Harvest (drying and curing)
The harvesting, drying, and curing of a mature cannabis plant is the climax of the growing experience, it is the final step in claiming cultivation independence.
Although these are the last steps of the cultivation process, they are of the most critical to the final product. The harvest, for example, depending on the cultivators ability to judge maturity, can greatly increase or decrease the levels of THC, as well as the levels of CBN and CBD.
Cannabis is harvested when the flowers are ripe. The best indicator of ripeness is the color of the flower's pistils. Over the course of the flowering period, these pistils begin to die and, depending on the strain, turn different shades of brown, orange, and so on. Many cultivators choose to harvest when 60-75% of the pistils, or 'hairs' have changed colors. Optimum harvest times will vary widely with each Cannabis strain, so the best way to find that perfect harvest time is to experiment! Try cutting buds off during different times of flower (one at 6 weeks, then one at 7 weeks, etc.) to determine which time period suits you best.
When picked early and immaturely, Cannabis flowers will contain a lower concentration of CBN and CBD while maintaining a high amount of THC content. For some, flowers that have been picked a bit early are desirable, as the higher level of THC produces a very 'up' and cerebral high.
When Cannabis buds are picked in a more mature state, the levels of THC drop and the levels of CBN and CBD increase. This fluctuation is cause for a more 'down' and stoney high. Sit back and have some food already prepared!
The final yeild of the plant will depend greatly on your chosen harvest time, nutes you have provided over the course of the plants life, time given for the plant to vegetate, soil mixture/hydro solution used, and many more variants. Keep in mind, a bud weighs more when fully ripe and freshly picked. After a proper dry and cure, the average loss of weight is around 75%.
Because of impatience, most novice cultivators want to pick flowers early. That's OK! Be sure, however, to take buds from the middle of the plant or the top. Allow the rest to continue maturing. Often, the tops of the plants will be ripe first. Harvest these and let the rest of the plant continue to ripen. You will notice the lower buds getting larger and more resinous as they come into full maturity. The overall yeild can be increased with a staggered harvest as the lower branch buds are receiving higher amounts of light and more attention from the plants internal chemical processes.
Use a magnifier and try to see the capitated stalked trichomes (tiny THC crystals on the buds). If most are clear, not brown, the peak of floral bouquet is near. Once most of these trichomes have reached a brown color, the THC levels are dropping and the flower is past optimum potency, declining rapidly with light and wind exposure. Don't harvest too late! Watch the plants and learn to spot peak floral potency. Click here to view the Trichomes 101 guide
Manicuring tends to be the most tedious of the cultivation processes. It is the point when you remove all the excess fan leaves and unwanted foliage from your flowers. This stage can be executed in one of two ways, either wet or dry. A wet manicure tends to be much cleaner, as the leaves are still moist and will not create too much of a mess, whereas a dry manicure can leave quite a sticky mess!
Use a pair of clean, sharp scissors or clippers to remove the excess. Work your way from the largest leaves to the smallest to make the process much easier. Many people clip around the bud as if they were giving it a hair cut, snipping the outer extremities of the bud, leaving a clean, beautiful nugget.
Do not dry Cannabis flowers in the sun, as this process has shown to reduce the potency of the buds. Slowly drying buds by hanging or laying them in a ventilated area (such as on a screen) is all that is needed to ensure great sensi. Bud is much more pleasing to the taste when it has been slow-dried over the course of a couple of weeks, depending on the density of the flowers. Leafier bud will take less time, as heavier bud will take much longer.
My screen door serving as a drying rack
Although you may want your bud to taste premium when fully completed, sometimes impatience gets the best of you. If your in a hurry, it's fine to dry a small amount in-between paper sheets or a paper bag in a microwave oven. Be sure to watch the bud and not let it get over-dryed. As convenient as this is, the end result will be a very harsh smoke with a most unpleasant taste as the chlorophyll has not had the chance to convert into starches and sugars.
A good indicator of a properly dried bud is actually its stem. If you are able to bend the stem a bit before it snaps in half, it is ready to be cured. This is another critical part of the cultivation experience. A bud that has been properly cured can be much more potent than one that has not. Following a simple process will ensure a great-tasting, mind-blasting smoke.
Glass jars, metal coffee tins, or tupperware, amongst other items, can be used to cure your buds. Place the well-dried flowers in the container of your choice and leave it in a relatively cool, dark place. Remove the lid from the container daily and turn the buds, allowing carbon dioxide to escape. Repeat this process for at least two weeks, or until you achieve the desired taste and/or potency.
Lastly, make sure to keep the dried and cured bud in a container away from heat or light exposure as much as possible and you will be pleased with the long shelf-life of your very own harvest!