Following the Vegetative Stage and Flowering Stage, it’s time to harvest your cannabis plants!
Your cannabis plants have now been flourishing for anywhere from three to nine months, depending on where and how you’ve chosen to grow your plants. You’ve certainly put in the time, now you’re ready to reap the rewards. Our detailed article will guide you through the cannabis harvesting process.
Should I Flush My Cannabis Plants?
Have you heard of flushing? Don’t worry – no toilet required!
About 14 days before you plan to harvest your cannabis plants, it is recommended you “flush” the plants. Also called “leaching”, this process removes all remaining nutrients (fertilizers). Since fertilizer can give the buds a bitter taste – and be potentially harmful to ingest – this isn’t a step to skip.
You can simply switch from fertilized water to pure water in these final two weeks, or you can make sure the nutrients are removed by following a two-step flushing process.
The Two-Step Flushing Method
- First, flood the soil or hydroponic grow medium with plain water, and wait a few minutes for the existing nutrients to dissolve.
- Then, pour in a second dose of plain water. Take a look at the run-off from this process; you will want equal volume of the run-off should be equal to the size of the planter.
Within a few days, you should begin to notice signs of nitrogen deficiency in your cannabis plants. This is a good thing, as it means the nutrients were successfully removed. The dark green leaves should lighten, then turn yellow. The leaf stems may also start to turn red. These parts of the plant aren’t important to the development of the buds at this late in the game, but if you were planning to use the leaves for juicing or other recipes, you’ll want to have removed them by this point.
When Are My Plants Ready to Harvest?
Another step you might choose to take before harvest is to let your plants dehydrate slightly. Do this by ceasing to water a couple days before. This is a safe way to gently stress the plants, to ensure you’ve squeezed out every last drop of resin (where the THC and other cannabinoids reside) they have to offer during those last hours. Lowering the humidity can have a similar result.
How To Tell If Your Pot Plants Are Harvestable
Every packet of Growers Choice pot seeds should indicate a recommended harvest time. Take this information into consideration, but do not rely solely upon it, as there are numerous factors that influence a plant’s readiness for harvest, such as altitude and growing environment.
Research what other growers recommend for your strain.
- If you harvest too soon – a common mistake of overeager first-timers – you will end up with a smaller amount of less potent buds.
- If you harvest too late – less common, given the harvest “window” of about a month, but still possible – many of the medicinal benefits of the buds will be lost.
There are two ways to tell if your cannabis plants are ready for harvest, and a magnifying glass makes both methods simpler. A jeweler’s loupe or basic, handheld magnifier is fine; a digital microscope is costlier, but will allow you to view the buds on a computer screen.
Harvest Readiness Option One: Pistils
The pistils are the small, white hairs that developed throughout the flowering stage. Up until the harvest period, the pistils will most likely be white, and burst out relatively straight from the bud.
When the plant is nearing harvest time, the pistils will begin to curl in on themselves, and darken in colour to gold, orange, or red. Generally, when 50-70% of the pistils look like this, the plant has reached its highest THC level. Harvest now if you’re looking for those euphoria, psychoactive effects.
If you wait a bit longer, until 70-90% of the hairs have curled and coloured, some of the THC in the plant will have converted to CBN, and the medicinal buds will have more of a calming, anti-anxiety effect.
There are two problems with the pistil method:
- First, the hairs on some cannabis strains never change color, remaining white for the entire lifespan of the plant. You could end up holding off harvesting until the buds have spoiled. This is where doing your research on forums and the like comes in handy.
- Second, there are other factors that can cause the pistils to curl and darken, such as too much rain, a long drought, or strong wind – factors that have nothing to do with harvest readiness. You might harvest your buds much too early.
For these reasons, the following method is considered by some to be more reliable. You may choose to use the pistil method to warn you that the harvest time is approaching, then use the trichome method to nail down the specific day.
Harvest Readiness Option Two: Trichomes
Taking a close look at the trichomes is a more reliable way to time your harvest. The trichomes, which develop during the flowering stage, are those tiny, crystal-like “hairs” that give a ripe marijuana plant its “frosted” look
Also called resin glands, the trichomes start as little stalks, created by the resin stacking upon itself. When the ends of the trichomes are laden down with cannabinoids, the tips begin to expand, resulting in a ball on top of the stalk.
To follow the trichome method:
Use a magnifying glass with minimum 10X magnification – 50X is ideal – to look closely at the buds and leaves when nearing harvest. The sticky trichomes, which start out mostly clear, will be turning milky white. When 80% – 90% are this colour – around the time 40% of the pistils are curled and red – your cannabis is at its highest THC content. Harvested now, the buds will offer more uplifting effects.
Wait a few days more and examine your trichomes again. They will have begun turning amber or gold. The ideal time to harvest is generally considered to be when about 30% of the trichomes have changed color; some of the THC has now become CBN, so the buds offer a good balance of effects.
If you wait too long and the trichomes start looking gray and withered, you have missed the harvest “window” and your buds are no longer medicinally viable – or at the very least their effects will be minimal. This isn’t something to sweat too much, though: this window is about 30 days long, so if you’re regularly checking the plants, there should be no reason to miss the harvest.
If you are unsure about the best time to harvest your plants – in between the trichomes becoming milky and turning completely amber – try harvesting a few buds at a time, four days to a week apart. Make note of when you harvested each batch; in this way, you should be able to determine the best harvest time for you, for that strain.
Read More: Getting more out of your harvest: how to make hash
Harvesting Your Cannabis
Once you have determined your plants are ready, start harvesting before the light cycle is set to begin for that day. You will probably want to wear gloves, as the trichome resin is very sticky and can be difficult to remove from your hands.
It’s a pretty basic process, at this point!
Cut down the largest leaves, if you didn’t already do so. When most have been shorn, you can remove the entire plant at the rootball. Alternately, you can cut individual branches from the main stem, working down from the top of the plant.
Be careful when cutting the plant; rough handling can cause the trichomes to fall off, diminishing the potency of the final product. Ideally, you will leave part of the stem attached to the branches as you cut, providing a “V” shape that will making hanging and drying the buds much simpler.
Once the branches have been cut down, carefully remove all the smaller leaves around and between the bud clusters. As for the leaves protruding from within the buds, however, just trim the tops.
Leaving the bottom sections of these leaves does lengthen drying time, but because they are so near the buds, they are heavily covered with trichomes. By removing them, you are also removing a lot of the cannabinoids. Plus, the slower drying time does have other benefits, such as retention of weight and greater potency.
Wet Trimming vs Dry Trimming
This method, and is known as Wet Trimming: removing all the leaves as soon as the plant has been cut down. Some growers use the dry trimming method, which involves hanging large bunches of buds and leaves right away, and separating the leaves once some drying has occurred. Whichever process, the end product will be the same – amazing, healing flowers that can be used to treat many, many medical conditions and symptoms!
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Your marijuana will then be ready for use as a natural, medical treatment.