While harvesting cannabis is pretty simple, there are a number of things to consider when deciding how to harvest, most of which are dependent on how you plan on processing the buds.
If you plan on drying the stems with the buds or just drying the entire plant from the base stem, then before harvest you will want to remove all the large fan leaves from the plant, as they are easy to access and remove while the plant is still alive. However, if you are planning on removing just the buds to trim individually, then removing the fan leaves is not necessary. Now all that is left is to cut accordingly. If you are harvesting the entire plant at once, then just cut at the base; if you are removing individual stems, then cut each stem; and if you are removing individual buds, then cut off each batch from the rest of the stems and leaves.
As for what time of the day to harvest, it is recommended to harvest after a prolonged dark period.
So, for outdoors, that means harvesting right before sunrise, and for indoors, that means harvesting right before the lights turn on. In fact, for indoor growers, you can even leave the lights off for a 1- to 2-day period of complete darkness to potentially trigger a final boost of resin production and to lower the chlorophyll in the buds by preventing photosynthesis from happening.
Just note that the increase in benefits of harvesting after a prolonged dark period is pretty small at best, so feel free to harvest whenever is convenient for you, and if you happen to be able to harvest at sunrise or before the lights turn on, or even if you have the time to leave the plant in the dark for a day or two, then it is worth trying to see for yourself if you like the results.
Now, you have the option of trimming your plants, and we will just be covering wet trimming here, which means trimming the buds before drying them, although you can do the trimming process after the plant has completely dried, which is known as dry trimming. Both methods are pretty much the same process, but dry trimming is more tedious as the dried leaves will surround the buds, making it harder to trim, and the trichomes on the dried buds break off easier. So, for beginners, if you are going to trim, we recommend wet trimming.
Trimming is important for some because it increases the overall percentage of cannabinoids on a bud by removing the plant material that has a lower amount of cannabinoids — this is generally the leaves that are poking out of the buds which, while sometimes having some trichomes and cannabinoids on them, do not have nearly as high of a percentage of cannabinoids as the rest of the buds.
The other aspect of trimming is that by removing anything poking out of the buds after drying and curing the buds will have a clean, even consistency and look, mimicking the appearance you typically see from dispensaries and in photos.
In the end, though, trimming is completely up to you and could be skipped or just done lightly. In fact, for people looking to make edibles or oils, you do not have to trim at all since you will be extracting all the trichomes off the buds anyways. You could also just do a light trim on the large leaves with no visible trichomes on them to maximize the final yields.
The easiest way to trim is to first start with the stem or buds upside down because buds usually have two small leaves at the base of them. By turning the buds upside down, it is easy to see and remove the base of these leaves so they come off completely. From there, take a look at the leaves that are deep inside the buds. You can first try to pull down gently on the leaves to see if you can get access to the base of the leaf. If so, try to cut it at the base so you can get everything at once, but if the buds are blocking the base, then just cut off each leaf separately as close to the base as possible without cutting off anything else. Be very cautious when cutting at the base of the leaves because they are attached to the stem that holds the entire bud together, which if cut, will break the entire structure of the bud. Finally, after removing all the leaves poking out from the buds, you can also do a quick cleanup of any part of the bud that is poking out so the end product has a more uniformed look.
After you are done, be sure to save anything cut from the buds since the trimmings, while not as potent as the buds, can still be used for making edibles and concentrates. To store the trimmings, place them in a breathable bag such as a paper bag because the plant material will need to dry in the bag so it does not mold or rot.
Whether you decide to trim or not, you will want to dry and cure your buds afterwards. Drying and curing cannabis has a number of benefits that make it one of the most important steps in producing quality buds, and depending on your environment, this could range from being a simple process to one that is complex and time-consuming. Before we delve into the process, though, let us go over what drying and curing does because, while they both happen concurrently, drying and curing are not the same thing, and each provides different benefits.
Drying your cannabis is important because it preserves it for a long period of time. Removing the moisture from the plant protects the buds from pests, mold and mildew so it is safe for long term storage. Curing your cannabis is important because it preserves the terpenes that give the buds their aroma and flavor, and at the same time, a slow cure will also help the plant break down the chlorophyll in the buds, which is the cause of the harshness in the lungs when smoked. Both drying and curing happens by removing the moisture in the plant. While most drying methods are all about removing moisture as quickly as possible, curing requires the moisture to be removed as slowly as possible. Because of this, the goal is to dry the cannabis as slowly as possible in an environment that will not invite mold and mildew to grow while this is happening. The ideal environment for this is between 60−70° Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity level of 45−55%.
Note that if your temperature is slightly above this, or if your humidity level is slightly below this, it is still fine to dry and cure the buds in your environment without changing anything; it will just dry a little quicker. However, if you have the opposite problem, with temperatures below 60° or a humidity above 55%, you'll want to correct this before drying, as your environment could cause mold and mildew to thrive on your drying buds, which can potentially destroy an entire harvest. The easiest way to lower the humidity is either with a dehumidifier or by increasing the air circulation throughout your drying area, and the easiest way to increase the temperature is with a space heater.
In terms of how to setup a drying area, there are a few techniques for drying; it all depends on how your plant was harvested. If the entire plant was cut from the main stem or if you harvested stem by stem, the simplest way is to hang the plant/stems upside down. This method does take a little longer to dry because the stems still provide some moisture to the buds, but that is actually a good thing as the buds can cure longer while drying before they are placed in jars. This method also allows the buds to dry more uniformly.
If you have really small stems that are hard to hang, or if you just have loose buds, then you will need to place them on something breathable, like a drying rack; if you only have a small amount, a mesh laundry basket is a cost effective alternative. This method dries the buds faster, and because the buds will be on a flat surface, if you want a uniformed look, you'll need to roll them around every day or two; otherwise, one side of the buds will be flat.
No matter how the buds are dried, you will need a little bit of air movement in your drying space to deter mold and mildew. Not directly on the buds, as this will cause them to dry too fast, but around the drying plant, providing just enough for a light breeze. Finally, the cannabis odor while drying will be high. As a reference point, the smell will be just as strong if not stronger than a flowering plant before it was harvested. The easiest way to mitigate this, if you have an indoor setup with a carbon filter, is to dry the plant in that setup while keeping the carbon filter fan on. Otherwise, be sure to plan accordingly if the smell is going to be an issue by venting the air outside or drying in a more isolated area.
The amount of time it takes to dry now will depend on a few factors: if you trimmed the buds before drying, if the buds do not have stems on them, if the humidity is on the low side or if the temperature is on the high side. All these factors will cause the buds to dry faster. If you did not trim your plants, if the buds are still attached to the stems, if the humidity is on the high side or if the temperature is on the low side, the buds will dry slower. In general, it should take 5−7 days for the buds to be ready for storage, and a couple of ways to tell if the buds are ready is if the buds feel dry to the touch and if the smaller stems connected to the buds make a snapping noise when bent.
Curing and Storage
Mason jars are the ideal storage medium when it comes to curing, as the air tight bottles are able to preserve the buds for years and the glass material prevents the buds and trichomes from sticking to it. A 16-oz mason jar can hold up to an ounce of cannabis, although this will vary based on the density of the buds. If you have over an ounce, you will want to use a 32-oz mason jar or larger. For a pound or more, you can also use large sealable plastic bags instead of multiple jars, although these will not cure cannabis as well as a glass jar will and the smell can leak out from the plastic, so be sure to use one that is thick and sturdy, such as ones made for freezer storage or oven turkey bags.
You want to place the buds into the jar until it is at around 80% capacity, and fill it loosely so the buds are not compacted in any way. After a jar is filled, cover with a lid to start the final curing process. If you have a small hygrometer, place it in the jar as well and check on it to ensure the buds are around 60−65% relative humidity to start.
Since a large amount of moisture has already been removed, the drying process will slow down while in storage; however, the buds will still slowly cure over time in the jars as long as you refresh the air at minimum of once or twice a day. All this requires is to open up the jars and let them air out for a few minutes. Repeat this process for a minimum of 2 weeks, as doing so will not only maximize the smoothness and flavor of the buds but will also ensure there are no problems with the buds so they can be stored long-term. After 2 weeks, you can stop opening the jars and just keep them in storage, but if you want, you can open the jars to refresh the air once or twice a week to continue the curing process, and you can do this for months for the highest quality cure.
Of course, this is all optional, as you can smoke the buds right after they have been dried without having to wait for them to cure in the jars. The curing process just helps for a smoother smoke, and you can always try the buds before curing and then throughout the curing process to see for yourself if it is something you want to do.
If the buds start to stick together in the jar, or if there is an ammonia smell coming from the jar, then the buds are not dry enough, and you will either need to place the buds back on a drying rack or, at the very least, leave the jar uncovered for an extended period of time. Just be sure to shift the buds around in the jar every few hours until they stop sticking together and the smell is gone before sealing up the jar again.
Alternatively, If the buds are too brittle and are crumbling when you shake the jar, then the buds are too dry. When this happens, the curing process pretty much stops, but it is still beneficial to try and get a little moisture back into the buds; otherwise, they will burn too quickly. One method to solve this is to place a few cannabis leaves into the jars with the buds for a few hours to raise the relative humidity of the buds, although this also has the risk of raising it too high, creating mold and mildew issues. So, proceed with caution by checking on the jars at least once an hour and remove the leaves once the buds appear to be more firm.
Another method to increase or decrease the humidity of the buds is with 62% 2-way humidity control packs. These packs, when dropped in with your buds, will ensure that the relative humidity of the buds reaches 62% relative humidity, which is the ideal humidity for curing and long-term storage. While these are not necessary as long as your buds are dried properly, the packs are inexpensive and are safe to be left in the jars when put into storage for the peace of mind that it will always keep the buds at an acceptable relative humidity.
Harvesting for Non-Smoking Purposes
While curing does not provide many benefits if a plant is going to be processed for non-smoking purposes, such as for the production of edibles, drying still provides a number of benefits, making it worthwhile to do if needed. Drying a plant helps preserve it for long-term storage so you do not need to process all the plant right after harvest, and by removing the moisture from the plant, certain processing techniques such as decarboxylation (heating the trichomes to activate the psychedelic effects), are easier to do when starting with a dried plant. If you are drying cannabis for these purposes, there is no need to extend the drying time, so you can shorten the drying time by providing more heat, airflow, and by lowering the relative humidity.
Did this guide help? This article was taken directly from The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Growing Cannabis book, so if you like the advice above you'll love the rest of the book, which includes a lot of exclusive content not found anywhere else. You can find both the e-book and paperback copy on Amazon, and it's free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription!