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By Ayad Maher
It's time to harvest your first crop. I know the feel. The sweet scented plant makes you psyched and impatient to try them, but they're not ready yet! Patience is a virtue.
The most sensitive processes, after harvesting, are drying and curing. Withdrawing moisture from the buds is a lengthy process. In order to achieve the best results, you need to make sure that these processes occur in a controlled climate.
Keep in mind, proper marijuana drying and curing increases potency; the process is believed to convert the non-psychoactive precursors into other non-psychoactive precursors, that then become active when decarboxylated. That is to say, curing prepares the molecules to be smoked, cooked with, or otherwise heated and then consumed to achieve efficacy. Furthermore, cannabis buds that are adulterated (excessive heat, moisture, light, or other unfavorable conditions) typically show increased CBN concentration and decreased THC and CBD concentrations. Thus, CBN content is believed to be related to degradation of the active compounds.
Related article: What Is THCA and What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid?
When it comes to flavor and smoke quality, a proper cure for your harvest will provide a better smoking experience. A proper cure also givers your cannabis greater shelf-life; this means it can be stored for a longer period of time without the worry of degradation or mold issues. It is believed that well-cured buds, with appropriate storage conditions, can be kept for up to two years with almost no loss of potency.
The first and easiest part of the harvest is to simply cut down the plant. If you bought a set of clippers, you probably have a pair that is ready to do the job. Otherwise you’ll have to find some pliers or an axe or something.
The initial drying process may take anywhere from 5 to 15 days. This is the part of the process where your plants should be hanging, in the dark, with RH around 45-55%, temperature around 65 F, and with some circulation/ventilation in the room.
One common method for drying is to cut branches from the marijuana plants, remove large fan leaves, then hang the branches. When I use this method, I hang clothes hangers from a shower curtain rod, string, etc., and tie branches to the clothes hanger with thick rubber-coated garden ties.
Some growers simply cut the whole plant, and hang it. Note that hanging the entire plant without cutting any branches may result in somewhat uneven drying.
Others just cut the buds from the branches and place them somewhere to dry. There are also products designed to be used with this method, such as this herb drying rack.
It is up to the grower to decide whether they prefer to trim the buds before or after drying. Regardless of when you choose to do the bulk of the work, the large fan leaves and other sugarless leaves should be trimmed on the day the plant is cut down.
Some growers prefer to do a “wet trim,” when prior to drying. I find that trimming wet buds results in a nicer looking final product. It also allows me to collect my trim earlier and prepare it for extraction.
The majority of growers choose to trim their buds after drying. At this point, the leaves flake off quite easily, and in some cases you end up doing more “brushing” than trimming.
Here are the ideal conditions for hanging your crop to dry:
These conditions are believed to conserve the fragrance and flavor for your final product while wicking moisture away. You can use a heater, A/C unit, humidifier or a dehumidifier, depending upon your personal needs; whatever helps to achieve a stable environment within the conditions outlined above.
Related article: Top 7 Online Stores for Marijuana Growing Supplies and Equipment
As we mentioned earlier, the process may take 10-15 days, but it's recommended to to start checking your buds on a daily basis after day 5. Once the branches snap when bent and flowers are getting firm on the outside, it's time to move to the next step.
Many growers do this process before drying the plant, others do it after. This is when I personally prefer to trim and manicure my buds. Learn more about How to Trim Your Marijuana Bud here.
Save the dry and trimmed buds in a wide mouth airtight container, such as a glass jar. Mason Mouth Quart Jars are recommended.
Load the buds in your airtight jar all the way to the top. Make sure not to crush your buds and pack them gently and loosely; plan ahead and get enough jars to hold your assumed harvest. Now seal the jars and leave them somewhere dark, dry and cool.
In 24 hours, you will notice that the "dry" flowers are not as dry or firm as before. The moisture that left inside the buds will rehydrate the exterior of the bud. If you didn't see this, then you probably over-dried your weed. Don't worry, you still can smoke it, but it will be a learning curve for your next harvest.
Throughout the first week, make sure to let the jars breathe by opening the lid for 5 minutes at least twice a day. This will help to refresh the air inside the jar. This process is known as “burping” your jars.
After the first couple of weeks, you won't need to open the jars unless it’s to remove nugs for consumption. Your weed will be cured and ready for smoking after around 2 to 3 weeks. However, you may improve the quality of your bud by leaving it for 4 to 8 weeks, or in some cases 6 months or more.
I suggest separating some nugs into different jars, and writing the date which you open them for consumption. It will also allow your crop to cure more consistently if you separate enough to use before the rest of it is properly cured. Most of us can’t wait to try our new crop; it’s totally understandable to try some even before it’s had sufficient time to cure. But don’t compromise the rest of your harvest- keep it in separate jars that you don’t go into until they have had sufficient time to properly cure.
You can also look into products that control the humidity inside the jar, such as Bodeva humidity packs. These products keep the jar at a designated relative humidity; it is recommended to use something around 62% for most growers.
Extracts includes everything from hash to edibles to concentrates. Everyone has their own preferences and many people enjoy a variety of these. They all have pros and cons in terms of efforts required to prepare, yields, potencies, and many other factors, and each one would require its own article to explore!
As you trim your plants, collect your sugar leaves in bags that are sealable. Sugar leaves are any leaves with a decent number of trichomes on their surface. Before most extraction processes, it is recommended to freeze your trim- this makes the material more brittle and allows trichomes to break off from the rest of the plant easily and completely. When cannabis is frozen, it is less sticky and typically easier to extract cannabinoids from, depending on your method. Make sure you keep your trim in a bag that can be placed in your freezer and sealed so that it will not collect moisture.
You can also consider using some smaller nugs, or even your whole harvest, if you prefer extracts such as hash and edibles. Another extraction technique that has recently gained popularity is called “live” extraction, which, as the name implies, uses a freshly harvested plant instead of cured buds. Using freshly harvested plants, i.e. within hours of harvest, apparently helps to capture trichomes and thus preserve aroma and fragrance more effectively through most extraction processes.
Put the sugar leaves and the small, live buds from around the lower part of the plant in one of these extracting machines (check our marijuana THC extractors here and reach out to me for a discount on your favorite one) and make your favorite marijuana edibles.
More about What To Do With Your Cannabis Fan Leaves here.
Andrew Gordon is from the northeast USA, currently resides in Vermont with his wife, and has over 5 years of experience with cannabis cultivation. General interests include cultivation, extractions, skiing, reading books and playing video games. Professional experience includes mostly laboratory work in biotech. For any questions, you can reach to Andrew through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ayad Maher is a Cannabis Industry Entrepreneur, Blogger & Activist. eCommerce Specialist and Owner of a 420 Life Style Website; Monroe Blvd, an online smoke shop; 421Store, and an online CBD store; GoodyCBD.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in Jan 2018 and has been revamped and updated as needed for accuracy and comprehensiveness.