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Harvest is one of the most fulfilling times for home marijuana growers. After many weeks and months of caring for their plants, ensuring that they have the proper environment, lighting, nutrients and temperature, you finally get to reap the reward. As you cut the branches and trim the leaves off of your big, juicy flowers, you finally start to take stock of how large your yield is going to be and how soon you will get to enjoy those buds.
Before you can start smoking, however, you need to process your cannabis into a store-able, properly dried product. Those luscious buds dripping with resin are full of moisture. Drying cannabis to quickly can lead to overly dry buds that are too harsh to smoke, or even buds that have moisture trapped deep inside, leading to mold or mildew. Curing is the slow and delicate process of drying out the moisture that is trapped deep within the buds, leaving you with a final product that can be stored in airtight containers without molding. As you will learn below, well done drying and curing also increases the cannabinoid levels in your marijuana buds. Improper drying and curing can take top-shelf weed and turn it in to an unusable wasted crop.
This article is all about the delicate and crucial step of drying and curing your buds. With the proper materials, equipment, time and care, you can process top shelf weed at home. It takes careful attention, so make sure to follow each step outlined below and you will not be disappointed.
Why Curing Is Essential For High Quality Cannabis
Proper curing is essential to achieving a high quality, smokeable end product. The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but it is well worth the wait. If you try to rush the process, you can end up with overly-moist buds that mold when stored. Any sign of mold or mildew is a tragedy, because it ruins the entire jar or container of buds and you have to throw it all out. On the other hand, if you dry your buds out too quickly you will find that they are much harsher when smoked and can cause you to cough a lot more.
Properly cured buds are not only more pleasant to smoke, they actually have a better blend of cannabinoids and are higher quality. Strains and growing conditions are not the only factors that affect whether your weed becomes top shelf quality or not! As weed plants grow and mature, they undergo a process called biosynthesis. During biosynthesis, chemical compounds are transformed, such as when THCA is converted into THC. Proper drying and curing allows cannabis plants to continue this process after harvest, so when you take the time to cure your buds right, you will end up with more potent buds.
Terpenes are a hot topic among cannabis growers these days. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give each marijuana strain its unique aroma and taste. Terpenes are highly volatile and evaporate at 70 degrees and above, so drying too quickly or with too much heat can greatly reduce the amount of terpenes, causing a less flavorful and less aromatic final product.
As I mentioned above, fast-dried marijuana is much harsher to smoke than cannabis that has been properly cured. It can cause discomfort and a lot of coughing and throat burning when smoked. The reason for this is leftover minerals and sugars that are inside of the bud. Curing allows beneficial enzymes and bacteria to consume and break down excess minerals and sugars that are produced when chlorophyll decomposes. The absence of these minerals and sugars gives your buds a clean, fresh smoke that is not harsh or painful.
Finally, proper curing allows you to store your buds for long periods of time. It is a big disappointment when you go through the process of growing and drying large quantities of weed, only to have it become ruined by mold or decomposition while in storage. Well dried and cured weed can be stored for up to two years without significant damage to the cannabinoids or terpenes.
Step One: Harvest
Harvest begins once your buds are fully ripe. With a mini handheld magnifier, you can inspect the resin on your buds as they mature. You will notice that the trichomes containing the resin start off clear, then as the plants mature they become milky. Soon you will see some trichomes turning into an amber shade of yellow or orange. Once about one fourth of your trichomes look amber, it is time to harvest.
You can also time your harvest based on the pistils, or the little white hairs that poke out of the buds. These hairs start out very light colored and straight. As the buds ripen, they start to darken and become smaller and more curly. When the majority of pistins are darkened, it is time to harvest. You can time the harvest even more in order to control the type of high your buds will give you. If you harvest when 60%-70% of pistins have darkened, the plant will have the maximum concentration of THC. If you wait a bit longer until between 70% to 90% of pistins are ready, you will have a lower THC concentration and a higher CBN concentration for a more anti-anxiety effect.
To harvest your weed, cut the branches near the base of the main stem. For extra large branches, you may want to cut them into multiple sections. The size of your cuttings depends on your drying method. Some growers prefer to hang their plants to dry on a string or clothesline. In this case it is best to have V-Shaped cuttings that can be hung. If you prefer to use a drying rack, you can cut the branches into the size that will fit best on your rack or frame.
2. Step Two: Trimming
You have the choice of trimming white your weed is still wet, or waiting until it is dry. Top shelf producers usually trim wet, either using a bud trimming machine or trimming by hand with heavy duty scissors. Trimming is simple: Just cut each leaf off where it meets the bud. It is a time consuming process though, and trimming machines can make the job much easier. If you decide to trim your buds after they are dry, you can use a tumbler to make the job easier and faster.
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Step Three: Drying
Once cannabis is harvested, it should be dried at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity level of around 50%. Ventilation is absolutely necessary, so a fan or an open window in your drying room is a must. If you are in an especially cold, hot, dry or humid environment you may need additional equipment to keep conditions right for drying. Air Conditioners will cool the air a well as remove humidity, while evaporative coolers will increase humility while decreasing temperature. Electric heaters or gas heaters will of course heat the room, but they can also dry the air out so you may need an additional humidifier. It is helpful to have a temperature and humidity monitor in your drying room to make sure these levels stay within an adequate range.
The drying stage can take anywhere from one to two weeks. You will know your plants are ready for the next step once the buds start to feel a bit crunchy, and smaller branches snap like a twig when you bend them.
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Step Four: Curing
Before curing your buds, make sure they are completely trimmed of leaves and cut off of the stem. Place your dried buds into brown paper bags, making sure not to pile them too high. Each bag should be no more than 1/4 full, or they will be too crowded and may encourage mold growth. For the first few days, keep the bags open and shake them a few times per day to get air flowing in between the buds. After a day or two, roll the tops of the bags down to seal them. Decrease number of times per day that you shake the bag until you get to once per day.
The purpose of this paper bag step is to continue the drying process, while slowing it down a little bit so that the buds do not become overly dry. Use your sense of smell and touch to feel whether the insides of the buds are becoming dry, without turning brittle. If you see any condensation inside of the bags, go back to keeping them open and shaking multiple times per day. Continue this process for a few days until the buds feel completely dry on the outside, but still have some give when you lightly squish them between your fingers. As you can see, this is a delicate process that relies more on your senses and observation than on a set formula.
Once your buds feel ready, you can transfer them to half gallon canning or mason jars. Only fill the jars up about 3/4 of the way so that there is plenty of room for airflow. Seal your jars and watch them closely for signs of condensation on the inside of the glass. Whenever you see condensation, open the jars and shake the buds for a few minutes, or long enough to dry out the condensation. You may start out opening your jars multiple times per day, and then decrease to once per day, once every other day, once per week, and so on. If you see high levels of condensation you may even need to keep the jars open for a few hours at a time. This process is highly dependent on your particular crop and your environment, so be wary of any instructions that give you a set formula to follow.