Harvesting your crop - reaping the rewards
Finally the day has arrived. After all your hard work, going from the strain selection process right through to the final stages of flowering with all that nurturing of your chosen ladies and attending to their every need, now is the time to see how they reward you for your efforts, hopefully you should now be looking at a crop of beautiful pungent buds adorning your plants, glistening with sticky trichomes. You have now reached harvest time.
Overall, trimming and drying your crop is rather self explanatory and, on face value, quite simple, but is by no means any less a crucial and important time as any other throughout the growing process. This is the time for perfecting the crop, the finishing touch as it were, and can play a very large role in the final outcome of your finished products flavor, strength, and smoke. Sadly I have seen many a beautiful well grown plant be ruined by an incorrect attitude to trimming and drying. That being said, every grower will have their own tricks and ways to go about drying but the growers with the tastiest buds will always tell you to take your time and not rush.
Most commercially grown bud I have seen recently has usually gone from plant to baggy within 4-7 days and achieved by having fans, heaters and dehumidifiers forcefully removing the water quickly from the plant, this practice may be more financially beneficial, allowing quicker turnovers etc., but on a smoking level it leads to a harsher taste as a consequence of chlorophyll from the plant being trapped where it has not had a chance to break down; usually this would be removed naturally in the drying process, which is why some dry buds have a “green” flavor to them which in my mind is an awful shame considering the time and effort put into growing the crop in the first place. If dried slowly over a period of time without forcing the process, the outer layer of the buds will dry slowly and the moisture from the core of the buds will slowly transfer out. Gentle circulation of the air at a stable temperature and 5-10 minutes of extraction every couple of hours will remove the built up humidity from the drying process.
Air is a very important factor of drying: too much and they will dry too quickly, too little and you run the chance of mold which can destroy a drying crop in a very short amount of time. Your crop will go through several stages of feeling dry to the touch but actually still being very moist inside. You can judge this by breaking apart a small bud. If this is the case you may need to slow the circulation down a touch so the outer layer doesn’t dry completely. I find if it dries before the last of the water has worked out of the stem then it will act as a barrier and not allow even drying, which is crucial to a decent burn and a smooth smoke. The entire drying process should take about 7-14 days depending on your conditions and also the density and size of your buds and then you would move on to the curing or “fermenting” stage which allows the breakdown of any traces of chlorophyll and various other compounds leaving you with the full unadulterated flavor of just your buds with no leafy or green flavors interfering.
We have jumped ahead of the process slightly, purely as I feel the environment for drying has to be well thought-out. I would plan it well before getting the scissors out and, if you are drying in the same area you have grown in, make sure to remove all moist substrate and water-butts as it may prolong things and the extra moisture in the air increases the chances of mold. Once you have your environment figured out it's time to tackle the plants hands on.
Leaving your plants an extra day or two more than you usually would to dry out after their final flush is definitely beneficial; your plants should not be at the wilting stage but by now you should know your plants' habits and drinking rates better than they do. Doing this will naturally drop a day or two off of the drying cycle without rushing things in any way.
So with the drying area set up and ready it's time to start cutting down and trimming your crop, plan this out and do things in stages I have caused myself problems by chopping more plants than I had time to trim in that sitting and then ended up having a nightmare removing the wilted leaves instead of nice perky fresh ones, I have found it better to do it plant by plant just in case you do need to take a break. There are various ways of trimming and manicuring your buds. I have tried various different methods from kitchen scissors and a bread-knife for the stems to thousands of pounds worth of machine trimmers and all of them have their pros and cons.
The mechanical methods are fantastic labor saving devices and cut down the time it takes to trim a large crop by over half and leave the buds looking picture perfect but the major downside I have found in the mechanical methods is they all involve some form of rubbing. From the hand operated trimmers to the large motor driven ones, they all in some way roll the buds using rubber fingers or rub them over a grate, in my mind rubbing a live plant creates charas by smooshing the glands under friction and I have found this changes the flavor of the strain considerably - I have had many a lovely potent smelling flower have its flavor reduced by 40% by the rubbing action of the machines. As the buds have been removed from the stalk for trimming in some machines you have to dry in multi-tiered nets instead of hanging the buds still on the branch.
The drop in flavor problem I proved to myself by hand trimming half a plant and machine trimming the other, when dry I found the hand trimmed and branch hung side had an amazing, full, rich flavor and was covered in THC (how it should be) whereas the other, which seemed to have dried a little faster due to being off the branch and in nets, looked amazingly manicured and had a lot of smell but a lack of flavor and was not as glistening in THC as the other. if you are growing on a larger scale and do not have the ability to manage harvesting on your own and can't have a few friends over for a trimming party, or are growing for medical use and find hand scissors difficult or uncomfortable to use then they are the perfect way to help manage your harvesting. Furthermore, the trim they collect is amazingly good for BHO production and the rubber fingered versions physically collect a stunning hash for you to scrape off and enjoy, it's probably the closest thing to true hand rubbed charas hash you can find without getting very, very sticky.
Personally, the method I prefer to stick to is the simple old fashioned way of going about a crop harvest by careful hand trimming and manicuring to maintain the flavors and strength that the strain intended. There are many variations of trimming and manicuring scissors available but personally I prefer the slightly curved blade ones with a fine point. The few pairs I have had for years are still very sharp so, unlike some others, it is definitely worth spending the extra money on a decent set to last you. Most importantly, make sure they are comfortable in your hand, it is surprising how quickly painful blisters can appear if you have a bad pair of scissors.
I like to select branches of the plant and deal with them one by one. I tend to work from the bottom up, trimmed branches should be able to be hung nicely on lines to allow proper airflow between them and you won't need to turn or touch the buds until they are dry (unlike nets where you would have to turn your buds frequently to try and avoid flat spots and trapped moisture to allow an even dry). Gloves are a must if you have a lot to do and a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol will prove to be a lifesaver when everything starts getting gummed up from scraping scissors with a fine blade to collect any resin. A quick clean in ISO and rinse and dry will restore your cutting efficiency to full flow. If you decide to smoke what you scrape off your scissors while trimming this will greatly reduce your trimming efficiency: it is very enjoyable but probably better saved until you are on your last plant or two. I have made this lovely mistake a few times and been left staring at a wall for hours with an insane grin on my face and no trimming being done. Careful handling of the buds during cutting will prevent bruising of the glands and maintain a superior flavor and a frosty look. And carefully collect your trim as there are many treats locked inside the “waste” just waiting to be processed into FECO oil, some tasty ice hash or some dabtastic BHO.
Harvesting is usually treated in two ways: those that want money and the quickest turnover possible and those that want the best product they can achieve. The end user is the one that can tell the difference and in some cases the bud that looks picture perfect isn’t strictly the best flavor or strength bud on offer. Long story short: treat your plants with the love and respect they deserve throughout the whole growing process and they will reward you. Growing a lovely crop then drying the whole lot in musty cardboard boxes for the sake of not using your grow space for an extra week or so, or waiting until the buds are sticky then storing them in plastic bags to retain weight is not the way forward in my mind, but I see it happen frequently.
We are in control of the outcome of every plant and every grow we do so why not make them the best we can in every way, sometimes it's not so much a way of doing, but a way of thinking. Love your plants and they will love you back
Much love and peace, happy growing.
Words and pictures by Kem Osiris
First published in Weed World Magazine edition 114