Tips for Harvesting Your Outdoor Home Grow

 In Cultivation

Angela Young at CeresMED

Harvesting your cannabis can easily become overwhelming. There is a lot of conflicting information amongst growers, and it can sometimes feel impossible to parse out what is useful to your specific cultivation situation. While harvesting is work, it should also be fun and it is a great time to connect more deeply with your medicine. CeresMED is here to help! Angela Young, a member of our cultivation team here at CeresMED, offers some tips to assist you with these last stages of your outdoor home grow and shares advice on how to harvest your plants.

Angela joined us just under a year ago after working in the Massachusetts medical cannabis program. A 2018 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Sustainable Food and Farming bachelor’s degree program, she moved to Vermont to further her cultivation skills and experience working in a younger, evolving market. She brings a wealth of knowledge regarding regenerative agriculture to our team, deepening our already strong commitment to sustainable cultivation practices.

We asked her some frequent questions that growers often have as they get ready to harvest. Here’s what she had to say. 

How do you know when to harvest your plants? 

The first way to know that your plants are ready is by the changing colors of the largest fan leaves on your plant. They’ll change from a vibrant green to yellow or purple. This color change signals that your plant is no longer seeking the sunlight to continue growing. Once the leaves start to dry out and brown, it has passed the ideal harvesting time.

My favorite way to determine when plants are ready is by the colors of the stigmas. These are the hair-like strands connected to the pistils that traditionally receive pollen from any surrounding male plants. These will begin to turn red and brown. When the stigmas are half red and withering and half still white and spikey, your plants are at their peak.

Firmness is another way to tell whether your plant is ready for harvest. When you squeeze the bud lightly between your fingers, and it gives without any resistance or bouncing back to full size, she is not ready! A firm flower is a ready flower because there is enough mass there to retain after the moisture has been removed during drying and curing.

Active Eye Loupe from Gardener’s Supply Company

The sticky, frosty orbs that cover your bud and surrounding leaves will also change in appearance. These orbs, called trichomes, will appear clear to a milky white and then a deeper amber. A small jeweler’s loupe is a worthy investment if you want to get up close and personal with your plant’s trichomes’ shape and color, though when you look at your plant every day, the naked eye will become accustomed to these changes. The best time to harvest is when most of these trichomes appear mostly milky with some amber scattered through, much like the plant’s stigmas.

Most plants take between 6-10 weeks to complete the flowering stage of their life. Always keep an eye on the weather and be sure to harvest before frost is imminent. 

What is the necessary prep work for harvesting?

Setting up your drying space is the best thing you can do for yourself before harvesting your plants. This does not have to be a big space. An empty closet with some simple environmental controls will work for smaller crops. Many home growers convert indoor growing tents or finished basements into dry rooms. A clean backyard shed can also work for a larger harvest as long as there aren’t any holes in the walls! We work with what we have.

A fan that blows indirectly on the plants is a great addition to your room to promote the movement of the humid air. You can create some lines to hang your plants using yarn, cable, twine, or whatever material you have on hand.

The key to success in your dry room is that you have a controlled environment for your flower to lose its water content. Consistent humidity and temperature are the keys to an even drying period. 

One of my co-cultivators always says to use “the 60/60 rule.” By this, he means that the best conditions to dry your flower is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and about 60% humidity. Depending on your climate and what is available to you, there is a space for a bit of leeway in either direction for both controls. Making small adjustments throughout drying is still necessary as you react to your plant’s progress. These temperatures are a great place to start, but be sure not to set and forget.

How do I harvest my plants?

As you walk over to your plants, bring a clean bin or tarp with you! You want to avoid putting them directly on the ground after working hard all season to produce such beautiful plants. 

Removing fan leaves before cutting down your plant is a personal choice mostly dictated by your area’s climate. Leaving the fan leaves on slows the drying process in hotter, more arid climates. This is not the case during Vermont’s harvest season.

When it comes to choosing a tool, there are options for every preference and price point. From household to garden scissors, a clean cut from a sharp blade edge is the most important part. Clean cuts are less likely to allow any late stage mold, mildews, or pests to get in. 

Cut the branches about a foot long with, ideally, a spot to hang and balance your plant. This hooking feature can be a smaller branch that sticks out or a piece of the main stem. You can also use clothes pins at the end of stems or try hooking a flower over your cord or metal coat hanger.

What happens in the drying process?

Image Credit: ShutterStock

During the drying process, your cut plants will lose approximately 80% of their water content. When hanging your plants to dry, leave space between the plants to reduce the chance of molding and increase air circulation around the plants. If that moisture were to get trapped between two drying branches, you are increasing the potential for mold to grow.

Drying your plants can typically take between 10-14 days. I recommend assessing your cannabis daily. One way is to perform the “pinch test”, just like you did when checking if your flower was ready to harvest. When dry, this should sound a little crunchy but the flower should also still bounce back from the applied pressure. If both of these traits are absent, your cannabis is not dry.

Another indicator is the “snap test” – if the small stem connecting the flower to the stalk snaps instead of bends, you are good to go. 

When do I trim? Before drying or after?

Trimming before drying, or “wet” trimming, and dry trimming both have their pros and cons. Your decision comes down to personal preference, your climate, and how much plant matter you have. Regardless of your choice, I recommend gloves, a clean surface, and some isopropyl alcohol to keep your snips or scissors from getting too sticky.

Wet trimming reduces the drying time and space necessary for your plants because there is less to dry. However, it becomes very sticky very quickly. The biggest benefit to wet trimming is that the trichomes, where the cannabinoids and terpenes primarily reside, stay attached to the flower. When dry trimming, these trichomes have also dried and are more likely to fall off when not handled delicately. 

Dry trimming, by comparison, slows the drying time because there is more biomass remaining on the plant to dry. Once dry, however, trimming becomes slightly faster because the leaves are easier to snip right off. As noted previously, dry trichomes are more likely to fall off so be sure to handle your buds with care – when you lose trichomes, you lose flavor and effect. 

How close to the flower do I trim?

Take a pair of snips or scissors and cut around your flower. How much of the leaf matter left on is about your personal preference. You can cut right up close to the flower removing all of the leaves, or you can keep the small resinous leaves, referred to as sugar leaves, in tact. Either will offer a smooth smoke and plenty of potency. Keep any sugar leaves that you remove and use them to make cannabutter, tinctures or teas. There is a lot of good medicine in them and you don’t want them to go to waste.  

What is “curing,” and why is it necessary?

The curing process helps to preserve flavors and aromas and stabilize the remaining moisture content in the flower. As it dries, it dries from the outside in. The outer, less dense areas dry quicker while the inner, more dense sections of the bud harbor more moisture and are less brittle in the exterior. The curing process, typically 2-4 weeks depending on bud size and density, allows for the moisture to stabilize and be more homogenous throughout all of the flower.

Image Credit: iStockPhoto

Proper curing is just part of the equation for maintaining the quality of the flower over time.  Oxygen, light, temperature, and moisture are all environmental attributes that need to be managed to the best of your ability post-cure and over time to maintain the quality of your flower. You generally want to keep your flower in a light and oxygen deprived environment that is between 58-62% relative humidity and 60-70F. Oxygen, light, and heat will all denature terpenes and will denature and/or alter cannabinoid content. I recommend an amber or blue glass for this process, but if you are in an abundance of clear, canning jars, that will do! Be sure to keep them in a cool, dry and dark space. These jars will double nicely as your flower’s final storage space. 

Some growers have recommended porous containers such as paper bags, but this will dry your bud without any sweating – leaving an over-dried, musty memory of the flower you had harvested.

How do I fill my jar during the curing process?

Fill your jar without packing it – let the buds naturally nestle together. Packing it too tightly will encourage mold growth and leaving too much empty space can cause it to oxidize and dry out.

The last of the moisture within your plants needs to go somewhere! Open the jar’s lid to release the built-up oxygen and moisture each morning. Bud that once felt dry will once again feel as moist as they did days ago. This is a good sign that they are still in the process of drying. Take this as reassurance that you’re treating your cannabis well. Agitate your jar occasionally to prevent stagnant or stuck-together buds. If they feel much wetter than yesterday, don’t be afraid to leave the jar’s lid off for the whole morning or even the whole day. Some growers burp in short spurts throughout the day but if you are prone to forget, set a one-timer on your phone to revisit your open jar and seal her back up for the evening. 

Image Credit: OpenRangeStock

If you’re still uncertain about when your cannabis is dry and ready to consume, you can buy a moisture meter at your local growing supply store. Stick it into your bud to test it. The ideal reading would be a range of 10-13%. We target 12% moisture. Anything under 10% starts to get dry and brittle. Flower that is above 15% moisture content could be a potential food safety concern as it can be hospitable to microbial growth, but we aim for under 13% as a precaution. 

Once your flower is consistently within this safe humidity range for a few days, consider your curing process done! We recommend using a humidity pack such as Boveda or Boost to keep your flower at its peak.

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