Get Ready for Harvest Season
Autumn is a great time of the year: seasonal produce, holiday gatherings and, of course, bringing in the harvest! Whether you are about to reap hundreds of massive outdoor trees or simply cut a few indoor plants, there are some tasks to complete before the first branch is snipped.
The Big Chop
Before the light/dark cycle reaches its peak for flowering, check your outdoor plants at regular intervals. Especially as they approach the flushing phase! Due to the wet, chilly climate that many growers battle this time of the year, it is a good idea to inspect each plant for broken branches or any other low-hanging parts. A break in the stem will result in vulnerability to mold, mildew, insect infestations and other pathogens. Remove any severely damaged plant matter and ensure no broken branches are touching the ground; contact with the wet earth will hasten both infestation and illness.
If you are a large-scale or commercial grower, you probably have hundreds or even thousands of plants to process. Although sophisticated, expensive equipment is often used to trim such crops, an old-fashioned, heavy-duty bolt cutter is an efficient tool to easily cut through the thickest of pot plant stalks. A hand saw is a good alternative.
While cutting down large crops, it is best to temporarily arrange the harvested plants in loose piles on top of plastic tarpaulins or in a wheelbarrow – either approach may also allow for easier transportation of the crop from the field to your drying or trimming location. Try not to leave the plants piled up for too long or to compress them, as the vegetative material will begin to decompose (similar to the way that a compost pile heats up rather quickly). Likewise, make sure that you do not rely upon plastic garbage bags for permanent storage or long-haul transport.
At this point, some growers choose to remove the large fan leaves that do not contain any resin glands. One advantage of removing large leaves is to allow more air to penetrate the plant while it is hanging in the drying room. In addition, it saves time during the trimming process. However, many old-school farmers prefer to leave the fan leaves intact in order to protect the delicate trichomes during transport, hanging and drying.
If you do decide to strip the plants of their less desirable foliage just after harvesting, you can join those growers who add the cast-off leaves to the root systems and other botanical evidence that either goes to the burn pile or to the compost heap.
Hang plants to dry in a cool, dry, dark place with a bit of airflow; you can fine-tune available space to suit this purpose.
Drying Can Make or Break a Marijuana Crop
Four elements are essential when attempting to properly dry Cannabis: temperature, moisture, light and ventilation. Freshly-cut plants or branches, with or without the large fan leaves, should be carefully hung on sturdy drying lines or on racks. Whichever method you choose, they should be kept in a cool, dry and dark location with a hint of air flow. Both light and heat will oxidize the resin in trichomes. Anything above about 30% humidity will lead to mold or mildew issues and uneven or improper drying. Gentle air circulation assists in exchanging the gases released from the drying plants and replacing it with fresh, clean air. This also helps to prevent problems with mold and mildew.
Some folks string heavy-gauge fishing line or synthetic clothes cord from end-to-end of a room. Ideally, this room was thoroughly cleaned and prepared prior to cutting the plants. Each stage and location of the harvesting process should be ready to receive your crop. Hang the plants close enough together to maximize space, but with enough distance between each to encourage air flow. Avoid loosely-woven cordage, ropes or natural fibers. These may absorb and store moisture, as well as collect dust quite easily.
Rotate the plants once per week, or every few days, to inspect them. This will also maximize even exposure of the plants throughout the drying space. Most weed will dry in about two weeks. Plants saturated by heavy rainfall or hydroponically-cultivated crops typically require an extra week to dry completely. Lots of old hippies insist that twenty-one days is the magic number for perfectly drying pot plants.
When plants are nearing the end of the drying cycle, try to snap a thick branch. Did it break cleanly? Did you hear a distinct “crack”? If so, the plant is dry enough to smoke. However, professional growers will cure their weed for at least a short time after properly drying. If the plant’s stalk does not break but remains bendy, there is too much moisture within the buds to allow consumption or curing.
It is possible to trim the plants when wet. In this case, simply dry the manicured buds on hanging laundry airing racks in a room full of dehumidifiers. This is preferred by commercial producers, but if you are new be careful as it is easy to over-dry product using this method.
Curing Is Different than Drying
Curing marijuana (separate from drying) is important to achieve the optimal effect and flavor of a specific strain. The presence of any chemical nutrient will alter the effect of the weed. No amount of flushing and curing can remedy this. Utilizing organic nutrients, supplements and pesticides will ensure the taste and feel are due to the intrinsic effects of the cannabis, not outside factors.
Curing allows for chlorophyll, the green vegetative matter that photosynthesizes light into usable energy within the plant, to naturally degrade. When bud makes an experienced smoker cough uncontrollably, it is usually due to being chemically fed, improperly dried or not cured. As chlorophyll biodegrades, the natural flavor is enhanced and the smoke becomes smoother. The effect imparted will be more ‘true’ to each strain.
Some growers put just-dried buds in cardboard boxes or bags before curing. If the buds are too wet, leave the box or bag open; if your crop feels ‘crispy’ from drying too quickly, close the container to ‘sweat’ the buds and redistribute moisture. Over-dried buds can also remain on the stalk a little longer (inside the box or bag) to achieve the same goal. Remove stubbornly damp buds off the stalk to encourage additional drying.
Carefully pack manicured buds into glass jars with lids – canning jars work perfectly for this purpose. Pack the buds as close to the jar lid as possible without pressing them together. This keeps out excess air, which will oxidize the trichomes, ruin the flavor and decrease the strength of the buds. Open and empty jars once per day, making sure not to disturb the fragile crystals through rough handling. Shake the jar to exchange bad air for good, then simply put the weed back into the jars. Store the packed jars in a cool, dry, dark place. Proper curing takes approximately one month. However, you may tailor your curing methods and schedules to suit your needs or to cater to specific strains.
More moisture is extracted as the crop cures. This proves that even ‘dry’ weed often contains residual moisture, resulting in a harsh smoke. As the remaining water evaporates, the buds will shrink a bit; you can make up for this change by topping up each jar to capacity as needed.
A little bit of extra time, planning and effort can ensure that well-grown Cannabis becomes a well-processed product. Missing basic steps or using improper techniques will result in wasted efforts and a poor final product.