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Grow Guide: Harvest Time!

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Harvest is finally here! Your plants have finished their purpose in life, developing large, resinous flowers. It’s finally time to begin the drying process so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

First step is knowing when to harvest. The amount of time plants take to reach full maturity varies per strain. A strong sativa flower can take up to 10 weeks to mature, while a heavy indica flower can finish in as few as 7 weeks. It’s good to do prior research on the strains you’ve chosen to grow, so you have an idea of how long they need to flower.

 

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Example of trichomes at various stages of maturity. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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Example of a trichome magnifying device with light attached. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

The best way to know when to harvest is by looking at the trichomes on your flowers. For this, a small magnifying device is needed, like the one shown with an attached light. Through this magnifier, you’ll be able to see all the trichome heads. Notice  the various colors of the heads – some are clear, some look kind of cloudy, and some are probably glowing amber. The amber color is a sign of a fully mature trichome. Get a gauge on how many trichomes have turned amber by inspecting various flowers through the magnifier. Your plants are ready to be harvested when around 30% of your flowers’ trichome heads are amber.

Another way to tell when your plants are ready to be harvested is to look at the hairs on the flowers. These white hairs are more formally known as pistils. If you still have a good amount of white hairs stretching around the silhouette of your buds, they need more time to grow. The majority of these white pistils will turn orange as the plants near full maturity.

 

2 WEEKS AWAY FROM HARVEST 

When you’re about 10-14 days away from harvest, it’s best to begin flushing your plants. This means watering your plants with only water – no nutrients or supplements. Flushing essentially cleanses your plants from the inside out. At a pH of 7.0 and higher, flushing releases bonds with heavy metals and other additives that are in the plants and soil. Extra points for those of you growing organically as it definitely produces a superior product, but even so you’ll want to flush your plants with plain H2O.

 

1 WEEK AWAY FROM HARVEST 

Begin constructing a drying room. Your flowers will need to dry in complete darkness. You can put together a drying room out of a closet or tent, or you can create a room using panda film and a zipper door. Once you’ve chosen an area, you’ll want to cover the walls, ceiling and floor with plastic. When the room is sealed, you’ll need to put up some lines to hang your plants. If you’re drying in a closet, you can use the rod already there. If not, you’ll need to install some eye-hooks to hold a couple lines. The most important factor is the air quality – you have to ensure that your drying room doesn’t become too humid or stagnant. You’ll be hanging fresh plants so they will release a lot of moisture as they’re drying. Too much moisture in an enclosed area puts your flowers at risk for mold. So, air movement via fans and a dehumidifier are crucial for a drying room.

Supplies:

  • Panda Film or another heavy plastic
  • Thick wire for lines
  • Dehumidifier
  • Oscillating fans
  • Eye hooks *if needed
  • Clothing hangers *if needed
  • Small A/C *optional
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Example of a grow tent being used as a drying room. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

 

36 HOURS AWAY FROM HARVEST 

Shut off your lights, for good! To ensure the highest quality product, it’s crucial for plants to get at least 24 hours of darkness before they’re harvested.

Inspecting flowers via green light does not disturb or wake the plants. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

Inspecting flowers via green light does not disturb or wake the plants. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

24 HOURS AWAY FROM HARVEST 

Gather all the materials that you’ll need to harvest.

  • Large shears – to cut the stalks
  • Trimming scissors – technically called pruning scissors and available at most hardware/grow stores. 
  • Rubbing alcohol – to periodically clean your scissors.
  • Gloves – without them your hands will get covered in sticky resin very quickly!
  • Clothing hangers – to hang your branches.
  • Trim-Bin *optional – gives you a work station and more importantly, collects kief while you’re trimming.
  • Head-light *optional – lets you be hands-free while harvesting in a dark room.

 

DAY OF HARVEST

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Example of colas being harvested. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

 

The long anticipated day is finally here! The first step of harvesting includes cutting the plant down and removing the large fan leaves. You’ll want to designate a de-leafing area, which can be as simple as your living room with a piece of plastic covering the ground.

Example of BEFORE and AFTER fan leaf removal. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

Example of BEFORE and AFTER fan leaf removal. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

If your drying room is all set up and you have all your supplies ready, then you’re ready to harvest. Your plants should be in a completely dark room; in order to not disturb them, it’s easiest to put on a head-light while you’re cutting down each plant. You’ll want to use your large shears and cut the plant right at its base. Depending on the size of your operation, you can use a large rubbermaid container to transport multiple plants at one time. Once you’ve cut down your plant, you’ll take it to your designated de-leafing area.

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Example of “hooks” being cut from branches. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

Once your plant is in the de-leafing area, you’ll want to break it down into more manageable pieces. Using your large shears, work your way up the trunk, cutting at strategic places in order to make ‘hooks’ out of the branches.

Once you have smaller branches to deal with, you can begin removing the fan leaves with your pruning scissors. Fan leaves are the largest leaves on your plants that contain little to no resin (see photo below). You want to cut the fan leaves off at the base of the stem – they have a thick stem, so you’ll be able to see the difference as you work your way up the branch.

At this time we are removing only the fan leaves, which can be discarded, composted or juiced. During our next step, we’ll be collecting the trim to be turned into concentrates or canna-butter. Once you’ve removed all the fan leaves from your branches, they are ready to hang up in your drying room. You can either hang the plants directly on the line or create more space by first hanging them on clothes hangers.

 

Example of fan leaf (left) versus sugar leaf (right). Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett

OVERVIEW

  1. Cut down plant at base
  2. Bring to designated de-leafing area
  3. Break down plant into hooked branches
  4. Remove fan leaves from each branch
  5. Hang finished branches in your drying room
  6. Repeat these steps until all your plants are harvested

 

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BEFORE fan leaf removal. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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AFTER fan leaf removal. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

 

FOUR to TEN DAYS AFTER HARVEST

You’ve been waiting patiently for your plants to dry, and it’s finally time to complete the final stage of harvest. Six days is an average, but it all depends on your environment. You should be checking your drying flowers daily. To test their readiness, find a thin branch (smaller diameter than a pencil) and try to bend it. If it bends, they could use another day or two. If it snaps, they’re ready for their final trim.

Take out a handful of dried branches and bring them to your trimming area. If you have a trim-bin, you can trim almost anywhere. If not, find a comfortable area with a table or surface to work on (I recommend covering the table in plastic to protect the surface and to make collecting your sugar-trim easier).

Now, it’s time to trim! I think this is one of the most exciting parts because you’re unveiling your shining buds from their leafy shells. It’s important to be gentle with this process – trichomes are extremely fragile and will break if handled too roughly. You want to remove all the dried leaves surrounding your buds, sculpting them into their final form. You’ll notice that you’re trimming leaves with some trichome production, but don’t worry! We’ll be able to process this trim (often called sugar-leaf) into a multitude of products from concentrates to tinctures to canna-butter.

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

 

Example of mesh drying racks. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

Example of mesh drying racks. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

There’s no one right way to harvest and numerous ways to approach the drying process. From personal trial and error, the process I just walked you through is the method that I’ve found provides the highest quality product. Another popular method is to trim the flowers down completely while they’re still fresh, so that when they’re dry you just have to pluck the nuggets off the branch. Similar to that method, there are some who completely trim and remove the nuggets while the plant is still fresh, then place them to dry on a mesh hanging rack.At TKO Reserve, we’ve experimented with both these methods, but have found flaws in the final flower quality. When you remove all the leaves before drying, it makes the flowers, more specifically the trichomes, vulnerable to damage. The strong air-flow that you need in your drying room can easily deteriorate your trichomes. A similar issue of trichome degradation exists if you’re drying with a mesh net, as.it’s necessary to shake the net during the drying process which leads to serious damage of trichomes.  In the two-step method I walked you through earlier, the trichomes are protected while they’re drying by the outer layer of sugar leaf that we left.

Waiting for your flowers to dry properly can be a true test of patience but when it’s finally time to enjoy the sweet taste of your home-grown herb you’ll know it was all worth it. Share your favorite harvest methods in the comments below!

 

Cover photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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