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How to Harvest, Dry and Cure Cannabis: The Right Way

Even if you have grown really great cannabis, there is something of a lengthy process that takes place between the moment the flower leaves the plant and enters your pipe. To really produce quality, dispensary grade bud, you have to know how to harvest, dry, and cure your cannabis the right way.

In this article, we discuss how to do exactly that. Below, you will find detailed steps explaining how you can produce outstanding cannabis from the comfort of your home.

Harvesting Your Marijuana Plants

When do you harvest your cannabis plants?

There is a general rule of thumb that indicates that most cannabis will be ready for harvest between 7-9 weeks after the first time you noticed the sprouting of the flower. But while this a good general guideline to follow, it won’t produce the same level of quality you might find in a dispensary.

Why? Well, for one thing, some strains can take longer to mature. It may be better to say that after 7-9 weeks it will be a good time to take a look at the trichomes. Trichomes are the bumpy little fuzz that is lining the outside of your plant. When the cannabis is still growing, this feature will be opaque in color, but will slowly mature to dark amber. When it’s reached this point it means that the flower is as mature as it is going to get.

Preparing for harvest

You’ve noticed that the trichomes are looking milky and amber. Time to harvest? Not quite. It’s important to flush the plant out about a week beforehand. This simply means giving it straight water with no other additives to flush out any nutrient build-up that may have accumulated during the growth and flowering cycle.

How do you harvest?

There are three standard ways to harvest cannabis.

Whole Plant: To whole-plant harvest, one must cut the entire plant down all at once, allowing everything to dry at approximately the same time.

Just Branches: Alternatively, you can also simply cut off all of the branches, with the same ultimate goal of having all the flowers dry at once.       

Bucking: Bucking is a much slower approach in which you trim only small branches and the flower itself. While this method takes longer, it is good for growers who wish to eventually harvest the stalk for oils and other materials.

Don’t forget to remove fan leaves and lightly trim the branches

In all cases, you will want to perform a light trim on the branches, eliminating fan leaves in the process. This will simply allow for the bud to dry at a faster rate.

Take Off the Fan Leaves

What equipment do you need to harvest?

There are several different pieces of equipment you can use to make your harvest go smoothly.

Sheers: Your sheers will be used to cut the branches and/or the whole plant itself. Ideally, they will be sharp and sturdy enough to make a clean pass through the branches in as few tries as possible. Here’s a pro-tip, get sheers that have a spring in them so they open up automatically.

Cleaning Alcohol: Cleaning alcohol is used to sanitize your equipment before you begin. The newly harvested flower is sensitive to bacteria and can be corrupted if you are not careful. Also, you’ll want to use the cleaning alcohol to clean your scissors when they get sticky from the trichomes.

Gardening gloves: Always a good idea! Harvesting cannabis can get a little sticky so wear gloves to mitigate the problem.

Drying Rack: You’ll need something to dry your cannabis on or a place to hang the branches to properly dry them. We will be talking about how you can put your gardening rack to good use in the next section.

Drying Cannabis Step-by-Step

You have now successfully harvested your cannabis, but as you can clearly see, it doesn’t look all that much like the stuff you smoke yet. In this section, we take a look at how you can get set up a perfect drying room.

Preparing a drying room or space

Ideally, your drying room will be dark, with a low level of humidity and a light breeze for circulation. You can accomplish the breeze by simply running a ventilation fan in the room.

Drying process based on how you harvested

The drying process may look a little different depending on how you harvested your cannabis. For example, whole plant drying can take longer than just the branches, and a good deal longer than bucked bud. For optimal results, you will need to alter the conditions of your room to accommodate the materials you are working with.

Drying Cannabis Using the Whole Plant Method

Keep in mind that drying too quickly will make the bud crumbly while going too slowly may allow mold to fester. Both issues can be avoided by adjusting the room conditions to suit the needs of your harvest.

How long does the drying process take?

As mentioned above, the actual length of the process can vary from plant to plant. In general, you are looking at somewhere between 5-15 days. The whole plant harvest will likely be on the higher end of that spectrum while bucked bud will probably dry much faster.

When do you know if the drying process is complete?

You can determine that your cannabis is done drying by observing the state of the plant. If the branches are brittle enough to snap when bent this typically means that the bud has completed the drying process.

Trimming Your Cannabis Buds

Whole Plant/ Branch Trimming

Whole plant trimming takes place after the plant has already dried. To trim your cannabis plant, carefully cut away all of the large fan leaves. When you are finished the plant will look bare, featuring only the flower itself.

Bucking Trimming

Trimming for the bucking method is a similar process, but takes place on harvest day. Once again, you will simply cut away the excess leaves, careful to leave only the flower itself.

What do you need to trim?

There are a few pieces of equipment that will help make your trimming process go smoothly.

Trimming Scissors: Naturally, your trimming scissors will be a critical component of the entire operation. There are actually many types of gardening scissors, featuring a range of different blade shapes and styles. For best results, you may wish to acquire several sets of different shapes and styles to be ready for a range of different scenarios that might come up during the trimming process.

Short of this, you will find that a set of micro-tipped scissors will be an appropriate fit for most situations.

Cleaning Alcohol: Once again, you will want to invest in some cleaning alcohol to sanitize all of your equipment before and after the trimming.

Trim Station: There are trim stations available that are specifically designed to collect kief and other cannabis by-products while you conduct your trimming. For growers who wish to get as much from their plant as possible, these may be a good option to consider.

Gloves: Once again, gloves will be a handy way to keep yourself clean during the trimming process.

Citrus Fruit: This is optional but can make your cleanup much easier. Rubbing your trimming scissors down with citrus fruit can help lift a lot of the sticky build-up that accumulates during the trimming process. This won’t be able to serve as the entirety of your cleanup efforts but will make the eventual scrub down go much more smoothly.

Comfortable accommodations: The trimming process can be pretty slow going and methodical. If you have a number of plants in your care, it could easily wind up taking a healthy portion of your day. Make your space as comfortable as possible by procuring a cozy chair and your favorite audio-based entertainment.

What is the proper way to trim?

Proper trimming requires that you very carefully dispose of all the fan leaves on your plant. Naturally, you want to be very mindful of what you are doing to avoid wasting any parts of the plants that might be put to better use. Fan leaves feature no trichomes, making them easy to distinguish relative to other parts of the plant.

What should a trimmed bud look like?

You will know you have successfully trimmed your bud when the plant looks tight and bare. All that should remain is a beautiful flower with no excess leafs or stems sticking out of it.

A Perfectly Trimmed Cannabis Bud

How to Cure Cannabis: Curing Process

If you’ve been following along to this point it means that your cannabis is very close to being ready for consumption. All that is left now is to cure the flower. This is by far the easiest, most hands-off part of the process, but it will take some time.

What is curing?

The curing process is where marijuana is thought to gain its taste and smell. Basically, it’s an additional aging/drying period in which the chlorophyll present in the plant converts to sugar. Technically, curing your cannabis is optional, but experts very nearly unanimously agree that it is critical to ensuring a high-quality finished product.

Steps to curing cannabis

Here is a step-by-step walkthrough on how to cure your cannabis.

  1.  Separate the Flower: If you haven’t already separated the flower entirely from the stem, now is the time. All we want here is the bud itself.
  2. Contain the Flower: Once the flower has been isolated, it’s time to seal it away in an airtight container. Most people tend to use canning jars, as they are specifically designed to preserve things carefully in the long term. However, there is a wide range of different options out there that will be equally appropriate. As long as the container doesn’t let in air or moisture you will be just fine.
  3. Darkness: Place the containers in a dark, cool room.
  4. Let the Bud Breathe: For best results, open the containers for a few minutes every day to give the bud the chance to breathe. This will also serve as a good opportunity to evaluate the status of the bud. If you smell mold or ammonia, it means that the bud has been corrupted.

How long does it take to properly cure cannabis?

There is no standardized requisite for how long you need to cure your bud. Cannabis can be considered cured in as little as two-three weeks, although most expert growers tend to cure longer than that. Six to eight weeks is the most common curing time, however, very sensitive strains may take up to six months to fully and properly cure.

When do you know it is done?

Because the curing process is not entirely standardized there is no way to say for sure that you are “done.” It will ultimately come down to a matter of preference. Here are a few signs that things are going well and curing might be finished:

  1. The flower looks rehydrated. It isn’t dry or brittle and it isn’t wet.
  2. The aroma and smell will change from a wet grass smell to a unique cannabis smell based on whatever strain you grew.
  3. If you test it, you’ll notice the bud isn’t harsh. The smoke should be smooth and you should be able to “taste” the strain.

However, deciding when you are done will ultimately be a matter of determining how long you are willing to wait. Most feel that you can get good results after 2-4 weeks, and really outstanding results after 8 weeks. Once your cannabis is done curing, you will have successfully mastered the art of harvesting marijuana at a pro-grade level.

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