Harvesting Weed Guide
Most experienced growers will tell you that the hardest thing about growing their first marijuana plant was harvesting. They’ve already put in weeks of work. Indoor plants take approximately 8 weeks, but outdoor plants can take even longer.
After waiting patiently for all those weeks, the last thing that any grower wants is to make a mistake and ruin the potency and quality of your weed.
This ultimate guide on how to harvest weed will help keep you from making those mistakes during this crucial phase of your weed growing adventure.
When to Harvest Your Weed
Before we can discuss how to harvest weed, we must first discuss when. Timing your harvest correctly is one of the most important things that you can do. Timing is key so that you don’t harvest too early (thus risking a lower potency) or too late (when potency and such start to deteriorate).
Many seed companies will provide some guidelines, but you can’t merely rely on their timeline. Your plants may take longer due to many factors. Many times, it is due to some form of stress, such as the shock of being transplanted.
The information provided with seeds explains how long it will take the buds to mature once flowering starts, but there is always a chance that the marketed information isn’t exactly correct.
That’s why you should decide when to harvest based on the signs your plants give you, rather than relying on externally provided information.
We recommend using these three methods to properly time your harvest:
1. Look at the Pistils
Pistils are the female sex organs of the cannabis plant, and they first begin to develop on cannabis preflowers. Pistils are the hairs you see sticking out from the calyxes of the buds on your plants. They appear somewhat intermittently and unpredictably, but these pistils can help you determine whether or not your plants are male. Both female and intersex plants have pistils.
When they’re first visible, pistils are completely white. Between 4-6 weeks after germination, they turn a reddish brown color. After 7 to 10 weeks, flush them with a water or flushing solution. At this point, they will be a rich orange, red, or brown color. The pistils will be more prone to falling off. They also curl back. Begin harvesting when approximately half of the pistils darken and curl up. This will produce a mild high. You can get a stronger high when 70-90% of pistils turn darker, but anything past that will yield lower THC content. At this point, THC will degrade and turn into CBN. Find out more about harvesting for the right kind of high in a little bit.
2. Examine the Trichomes
Using a magnifying lens, digital microscope, or jeweler’s loupe, take a close look at the trichomes, or the tiny “crystals” covering the flowers.
These crystals give cannabis strains their unique aroma, taste, and cannabinoid profile. The trichomes are clear, shiny and sticky. Immature cannabis buds have trichomes that are clear and glassy in appearance. Only start harvesting once you can see that at least 30% of the trichomes are milky white or cloudy.
3. Examine the Trichomes and Pistils
This third method involves observing both trichomes and pistils to get a more accurate signal that it is time to harvest your crop. Using both methods helps you to avoid pulling the trigger too quickly.
For instance, the trichomes could still be clear even though the pistils changed color and orientation. Or, the trichomes may be cloudy, while the pistils are still white. Observing a change in both trichomes and pistils, therefore, provides reliable proof that it is time to harvest.
There are a variety of different tools you can use to take a closer look at your plant. They include
- A smartphone magnifier lens
- A jeweler’s loupe
- A microscope
A smartphone magnifier lens is probably your cheapest option and might be a better bargain because you can also use it for other things. Fortunately, a smartphone magnifier lens is included along with 2 other fun lenses in every Pot for Pot Complete Grow Kit.
What Happens if You Harvest Weed Too Early?
Don’t let your impatience get the best of you. If you harvest weed too early, you’ll have a lower amount of THC and CBD in your harvest, resulting in a lower high and a mild to weak flavor. You might also have a lower yield. It might even have unwanted side effects, like headaches and intermittent highs.
What Happens if You Harvest Weed Too Late?
If you harvest too late, there’s more at risk than a bad high. Not only will your weed have a strong taste and narcotic effect, but the plants might develop a strong scent - attracting pests, mold, and mildew.
Harvesting Time Indoors vs. Outdoors
It’s easier to predict harvesting time if you’re growing weed indoors because your plants are in a controlled environment. If you’re growing cannabis outdoors, your plants are subject to the weather and pests. On the other hand, growing cannabis indoors means you can control the climate and even the lighting. You can predict more easily when it’s time to harvest, and even though your yield will be smaller, you can keep harvesting throughout the year.
Harvesting Different Strains
Indica strains are usually ready for harvest after 8 weeks of flowering. Sativa strains of cannabis take a little longer, and are usually ready after 10 weeks. Autoflowering cannabis also requires about 10 weeks. However, remember that these are just estimates. It’s important that you know what kind of high you want and how to look for visual clues so that you can harvest at the right time.
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How to Harvest Weed for Different Effects
Now that you know when you should harvest, it is time to fine-tune that timing so you can harvest for the specific effects that you want. Your plant will give you signs that it is ready. You can use the following indicators to decide your optimal time to harvest.
Choose from one of three desired effects:
- Energetic high. For an energetic high, harvest your cannabis once 30 percent of the trichomes turn cloudy, and half of the pistils darken. Think of it like a strong cup of joe.
- Intense, euphoric high. Harvest if nearly 60 percent of the trichomes are cloudy, and 70 percent of the pistils have darkened. Weed harvested at this point will give you an intense high.
- A relaxing high. For a more relaxing high, begin your harvest if up to 90 percent of the trichomes have turned cloudy, and the same proportion of the pistils have darkened. You’ll get a more relaxing high because a portion of the THC in the buds will have been converted to CBN. CBN is responsible for making you relaxed and also fights anxiety. It has also been linked to pain relief. Keep in mind that if you wait too long to harvest, the CBN will make you drowsy.
Removing Fan Leaves
Now we can really get into the process of how to harvest weed. Once you are sure that your cannabis buds are sufficiently matured, your first task is to remove the fan leaves. The fan leaves are the larger leaves that absorb light and manufacture food for the plant.
Because of their function of absorbing light, fan leaves are also called “sun leaves.”
What can you do with these sun leaves once you remove them? They contain negligible concentrations of compounds like THC. This is unlike the smaller leaves (sugar leaves), which are found closer to the buds. Most people choose to discard their fan leaves, however, they can be used in the kitchen by adding them to fruit and vegetable smoothies. They contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for a strong body and mind.
How do you remove those sun leaves? It’s simple. You use a Pot for Pot trimming scissors. You could also try more expensive methods such as hand-held hedge trimmers. Whatever you use, make sure it is clean.
Once the fan leaves are off, you have a choice to make regarding when to remove the remaining leaves, such as those close to the buds. You can do this while your weed is still wet, or you could dry it and remove these sugar leaves afterward.
Those who opt for the latter option can choose to use their hands or our trimming scissors to quickly remove the leaves.
Remember that the sugar leaves closer to the buds contain valuable cannabis compounds, so these should be saved. The stems also contain high amounts of THC and other compounds, so save those and other plant segments for making concentrates and tinctures.
What to Do with Fan Leaves
If you’re concerned about wasting precious greens and want to find other uses for fan and sugar leaves, you’re in luck. Fan leaves usually have very small traces of cannabinoids, but some large sugar leaves have been found to contain 0.3-0.7% THC. Either way, you don’t have to throw them away!
It’s become a trend to juice the leaves or make tea. Raw cannabis does not need to be decarbed and can easily be added to a smoothie with the potential to increase its therapeutic dose. Tea from fan leaves can be relaxing without producing a high, and drying the leaves out beforehand can enhance any trace elements of THC. Fan leaves can also be used to make salves for your skin. All you have to do is add an extract from the leaves into a carrier oil or fat, like coconut oil.
Unlike fan leaves, sugar leaves are rich in cannabinoids. This makes sugar leaves great for making hash or cannabutter. Both fan leaves and sugar leaves can also be composted and added back into your soil to provide nutrients.
Drying Your Weed
After removing the fan leaves and either wet trimming (removing the sugar leaves while the weed is still wet) or leaving the sugar leaves on the plant, your next task is preparing your plant for drying.
Use your trimming scissors to cut the plants with their buds still attached to the stems. Next, select a cool location to conduct the drying process.
Dry your plants upside down on strings, or with clothespins. It may be easier to cut the plants into branches or sections to make them more manageable during the process. This is especially true if you grew an especially bushy strain of cannabis – the type with branches that spread out and form a kind of bush.
Keep the temperatures between 65-75°F during the drying process. Relative humidity should be maintained between 45 and 55 percent.
If you can, dry your weed in complete darkness. This precaution is necessary because UV radiation or artificial light could break down some of the compounds in your weed, such as terpenes and cannabinoids.
How Long Does it Take Weed to Dry?
In most cases, you’ll need 7-10 days to complete the drying process. How can you tell that your weed has dried? Try to bend a stem or branch. If it bends, the weed isn’t dry yet. If the stem breaks, your weed is sufficiently dry.
Related: Harvesting and Drying
It’s time for the next step in our journey of learning how to harvest weed. Once your weed has dried, you will need to remove the stems from the cannabis buds. Once again, use our trimming scissors to remove the stems.
To do this, cut the flower from its base. Leave the stem and most of the remaining leaves on the stalk. Professional marijuana growing operations often use machines to automate this process. However, hand-trimmed weed (artisan) is highly desirable for many people.
Sorting Your Weed
Once you remove the stems from the cannabis buds, the next step is to sort those flowers. There are different ways to do this.
For example, you can use size as a basis for sorting. This is useful for many reasons, especially if you’re saving the bigger ones for specific purposes.
Sorting is also a needed step when using automated trimmers. Those machines need the buds to be somewhat uniform in size.
Sorting also makes it easier to identify cannabis buds that have defects, such as those which were attacked by mold or have abnormal shapes. Save the very small buds or those with undesirable shapes to make into tinctures, butter, or other concentrates.
Trimming: Dry Trim vs. Wet Trim
Those who trimmed their weed when it was still wet won’t have to worry about this step. However, if you’ve dried your cannabis first, you’ll likely notice that those adjacent sugar leaves have curled in tightly to the buds, perhaps forming an envelope around them.
You now have to remove those dried leaves without the flowers. Because this is an intricate process, it tends to be done by hand. Our trimming scissors are perfect for the task.
With professional weed, this task is often handled by a trimming staff, since it can not be done by machines. That is why hand-trimmed weed tends to cost more.
When you are growing for yourself, it makes a lot more sense to trim your weed while it is wet. Wet trimming is easier because the leaves are not tightly curled around the buds.
However, wet trimming leads to faster drying, which can cause the trichomes to deteriorate, and your cannabis will lose some of its unique taste, flavor, and potency. Professional operations use dry trimming because it is more efficient with trim machines.
You should weigh the pros and cons of wet trimming vs. dry to select what will be best for the outcomes you desire.
Best Weed Trimming Scissors
Trimming is one of the most important parts of the harvesting process, and to make sure you’re doing a good job, you must have the right tools. Our Precision Trimming Scissors, pictured above, can help you trim with accuracy and ease. The large, non-stick handles are comfortable to hold, while the small, sharp blade can maneuver effortlessly between leaves and buds. The scissors also come with handy instructions with more tips for cleaning and harvesting.
Now that you have harvested, dried, and trimmed your weed it’s time for the final stage: the curing process. The main objective of curing is to concentrate the flavor and potency of your weed. This is done by letting the buds evaporate the remaining moisture inside of them via a slow-drying process.
Curing is also done to make the weed last longer. After harvesting, bacteria break down the sugars and starches of your crop. The curing process helps the plants use these helpful sugars and starches before they dry out in order to stay preserved.
To cure your weed, pack it loosely in opaque glass containers. If you can’t find opaque containers, mason jars will work, but be sure to keep them out of the light. Next, cover your jars tightly and store them in a dark room.
In the initial days of curing, open the jars briefly (for about a minute). This is sometimes referred to as “burping” the jars because condensation or moist air is replaced with fresher and drier air.
As the curing process continues, adjust how often you burp the covered jars. For example, after about two weeks, you can start opening the jars every other day. Once your weed has been curing for more than a month you can reduce this frequency to once every 5-7 days.
As the weed cures, the moisture inside the flowers is moved to the surface by capillary action. This is the moisture that forms the condensation on the walls of the container.
Another method for curing cannabis involves placing the buds in a paper bag. This process, like “burping,” helps prevent mold by removing excess moisture. The paper will absorb excess wetness and allow the weed to cure. Just make sure not to put too much in one bag; you can place the bag horizontally, spread out the buds, and fold over the open side.
One final way to avoid mold is to use a two-way humidity packet. These tools also help prevent weed from drying out. They can last for weeks or even months, so you won’t have to replace them during the curing process.
After two or so months, your weed will be sufficiently cured. At this time, the flavors, potency, and other nutrients will be at their peak. You can even sample your weed periodically to assess whether it has reached your desired potency and taste.
If your weed isn’t cured sufficiently, its quality will degrade rapidly, and it may not be as potent as it could have been.
Put Your Weed in Long-Term Storage
Once your cannabis has been cured to the desired level, it is time to put it in long-term storage. You can use the same mason jars you used to cure the cannabis to store it for use later. In that case, just cover the jars tightly and keep them in a cool, dark location.
You could also transfer the weed to other containers, as long as you remember and respect the same requirements of airtightness and opaqueness. A cabinet or a closet are examples of appropriate storage locations for your cured weed.
Just as is the case with anything that you grow, there is no single harvest and post-harvest handling method that is the best in all situations.
Different things work for different people. However, regardless of how advanced weed harvesting becomes, it still comes down to trimming and sorting. As long as you have the right tools, you are well on your way to enjoying amazing marijuana.
We’re happy to help you reach that goal.