So you have decided that you want to try your hand at cannabis cultivation?
While many will say just plant and add water, which will produce something, there are methods and skills you can use to ensure better chances at high quality flowers.
Growing cannabis correctly is a fairly time consuming labor of love.
With all of the time, effort and funds put into a personal grow you want to make sure that the end result is worth it.
The step that is often the downfall of most new growers is the final harvest, dry and cure. Impatience sets in when you start to see the flowers finishing up.
Crops get cut early and cure times are not followed. This will result in a less than optimal harvest.
I completely understand the want to get those ladies down and enjoy the fruits of your labor as soon as possible, but don’t let it ruin the final step.
You have spent weeks if not months getting to this point.
Take it easy, take it slow and enjoy the final steps.
The final flush and cure are as important as any step in the grow.
Patience will make sure you get the highest quality flower from your crop.
Well here we are, reaching those last two weeks of the flower cycle. The plants are showing tons of lovely crystals (trichomes), the buds (calyxes) are starting to really bulk, and the hairs (pistils) are turning orange. These are all signs that we are reaching that final stretch before harvest.
There are some easy tricks of the trade we can do at this point to ensure that we harvest the largest, stickiest and most fragrant flowers possible. Once you get to this point, be liberal with your watering. We are attempting to cleanse any left over nutrients from your root ball so that no flavor from them remains in your flowers.
When doing this you will notice your fan leaves turning from green into yellows and browns, dying from the plant. This is not an issue and is actually ideal. This means you are properly cleansing leftover salts from the plant and using every last bit of food built up in your fan leaves. Your buds will be the last part of the plant to yellow out, so don’t worry as the fan leaves are consumed by your flowers.
Another trick I would recommend in your last two weeks is a healthy dosing of liquid bone meal, which can be found at most gardening stores. This allows for a cleaner flush and will add a considerable amount of weight to your finished flowers.
Also the addition of a sugar in the last two weeks, ideally a black strap molasses will likely increase flavor. Plants need this last stage in their development to use all the sugars that they worked so hard to make in their fan leaves for final bud development. Sugar in the soil helps the roots burn remaining nitrogen.
So the hairs are orange, the buds are swollen and the trichomes are seeming to drip off of the plants. Now we know that we are really close. But we are looking for that optimal harvest time, when our flowers are at the peak of their development.
Now, not everyone feels that there is an optimal time to harvest, and in some cases that can be true.
In my opinion, an earlier harvest with clearer trichomes can lead to racy and anxiety causing effects, but some people prefer that effect.
A later harvested cannabis with mainly amber and degraded trichomes can lead to a sleepier and more laid back effect, that other people may enjoy.
Like in the story of Goldilocks I like the trichomes that are just right. Not underdone, not overdone, right in the middle of the spectrum.
I feel like the terpenes (smells and flavors), cannabinoids (thc, cbd, etc.), and effect is ideal at a very critical point in the trichome production at this time.
While it is difficult to see the progression of trichomes with the naked eye, a cheap jeweler’s loop or a magnifier on your cell phone camera can bring them into focus quickly.
What we are trying to hit is the point after they are clear and start turning a milky white color. Not all trichomes will finish at the same time so being vigilant and making sure to pull before we get too many amber trichomes is ideal.
If you can hit that 10% clear, 80% milky, 10% amber you have done the best you can do. Anytime that all of the flowers are showing primarily milky colored trichomes is an excellent time to harvest.
So we have reached the point where we are comfortable with our flower and trichome development.
It time to pull out the scissors and begin the harvesting of our ladies we have spent so much time nurturing and loving. No matter if you are a first time grower or a veteran this is both an exciting and sad time. We have to take our plants and remove them from their homes.
All of the connections we have made with our plants while living are coming to a close and the next stage of their existence is happening. Like sending our children out into the world.
First thing I recommend is, while the plant is still standing, go through and big leaf the plants. This means removing all fan leaves from the plant. Snip them off right at the stem and allow them to fall to the ground. These can be collected and used in compost.
We do not want these leaves to dry with our final flowers, as they can increase drying time and allows for the possibility of any left over nutrients to be pulled from them into the flowers.
When big leafing has occurred we begin to dissect the plants for hanging. I use a garden shear and cut the middle branch at the crotches where they meet.
Having your branches smaller will aid in drying time as they hold a bunch of moisture. Removing them from the main branches is ideal but make sure to leave enough of an angle at the crotch that they can easily hang from a drying line.
Cutting them like a wish bone at the middle of the plant and removing the excess on the middle so that it hangs with a cola down either side is my preferred method of harvest for hanging.
There is a conversation to be had between trimming before or after drying. I prefer to leave all flowers on the stems until a complete dry has occurred so this is the method we will cover here. String flowers in an enclosed space that is built for the drying of our flowers. Keep temperatures in the range of 72-76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep humidity in a range of 45-55%. Keep the area clean of dust, smoke, pet hairs, mold, and any other pollutant that can affect the final quality of the flower. Make sure to exchange the air in your dry room once every hour and keep the area as dark as possible during this time, no direct lights or sun. Drying times will vary based on branch sizes from anywhere to 2 days to 2 weeks. Do not rush this step as a proper dry is the first step in a proper cure.
Give your branches a sharp bend leading to the flowers. A soft, spongy bend means that moisture is still present. A quick break when bending means that all moisture is removed and we will not get our perfect cure. We want to be at a point where the flower feels dry to the touch and the stem once bent keeps its bent shape and cracking can be heard inside the smaller stems. At this point we are clear to remove these flowers from their stems and place them into a container to await final trim and cure.
I recommend a large mason jar that is burped often throughout the day (at least 3 times) and that is maintaining a relative humidity of 45% to 55% inside the jar. A great tool for this is a relative humidity meter that can be purchased at a cigar store and inserted into the jar. Leave these jars in the drying room out of light until you get around to trimming them.
TRIM, CURE, SWEAT, BURP
Trimming your cannabis is going to be subjective to what you are looking for in a final product. Some people enjoy a leafy, untrimmed cannabis; some enjoy a very tightly trimmed cannabis. I find that removing the majority of the sugar leaves and leaving the calyxes intact provides the best product for me, but this is also very strain-specific.
A strain that is just dripping trichomes from its sugar leaves can do with a much lighter trim. A strain with sugar leaves that are barely dusted can do with a much tighter trim. It is all about what appeals to you. I do however recommend buying yourself a very nice set of trimming shears and a bin to trim in. I like the Fiskars trimmers and the bin made by Trim Bin. This way, any loose trichomes fall through the screen of the trim bin and you are left with a very nice kief after trimming.
Take the scissors and gently cut the sugar leaves at the desired length from the flower. Allow these leaves to fall directly into your bin. These leaves can later be used in baking, hash-making, or for joint-rolling. Work on one flower at a time and don’t rush it. Your trimming will improve in time but we don’t want to ruin our flowers with a sloppy trim so close to the end. When done trimming, put these finished flowers into another mason jar and your trim into a separate mason jar. Both can be cured and used. Now we move on to a very important stage of this process: the stage where we can lose all of our flavor or make it shine.
The cure is the most frustrating part of the grow for many growers because we are looking at all of these wonderful flowers sitting there. I know it is hard to resist but waiting for a proper cure is worth every minute. Keep using your relative humidity meter and maintain the humidity in your jars at 60% give or take 5%. If the RH meter is showing above 65% this means the flower is too wet and leave the lid off for a time as to allow them to dry a bit more. During this process, open the jars every 3 to 5 days and leave the lid off for roughly half an hour and replace. Keep watching your humidity meter and when it is reaching the 55% or lower range of RH we have reached our cured state. This normally takes 30 days with a properly harvested plant.
Store your finished, cured flower in a dark, cool place until ready for use. Cannabis cured in this method has a very good shelf-life and will keep for quite some time. Some people prefer to keep finished cannabis in a cooler place, such as a fridge, but I find that a cabinet in the house maintaining a 50 to 70 degree range works to keep light out. A food pantry is my favorite for long- term storage.
Using these finishing, drying, trimming and curing methods you will be left with a flower that smells amazing, tastes amazing and burns leaving a clean white ash. The smoke should be smooth and satisfying. While these methods take a bit more time and care, it is absolutely worth it for the final product.