Knowing when and how to harvest your plant is key to a great final bud. The process of harvesting is the preparation of your plant once it has reached maturity and is ready for eventual consumption. When determining if your plant is ready to harvest or not, the condition of the trichomes is one the most important indicators to harvest readiness.
Trichomes are small hair-like crystals that form in the plants flowering stage. They are made up of resin glands and are responsible for manufacturing both cannabinoids and terpenes. The trichomes act as a defence mechanism to keep small insects and animals away, as well as provide a defence mechanism against environmental factors. Trichomes are responsible for the smells and potency of your bud. The most effective way to identify the change in your plant's trichomes is to look at them through a magnifying glass or jewellers loupe.
"On average, photo period plants will flower for 8-12 weeks and auto flower plants will typically grow seed-to-harvest in 8-12 weeks."
What to look for in the Trichomes
As the plant begins to fully mature in the flowering stage, the trichomes will transition in colour from a translucent clear colour to a milky white and then eventually onto an amber colour. Harvesting a plant in the different stages will produce different potencies and effects. See below:
Full Transparent Clear Trichome: Potency has not been fully developed. At this stage only precursor cannabinoids have been developed. No psychoactive effects.
Milky White Colour: The trichomes have reached maximum potency.
Amber Colour: The potency will begin to lower and this gives way to a more calming effect.
I find that a 80% cloudy, 20% amber colouring is the sweet spot to begin a harvest and flush. Although I won't get into the full details of a flush it involves stopping all nutrient feed for approximately 2 weeks and only giving the plant fresh, pH balanced water at it's normal watering schedule. The reason it's beneficial to have pH balanced water that sits between 6.0 and 7.0 during a flush is because we don't want the plant to intake any extra ingredients such as salts or metals from the water source.
At the beginning of the flush you can begin to remove all of the leaves off of the plant. Anything with an accessible stem should come off at this time. Once the 14 days is complete starve the plant of any water for 3-4 days prior to the final cut as you want to strive to have the soil as dry as possible.
During your final trim, cut off all excess leaves from the buds and cut the stems so that they can easily be hung out to dry on a wire or placed in a environment for drying.
Drying your plant is as important as it is to grow it. As the name suggests, the next step in harvest is drying the moisture out of your buds. Doing this correctly and without rushing the process will ensure a great outcome. Typically the drying process takes 7-10 days, however, the length of time will vary based on bud size. You can determine if your buds are ready to harvest simply by bending one of the branches. If the branch breaks easily and you don't feel any obvious moisture your buds are ready for the curing process. We suggest the following factors when drying your plants.
Airflow: Airflow is important, best to have air in and out at low speeds. A small fan at low operation is ideal.
Light: Hang your plants in low light environments as sunlight can reduce potency.
Spacing: You want your branches and buds well spaced out at least 3 inches apart.
Temperature: 18 to 20 degrees Celsius (68 Degrees Fahrenheit)
Humidity: Between 45% to 55%
You will typically lose 60-85% of the weight and 50-70% of the size in your final bud, you want to leave the branches to hang for 7-10 days or until the smaller branches snap when bent. At this time I will cut all the bud off the branches and leave them to dry on a tray for another 24 hours.
Storage and Curing
Similar to some foods and wines, curing is the process of preserving the product while retaining it's flavours, smells and potency. Although there are many different ways to cure your product, I find mason jars to be very effective and cost effective for the curing process. Curing will typically last 80-90 days, but at the very minimum strive for at least a 60 day period. When packing the buds, do not over fill the jar to allow them to breathe.
For the first 2 weeks you want to burp (opening) the jars for 15 minutes 4-6 times a day. For the next 2 weeks burp 2-3 times a day. For the next month burp your jars once a day. Then a month of once a week. The true strength and terpene profile needs this time to ‘ripen’, pulling your buds out early may negatively effect the quality.
I hope you've learned a lot from my harvesting guide. Happy Growing!