Harvesting Your Marijuana
These last few months you have spent countless hours caring for your seeds and growing them into robust, mature flowers. This is an exciting and stressful time for new growers, as you aren’t quite sure what to do next. How do you know if your plants are done growing? Are they ready to harvest? These questions are vital to understanding when to harvest and to ensure that you end up with quality cannabis. That’s where we come in.
The average grow time for indoor marijuana plants is 3-5 months from seed to harvest. However, this process can take from 8 weeks to 7 months depending on the plant! That is a huge range, right? That is why understanding the harvest process is so important. You don’t want to waste weeks and months growing, only to harvest your plants too early or too late and risk ruining your crop.
Harvesting depends a lot on knowing your strains, and on trial and error, but we are hopefully going to try and mitigate the error factor.
For most strains there is a 2-3 week harvest window. Keeping them in the flowering stage can increase yields as plants often increase flower production once they “ripen”. Sometimes waiting an extra week or two to harvest can yield an additional 10-30%! Knowing when to harvest is essential in order to maximize the quality of your product. You didn’t work hard all these months growing healthy plants just to lose half of your THC or lose on potency by harvesting early.
More common strains such as Indica harvest after 8 weeks of flowering. On the other hand, Sativia takes 10 weeks from the flowering stage and strains such as Autoflower only require 10 weeks from seedling to bud. Given the range of strains and variation in phenotypes, plus different growing conditions and preferences of individual marijuana users, it is important to recognize when your plant is approaching maturity; fortunately, there are only really three things you need:
- Knowledge, which we are here to provide for you.
- A good pair of eyes for visual inspection
- Magnifying tool to give your eyes a closer look to get all the details
The first bit of knowledge you will need to remember for later is to always flush your plants prior to harvesting (we will explain this further). Secondly, you need to be able to evaluate if your plants are ready for harvest. There are two main methods you can use: The Pistil Method and the Trichome Method.
WHEN TO HARVEST CANNABIS? The Pistil Method
The Pistil Method is not as accurate but is a good starting point for anyone new to growing. In this method, the Pistils (hairs) of the plant are reviewed to determine when to harvest. The following picture shows a plant that still has a few weeks to go. As you can see by the fact that the majority of the pistils are still white and sticking out straight.
This next picture features a plant that is nearing harvest, but still not ready. This is shown by the fact that less than 50% of the pistils have darkened and curled.
There are two options when it comes to the best time to harvest using this method. The first is to harvest when 60-70% of the hairs have darkened. This will provide the highest levels of THC. The second is to harvest at an even higher point, when 70-90% of the hairs have darkened. This, on the other hand, will result in a more calming and anti-anxiety effect due to the THC turning into CBN.
As mentioned before, this method can prove inaccurate due to the fact that some strains may maintain white pistils even when ready to be harvested. Experience and research on your specific strain will help you to understand what to look for.
WHEN TO HARVEST CANNABIS? The Trichrome Method
The second method is referred to as the Trichrome method. This is considered to be more accurate to determine if your plant is ready for harvest. This method requires a magnifying tool to allow you to inspect the trichomes to ensure that you harvest your buds when they reach the optimum THC levels.
These trichomes you are looking for have a similar appearance to that of little mushrooms as shown in the photo below.
There are also tiny and clear, hair-like trichomes without a mushroom head but you can ignore these are they don’t affect potency. We want that magical little ball on top of the trichome as this contains most of the plants THC and other potent components. These are difficult to see with the naked eye, so you will require some form of magnifying glass (such as a jeweler’s loupe or digital microscope) to check on them.
There are a few stages of trichome development. The first is the clear stage, as shown above, in which the trichomes appear like dew drops. Right now, the trichomes aren’t ready for harvest as they haven’t gained enough potency.
In the next stage, trichomes become cloudy and have a more “plasticky” look to them. In this stage, the buds are still growing and has not developed fully yet. When they are at least 40% darkened they can be harvested to result in a more “energetic” or “speedy” high. If you want to yield the highest level of THC you need to wait until at least 50-70% of the trichomes are cloudy.
The highest level of THC is found when most of the trichomes are cloudy. This leads to the most intense high resulting in greater euphoria and pain-relief effects.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between clear and cloudy trichomes, especially when you are just starting out, but don’t stress. This is just part of the process and it will get easier with experience!
There is one additional stage for the trichomes, which results in the highest level of sedation. This occurs when the cloudy trichomes turn amber. This results in slightly less THC and more CBN. Once 70-90% of the trichomes have clouded (20% amber), the result is a more relaxing high that assists in reducing anxiety.
In short, if you an ‘in-your-head’ effect, than it is best to harvest when 40% of pistils have darkened and curled in and 50% of the trichomes are cloudy. For the “strongest” marijuana buds with highest levels of THC, harvest when almost all trichomes are cloudy. Lastly, for a more relaxing and anti-anxiety result, wait until at least some of the cloudy trichomes have darkened to amber. The more amber, the more relaxing. However you do not want all of your buds to be amber as this would mean your plant is overripe.
Do keep in mind which strain you are producing as that can also have an effect on trichome development. For example, Indica strains are heavier by nature and therefore, there may be no need to wait for them to turn amber. Sativia on the other hand, produce a more cerebral high and may need to wait until 25% or more of the trichomes have turned amber to get a better bake. In some strains, the trichomes will never turn amber and others might turn red or purple! So once again, it is always a good idea to consult your strain.
Flushing Your Plants
As previously mentioned, you need to flush your plants before harvesting. This helps to guarantee the quality and smoothness of your cannabis. A good rule of thumb is to start flushing your plant two weeks prior to it being ready for harvest. Flushing is a fairly simple process that uses plain water to remove any nutrients in the soil – which, believe it or not, significantly helps your harvest! Flushing excess nutrients forces your cannabis to use up whatever it has stored. In the end, this means that there will be no leftover nutrients to taint the use of the bud. However, if you flush too early, you will risk starving your plant and leaving it unhealthy.
Flushing is a simple process. Whenever you would normally feed your plant, you will want to flush it instead. All you need is untreated tap water – just make sure to double-check your pH levels. You will want to flood the soil with all the fresh water it can hold and then leave it for a few minutes to allow for the nutrients to get picked up. Then flood the soil again to move these nutrients away from your flower.
For home growers most likely use a potted method, you will notice that the water draining from the out the bottom will be dirty. During the flush, your plant can lose its color quite quickly. While a little yellowing is common, keep an eye out for yellowing on the sugar leaves/buds themselves as once this happens, your buds will start to deteriorate quickly. After the flush period, your plants should appear lighter than at the beginning.
New growers have a tendency to get overly excited and harvest too early. This is especially true for your first few crops while you’re still getting the hang of everything. Waiting can be hard, but the reward far outweighs the risk of ruining your product if you jump the gun. Plus, when you’re ready to harvest, consider using an automated trimming machine to take the stress out of the process.
Using both methods and researching your strain will make a big difference in the outcome. However, at the end of the day, only you will know your plants best.