The Twelve Steps of Growth (Part 9)- Harvesting & Trimming Cannabis Crops

Growing Tips from the 101

Part IX – Harvesting, Drying and Trimming Marijuana Plants

The End of an Era

Over half of the new growers that seek the services of canna-consulting agencies and grow doctors are often on their second, third or even fifth attempt at harvesting marijuana.  At the time of this article, only one client on our roster is taking their first shot at growing, every other client called us only after losing one or more crops.  I grew a couple crops of seeds and stems in the late 1980s but didn’t get my first good harvest until well into the 1990s….and even then I did not clone the plants so it was another year or so before I got it right again.  I failed for years before producing desirable crops.  And it was often budget restrictions and cutting corners that provoked my failures.

In motorsports, there is a cliché that goes “The more you spend, the faster you go.”  Just as fashion is familiar with the phrase “The more you spend, the better you look”. Cannabis cultivation is no different….money solves a lot of issues when growing ganja.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to try if your budget is limited and I’m not saying that weed can’t be grown without great expense.  What I am saying is not to compare your weed to a different budget.  Too often a new grower will look at tutorials and pictures from commercial growers and expect the same result out of their little grow tent.  That’s the same as comparing a high school football team to NFL teams or comparing a local dirt track race car to a dominating Nascar team.  The larger semi in our tutorials produces over a pound per plant on average.  It has a sealed, stable grow room in one-half with a nursery in the other half. All of the plants are on a full nutrient diet. The strains have been with us for some time and we spend over an hour a day in the bud room.  The room has a full CO2 system and is climate controlled.  The project semi-trailer bud room built in our tutorials does not have enough electrical power to sustain both the double ended hps lights and air conditioning.  The room is located in a cool coastal climate so the room is unsealed and lights are on at night allowing the room to be cooled with cold outside air. CO2 issues are addressed with outside air and dry ice once a week.  The room averages 10-12 ounces per plant.  Just as the weight is a bit lower….quality is too.  The tent in our tutorials has one 300w light nourishing 3 plants that are on barely any nutrients (just base food, cal-mag and a bud booster).  The tent has not harvested yet but all three plants combined will yield less than a quarter pound.  The large semi-trailer has over a ten thousand dollars invested in it while the project trailer was built for well under three thousand dollars and the entire grow tent set up did not even cost five hundred bucks.  The weed from each room reflects the investment and rooms with more time and money invested than our flagship put the yield and quality of our largest rooms to shame.

No matter the size, cost and yield of your grow room your first harvest is a mile stone in your cannabis journey … and the rest of the journey will never be the same.  This is the end of an era and the beginning of a new age for you and your grow room.  From this point on you are a ganja gardener constantly searching for ways to improve your craft.  Harvest is upon us and there are many debates in the cannabis culture over what the trichomes should look like when you harvest.  We look at the whole plant and we continue to listen to the leaves as well.  It is possible to harvest too early and it is possible to harvest too late but the window of acceptable harvest time is a wide one so don’t confuse personal preference for the correct way of doing things.  In this article we will discuss the final stages of your plant, preparing your trimming/drying area and the basic principles of trimming marijuana.

We have said it before and we will say it again…”The best weed you’ll ever smoke is the weed you grow yourself.”   Let’s get started!

  1. The Last Supper
  2. Flushing
  3. Pre-Harvest Trimmings
  4. Trimming / Drying Room
  5. Know Your Strain
  6. Trichomes
  7. Yellow Leaves
  8. Taking the Plant
  9. Scissors
  10. Trimming Machines
  11. Trimming Methods
  12. Drying / DeStemming

1 – The Last Supper   Most diet plans offered by nutrient manufacturers including the House & Garden plan used in our project only show mixing ratios for six weeks.  If nutrients are to be used in weeks 7 or 8 of the grow cycle the plan usually says “repeat week 6”.  The reason for this is that most marijuana strains are harvested after eight weeks of budding and the last week or two the plants are flushed….receiving no nutrients, only PH balanced water for the rest of their grow cycle.  Most growers feeding nutrients flush their plants (ALL growers using nutrients should flush) but not every flush is for the same amount of time.  Growers will swear that their way is best and the ONLY way to do it properly.  Some flush heavy for 72 hours while others remove nutrients slowly over the last two weeks of the cycle.  The last supper is the feeding the plants get right before the flush and is usually the week 6 nutrient ratio of the diet you are using.  For our project plants the last supper comes late in week 6 or early in week 7.  We mix our week 6 barrel at the beginning of the week and we repeat the feeding when the barrel runs out.  That second barrel will run out at the end of week 6 or early in week 7.  At this point we will stop watering for a couple days before we flush the plants.  The plants have now had their last supper.

2 – Flushing Cannabis Plants – There are two ways to tell if marijuana was flushed properly just by taking a hit from it.  Weed that was not flushed properly will feel harsh when you smoke it and will most likely make you cough.  The second telltale sign is a black sooty appearance after it burns. Black soot in the bowl or a joint that won’t stay lit will both most likely make you cough as well.  Even typing “flushing cannabis plants” in your search engine will take you to articles by growers who thought flushing was a myth.  They considered coughing after a hit as something weed just makes you do and never flushed plants….until they smoke weed that was properly flushed.  If weed has been flushed properly it will burn grey and ashy like a cigarette, joints will stay lit, bowls & bongs won’t get sooty and taking a hit won’t make you cough.  Hydroponic growers might flush for 3-5 days while soiless/coir growers might flush a week to 10 days.  Growers with nutrients in soil might flush up to two weeks.  The process is simple, after the crop has had its last supper the plants are fed only PH balanced water until harvest.  Our project plants will receive their last supper as described previously and allowed to dry out for a couple days.  Some growers do not increase or decrease the amount of water, they simply remove nutrients. Some growers do “flood” the plants with an abundance of water at the start of the flush.  I attend the latter of these schools of thought.  We fill our pots with enough water that we can see the water flow out the bottom…then we return the plants to their regular rate of watering with only PH balanced water for the rest of the cycle.   Our flush cycle lasts around 10 days, all of week 8 and part of week 7.

3 – Pre-harvest buds and trimmingsPicking leaves continues all the way through the grow cycle.  It subsides considerably after buds appear.  The plant redirects energy into bud production and leaf picking will slow down the last three or four weeks of the grow cycle.  Picking leaves, removing foliage and taking out unworthy buds will continue right into the last days of the plant.  Always remove dead leaves from the plant and the pot it grows in if they have fallen off the branch.  Don’t even leave a compost bucket or trash can for your leaves in your room as dead and decaying leaves bring an array of problems to your budding plants.  Throw them out or compost them as crystals on the leaves are unflushed and immature.  However, after you’re into week 6 or so and your flush has begun it is okay to keep the buds and trimmings you remove.  After a day or two of flushing we keep the buds, foliage and sugar leaves for concentrates or hash.  Any buds we feel won’t fully develop in the last few days we will remove for our own personal stash letting the remaining buds receive the energy lesser buds would have robbed from them.

4 – Trimming/Drying Room – Sugar leaves are the small and often resin coated leaves close to your buds.  Water leaves or Fan leaves are the large leaves with a long stem sticking out from your plants’ branches.  Trimming is the removing of these leaves from the buds.  It can be done wet right after harvest or dry after the plant has been harvested and dried.  If you are dealing with 1 or 2 small plants a couple hours at your kitchen table will be enough time and space to trim up your buds.  Drying will require an airy dry space for a couple of days but with a small crop this space can be very small.  Larger crops like 2 full med cards (12 plants) will take a few people a couple days to trim or a couple people a few days.  Wet trimming is a method of trimming the water and sugar leaves off of the plant as soon as it’s harvested.  Dry trimming is hanging the entire plant to dry and trimming the excess leaves after the foliage and buds have dried.  Wet trimming is more efficient and allows a better yield of trim (concentrates, extracts, butter and hash can be made out of trim) but impossible to do with large indoor or outdoor crops. It takes a crew of 5 experienced trimmers a week to take down a crop of 24 large medical plants.  Any more plants or less people and the harvest window would be closed before trimming was done.  Again, if you have a small crop or small plants you and a friend or two can harvest in a day or two.  If you have several large plants or over 8 mid-size plants you will need time and a bit of help for your harvest.  If you have over 6 large plants or a large crop you will need ample time and manpower to wet trim your crop.  Call lots of 420 friends or consider dry trimming.  If you are hanging your plant and dry trimming the plant you will need a larger drying space as the entire plant will need to hang upside down for a few days.  The buds will go into a container when you trim.  Large outdoor crops are hung upside down when the plants are harvested.  After the plants are dry they are cut into manageable pieces and put in tote bins…then trimmed by a crew over the last few weeks of autumn.  Wet trimming is done when the plants are harvested and requires a much smaller drying space as just the buds are hanging to dry as opposed to the whole plant.  You can use your grow room for drying and trimming but this puts your room at risk for bugs and mold.  It will also postpone your next grow.  On 6 plant rooms or less we will often trim, clean the room and reset the next crop all in the same day.  If you must use your grow space as your trimming and drying space be sure to give the space a thorough cleaning and sulfur burn before setting the next crop.  If you are dry trimming and hanging your plants you will need hooks strong enough to support the weight of each plant.  If you are wet trimming you will need coated string (do not use hemp string or yarn) strung from point to point in an airy space.  You will hang your buds to dry from these strings.  Keep in mind that the odor of marijuana will be at its absolute peak at harvest time and the buds will smell the strongest while hanging to dry.  Make sure you keep company away or the smell contained during this time.

5 – Know the Strains You GrowThere are a few different ways to know when cannabis plants are ready to harvest and we are going to discuss the basic harvest time indicators.  But first we need to address the most obvious way of knowing when to harvest as it is easily the one most overlooked … Do your homework!!  Seriously, detailed information about every legitimate strain in the cannabis culture is on the internet, along with tons more info on strains “wannabes” renamed in their garage/grow room. There is no reason in the world you should not know or ignore your strains flowering time.  The strain Durban Poison was introduced to a large grow room I was working.  The operation was run by two opposing millennial egos.  One was a mycology major who “knew everything” about plants and the other was a self-taught hippie kid who “knew everything” about growing.  They would oppose and disagree just to show they could argue and refused fact if it disagreed with their logic or idea.  One harvested the Durban at just over 7 weeks because he “knew sativas”.  The weed looked underdeveloped and his sack slingers bitched, he turned his nose up at the strain.  The other harvested at 52 days because that’s what someone at school told him to do.  Although the weed was better in his run, users who were waiting for his Durban Poison were sadly disappointed when they received their bags…he also never grew the strain again.  I took the momma and gave it to a patient who researched the flowering time of Durban Poison.  Within seconds every search returned a unanimous vote of 57 days.  She found a couple other tips that said to finish the last 48 hours in darkness.  She followed the directions to a tee and yielded over a pound per plant of high quality Durban. She even sold some of her crop to the mycology student for top dollar.  That was years ago and she stills grows that very strain today….and Durban Poison is now one of the most trendy and desirable strains around.  Even back then it wasn’t that the information was not available….a rookie grower found it in minutes.  It was that both of the first two growers ignored or rejected that info because saying “I don’t know” or “I was wrong” didn’t help their cool factor.  Your plants are probably the most fact based creatures in your life.  Your opinion, your swagger and your definition of how you roll means nothing to a cannabis plant.  Knowing the strain you are growing is vital to knowing how to grow cannabis. “Your methods” cannot be imposed on every plant.  ACDC and some high CBD strains require twice the water/nutrients mellow indica plants require.  Purple strains like Purple Nepal have much shorter flowering times while other colorful strains like extra cool temperature when the lights are off.  Not knowing your strain can be as practical as walking a Siberian Husky pooch with a collar and leash you picked out for a Chihuahua.

6 – Trichomes – Trichomes hold the cannabinoids that provide both the healing and the high of marijuana plants.  Trichomes are found on many plants and are defined as foliage hairs or outgrowth from the epidermis of a plant.  Cannabis Harvest TrichomesEven the word “trichomes” was derived from the Greek word “trichoma” which means growth of hair.  Because of this constant referral to hairs new growers often think the white hairs that appear early when buds form are the trichomes.  You actually cannot get a good look at cannabis trichomes without a microscope, strong magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loop.  Trichomes are not the prominent white hairs….they are the crystally resin that dusts the leaves and bud.  Although better viewed with magnified glass they are one of the best indicators of harvest time.  Trichome color will vary in some strains and the final color may be redder than amber or more purple than gold.  But for the most part trichomes will go through the same progression of color.  When viewed through magnified glass trichomes will appear like little flowers themselves.  A prominent stem and ball shaped head will be apparent.  They will be clear in color but as harvest approaches the balls will start to turn milky white.  Eventually they will all be milky and then begin to turn amber in color.  Growers will fiercely debate as to the proper time to harvest by trichome color.  Some will pull the plants down when the trichomes have turned 5% amber. Some will wait until 40-50% of the trichomes have turned.  The earlier you harvest the more cerebral high your weed will produce and the longer you wait a more full body “put ya’ on the couch” high will be produced.  Although debated as the “right” way to grow weed one grower’s preference is undesirable to another grower.  If you have more than one plant you may want to harvest them at different stages in color transition to find what your own personal preference might be.

7 – Yellowing Leaves…Keep Listening Earlier in this tutorial series and in several videos I have said “listen to your leaves”….and I meant it.  Listen to your leaves right up until they speak their very last words because they too will tell you when it’s time to harvest.  And as I’ve said before …your leaves will never lie to you. Harvest is no different.  If your trichomes are turning but your leaves are still green don’t get impatient and chop your crop.  Chances are that if your plant still looks healthy your trichomes might have a range or two of color to still get through.  The whole point of a flush is to force the plant to use up the nutrients in its roots, branches and leaves.  The leaves will dramatically yellow when they drink up all their nutrients.  The leaves will not yellow and curl like a nutrient burn, they will yellow more uniformly like leaves do on trees in the fall.  Once again, personal preference will eventually dictate what color your trichomes are when you harvest but your plants’ leaves will be the color of yellow when it’s time to chop the crop.

8 – Harvest Time…Chop the CropHave you researched your strains’ flowering time?  Have your plants completed that flower time?  Have you flushed your plants with PH balanced water for at least 72 hours?  Have your trichomes progressed through their colors (clear, milky amber)?  And have your leaves turned yellow?  If you can answer yes to all these questions then it’s time to cut those ladies down.  Large lopping clippers (or pruners for smaller plants) are the tool of choice.  Try to avoid sawing the plants’ stalks as this unnecessarily shakes the plant too much.  If you are going to dry trim it is best to cut the plant at the base and hang the entire plant upside down.  If you do not have the room to do so you can cut the branches off the stalks and hang them individually from a string or hooks.  It is also best to take the entire plant if you are wet trimming.  Hang the entire plant upside down and remove limbs and branches as you trim them.  Again, if you do not have the room you can cut the plant into branches.  We often trim client crops at a different site due to discretion.  When we transfer a plant we cut the plant into branch segments that will fit into plastic totes.  Once at a trimming location we hang the branches from string right away.  Trichomes are volatile right after being cut so either hang the plant and leave it alone until dry or hang the plant and trim right away…then hang the buds.  Whether you are dry trimming outdoor weed or wet trimming an indoor crop the priority is to get that plant hanging upside down in as big of pieces possible and as soon as possible.


Trimming Scissors9 – ScissorsMany different electric trimmers and trimming machines are available and we will talk about them next.  First let’s focus on what works….crafting scissors.  The little spring loaded pruning scissors sold at every grow store are great for trimming as well.  They offer precision and stay pretty sharp.  I use a pair of Fiskars 10” crafting shears and my wife likes standard size crafting scissors.  Size is not important, whatever size you are comfortable with is fine.  Once again, preference is what matters.  Many will tell you that there is only one way that is correct or a certain tool is the correct tool but this is your medicine and your comfort is what really matters.  Size and shape of scissors seems like a trivial topic but in the years I have worked as a paid trimmer it is more common for growers to require we use their trimming tools even though I am more comfortable, quicker and more detailed with my own….but it’s their crop, their comfort, and their way.  Sharp is what matters to the plant.  We growers can argue about scissor type and size all we want but what’s important to the plant and the quality of your nugs is only that your scissors be sharp, high-quality metal.  Whatever size, style or shape of scissors you choose be sure you purchase them from a garden or craft outlet as opposed to the back to school section at the dollar store.

10 – Trimming machines and shears – My passion is motorsports and I apologize to those who don’t know dirt bikes for my next analogy but I really can’t think of a better way to describe current trimming machine technology.  Four-stroke technology swept through motocross in the late 1990s and literally eliminated 2-stoke bikes from pro and eventually amateur competition.  A modern 450cc  4-stroke engine is state of the art and an absolute joy to ride….Brraaaap!  However, it was not always this way.  Pioneering 4-stroke MX bikes were much heavier, only 400cc or 426cc and impossible to start if you fell down or stalled the bike.  The technology was not worth giving up the old 2-stroke just yet.  Less than 5 years later 4-strokes were the only bikes on the market as 2 strokes disappeared from dealerships and starting lines.  Trimming machines right now are in that same bittersweet dawning of a new age.  The technology is there but present day trimming machines are still the 400cc, heavy and hard to start 4-stroke dirt bikes.  I truly believe I will be buying a trimming machine 3-5 years from now when the technology is mastered and the price comes down (machines average 3-5 thousand dollars right now) but until then I will stick to scissors.  Machines shake the buds quite a bit and seem to remove too many trichomes and resin.  Many growers that use them even agree but still choose the resin loss over trusting people as a crew of trimmers can be replaced with one machine.  That’s 5 less people to pay, to feed, to supervise and to trust over the course of trimming a big crop.  Many large growers feel that the resin loss is a small price to pay for eliminating employee (or stoner friends’ in illegal states) mistakes and theft.  Trimming shears or electric scissors are also becoming quite popular.  At a cannabis show last year we used some electric scissors we loved.  We only used the shears for 30 minutes or so but if the scissors were durable and last they will turn one trimmer into three trimmers.  There are two exceptional trimmers in our cannabis crew and we feel with electric shears just the two of them could replace a crew of 5…and maybe still finish quicker….with less damage to the buds…we loved them.  Crop size, time, available trustworthy staff and budget are all going to influence your equipment decisions but once again…preference matters most.

11 – Trimming the BudsWet trimming vs dry trimming is another one of those endless debates within the cannabis culture.  However, personal preference does not hold as much priority.  The size of your crop and what you intend to do with your trimmings has a lot of influence on how you will trim.  If you are making bud butter or ice extracts like bubble hash or ice wax you will not want your trimmings to dry.  Even with a large commercial crop that has to be dry trimmed you would want to wet trim enough to make certain concentrates or extracts that require frozen trimmings.  `

There are two types of leaves on cannabis plants.  The long stemmed fully developed leaves that reach for the lights or sun are called water leaves.  Some crews call them fan leaves.  These leaves have no trichomes or resin on them and are rarely used, we feed ours to goats, wildlife or use them for compost/mulch. The leaves that grow from the buds are little, have tiny or no stems. They are hopefully coated in trichomes and called sugar leaves.  These leaves are pure medicine as they can be made into any kind of medible, edible, extract or concentrate.  You can keep buds as small as you like.  However, if your cannabis will be marketed on either the legal or black market you should follow the “rule of thumb”.  In cannabis trimming the “rule of thumb” means you keep only the buds bigger than the tip of your thumb….if the bud is smaller than the tip of our thumb we toss the bud into the trim.  Wet trimming can be done on a clean table, we actually use the tote lids off our containers for trays.  Your trichomes will stay on the leaves and buds when wet trimming.  Dry trimming should be done over a kief tray or trimming tray with a kief catch as the trichomes will now be dry and break off very easy while you trim up the buds.

Trimming your own weed allows personal preference to dictate how much leaf and stem you leave in the buds.  Big pretty kolas are awesome to impress your friends.  But those big kolas have a lot of stem in there and dispensaries, medicinal patients, processing labs and even savvy sack slingers don’t want to buy your stems.  They’ve seen lots of big kolas and they know they have to break those kolas up to sell them….and when they do there will be useless stem left over.  If you are marketing your weed the stems and leaves must go….all of them.

Cut branches into manageable sections, use the angles and joints in the stems as natural hooks to hang them from the string.  Remove the fan/water leaves and discard them into a separate pile or container.  Or just throw them away.  We cut our stems into sections 8” – 14” long with 3 or 4 buds on each section.  After the water leaves are removed trim all the sugar leaf out of the buds but do not cut the buds away from the stem.  Examine each bud as you trim and do not trim so close that you remove trichomes or shave the buds with the blade of your trimmers.  When the buds are shaped and the leaf is removed hang the buds from your strings.  Your drying area should have good air flow, 40 -60 % humidity and maintain a temperature between 50 and 70 degrees.  Your buds will hang for 48 – 72 hours and should be removed from the strings when buds feel crispy to a light touch and pop when you bend them.  The texture of the buds will be less of an indicator than the stems…if the stems bend without creasing the weed is still wet and if the stems break in half the weed dried too long.

12 – Destemming When dry trimming the trimming and destemming will both be done in one process after the plant is dry.  When dry trimming the branches are sectioned into workable pieces,  the fan/water leaf is removed, then the sugar leaves, the buds are shaped and removed from the stems which are discarded.  The wet trimming process is done in two stages.  In the first stage, the plant is harvested and cut into workable sections.  The fan/water leaves are removed, then the sugar leaves, the buds are shaped and the stems are hung from strings with the buds still attached.  The buds dry on the string until they are crispy to the touch and the stems snap or pop (without breaking in half) when bent too far.  At this point, the stems are removed from the strings and returned to the trimming table where the stems are removed.  When several buds have joined to make a kola there is a stem underneath that big pretty bud.  Take a picture if it’s that big but then you must remove the stems if the weed is going to market.  No one wants to buy stems no matter how pretty the kola concealing them is.  Double check your buds as you remove the stems and put the buds in a container with a lid.  Your buds will need to dry a day or so longer and the lid will allow you to regulate air flow.  After destemming we place our buds in a plastic tote and monitor them for a day or so.  We often leave the lid off the first night then put the lid on and stir them a bit for air flow the next day.  After a day or so the buds are ready to be weighed and put into their storage/curing containers.   And at this point, you can go ahead and spark up one of those buds.  From this point on you can cure the buds further in glass jars or turkey/oven bags but you will get an accurate taste and effect of your buds if you smoke them now.  You are officially a successful cannabis cultivator….enjoy the fruits of your harvest.

The cannabis produced in our project produced a little story I will share with you in conclusion to this installment in the series.  The ACDC grown in our project room is a high CBD strain.  It was twice as much work and drank twice the nutrients than the other plants.  Its buds were big, dank and sticky.  In researching high CBD strains I learned that you should harvest them early so I took the plant when the trichomes were just turning amber.  When I saw color I turned out the lights and took them later the next day.  We made bubble hash out of the ACDC and entered the concentrate division of The Oregon Grower’s Cup….I entered the ACDC flower in the people’s choice division.  I was crucified by judges.  Although the hash was excellent bubble hash because of the divisions it was competing against live cultures and out of this world shatter… judge said I had a sharp knife, but still brought a knife to a gun fight.  The ACDC flower provoked worse reviews.  Even though I harvested way sooner than I usually do it was way too late for them to consider it an acceptable THC/CBD ratio.  It was great weed and a judge or two even commented on the bud size and appearance but it got them high….and ACDC shouldn’t do that.  Now here’s the problem…..our patients and friends love it.  It’s a mellow high delivered by smoother hits and they all thought the judges were nuts.  If I harvest to the judge’s preference I will lose my patients and by harvesting to the preference of my patients I lost the contest.  The healing and happiness of patients are far more near and dear to me than accolades or trophies … obviously my ACDC still packs a punch.  That’s the beauty of preference.  And your preference is what’s important.

Welcome to the Green Rush!

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