Through inspiration, bravery, and many potential pit falls, you’ve reached the point where you’ve grown your cannabis to where it can be harvested. First off, congratulations! You are a part of a limited group of people who have had the chance to watch this fascinating and beautiful plant grow. Whatever your reasons for growing, good job.
Now that it’s time to harvest, your goals have shifted: retain as much of the plants’ smell, flavor, and other chemical structures as possible via a quality dry and cure.
First, you’ll want to set up your space in a clean, dry room, with the ability to hold a set temperature. Bedrooms, closets, and temperature-controllable garages all work very nicely. For equipment, you’ll need a heater, air movement fan, rope line or closet pole to hang branches on, and, potentially, a dehumidifier. From the time the plants are cut and hung, until they go into a jar or bag, you are always looking to control temperature, subtle air movement, and humidity. These factors along with time, are the big players in terms of how aromatic the finished flower will be.
In a home environment, I like to maintain about 70-degress Fahrenheit (plus or minus five degrees) and hold the humidity between 55 and 65 percent. The more stable the environment, the more stable the terpenes will be in the finished flower. Your last piece of set up is to figure out a way to string up rope or some kind of line to hang branches. Now you’re ready to harvest and hang plants.
Harvest time starts when the buds are fully ripe, their trichomes gleaming in the sun–or when the weather has turned sour. Either way, it’s time to process your plants. I like to strip all the larger shade leaves off of the plant, leaving small to mid-sized leaves and all sugar leaves on the flower, before cutting the branches down to a hangable length.
After de-leafing, cut the branches to a size that makes sense for your space. I generally like a branch that is two feet or more. Try to cut each stick to create a hanging hook for the line and pack the branches in closely to ensure slower drying. When hanging branches close together, check constantly for powdery mildew. If mold or mildew is present, leave more airspace between the branches and lower the humidity for the first 24 to 48 hours. Always remember to label your plants/hangers if there is more than one variety; it can get confusing later on.
Once the plants are hanging, it’s time to start your airflow systems. Air movement should always be indirect with diffused air moving through the moist flowers. In a space the size of a small bedroom, I use one fan set on its lowest setting, usually blowing into a corner and up a wall. On the other side of the room, I have a dehumidifier (also in low mode) blowing away from the flowers. When the plants are fresh cut, I set the humidity to 55 percent for the first day or two; after that, it’s set to 60 to 65 percent.
Slowly dry the bud over a seven to ten day period and, as the flowers get drier, raise the setting on the dehumidifier to 65 to 70 percent to slow down moisture loss. If the temperature gets too warm (more than around 75 degrees), vent the room or add cooling. Sometimes just opening a door can release excess humidity and heat into the larger space of a house or the rest of your building. This can also be a good way to manage the drying and curing process without a dehumidifier. If the temperature is too cold (60 to 65 degrees), I’ll turn on the heat. As a rule of thumb, start with warmer, drier room environments at the beginning of the process, moving to lower, stabilized room temperatures as the plants get drier. This brings you to the grand finish in the curing process, and alerts you when your flowers are ready.
I’m convinced the secret to determining when a flower is ready for its final processing is akin to a highly-skilled connoisseur of fine food or wine picking the perfect pairing. It’s so important to nail your timing at this point in the process. The goal is to finish trimming the bud while there is just enough moisture for it to feel dry to the touch, but not so dry as to crumble. This last remaining moisture is a huge source of your terpenes and they are best retained when sealed in a jar, where it loses that last moisture slowly.
A good test as to whether or not your harvest is ready for the final cure is to bend the small and medium branches. If they break or crack, that’s your signal to trim and drop them into a jar or turkey bag. If the branches, especially smaller ones, bend like a green stick, the flower still has a lot of moisture and needs more time.
Another test is to pinch a bud. If the flower stays flattened (squished), it still has a lot of moisture on the inside. If the bud raises back up after being pressed and the flower is more rigid than soft, then it is likely ready to be sealed up and stored.
Store your harvest in an air-tight sealed container, in a cool, dark, temperature-stable area. Every two or three days for the first couple weeks, open your jars or bags to “burp” for several minutes and let moisture leave and fresh air come in. If the flower is damp when you open the container, leave it open for a couple of hours in a dry area before resealing.
This will get you started off on the right foot with your drying and curing experience. Curing is an art unto itself and takes a lot of time to fully master. Just remember to control temperature, subtle air movement, and humidity. Slow and attentive wins the cure game.
Happy gardening to you all. Enjoy! Peace!
BrookC is Medical and legal Recreational Grower, Industry Consultant and Patient Activist.