Although growing cannabis may be easier than you might think, getting the perfect harvest isn’t always so simple. Even a good healthy plant can be completely spoiled by harvesting at the wrong time.
However, by paying attention to the schedule and process outlined in this article, you can make sure that you aren’t wasting the potential of your cannabis gardening with a poorly-timed or executed harvest.
Cannabis is ready to harvest anywhere between 8 and 12 weeks after flowering starts, sometimes longer.
Checking for Ripeness
The easiest (but less accurate) way to determine when your cannabis is ready to harvest is by looking at the pistils of the plant.
These hairs on your buds will start out white and stiff, but will gradually darken and curl over time. By the time your plant is ready to harvest, the majority of the hairs will have lost their rigidity and shifted to a reddish color.
Following this approach is simple, and will easily prevent you from any major mistakes in choosing when to harvest. With experience your will instictively know how ripe your plant is.
This flower is from a plant that’s in its 4th week of flower. These white hairs mean the bud is still immature. These are the hairs that will change from white to brownish red as the plant gets closer to harvest time.
This flower is from a plant that’s in its 7th week of flower. The white hairs have turned red, indicating the plant is almost mature enough to harvest and reach its peak ripeness and potency.
Checking Ripeness of Trichomes
However, it’s still possible to find the best time to harvest with more precision than this. An even better indicator of plant ripeness than the pistils can be found in the tiny trichomes on the buds.
To see trichomes clearly, you’ll need significant magnification. It’s best to turn to a microscope. A USB microscope is a great and often affordable option, It will allow you to record photos and video. You’ll be able to easily identify changes in the trichomes and pinpoint the best time for harvest.
Underneath a microscope, trichomes will look like mushroom shaped trees. These cute little trees are full of cannabinoids and will gain potency as the plant matures. These trichomes will give you a better idea of when the THC levels in the plant have reached their peak.
Similar to the pistils, the trichomes will also change colour. The little balls on top of the stalk will go from clear to cloudy and on to amber. The moment they turn amber, they have reached their peak potency.
Trichomes as seen through a USB microscope.
How ripeness affects quality
The ripeness will affect the perceived “high”. An immature plant will produce a shorter and clearer experience with a grassier taste. A mature bud will give you a much heavier high.
Not all trichomes will mature at the same speed. You will want to harvest when at least 50% to 80% of the trichomes are cloudy. Past that point, as the trichomes turn to a more amber color, your harvest will be higher in CBN and consequently a more relaxing high.
When to Harvest Outdoor Cannabis Plants
If you’re growing weed outdoors finding the right time to harvest will depend on your growing location.
All the methods to determine maturity still apply, it’s the weather you need to worry about.
As the temperature begins to cool in fall, the plants’ growth will begin to slow down extending the flowering time.
Outdoor plants started in the spring will mature sometime in late September to early October.
When growing in a colder climate, frost has the potential to damage your entire crop. If your plant is taking a little longer than expected, you can finish them inside (if you don’t mind the smell). This is why it’s recommended to grow faster flowering strains like autos and indicas in these types of climates.
If you’re growing in soil, flushing your plants with regular water 1 week before harvest will greatly improve the flavour and quality of your bud. By watering your plants with double the usual amount of water, you will flush out the excess nutrients in the soil.
It takes time for your plant to absorb nutrients. When you flush your soil you stop the plant from taking on any more nutrients. Excess nutrients that are not yet metabolized will affect the flavour badly. Starving your plant a week before harvest prevents that excess.
Timing this can be a little tough, don’t be too discouraged if you don’t get it exactly right on your first try. Trying to time the process with the best harvest time from either pistil or trichome changes can be challenging.
You’ll want to make sure you don’t flush for too long, however, or you may start to damage the harvest instead, discoloring your buds due to the lack of nutrients.
After harvest, you should immediately start the process of drying and curing your buds. Try your best to maintain a temperature under 21C, or 70F, and relative humidity between 40% to 50%. Terpenes are the essential oils of your plant, keeping the dry temp low prevents them from evaporating. Low humidity will draw out the moisture and prevent mold.
If your weed ends up smelling like hay, you probably didn’t dry it properly.
Using a dehumidifier or heater can damage the buds, so it’s best to avoid using them if you can. Leave your harvest alone while it’s drying for the next 4 days and then check them. When the branches snap instead of bend, the plant will be ready to be placed in jars for curing.
While curing you can use affordable two-way humidity packs to help keep the target humidity inside your jars. They will keep your cannabis fresher for much longer too.
Wet trimmed buds ready to be dried. While drying, it’s best to leave them alone in complete darkness for the entire process.
Dried buds now being cured in glass jars. These jars must be “burped” at lease once a day by opening the lid and allowing gasses to be released.
By following the guidelines above, you can ensure that your cannabis harvest will be the very best you can get. Being as thorough as you can seem like a hassle, but using the proper methods don’t take long to get the hang of. Doing so will help ensure your harvested buds are of the highest quality possible.
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