Now keep a close eye on those buds over the next two weeks or so, and when about a third of the trichomes have turned milky or amber, then you are ready to harvest. Some growers say up to half or more, it will take you a couple grows with the same strain to know for sure what works best for that particular plant. You don’t want to harvest too soon because you will have smaller buds. Colas can grow 20 – 30% of their final size in the last 3 weeks.
Now we know that Indica genetics are great for night time and give us that “couch-lock” high. Sativas give us that creative, energetic social buzz. What many people don’t know is that the degree of ripeness your trichomes attain before harvest also has a major effect on which type of high your buds produce.
You can intensify the relaxation of a Sativa, or decrease the “couch-lock” of an Indica. If you are growing a hybrid, which most strains on the market are these days, you can significantly affect the high by calculating the perfect time to harvest. The more they turn, the “stonier” the high, according to many growers. It’s up to you to decide how far you want to go.
Don’t wait too long, however! When buds are overripe THCA, (the inert form of THC, which changes with heat decreases into CBL & CBN.
Sometimes, the buds will mature at different rates, generally from the top colas downward. It’s best to harvest the mature ones first, and let the others wait, sometimes even an extra week or so. Usually removing the top buds will allow more light to hit the lower colas, speeding up the process.
While the buds are flushing, you have the time to make preparations for your harvest. Depending on the size of your grow, you may be able to do the whole process yourself. If you have more than 4 – 6 medium size plants, you may want to spread out the harvest time, or recruit some good friends for a “tree trimming” party.
You Will Need:
*paper bags – Large grocery bags work perfectly
*mason jars – You can buy dozens for canning at your grocery store, buds ready to cure go in these.
*tote bins – you will need some kind of plastic bins to lay the branches in as you cut them down
*sharp scissors – 2 or 3 pairs/ person, so you can still trim while other pairs soak.
*rubbing alcohol – To soak gunked up scissors in to clean them
*nitrile gloves – In case any helpers don’t want THC soaking through the skin
*spray bottle w/ olive oil – To clean gunk off hands
*Dawn soap – To clean the olive oil off
*paper towels – To dry hands
*snacks & drinks – This process can take several hours, and you want to stay hydrated with plenty of energy.
*a good music playlist – Relaxing, mellow, fun.
*sturdy string and fasteners – You need to hang the branches. I find that 3M makes some great sticky hooks that have removal strips for clean removal, great for avoiding holes in the walls.
*comfy seats – Cushions will really help your backside
*plenty of secure room – You need a place to hang up your lines to dry your bud that has as much climate control as your grow space, as well as an undisturbed trimming area.
OK! My Harvest Area Is Set Up, Now What?
The last thing you want is a disorganized process that takes longer than it should. Start off with a smooth process line, and your harvest will benefit. The last few days before you harvest, pluck the big fan leaves off by hand.
When the big day comes, put on your gloves and cut off your buds from the main trunk, forming bud sticks about 1 – 2 foot in length. Try to make them uniform length, and make sure your cut leaves a stem off to the side near the base of each. This side stem will be where it hangs on your line. As you cut these off, be gentle, you want to avoid knocking any crystals off.
Take these and pile them, GENTLY, in your tote bin until you have trimmed the whole plant. You should have one tote per medium size plants unless you are doing this in a group, then you can empty one at the table and get back to cutting. DON’T leave buds sitting in totes for longer than half an hour, the moisture can quickly cause problems for your buds.
Once at your table, start removing trim in groups, for later use. Branches and leaves without crystals get put in a bag for composting or trash. Medium leaves with a little crystal go in a paper bag for use in cooking. Most of these can be removed by hand, which will be quicker than scissors. Any remaining little leaves should be trimmed off with scissors, as far into the buds as possible. This will leave nice clean buds. Use these sticky leaves for hash or oil making. If there are really tiny leaves that are super covered with trichomes, you can choose whether to snip them for hash or leave them on.
Your hands will get really sticky doing this trimming, even holding by the stem. If you aren’t using gloves, you can roll the mess on your hands into hash. With gloves, I have never had any luck, but I hear a light spritz of olive oil might do the trick. Use the olive oil to loosen the funk off your hands, then dish soap to clean off the oil. Dry your hands thoroughly, you don’t want to add moisture to the buds.
Some larger grows, especially commercial ones, will use a trimming machine for speed. These are great inventions, but nothing replaces the delicate touch of hand trimming. That being said, it’s worth the expense of it allows you to turn weeks worth of trimming into an easy afternoon, and you can reclaim the trim for extract and oils. There are trim machines for workloads of all sizes, so choose the one that is right for you.
Hanging The Buds: Not The Only Way
Hanging the buds upside down, and providing good spacing and airflow allows the moisture to dissipate at a slow but steady pace. The stem will drain its moisture into the center of the bud as the outside draws the moisture out. This is the ideal way to dry, slowly pulling the flavors out for you to appreciate. It also gives a good indication of how far along you are in the drying process. Drying is complete when small stems snap instead of bend, and buds feel dry to the touch, but not crispy.
Hanging isn’t the only way to dry your buds. Most larger grows will take the buds off the stem, and place them on drying racks. The advantage is fitting more bud in a smaller area to dry, and having it one step further in the trim process. The downside is airflow is more restricted and keeping track of what plant each bud came from can be more of a chore.
Some people want to try some buds right away to sample the harvest, and so they need a way to quick dry them. I don’t recommend doing this for your whole harvest, because it can reduce your terpenes, burning off flavor and potency. You can quick dry buds on the defrost setting in the microwave, checking them regularly to keep them from going crispy.
You can also use the low setting on your oven. Terpenes will start to burn off above 246 degrees Fahrenheit, and if terpenes burn off, THC isn’t far behind. Never dry your bud to crispness. You want it to be like a cigar in a humidor, moist enough to barely light.
A great way to dry is using paper bags. Trim the buds off the stem and place in the bags, folding the tops closed. Keep the room well ventilated, stir the buds by hand daily, and make sure the ones to the inside get moved to the outside, where they dry faster.
The drying process should take 3 – 7 days, depending on relative humidity and temperature.
Next Step: The Cure!
Next installment, I will be going over curing your bud in detail, including some tips and tricks to help your grow you may not have thought of before!