Cannabis is harvested based on the length of the flowering cycle for each strain, starting from the date the plant is placed on a 12 on/12 off photoperiod (see Optimizing Marijuana Flowering). The length of the flowering cycle is determined by knowing the individual varieties you grow, and by observing the trichomes on the plant with a loupe or high-power magnifier. There are many differences of opinion on when to harvest a plant. Uncle Pete sees it like this:
Trichomes are clear until the plant reaches maturity. All cannabis experts agree on this.
As the plant matures the trichomes turn cloudy, and then amber. It is during this maturation phase that we harvest. The differences of opinion start here, and are usually based on the percentage of cloudy or amber trichomes present.
Harvesting our plants on the early side, or when the trichomes are starting to turn cloudy (25-50% cloudy), will result in a different flavor, smell, and effect with most strains. Harvesting them later (25-50% amber) will maximize these characteristics while ensuring yield.
All experts agree that harvesting cannabis before trichomes turn cloudy is too early. You lose potency, flavor, and yield. But that doesn't mean to continue flowering for as long as possible. It is much like a piece of fruit - we prefer it right before it starts to rot. That is when its the most flavorful and enjoyable.
Many excuses are made for harvesting early, but they are generally economic in nature and have nothing to do with the outcome of the harvest. Do not be fooled by these rationalizations. There is only one time to harvest cannabis - when it is done. We prefer to wait for harvest until 25% of trichomes have turned amber - 50% is even better with most varieties.
Again, this is a matter of opinion - your experience, thought, and consideration will guide you over time, but these recommendations will ensure that you have a good reference point.
Recommended Flowering Times For Our Varieties
Double Bubble Berry
Trimming Marijuana Flower
Gardeners can trim cannabis when wet or dry, with slightly different results. Hand trimming is the best for high-quality cannabis - all machines and short cuts will degrade your cannabis. We consider these a viable option only when we are overwhelmed with large harvests and short deadlines. High pressure situations can sometimes be handled with "trimming parties" when were everyone helps trim buds. Even costly machines will have a hard time keeping up with a good trimming party! And it can be a lot of fun, too.
The benefits to wet trimming are:
The entire process can be done at harvest time.
It dries faster, so it is ready to use faster.
Most people are familiar with this process.
The benefits to dry trimming are:
Trichomes stabilize when they dry slightly. Fewer trichomes are removed during the process of trimming.
It tastes better due to drying slower and drawing the moisture out of the plant using the entire leaf surface. There is less chlorophyll in the dry bud, which can impart a slightly bitter flavor.
The benefit to machine or bowl trimming is quite simple - it is a LOT faster. Even a simple manual bowl trimmer can do the work of five experienced trimmers in the same time. The downside is that the buds are tattered and battered in the process. Imagine picking an apple from the tree in a beautiful orchard vs. having an apple that has traveled hundreds of miles bouncing in a truck and been stored for weeks - you get the picture.
No matter what process fits your needs and desires the best, some basic rules apply. The more we abuse the buds, the more bruised our fruit is. Hanging the best buds to dry before handling them, and then trimming with great care before placing them into jars for curing is what makes a bud “Premium” or “Top Shelf.”
Professional trimmers can finish four ounces of dry flower (or more) per hour by hand when the flowers are wet. However, this is the exception, not the rule. Most trimmers with experience are able to finish one to two ounces per hour of dry flower.
You'll notice that the leaf you trim from the flowers is also covered with trichomes, just like the buds. Save this for making concentrate or infusing into foods or beverages. High quality "close trim" like this can give you results nearly as good as the buds themselves.
Drying And Curing Marijuana Flower
In every single topic so far, control of environment has been emphasized as the most crucial factor for success - drying your harvest is no different. In fact, by harvest time, you have hundreds or thousands of hours invested in your plants, all of which can be destroyed with just a few hours of mishandling. As important as environment is for every other part of the cannabis plant's life cycle, it is even more important after harvest! Taking shortcuts here is the surest way to total disappointment. You can ruin your entire harvest more quickly by drying improperly than any mistake that can be made in the garden.
When hanging cannabis plants or branches to dry before trimming, Uncle Pete prefers to use wire instead of string or rope to avoid absorbing moisture during the drying process. This can cause uneven drying and increases the risk of more serious issues like mold or pests. Hang the wire away from walls in a well-ventilated area that is 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 30% humidity. In wetter seasons, a dehumidifier and oscillating fans will be needed to maintain this environment. A closet or other enclosed space makes it easier to control the humidity - dehumidifying a larger room can be impossible during the spring and summer months.
When wet trimming cannabis, remove the buds from the stems and place in a drying net or rack in the same humidity-controlled environment with good air circulation. Removing the flowers from the stems allows a more even drying process, as the stems hold additional moisture which can remain trapped inside the bud.
Humidity should be controlled so that initial drying takes three to seven days. Drying quicker than three days will result in an unpleasant, hay-like smell and flavor - increase humidity by drying in an enclosed space like a closet. If drying takes more than seven days the gardener risks mold or mildew - lower the humidity and increase air circulation. Check that the flower is dry by snapping the stems within the buds. If the stem folds instead of cracks, it is not dry. Continued drying (also called curing) is determined by personal preference, but at this point the cannabis is ready to be placed into sealed jars.
After this initial drying, Uncle Pete puts one ounce of cannabis into pint jars and two ounces into quart jars. This allows some air space within each jar. These jars are opened to release humidity, or "burped," daily for a couple of weeks until the preferred moisture content is reached. The longer and slower the cannabis is cured, the more chlorophyll is removed and the smoother the finished product. Allowing the buds to get to warm during the drying or curing process results in a massive loss of flavor. Slow and steady wins the race here.
The jars are then sealed with an identifying sticker and dated. Cannabis properly dried, cured, and sealed like this will stay fresh and potent for a long time - probably longer than it will take to consume it! When placed in a cool, dark storage area, it will likely last well over a year.
There is even more science and endless material written on drying and curing cannabis. We recommend applying some common sense, measuring the temperature and humidity in your drying environment ahead of time, and careful preparation before your harvest. Many gardeners have spent thousands of dollars and hours during the growing cycle only to end up with ruined bud because it was handled poorly at harvest and beyond. It only takes a few hours to ruin months of work. Be smart. Be prepared. Optimize your harvest by taking the time to handle it properly.