When buds are fully ripe they can be harvested.
Buds do not all ripen at the same time. Typically the buds at the top of the canopy ripen first because they receive the most light. You can harvest all at once, or cut the buds off the plant at different times as they become ripe. Cutting them off as they become ripe makes good sense because ripe buds are more potent than buds that are cut off too early.
There are two ways to tell if a bud is ripe. The 1st way is to observe the pistols, which are the large white hairs that sprout from the bud. As the bud ripens, some of these hairs will turn brown and start to curl in. When approximately 60% of the hairs have turned brown, the buds have ripened and can be harvested. You can harvest right away, or choose to let them ripen longer, until up to 90% of the pistols turn brown. The 2nd way to tell if a bud is ripe is to observe the trichomes. Trichomes are small mushroom shaped glands that grow on the buds and leaves, which contain all the actual cannabanoids (the chemicals that get people high). You can see the tiny trichomes with the naked eye, but a microscope or magnifying glass is needed to check their state. When the trichomes are clear, or mostly clear with some cloudy, the buds are not ready for harvest. The trichomes should be over 70 percent cloudy. Once they are, you can harvest right away, or wait until they transition from cloudy to an amber colour. You can postpone harvest until 70% of the trichomes have become amber coloured. Observing trichomes is more accurate than observing pistols.
Waiting for more of the pistols to turn brown, or the trichomes to turn amber, before harvesting allows the plant to produce more of the cannabinoid CBN, which makes the bud more calming and less psychoactive. The grower chooses what effect he wants from the bud and times his harvest to suit his preference.
What is trimming
Trimming is removing the leaves and stems from the buds. First, cut off all the branches. Second, remove the fan leaves. Third, trim the smaller leaves around the buds.
When to trim
The best time to trim is right after the plants have been cut down, when they are still wet. It is much easier to trim the plant when its wet and you are less likely to damage the glands that hold the THC. Its also okay to trim after drying.
If you need to store the cut branches prior to trimming, they can be hung upside down from strings, or kept on trays or in boxes. If you prefer to trim while wet, you can retain moisture by putting your plants in refrigerator, or keep them in a temperature range of 40ºF (4-6ºC) – 50ºF (10-15ºC).
It is typical to finely manicure the buds before drying. However, this is actually not the ideal way. Leaving some of the leaves around the buds on through out the drying and curing process helps preserve the trichomes. You cut those leaves off just before you are ready to smoke the buds, not before. This recommended technique is called cocooning.
The risk of mould is high when drying and curing marijuana. When drying, make sure you have adequate air circulation by using fans to circulate air, and ensure there is no trapped moisture – such as when buds are crowded together in a bucket or box. When curing, you have to have high humidity and therefore must be especially vigilant.
Curing occurs before drying.
During the curing process the buds have been cut off the plant but are still alive. The buds can stay alive for up to three days before all the cells die. If the buds are dried to quickly, all cells immediately die, which isn’t ideal – a slow death is what you want.
During the final 3 days of life processes there are some chemical changes that occur in the buds that result in a smoother smoke and better taste and appearance. Therefore, curing is important for improving the final product.
To cure the buds keep them at around 60ºC – 70ºF with a humidity of approximately 50%.
Drying occurs after curing.
You have to dry your buds so they will stay lit in a joint. Plus, wet marijuana will not release all its active cannabinoids and won’t get you as high. And, if you try to store wet bud, it will likely be ruined by mould.
To dry your cured buds, you can keep them in ideal conditions around 75ºC (24ºF), with a humidity of 40% or less. Mould does not like these conditions.
A fan helps prevent mould and evaporate water.
You can use drying racks, netting, boxes, or paper bags to support the buds while drying. The important thing is to not crowd them so much that mould can form, or moisture cannot evaporate. Do not create bad drying conditions by crowding buds together in a bucket or box.
Freeze drying is a very effective way – probably the best way – to dry buds. Using a freeze drier, it takes 10-20 days to completely freeze dry the buds.
How to know when buds are ready
Packing bud that hasn’t sufficiently dried will cause unhealthy mould to grow.
Buds should be undisturbed during storage. Any disruption causes trichomes to break off and makes the bud less potent.
Store them in wood, glass or metal containers. Plastic has an electrical charge that causes trichomes to break off.
The best way to store buds is in total darkness in either the fridge for short to medium term storage, or in the freezer for long term storage. Buds kept in the freezer can be preserved for years.