Harvesting your cannabis plants is the culmination of months of hard work you have put in your grow. Timing it right is crucial because if you harvest too early or too late all your efforts will be in vain and you will be left with subpar buds lacking in potency and flavor. In this article we are going to cover all the bases which should give you the right information to harvest your plants just in time, so stay tuned!
The basics of Cannabis harvesting
Traditionally, cannabis, as any other agricultural crop, was grown outdoors, planted in spring and harvested in fall. So, when prohibition brought cannabis growing indoors, growers started to imitate what happened outdoors – shortening of the days and coming of fall by switching the light to a 12/12 hour cycle. However, auto-flowering strains don’t need the change of the light cycle but rather start flowering when they reach a certain level of maturity. Knowing when is the right time to harvest is part personal preference but there are some physical signs that help determine when is the best time to chop your plants down.
Harvesting based on flowering time
Harvesting based on flowering time is the least accurate method and it should be taken as a general guideline. It is a good way to set up your growing schedule but it can often take a few extra weeks for the plants to be on their peak. Different environmental conditions can prolong plants flowering so relying solely on flowering time can often result in untimely harvests.
All cannabis strains, whether they’re photoperiod or autoflowering have a specific flowering time, usually between 2-3 months, starting from around 6-7 weeks needed for a fast flowering Indica up to 16-18 weeks needed for some exotic Sativa strains to finish. What’s important to remember is that the flowering time, usually given by the breeder, is based on what happens in (mostly) ideal conditions by people who are seasoned growers so it’s reasonable to assume that it will most likely take a week or two more for less experienced growers.
Look for red or brown pistils
Harvesting based on the state of pistils is more accurate but it’s not perfect. Pistils or stigmas are small hair-like strands covering the buds. As plants mature they will start changing their pistil color and shape. When they change their color from white to orange, red or brown and start to curl up, you will know that the plants are close to their peak. Some cannabis strains may have different colored pistils, starting off as pink, violet or purple but in the end they all change their color to a darker color, in most cases some shade of red or brown.
Looking at the trichomes
Aside from getting your samples tested in a lab, the best way to determine if your cannabis plant is at peak maturity is by looking at the trichomes. Trichomes are little mushroom looking glands that are located on the surfaces of buds and leaves.
Get a microscope or a jeweler’s loupe and check your buds. As cannabis plants mature, trichomes will change color from transparent to cloudy, from cloudy to milky white and finally from milky white to amber, so watching them change color will help you determine when to harvest cannabis by looking at the trichomes.
As soon as plants start to grow, they will begin developing trichomes. If trichomes are still transparent it means that they are still immature and that you still need to wait to harvest. At this stage pistils are still white and the plant is producing new buds. The plants are far from their peak potency and harvesting at this time would be too early.
Once the harvest comes closer, trichomes will change their color, going from transparent to milky white. At the same time, pistils will start getting brown hues. At this stage the CBD production is at its peak. If that is what you are looking for, the best time to harvest is when 10-15% of trichomes are still clear but the rest of them are milky white. When most trichomes are still cloudy white, effects tend to be more uplifting, energizing and euphoric as the THC production is close to its peak and there is still a lot of CBD in the buds.
In the final stages of flowering, trichomes will change their color for the last time. From milky white they will turn amber. At the same time pistils will be curling up with most of them already changing their color to red or brown. The best time to harvest your plants is when most clear or transparent trichomes have turned to white and, depending on your preference, when about 15-20% of them are amber. When pistils turn red or brown, cannabinoid production is at its peak. Depending on the percentage of amber trichomes, effect will vary from more sleepy, relaxing or even couch-locked to uplifting and energizing. That is because THC starts to degrade and change to CBN, which is not psychoactive but works great as a sleep aid.
Signs you are ready to harvest
Indoor and outdoor cannabis plants display the same signs showing that it is the right time to harvest. Again, the trichomes will tell you if your cannabis buds are ready to harvest. As the buds mature, their pistils change color and their shape. For some plants it may happen earlier – it depends on the growing conditions and phenotypes.
More waiting, more resin
They say time is money, and novice growers often rush to harvest too early. The choice is yours, but experienced growers know growing cannabis is about patience and enjoying the whole process from seed to harvest. Buds need time to gain weight and become “juicy”. Some cannabis plants get all covered with resin as soon as they start flowering and some do it in their final weeks of flowering. Although resin soaked leaves and buds are a good sign of potency, some plants deliver extremely potent buds that are not oozing with resin. Again, sometimes it is all about the strain and phenotype.
Longer is not necessarily better
Being patient with your cannabis plants is half the battle. Some growers put off harvest hoping that an extended flowering period will make plants produce more bud and thus bigger yields. What actually happens when you wait too long before harvesting is less cannabinoids and terpenes in your buds. More volatile terpenes and cannabinoids will degrade with time. Harvesting your plants when up to 50% of trichomes are amber will leave you with lesser quality buds in the end, so even if you manage to get a few extra grams, their quality is going to be lower.
How to harvest Cannabis?
When you check the trichomes and see that your plants are ready for harvest, simply chop the branches, or the entire plant, down. You can use scissors, saws or whatever tools that will get the job done. Remember that the trichomes are very delicate and fragile – avoid hitting or shaking the plants or branches after you chopped your plants.
All harvesting techniques are very simple and more or less the same. You either remove some parts of the – branches or buds – or you cut the whole plant. Since not all parts of the plant are equally exposed to light, it’s natural that they don’t mature at the same rate so it’s possible to do a partial harvest, usually removing the top parts of the plant first and leaving the underside for a week or two longer in order for those buds to properly mature too.
What to do before the harvest?
A very common practice most growers on any scale do is to flush their plants before they harvest. Flushing involves watering your plants with excessive amounts of water in order to wash away any remaining traces of nutrients in the growing medium, which triggers the plants to seek food not in the growing medium but use the food they stored in the leaves and branches instead. Flushing ensures the best taste and smell as well as burnability when smoked but recent studies showed no measurable differences between flushed and not flushed buds. After you’ve flushed your plants, you should continue to water them with plain water and no nutrients.
48-72 hours of complete darkness
Some indoor growers prefer to put the plants in total darkness for 48-72 hours before harvesting. That is to supposedly ensure that the plant has used all, or at least most of, the energy that it had stored in the stalks, branches and leaves, and to give the buds an increased “frosting”.
What to do after the harvest
If your plants have been infested by pests, mold or mildew, then you might want to wash them. Achieve this by first washing the plants in water with baking soda for anti-mold, then with water and lemon juice mixture with peroxide for antibacterial and antiseptic and then clean water to wash away any residue. If any area is still affected it’s best to remove it before putting aside the plants to dry.
Harvesting autoflowers and multiple harvests
Due to the fact that autoflowering cannabis plants don’t need a change in the light cycle to start flowering it’s possible to have multiple harvests in one season. Plant the first batch in March/April and harvest them 2-3 months later and plant the second batch in June or July, harvesting them in September or October. By using light deprivation method, it’s also possible to have multiple harvest of photoperiod plants.This is achieved by putting your plants in a dark place after they’ve had 12 hours of light or just pulling a black tarp over your grow area, such as a greenhouse.
It’s also possible to have multiple harvest on one plant – you just remove the buds and leave all the branches and leaves on the plant. If the plant receives 12 hours of light, it will again start to flower, producing a second batch of flowers. Keep in mind that in order for the plant to do that, it needs to be healthy, with not much dead leaves, as they’re the ones producing food for the plant.
Remember: It is illegal to germinate cannabis seeds in many countries including the UK. It is our duty to inform you of this fact and to urge you to obey all of your local laws to the letter. The Vault only ever sells or sends out seeds for souvenir, collection or novelty purposes.
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