Welcome to "The rough guide to harvesting and curing". The object of this document is to provide easy answers to common questions which have been posted on this forum. It's by no means definitive but should provide answers or a link to the information you are looking for.
I plan to update this document from time to time and welcome constructive criticism or personal experiences which you might have to add. Feel free to PM me. If you have any other questions remember to use the search facility at the top of the forum. Chances are it has been asked before. If not then ask because someone will know.
You have spent months preparing for this day. The anxiety, the anticipation, the excitement has all been leading towards this day. The day of the chop, a glorious day to for any grower weather it's the first time or the hundredth. The job won't end here though. Take a step back for a moment and consider this : You're half way through the process of having a finished product which is ready to be smoked. You still have to dry what you have and hopefully cure it for a better taste and high.
You're going to need to have a few things sorted out before chopping anything down. This should prepare you a little.
When to harvest
Length of flowering is strain dependant, and even then you can't be sure that the seeds will do what they say on the pack. Any reputable breeder will give guidelines as to the length of time that the strain will take to mature. Most Indica dominant strains mature in 8 to 9 weeks as opposed to Sativas which can take anywhere from 13 or more. Failing that have a look at the Strain Base regarding flowering times.
As cannabis matures; the flowers - 'calyxes' - swell and grow. Pistils wither and brown but are overtaken by new growth which in turn does the same. Peak maturity is reached when 90% of the plant calyxes are fully swollen aswell as over 80% of the plants pistils being browned.
It is generally agreed that the best way to determine if a plant is ready for harvest is by looking at the colour of the trichomes (trichs). Trichome FAQ here by OT1. In order to be sure try to use trichome colouring as the main guide for finding out if the plant is ready to your taste. You may find sections of the plant which are mature before any others. In this case it is your choice to remove them or allow them to stay on the plant and continue to mature.
Summed up best by VRG and oldtimer1:
If you have a pocket microscope, or jewellers loupe, you can examine the trichomes (trichs). They start out as just little sticks, and as your bud ripens they grow bobbles on the tops of those sticks. As soon as your trichs have bobbles on, and appear to be ready to burst, you can harvest.
If you leave them on, and keep an eye on the trichs with your magnifier, you can taylor the stone to what you require. They will firstly go a milky white colour, this is the process of THC degrading to CBD, THC gives you the heady "up" high, whereas the CBD gives you the body stone. Going on the pistils, gives you a rough idea of when to chop, but if you get a magnifier, you can chop different buds, at different stages to see what you like the best
Most people chop when the trichs are mainly milky white. If you leave them a bit longer, you will see the trichs turn an amber colour, this is when the buds are at their most potent in terms of couch-lock, and is the best time to harvest if the smoke is to be used for medi purposes.
High psychoactive varieties produce clear or transparent capitate heads then they turn transparent amber then slowly oxidise to brown, none translucent. This type is most psychoactive at the early amber translucent stage.
Most varieties do not have a translucent amber stage. What you get is transparent then the milky none translucent that develops over time to the oxidised none translucent brown stage. This type is most psychoactive at the early milky stage.
A quick note about psychoactivity by oldtimer1
The thing about amber trichomes, is that true amber trichomes only develop in some phenotypes and only with very high potency types!
The way to define it, is that high potency or should I say the type of plant that develops what I call complex psychoactivity, only develop with clear trichome stages, they go from glass clear to very light yellow to amber to red amber as they develop. The onset of the first red amber just showing is when the potency is at its peak.
At all these stages the trichomes are crystal clear like cut jewels! Its only as they start to degrade that they start to go brown and start to cloud ie: become none translucent this finally degrades to a dark muddy colour.
Types that go from glass clear to milky [like frosted glass]. With this type when you get 40 to 60% milky trichomes, new thc production is being produced at a lower rate than it is slowly degrading, this is the most psychoactive point for this type or variety, it will never produce true amber, instead when you get the oxidised thc starting to show, which is more of an amber brown but cloudy. With this type of var as soon as brown trichomes start appearing you know thc production is way over the top and declining rapidly, at this stage psychoactivity is also declining and the effect becomes more and more narcotic. You see this much more with genes that come from hash making type genetics or so called indicas. Its the same thing as fresh lightly pressed hash has a nice medium honey coloured look, but this very quickly starts to darken, becomes brown then black over time as the surface thc oil oxidises.
Real Amber trichomes only happen on a very few varieties (mainly sativa dominant), the order is clear, clear slightly pale yellow, ie [going amber], to clear red amber. [at all stages they remain jewel clear]
With most varieties (indica dominant) you get clear trichomes then slightly cloudy finally milky.
What happens to both types (sativa and indica) is that eventually both milky and amber trichomes will finally degrade to brown, people often confuse this brown with amber, true amber trichome types remain crystal clear until they finally degrade, they are not the same, the final brown is cloudy/muddy in both types, when trichomes are getting to this stage potency is declining rapidly and the buds well over the top.
With sativa domís time means little, as soon as you see the first sign of trichome changes ie milky/clear straw, you start cutting a bud every week, then choose the stone you like best, sats take longer to mature especially real amber types, also longer to degrade to the brown oxidised stage.
Some pictures of trichome maturation courtesy of Tricky knome and OT1. Shown here are pictures of trichomes which have turned milky in colour.
Few shots of trichomes ready for harvest. Shot on the left is of an indica dominant strain. Shot on the right is a sativa variety:
Finally you can clearly see the amber coloured trichomes on this leaf. This is about a month over ripe.
If you're having problems getting hold of a loupe try here or for a microscope check here : You're looking for at least a x10 and at the most a x100. I get by fine with a x20. Alternatively you could have a look on ebay.
Location, Location, Location
It is worth taking a little time to consider where you are going to dry your bud. This may be an easy decision for some people and difficult for others. Ideally you're looking for an environment which is :
15 - 18 degrees C and has low air exchange.
Humidity should be kept below 50.
If the drying temperature is too low then the buds may contract fungus which will ruin your crop or at least allow it to dry very slowly.
On the other hand if the temperature is too high then you'll end up flash drying the buds which will result in a harsh taste and a lower quality smoke. You're looking at a drying time of between 10 and 21 days. Stems should snap easily when completely dry and the buds should not have a direct breeze blowing on them.
Some people opt to use their existing flowering room to dry their crop. Keeping the light off and the desired temperature pretty much ensures an even dry. The added bonus is that the flowering room will usually have a carbon filter attached to the extraction line, so you won't have any problems with potential smells. Using your flowering room is by no means a bad idea. For some people however it may not be practical simply because they always have plants in the flowering room being flowered.
Use what's available to you weather it be an airing cupboard, loft, garage or spare room. You may need to build a chamber specifically for drying your crop. This is the option I decided on simply because it is a little risky having drying bud about the house.
There are numerous ways to harvest you're plants. Stem at a time is probably the easiest way but some folks cut the entire plant and hang it upside down. You may have single stemmed plants which are easily hung as they are. On the other hand you may be dealing with a large, multiple stem plant which can't be hung as a single unit. The general consensus is that by hanging the plant / buds it enables you to keep it off the ground and allows air to get at all of the surface area evenly.
Of course there is nothing stopping you from placing your buds on screens, trays, pieces of cardboard or similar; but you'll end up with a 'flat' section on the bud and possibly disturb the trichomes on that side. You may also need to turn the bud to allow for even drying and end up with a few flat spots.
Hanging methods include:
String hung across two points.
Cloths hangers / horse.
Screws / nails /string.
Example here shows screws being used to hang a freshly cropped plant. Each large growing branch was removed and hung by a smaller branch on the main stem on each.
Try to allow for some space between buds and try not to allow them to touch one another.
Cut and hang colas / buds by the main branch's
Remove fan leaves from the cola / buds. Remove any medium to large sized leaves which have no visible trichomes and bin them. Because the buds have just been cut it means the leaves are still turgid and outstretched. This makes it far easier to remove the larger non essential leaves.
At this stage you can do a few things. You can leave the whole cola intact and move onto removing medium / smaller sized leaves which have low to medium trichome covering. Give the cola a rough work round removing excess leaf material. Remember to do the cropping over a tray or papers. Collect up the trimmed leaf and keep it in a zip lock bag.
The alternative is to cut the cola into manageable sized, smaller buds. Shown below is a smaller bud which has been removed from the main cola. It's had the fan leaves removed and a rough manicure to remove excess leaf. It's now ready to be hung for drying.
Note that you can leave the plant / cola untouched and just hang it to dry if you like. It will however take longer to dry because there is more water holding material on the plant. The trim from the medium /smaller leaves with light trichome covering is usable and worth keeping. Put it in a zip lock bag and place it in the freezer for now. You'll have a use for it later.
Final manicure can be done when the plant is wet, drying or dry. This is easiest done by holding the area to be manicured upside down. With a pair of scissors or clips you can cut the stem of each trichome covered leaf which will be curled round protecting the bud itself. These small / medium sized leaves should be saved. There is no need to go overboard when removing leaf on your final manicure. If it has a good trichome covering then leave it on the bud. You should be looking at something like this after a final manicure. From here clip any extra stem off and cut the buds into nuggets or manageable sized lengths.
Brown bagging is a method used for the final drying period of your buds. After the buds are nearly dry and a few days before they go into the jars some people like to place the buds in brown paper bags. The bag is then loosely closed up at the opening and the buds are left for a few days to a week. This draws out the remaining moisture before going into the jars. Brown paper bags are advisable as they don't contain any colouring agents.
Air bud and Trim
When people refer to 'air-bud' they are talking about lower, smaller 'airy' buds which are trichome covered but sparse in bulk. These are excellent source material for making bubble hash or for using in another method of THC extraction. Picture shows a 'sugar leaf' which is ideal for bubble making.
Trim the usual excess material away from the air-buds and put them in a separate zip lock bag from your other trim. Put them both in a freezer until you are able to do something with them. If you're interested in bubble hash check the forum here. Other methods of extraction can be found here in the hash making forum along with The Rough Guide to Hash and Hash Making.
seeds should be ready for harvest 3-5 weeks after pollination. 4 weeks being average. The seeds should be plump with good dark colouring when harvested. Remove undeveloped and pale seeds as well as any plant material before allowing drying to take place.
In order to make sure you have viable seeds which are gong to germinate you need a 2 month drying and curing period. seeds should be removed from the seed pod and dried under the same conditions as sinsemilla. If possible store in a fridge or freezer to prolong viability once they have dried and been cured.
Curing and storage of bud and hash.
What is curing and why bother ? Curing is the slow process of partial decarboxilation of oxygen molecules from THC and plant material. Resulting in a clearer, stronger high as well as an improved taste, smell and burn. It should be noted that hash should be stored under the same conditions as bud. Pickling and food storage jars are favoured for this job. Pic here courtesy of a post by Bish.
Along with some good advice:
"To avoid chipping the jars i gave the seal a good warm in hot water & worked it a bit before putting on. Don't rely on the wire & glass to do all the work - this applies for all these jars - but press down on the lid with ya hand before clipping on"
Wire and clasp with a rubber seal is what you're looking for. These usually come in different sizes up to 5 litres and larger so i have read. Usually pretty cheap and easily available.
The main factors in THC degradation are heat, light, oxygen and water. Bearing this in mind; find somewhere to store your jars of bud. Main thing is the room / hiding spot is dark and cool.
Before you place any of your bud in the curing jars it has to be DRY. This is the most important thing you have to remember. Stems should snap cleanly between thumb and forefinger before going into the jars. If you place damp buds in the jars then there is a good chance the whole jar will go mouldy. Don't take any chances and allow your hard grown weed to be wasted at this stage of the game. Buds should be placed in the jars and not packed in. Note the strain and date somewhere.
In order to remove the last of the moisture from the plant each jar must be 'burped' every day / few days to allow stale air out and fresh air in. If you don't burp the jars it is possible to get a moisture build-up inside; which will lead to the development of fungus or mould. To achieve a full cure it is necessary to leave the buds in the jars for a minimum of 4-6 weeks, burping every odd day.
Simply open each jar for about 5-10 mins a day and shake the contents a little. Not hard; just enough to stir the buds. Replace the lid, maybe take a sample and leave it.
Buds can be stored in jars for years when the conditions are correct. If you find the contents of a jar has dried out after a long period of time add a fan leaf into the jar for 12 hours or so. It'll add a little moisture. Enjoy the fruits of your labour ...