The process of harvesting and curing cannabis is the last stage of the weed cultivation process. Yes, there has been much work and management through all the grow stages, but this is the place where it all comes together.
Everybody loves the kind of stinky bud which escapes from a jar like the genie in Aladdin and fills the room! But to fully benefit from such rich aromas takes more than just growing with the best cannabis seed genetics – in feminized, autoflower or CBD form.
Between harvesting and curing cannabis buds they will lose approximately 75% of its weight. With such a significant change to its structure proper drying and curing is crucial.
Consequently, the whole harvesting and curing cannabis process requires the right mix of technique, knowledge and patience. This guide takes a look at the key areas of focus:
- Cannabis harvesting
- Cutting and drying
- Curing and storing
To benefit from the advice in this guide, follow the links to key articles which explore topics in more detail.
Why the harvesting and curing cannabis stage is key
Terpenes, are often referred to simply as ‘terps’, are behind the unique aromas of different cannabis strains. It is believed that there are over 200 terpenes in cannabis, and the most common include Limonene, Myrcene, Pinene and Caryophyllene.
Badly cured weed will lose these essential scents and often smell like hay or old lawnmower cuttings. There are various ways to improve the taste of terpenes while in the growing stages, but the focus of this guide is on how best to enhance and retain the smell of weed through the harvesting and curing cannabis phase.
The best time to harvest cannabis
Harvesting cannabis at the peak of perfection is a skill that takes some time to master for new growers. In order to benefit from the smelliest, tastiest crop, with a desired potency, timing is a key consideration.
Know your strain: Not all strains are created the same. It matters if your plant is more indica or more sativa, for example, and growing autoflowers comes with a whole different set of rules! First rule of harvest – follow the strain description guidelines of the cannabis seed breeder.
Indications that buds are ready: Inevitably buds will have grown significantly bigger and the small hairs (pistils) which cover them will turn from white to red and brown. When 50% of pistils have turned from white to color, this is a sign of buds reaching maturity.
The essential Trichome Test: While the above indications suggest harvest time is imminent, the most reliable indicator is the trichome test, which says that buds are ready for plucking when the trichomes are 75% milky and 25% amber.
Selective harvesting: Many growers will just want to do the harvest in one big hit but this ignores the different ripening rates of a plant. The top buds are ready, but the bottom buds may need more time. Staggering bud picking takes more time (and adds more costs indoors), but is often worth the wait.
And finally, before any harvesting is carried out, don’t forget to flush!
Harvesting outdoor weed
For outdoor growers the harvesting and curing cannabis process is more tricky, because there is no control over an outdoor environment, with its weather variables and increased exposure to pests.
For this reason, the outdoor grower has to consider numerous factors. Nevertheless, there are various steps to take while preparing to harvest as well as guidance for the act of harvesting outdoor weed.
Common cannabis harvesting problems and solutions
Here is a roundup of some of the common cannabis harvesting problems, with a brief instruction about how to avoid them.
Harvesting too early. As the flowering stage culminates, it’s easy to be fooled by the sight of trichome covered buds twinkling under the grow lights and assume they’re ready. But early harvesting will result in finished buds losing potency, taste and smell.
Solution: Follow the strain breeder’s harvest guidelines and employ the trusty trichome test.
Bad trim job. It’s a common rookie mistake not to trim buds properly before drying. Common errors are big buds built around big stems and including a layer of sugar leaf (because “it looked so crystally”…)
Solution: Just do a good job in the first place. Follow this essential guide to trimming, which details the wet trim and dry trim processes and gives some useful tips.
Drying cannabis for best results
Drying is a critical step in the harvesting and curing cannabis journey. Properly drying your cannabis buds is essential to preserve their desirable characteristics and ensure the end consumer experience is flavorful, smooth and enjoyable.
What makes the ideal cannabis drying environment?
Set up the dry space: A cool, dark room or a dedicated drying space with good airflow is what those cannabis buds need to start that drying process. Check out some good tips for creating the optimal environment for drying cannabis.
How’s it hanging?: Drying nets or lines are the most popular ways to hang freshly harvested branches/buds to dry. Prepare these in advance and be aware of space restrictions before choosing whether to use the ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ trim approach (see the guide to trimming link above).
Temperature and Humidity Control: Achieving optimum levels is key to a successful drying process. Aim for a temperature of around 60-70°F (15-21°C) and a relative humidity of 45-55%.
Good Air Circulation: Good air circulation is essential to prevent mold growth during drying. Use fans to maintain a gentle breeze, but avoid direct airflow onto the buds, as this can cause them to dry too quickly. Take time and don’t try to artificially speed up the process!
Get the spacing right: Whether using a drying net or hanging the buds from lines (made from cotton or fishing wire), giving them enough space to breathe and dry evenly is crucial. Overcrowding the drying area can trap moisture and promote mold growth.
Light handling required: Use a light touch when arranging the buds for drying, give them minimal handling and resist the urge to squeeze them to avoid breaking off trichomes.
Common cannabis drying problems and solutions
Under drying buds: This is a common harvesting and curing cannabis error; the buds seem dry enough, but after a couple of days in a storage jar they are sweaty as the inner moisture seeps through.
Solution: The stem snap test is a great indicator (if the bud is dry, the stem will cleanly snap, if it’s not it will just bend). The simple brown paper grocer’s bag in a warm place also works wonders!
Moldy buds in jars. Most growers will encounter the issue of mold during the growing stage. However, buds that have been under dried before storing can also develop mold.
Solution: Make sure that bud is properly dried before it goes into storage jars.
Over drying buds: If cannabis buds are over dried, they lose the essential moisture which creates aromatic, flavorful buds. Signs of over drying are buds which break easily and a harshness in the taste.
Solution: This issue can be corrected in storage jars. Popular tips include adding small pieces of orange peel or moist cotton balls or using humidity packs (see below).
Inconsistent drying: This can often occur when all the buds are mixed in together. Obviously smaller buds will dry quicker and larger buds take longer.
Solution: group buds into similar sizes in the drying process and keep them grouped together as they go into storage jars for the curing phase.
For a really good insight into the most common mistakes involved with the drying process, check out this guide to drying and curing.
Curing cannabis for best results
The final harvesting and curing cannabis stage is the one which will define the quality of your end product. There is an art to the curing process. So how do you know you’ve got it right?
Well, often it’s easier to know when you’ve got it wrong! When you pop that storage jar and the fragrance is a bit ‘meh’, then there’s still some work to do.
Another common mistake made by far too many growers is to rush this process. Yes, you want to get in there and enjoy the spoils of your harvest! But it’s always worth waiting a bit longer so you can enjoy the full rewarding experience of tasting finely cured cannabis buds.
How long should you cure cannabis for?
Every grower will have their own recommendation about this part of the harvesting and curing cannabis process. In broad terms the curing period can be anything from two to eight weeks, although most growers recommend curing weed for three to four weeks to achieve optimum smell levels.
Why is it important to cure cannabis?
Freshly harvested cannabis buds have a quality which is sometimes referred to as ‘green’. The smell and taste is harsh and often linked to a ‘hay’ like quality. The effect can also be a bit more ‘racy’.
This is because in this stage, the buds still contain various compounds including starch and most significantly chlorophyll. Therefore curing settles the buds down, a little like letting wine ‘breathe’ or a baked cake ‘rest’ to accentuate the potency, aroma and flavor.
Curing, burping and storing cannabis buds
There are a number of essential steps a home grower needs to take in this particular stage of the harvesting and curing cannabis task.
Select the right curing container: The best container to use is a glass preserve jar, which are commonly used for jam making and preserving fruits and vegetables. They have a rubber seal to ensure the contents are vacuum packed tight, so air can’t get in or out.
Fill the jar to the optimum level: Don’t pack it too tight. The jar should be filled to 75% capacity to maximize airflow circulation.
Store it right: It needs to be in a cool dark place. A refrigerator or a cool cupboard will do.
‘Burping’ buds technique: This is the traditional method to remove moisture from the buds/jar:
- First week: Open the jar twice a day and leave it open for a few minutes. Excess moisture escapes, decreasing the risk of mold developing on buds.
- Following weeks: Gradually decrease the process, from every day to once every other day, and then once every few days. You can sniff the difference – the smell will turn more aromatic as time goes on.
To ensure that buds are cured properly and flavors and aromas are optimized, this popular article provides some expert additional Cannabis Smell Dry And Cure Top Tips.
Use a humidity pack: If there’s too much uncertainty around using the burping buds technique then take advantage of products which regulate moisture levels. A hassle free way of moisture control is to use a humidity pack.
Common cannabis curing problems and solutions
Inconsistent Curing: This can happen when curing jars are filled with buds of different sizes. Inevitably smaller buds will cure faster than bigger buds. This can lead to flavor and potency inconsistency.
Solution: Try to cure buds in batches of the same approximate size. Also, periodically give those storage jars a gentle stir over the weeks so that it isn’t the same buds sitting at the top and the bottom.
Improper Storage: Incorrect storage after harvesting and curing cannabis can compromise the quality of cannabis buds, leading to a loss of flavor and potency.
Solution: It’s not hard, just follow the plan! Store curing buds in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and use glass jars with rubber seals for airtight storage. Store it properly and buds will last a year and more… if they don’t get consumed first of course!
Most growers will tell you that it takes a while to get the hang of the harvesting and curing cannabis stage of the grow process. It is one of the more difficult stages to master because it is all about fine tuning, and also one of the most important.
The basic instructions are simple enough but, as with many aspects of cannabis growing, there is a certain amount of intuition involved. What happens at each of the initial stages – harvesting and trimming and hanging and drying, has an impact on the curing stage.
A useful analogy is to see this 3 step process like following a recipe to prepare a gourmet meal. Being patient and constantly monitoring is the best recipe for getting it right.