This article appears in Volume 4 – Issue 6 of SKUNK Magazine.
THERE ARE SEVERAL METHODS of harvesting I’ve seen and tried. Different growers have slightly different styles, but basically, it’s all toward the same goal: take off the large fan leaves, trim the smaller leaves with scissors and slow dry your buds (10-15 days). This has been standard operating procedure for most growers in North America and Europe for many years. Many commercial growers have rushed the drying process down to under six days and cursed their customers with a much less enjoyable smoke, in return for a faster profit. Not recommended. The key is to dry the buds slowly; buds that are dried too quickly can lose a lot of flavor and taste green like chlorophyll.
Screen drying vs. Hang drying
There’s a custom of some cannabis growers that I’d like to see stopped; every time I see it, I cringe and shake my head—screen drying. The practice by many people to trim the bud completely and then throw it on a screen to dry is very sad to see. The damage to the end product can make a huge difference on presentation and quality of the buds. Buds get flattened, squished and a lot of trichromes get rubbed off and lost. However, I do understand why commercial growers, or outdoor growers, dry on screens at times when there’s large volume to deal with.
In my opinion, the regular small grower who’s growing under 3-4lbs per crop should always hang the plants, if possible. I always recommend hanging plants or branches with the trimmed bud still attached to the stem. The buds dry in their natural shape without being touched and mangled by fingers or screens. More resin stays intact and buds are much more beautiful to look at and hence, easier to sell and show-off to your friends.
Here’s the process I use for harvesting and curing smaller crops:
- Trim and hang branches with buds left on the stalk.
- Hang for 3-5 days. When bud is mostly dry on the outside and the center of the bud and stems are still moist, place into paper bags and close.
- After about 2-3 days in a paper bag, cut buds off the stalks over a clean table or hash screen.
- Place in sealable plastic bags while still on the slightly moist side, but not wet—be very careful with this step if you don’t have experience. Leave for 6-12 hours for moisture from the middle of the bud to spread out evenly throughout the bud.
- Open the bag to allow air exchange and leave open for several hours, depending on relative humidity in the air. Repeat the process several times over a period of 5-7 days, being careful not to let the buds get too wet, or too dry. This process of opening and closing the drying bag or container is commonly called “sweating.”
- After sweating process is complete, store buds in a dry, airtight container.
- Smoke, eat, vaporize, medicate, share, sell, barter, smuggle and do everything else we like to do with our favorite plant.
Harvesting outdoor crops has its own unique challenges if the outdoors is not in your backyard. Guerrilla gardens have the added risk of having to bring your buds home safely, sometime over long distances. Harvesting outdoors can creep up on you very quickly. A few rainy days at the end of September and bud-rot can appear from nowhere. It’s chopping time! Even without rain, watch your buds closely for mold spots and keep the plants as clean as possible. Molds will start on any dead plant material, or the inner part of the bud, first.
My process for harvesting large outdoor crops is to begin by stripping off large fan leaves and leaves without much resin—at the grow patch—along with the moldy bits. Then plants are chopped into lengths that fit into sealable, smell-proof containers (5-gallon buckets with lids are great).
My next concern is transportation to the drying location for hanging and drying. It’s very common to have so much bud needing to be harvested at once that the final trim will have to wait until another day. The first priority on the wet West Coast of BC is to get the buds dry. Outdoor buds from large crops are usually dried a lot faster than indoor buds because of the much higher occurrence of bud-rot. Molds don’t spread as fast in dry conditions. Final trim is done over a silk-screen after all the buds are safely out of the forest.
From what I’ve experienced with properly cured and stored marijuana, peak flavor can be tasted between three weeks to three months. After this time, you can start to taste some loss of the depth of flavor. If properly stored in a cool (no large temperature fluctuations), dry, dark, sealed location, you can minimize this damage. For long-term storage, I recommend a location that meets all the above criteria.
My favorite method is to bury it underground in a safe, private location. About three feet down is sufficient to help guard against large temperature swings. Make sure that the containers that are buried are well sealed; I use new, plastic 5-gallon pails with new, tight lids. Inside are large glass jars with re-sealable or vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana. I’ve never had a problem with spoilage, even after a year. Just remember that if you’re planning on storing it for many months, make sure it’s very, very dry—you don’t want molds growing. The bud can be re-hydrated to proper moisture levels after retrieval.
I’ve had bud saved for a year or more and it still tasted great. Just break the bud apart and the smell comes back; not as strong, but it’s still better than commercial bud by a long shot. Potency begins a steady decline as soon as the bud is dried and cured; exposure to oxygen, UV and heat degrades the potency of the active chemicals in cannabis. Keep it sealed up if you want to keep it strong for many months, or even a year or more.