Finally! The culmination of all your hard work… it’s time to harvest!
Now, as you may know, harvesting weed isn’t quite like harvesting a tomato.
To get the perfect smoke, you need to be very careful with how you handle the harvest of your plants.
This guide will show you exactly how to harvest weed step by step
By following these steps, you can ensure that you reap the sticky, smelly and delicious rewards of high quality cannabis.
Step 1: Determine When To Harvest
The most important factor in harvesting is actually determining when to harvest your plants.
When you harvest is vital because the chemicals that ultimately create the “high” from using cannabis change dramatically depending on when the plant is harvested.
To determine when you should harvest, you need to understand what you want from your final product.
What Type of High Do You Want?
The types of high you get from your buds vary depending on harvest time, variety, and strain type.
The range of highs go from an energetic head high, to a sleepy couch-lock body high, and a mixture of both.
Knowing the type of high that you would enjoy most, or that meets your medical needs will help you determine when you should harvest.
Factors that affect the type of high you get:
Strain – The effects of your marijuana are first determined by strain.Indicas create more of a body high, while Sativas offer more of a head high. Hybrid varieties offer a mixture of both highs.
Variety – The particular variety (i.e bubba, skunk, haze, etc.) will affect the type of high depending on its genetic mix of indica or sativa genetics.
Flowering time – The time passed since flowering began will determine how these predetermined traits will be expressed in the final product.Different harvest times result in different compositions of the chemicals that create the effects of cannabis.The amount of time is significant because it determines how developed the THC glands are. THC is what actually creates the high from cannabis, so it’s maturity at harvest time determines everything about the high.
Understanding THC Maturity
The little white crystals that cover your buds are trichomes, which contain the all important THC.
Trichomes form a few weeks into flowering, and begin to grow, multiply, and reach maturity over time.
Trichomes give the best indicator for maturity in cannabis, so use them as your guide to harvest.
So how do you know when your trichomes are mature?
Look at their cloudiness and color
Immature trichomes are clear and translucent, while overripe trichomes are cloudy and amber.
Most growers will want to harvest when their trichomes are in the cloudy-clear middle ground.
But when should you actually start checking them, and how do you do it?
When To Check For Maturity
Timing is everything when harvesting, so you need to know when to start looking for maturing trichomes.
Understanding the different rates of maturity for trichomes in indica vs. sativa strains is essential.
Indica strains reach maturity much faster than sativa strains, the average is 6-8 weeks of flowering until harvest. You should begin examining trichomes around week 5-6 to find your perfect harvest window
Sativa strains are known to take upwards of 8-12 weeks or even longer to reach maturity. Begin checking for trichome maturity around week 8 from flower initiation.
How To Check Your Trichomes
So we’ve outlined what to look for and what it will tell you about your plants maturity, but how do you actually do it?
……with a microscope!
Despite the appearance of trichomes as giant THC mushrooms in many images, these things are tiny.
No, you don’t need a fancy microscope and a lab setup, but you will need a handheld pocket scope.
A microscope like this will allow you to see the formation and cloudiness of your trichomesup close.
Track the appearance of your trichomes until they correspond to the type of high that you want.
Once you see what you like, it’s time to get ready to harvest!
Caution: When examining your trichomes, be gentle with your plants, and wear nitrile or latex gloves. This is to prevent contaminating or damaging your plants and yourself because of the extreme stickiness involved.
Other Indicators of Harvest Window
Trichome maturity is the golden standard for determining when to harvest, but there a few other signs that can indicate harvest time.
Pistil Color – Another reliable indicator of how mature your plant is. Initially pistils will be yellow-white, but as the plant matures, they will become more orange and amber.
Swollen Calyxes – These are the pods that would contain seeds if they were pollinated, but still swell at maturity. Plump swollen calyxes indicate a plant is at or near maturity.
This image below, showing the calyx, trichomes, and stigmas (pistils) brings all of these signs together to show how interconnected these signals of maturity are.
Growth – The overall growth in size and mass of your buds will slow or stop. While growth isn’t the most reliable sign, it can be used along with other signs to help pinpoint your harvest time.
After studying your plants to find out when they are ready to harvest, it’s time to cut them down.
Before you begin, make sure you’re ready to handle your harvest.
Step 2: Preparing To Harvest
Now that you know exactly when you want to harvest, it’s time to get all the necessities together.
You also want to get your plants ready as well.
The Harvest Area
Set aside a designated room or area for harvesting your plants.
This area is intended to reduce the spread of odor and begin facilitating the curing process as soon as plants are cut down
This area should be 70F (21C) or below to prevent cannabis oils from volatilizing, which helps reduce the odor.
If possible, seal the room and vent with a carbon filter to reduce the odor entirely.
Harvesting weed requires a few specialty tools, some are necessary, and some just make things easier.
Getting these ready before harvest will save precious time.
- Trimmers – These include handheld scissors, mechanical, and electric trimmers. These are absolutely essential.
- Trim Trays – While not essential, trays make harvesting easier and allow you to reap some extra reward. They provide support and comfort while trimming, and catch excess kief and sugar leaves via a mesh screen.
- Gloves – A good pair of nitrile or latex gloves are also needed. This prevents contamination of buds, and keeps your hands from becoming a sticky mess. Gloves will also prevent powerful marijuana odors from lingering on your hands long after trimming.
- Lines – This is less of a tool than just something you want to have ready to hang your plants from. Material isn’t important, it just needs to be sturdy enough to hang your harvest from to aid in drying.
You also need to get your plants prepared for harvest.
- Remove old leaves – Remove the oldest (lowest) leaves that have begun to yellow significantly. These leaves are taking up more energy than they’re providing to the buds.**Important! – Only do this near harvest, and only remove leaves on the bottom 25% of the plant.
- Stop spraying – Stop any kind of spraying 2 weeks or sooner before you harvest. This prevents residue in or on your buds, and also reduces the potential for mold.
- Begin flushing your plants – This is a simple process but must be done correctly, as it has a large impact on the final quality of your cannabis.
Step 3: Flushing Before Harvest
Once you have determined when you are going to harvest your plants, you need to begin flushing them.
The purpose of flushing is to remove any residual nutrients and/or chemicals that have accumulated in the flowers. Flushing is done by watering plants with only clean water until you harvest.
If you don’t flush, you will very likely have residual fertilizers affecting the taste of your smoke.
This makes smoking these buds harsh and unpleasant. Un-flushed buds may not burn, or will crackle and smell like chemicals when they burn.
Flushing is absolutely necessary if using synthetic fertilizers. If growing completely organically you may not need to flush, or not need to flush as early and heavily.
How To Flush Your Plants
To flush your plants, you simply need to stop fertilizing and water your plants with clean water only
By clean water, I mean distilled or RO water.
If you can only access tap water, use a flushing agent with it.
Begin flushing your plants 7-10 days before you intend to harvest them.
If growing in soil – just water as needed with clean water throughout this time.
If growing hydroponically – replace your reservoir with clean water, and recirculate for 2-3 days. After 2-3 days, refill your reservoir again with clean water.
- Make sure you have 10-20% runoff when flushing in soil
- In soil, allow plants to remain dry 1-2 days before you intend to harvest. This assists with the drying process.
- In hydro, use a PPM or EC meter to monitor the concentration of your reservoir when flushing. If the concentration is similar to what you’ve been feeding with, keep replacing with clean water until it lowers significantly.
Step 4: Harvesting Your Plants
Now the fun really begins, you can finally start harvesting your beautiful buds.
The most important consideration with this step is to handle your plants and buds properly and in the right environment.
In the wrong environment, you can easily damage or degrade the quality of your harvest.
Intense light, temperatures above 80F (27C), friction from handling, damp/humid conditions can all greatly degrade THC. Definitely take a look at our guide about the best led grow lights for flowering.
Proper handling and preparation of your harvest area can eliminate all of these potential problems.
How Should You Cut?
There are two ways to begin harvesting your plants.
You can either harvest the whole plant by cutting the main stem, or harvest only the most mature buds.
This method of harvest is quicker, easier, and require less monitoring of individual bud maturity.
You simply need to cut the main stem, then hang or further divide up the plant.
This harvest method can potentially increase your overall yield and quality.
You first remove the most ripe buds (as determined through the previous steps).
Next you wait 5-10 days for the remaining buds to reach perfect ripeness, then harvest them as well.
The outer buds, which receive more direct light, will always mature first.
Buds not receiving direct light will always take longer to reach maturity, until exposed to direct light.
Cutting the main stalk
With either method, you will want something besides trimming scissors to cut through the main stalk. Fiskars All Steel Bypass Pruning Shears are great for just that.
So you have decided when and how you will harvest your plants, now the next few steps are more about your preference than necessity.
- Fan Leaves – The large trichome-less leaves can be removed, or left attached to the plant. Removing these will speed up the drying process, while keeping them on will allow buds to dry more slowly.
- If in a high humidity environment, removal may help prevent mold.
- If in a low humidity environment, keeping leaves on may help keep the buds from drying too quickly.
- Gloves!!! – From now until your cannabis is cured, any and all handling of plants and buds must be done while wearing gloves. THC will stick to everything it touches, and anything loose on you will stick to your buds, keep it clean!
- Hanging Plants – After you cut down your plants, you will want to hang them. Do this along a wire, space plants evenly so they will dry evenly.
- Ensure there is adequate ventilation so that humidity isn’t too high, this can slow drying and cause mold issues. Use a fan to facilitate air exchange for the harvest area.
Here’s a quick video example of cutting and hanging a whole plant:
Harvest Step 5: Manicuring the Buds
Once your harvest is complete, there are two different ways to approach the manicuring stage. You may either immediately trim your leafy buds down to frosty nuggets, or dry them on the line first.
This gives the advantage of easier trimming, and a faster drying time.
- Just after harvest, the leaves that need to be trimmed are still full of water (turgid). Turgid leaves are firm leaves, which make for easy cutting.
- Trichomes are more malleable at this point, so are less likely to be knocked off during handling.
- With less outer leaves covering the buds, they will dry much more quickly. This can be good if you need to dry quickly or have high humidity. It can be a problem if you have low humidity as quick-dried buds can be harsh and unpleasant
Drying on the line
By allowing the buds to slowly dry with most excess plant material still covering the buds, the curing process begins.
- Let plants hang on the line until stems bend and begin to break slightly (not snap). This indicates that buds are drying and are ready to be trimmed.
- This usually takes 3-10 days depending on your environment, bud size, and amount of material already removed.
- Leaves and branches can be trimmed more easily because everything easily snaps off. This can also be an issue because the trichomes will be much more likely to flake off if brushed or mishandled.
Time to Trim
Whether you immediately trim or wait, the process of trimming your buds into their final form is the same.
You want to remove all excess material from around your buds.
How close you trim is mainly preference, although if selling your cannabis, most customers prefer very tightly trimmed buds.
What to remove
- Your eyes will be your main reference for this. Remove any large leaves protruding from the buds.
- Remove any brown or yellow tinged leaves from your buds, these will impact taste and aesthetics of your buds.
- If in doubt, remove any leaves that don’t appear to have any trichomes on them. No crystals = no THC = no fun.
Here’s a great video on manicuring your buds:
Making Trimming Easier
Manicuring buds is laborious and time consuming, so you might want to utilize some methods and tools to make it easier.
- Curved Trimmers – These are trimming scissors with a curved blade. This is ideal for trimming around a relatively oddly shaped object such as a bud. The curve reduces the need to tediously angle your scissors around a bud to get the perfect cut, saving energy and time.
- Bowl Trimmers – These are enclosed bowls lined with steel blades and sweeps with a crank attached to move the buds around. Insert some buds and begin turning the crank, this can drastically reduce the time required to trim your harvest. Most have built-in kief catchers as well.
- Trim Trays – Trim trays offer greater comfort while trimming, and also collect excess material as you trim. These trays are ergonomically designed for comfort, and come with a 150 micron steel screen to catch kief and sugar leaves.
- Trim Strategically
- Don’t just start hacking all your buds off, try to leave a few inches of stem to hold on to while you trim.
- Use razors to frequently clean your scissors while trimming. Scissors will quickly become clogged with resin, so free them up to trim more easily.
Step 6: What Comes Next?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on how to harvest weed step by step.
You should now have successfully harvested your cannabis, but it isn’t time to enjoy the fruits of your labor just yet.
After plants are harvested and buds trimmed, another most important process begins…
In our next article, we will guide you through the stages of the drying and curing process. This process is what will ultimately determine the flavor, smell, and smoothness of your smoke.