Fall has arrived and it’s time for outdoor marijuana growers to begin gearing up for harvest. You dedicated your time, energy, and probably some money to your outdoor garden and it’s time to reap the rewards. Unfortunately even a garden filled with beautiful buds can end in disaster if you don’t know how to harvest marijuana correctly. Harvesting medical cannabis gardens can be a ton of work even if you know what you are doing. For those without the know-how, it can be overwhelming. Not only does this take all the fun out of it, but it often lead to very costly mistakes. Here are some tips to help speed you through the learning curve and teach you how to harvest cannabis correctly.
Once the buds on your plants are fully mature, don’t delay. You have a relatively small window between unripe and over ripe, and time is not on your side.
Try to harvest only the buds that are fully mature. Some plants may ripen from the top down, some from the lower branches up, other varieties of cannabis may ripen all at once. Often the larger buds that have received the most direct light will ripen first. If possible, harvest the larger top colas first and leave the lower and interior buds for an additional week or two. The increased sunlight will quickly bring the remaining buds to full maturity.
Making The Cut
When you cut the colas from the plant use a sharp pair of pruners and make your cuts with your drying method in mind. If you plan to hang dry the colas, make sure you leave a nub of stalk or a smaller branch to hang them from. If you plan to screen dry, it won’t matter since you’ll be stripping most of the buds off of the stem anyway.
Don’t go rip roaring into the garden cutting more than you can handle. Buds are much easier to work with when the leaves are still nice and crisp. Once they begin to wilt, they are much more difficult to work with and will only slow you down. In cool weather, the leaves on cut branches may remain turgid all day, while hot weather may give you under an hour. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Use plastic totes to haul the cut branches to your working area. These tubs come in handy throughout harvest and can be used for curing and long term storage.
Time of Day
For small harvests, try to cut your plants in the early morning. Terpenes are constantly produced by growing cannabis plants but sunlight and warmer temperatures evaporate terpenes. Terpene levels will be highest at the end of the dark period so harvesting in the morning will produce more pungent and flavorful cannabis. This of course is not possible with large gardens that require all day harvesting.
Large commercial growers often need to harvest tons of cannabis all at once. This volume of work sometimes requires that buds be hung to dry without first removing the larger leaves. Unfortunately the leaves store water, drive up humidity in the drying room, and restrict airflow around the buds. This slows down the drying process and greatly increases the likelihood of mold problems. If your drying room is dialed, this method can work, but I recommend avoiding it if possible. In my opinion, hanging buds to dry before the leaves are removed should only be done out of necessity. This is rarely the case with a smaller harvest.
I prefer to remove the larger leaves from the buds before they are hung to dry. For a small harvest these leaves can be plucked off by hand or with pair of fiskars. This process is made quicker through the use of a table top trimming machine. These trimming machines by TrimPro and a variety of other companies speed up the leaf removal process without damaging the colas or knocking off the trichomes. Trimming machines work best with freshly harvested buds; so don’t cut more from the plant then you can process in about an hour. Make sure you wear safety goggles and watch your fingertips. I should point out that tabletop trimming machines are not meant to give a final manicure to the bud, only to remove extra leaf before drying.
Some commercial growers are now moving to automatic trimming machines like the Trimpro XL or Twister. These machines significantly cut down on the amount of labor required to “big leaf” the buds, but do require that the buds be shucked off the the stems. You are left with no large colas to hang, so buds must be dried on screens. If you have thousands of pounds to process and don’t intent to hand manicure the buds later, this is probably the best approach.
Once the buds are harvested, it’s important that they are quickly moved to a separate area to be dried in a secure, clean space.
Many medium and large scale growers throw away or compost the leaf material that is removed during the big leafing process. This leaf usually test between 3-7% THC so it does contain some active cannabinoids. It’s not much good for smoking and is a pain to dry, but if you spread the leaf out on tarps or screens in the sun, it can be saved for later processing. Your best bet at processing this quantity of trim into highly concentrated product is through a commercial size butane, co2 or hexane extraction. Keep in mind that if you are only allowed to posses a certain amount of processed cannabis, this trim could easily put you over the limit.
Dealing With Mold
At each stage in the harvest process it is essential that you keep an eye out for mold. When it is spotted in the garden, infected buds should be harvested immediately. The infected area, as well as about an inch of bud surrounding it should be removed and thrown away. The same is true if you spot mold while you are harvesting or big leafing. The more leaf that is removed from the bud, the easier it will be to spot mold hidden deep inside the large colas near the stem. Be sure to clean your pruners or fiskars with alcohol after cutting out the mold. You don’t want to contaminate the clean buds as they are being processed.
You are one step closer to the end of the outdoor growing season, but don’t let your guard down now. Most of the work is complete so you are at the highest risk from ripoffs and police raids. Neither cops or thieves want to do any more work than is absolutely necessary.
I hope you found this article on harvesting cannabis helpful. If you have question about the article please leave them in the comments section below. Here are a couple of article that may help if you have questions about identifying when plants are ready to harvest, or about how to dry your cannabis. If you have questions not directly related to harvesting, please post your questions in the forum. We are happy to answer all questions and help when we can.
How To Harvest Marijuana,