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The Complete guide to harvesting, drying and curing weed

Nothing is more exciting than watching your own cannabis plants reach maturity. But work doesn’t stop once the buds start appearing. After carefully cultivating your plants for weeks, there are a few important final tasks: timing your harvest right, trimming your buds properly, drying them correctly, and curing them. These steps are crucial to ensuring a high-quality crop.

Timing Your Harvest

Knowing when to harvest cannabis is challenging for inexperienced growers. But it has a huge bearing on the final product. Harvesting too soon in a plant’s lifecycle results in reduced yields and less potent buds. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD develop during the flowering phase, with THC production increasing significantly during the final two weeks. The terpenes that give your buds flavor also develop during this time.

But harvest too late and these molecules will start to degrade. THC, for example, breaks down into CBN, a cannabinoid more calming and sedative in effect. Generally, you should harvest slightly early to obtain buds with an uplifting and lighter high; ‘on time’ for maximum potency and flavor; and later for a heavy, bodily effect.

Knowing When to Harvest Weed

To begin, look at the flowering time suggested by your strain’s breeders. Whether the time between planting and flowering when grown indoors or the time of year it flowers when planted outside, this information is a good place to start. But many variables determine when a crop’s ready for harvest, and these guidelines won’t be exact. You must be precise to achieve an end-product with the results you desire, requiring close observation of your plants as they grow:

Pistils

Observing your plant’s pistils is the easiest way to determine harvest time. Pistils initially grow straight and white; when around 50-75% curl and turn brown, you’ve entered the beginning of the harvesting window. Maximum potency is achieved when 70-90% of pistils have darkened. More than 90% and you’re almost too late.

Beware that light- and heat-stressed plants may continue to produce new white hairs on mature buds. If this happens, base your assessment on the pistils on the older parts of the buds.

Cannabis trichomes

Trichomes

Assessing the trichomes on leaves and buds is the most accurate way to decide when to harvest. Trichomes are where most of the plant’s THC comes from, and their coloration gives a direct insight into its potency. You need a magnifying tool, such as a jeweller’s loupe or digital microscope for this method, as it ensures precision.

You’re looking for trichomes to turn cloudy. When they’re still clear, it’s too soon to harvest. If half of them are clear and half cloudy, it’s still too early, unless you’re seeking a lighter high. When most are cloudy, you’ve reached maximum potency; effects will be more euphoric and pain-relieving properties are at their highest.  After this peak, trichomes turn an amber color, signifying your last opportunity to harvest buds that will be more sedative and couch-locking in effect.

Leaves and Buds

Pistil growth and trichome coloration aren’t the only physical characteristics of your plants worth observing. As harvest time nears, fan leaves will start to turn yellow, flowers will merge into large colas, and their aroma may become more pungent. You shouldn’t base your harvest on these factors alone. But they’ll help you notice when harvest time nears.

Chopping

Once you’re ready to harvest, it’s time to chop your plants. Start by removing the larger fan leaves, as this is easiest before you’ve cut your plants down. Then, if you plan to dry-trim your plants (which we’ll explain below), chop them at the base so that you can hang them whole. If you intend to wet-trim, cut them into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Trimming weed

Trimming

Besides making them appear tighter and more appealing, trimming significantly improves the quality of your buds. It removes protruding sugar leaves (which often bear fewer trichomes), increasing the concentration of THC per gram. By removing unwanted foliage, trimming makes them smoother to smoke. And well-trimmed buds tend to develop stronger flavors and aromas during the curing process. But like timing your harvest, you must do it right.

Wet Trimming vs. Dry Trimming

There are two windows in which you can trim: wet trimming occurs on harvest day, before chopping, when the plant is still alive; dry trimming takes place after you’ve chopped your plants and let them dry. Each approach has its merits, and the right one will depend upon your circumstances.

Wet trimming gives you “open access” to the buds. Sugar leaves have a greater moisture content, meaning they extend outwards and can be cut more closely. This can result in neater buds with more aesthetic appeal. Wet trimming also leads to faster drying times, as much of the unwanted foliage that holds moisture is removed before the drying process. This makes it a popular technique for growers who are concerned about mold.

Similarly, dry trimming is favoured by growers in drier climates, particularly those with less than 45% relative humidity, where buds otherwise dry too fast. Buds that dry too quickly do so unevenly, remaining moist and dank inside while their outer surface dries out. This effect can be reduced if they’re allowed to dry before being trimmed. Dry trimming is also less sticky, meaning the process is less frequently interrupted by scissors becoming clogged.

Whether wet or dry trimming, it’s important to snip away all plant matter that isn’t coated in trichomes. Begin by cutting buds away from the branches — a process called “bucking down”. Stems should only be exposed at the bottom of each bud, trimmed as close to the base as possible without the bud breaking up. Next, remove the small branches known as crow’s feet that stem from the bottom of the bud. Finally, manicure the bud. Sugar leaves don’t need to be removed, but tips should be trimmed so that they’re flush with the bud’s surface, giving it a smooth, rounded appearance.

And save your trimmings. They may not be pleasant to smoke but they still contain THC and are great for making tinctures and edibles. Likewise, don’t throw away the resin that clogs up your scissors. It can be used just like hash.

Hand-Trimming vs. Machine-Trimming

After deciding how to trim your plants, you need to choose your equipment. Some large-scale growers opt for trimming machines but we don’t recommend them. The shape and density of flowers vary depending upon the strain and how it grows. Machines offer less flexibility, often damaging buds. They’re also prone to maintenance issues.

Hand-trimming produces the best results. You’ll need a sharp and intricate pair of sterilized scissors — not the pruning shears you use for cutting stems and branches —  a rag and a cup of rubbing alcohol to clean the scissors when they get clogged with resin, and easy-to-clean trays for collecting kief and trimmed buds. Disposable gloves and an apron to keep the resin off your skin and clothes are also recommended.

Drying cannabis

Drying

Drying cannabis is another crucial part of the harvesting process. It effects the taste and aroma of your buds and can leave you with a product that’s bland or “hay-like” if done incorrectly.

It’s important to dry plants slowly. Chlorophyll breaks down as moisture evaporates from the plant matter, and some will remain if plants are dried too quickly, negatively affecting the flavor. Improper drying can also damage terpenes.

The process should take approximately 7-14 days depending on environmental factors and the size of the pieces you’re drying . Temperature, humidity, and airflow are key, but the way you trim also affects drying time; branches hold most of a plant’s moisture, and denser buds take longer to dry.

Maintain good air circulation and humidity levels of 50%-60%. More than 60% relative humidity invites mold, while levels below 50% could cause your crop to dry too quickly. Your drying room should also be dark, with a temperature ideally ranging from 60-70°F. The simplest way to check if buds are dry is to snap a stem with your fingers; if it bends then it still contains moisture; if it breaks easily, the process is complete.

Knowing how to dry weed properly is vital. We recommend using one of the following three methods:

Screen Drying

Screen drying involves laying out individual buds on a wire rack. Buds must be separated from stems and leaves and grouped into batches based on size so that they can be monitored for signs of damp and mold. They should also be regularly flipped to prevent flattening. This method is great for drying small amounts of weed but isn’t ideal for larger quantities.

Line Drying

This approach is simple: hang whole plants or larger pieces upside down from clothes hangers or a laundry line. Hang crops at the node, maintaining plenty of space around each branch, and possibly trimming lightly, to encourage airflow. Using a fan to increase air circulation is recommended, but don’t point it directly at your plants. Regularly inspect and turn them to ensure consistent drying.

Cage Drying

Cage drying is like line drying, but with lines running along the top of a cage instead of a ceiling or wall. This has the benefit of allowing you to move cages around during the drying process, varying the airflow to your plants more easily.

Cured cannabis in jars

Curing

Once you’ve harvested, trimmed, and dried your plants, there’s one final step remaining. Curing marijuana is another essential process that significantly improves its quality.

Cannabinoid synthesis continues after harvest and is affected by factors like temperature and humidity. Controlling these conditions through proper curing prevents the degradation of cannabinoids and terpenes into less desirable compounds. It also forces the helpful degradation of excess sugars, starches, and nutrients that otherwise cause buds to taste unpleasant and smoke more harshly. Curing marijuana is a simple process, but it makes a huge difference.

How to Cure Weed

Place your buds in wide-mouthed jars, such as mason jars, until they’re about three-quarters full, leaving at least one inch of space at the top for air. Store the jars in a dark environment and return daily to open them, freshening the air supply and drawing-out moisture.

If you smell mold or ammonia, the buds are not dry enough. Remove and air-dry them for several days to prevent the formation of mold. Similarly, you can shake the jars to disturb the air supply. If buds stick together, they also need more time to dry. It’s recommended that you disturb the individual buds by hand, aerating them, and checking for mold. Any moldy buds should be disposed of before it spreads.

Controlling humidity is important. Humidity levels should be slightly higher than during the drying process, at around 60-65% — high enough for terpenes to develop but too low for mold. Hygrometers give accurate humidity readings and can be placed inside jars during the curing process. If humidity levels fall too low, you can rehydrate your buds using boveda packs.

After two weeks, you can disturb your jars just once every several days. Buds will be ready to smoke after a fortnight, though it’s recommended you cure them for at least two months to maximize flavor and potency. Once finished, they’ll be ready to smoke and store wherever you choose.

To Sum It Up

Knowing how to harvest weed is just as important as knowing how to grow it. Even if you do everything right during cultivation, these crucial stages will determine the flavor, effects, and even potency of your buds. How you time your harvest, the way you trim and dry your buds, and whether you cure them correctly impacts your cannabis at a molecular level, affecting the cannabinoid and terpene makeup that determines its taste, aroma, and therapeutic properties.

Harvesting cannabis may seem daunting, but it’s simple when you follow the correct steps. Do it right and you’ll be rewarded with the potent, flavorful buds that your weeks of cultivation deserve.

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