8.  Flowering and When to Harvest

Marijuana plant flowering

What is the Marijuana Flowering Phase

Flowering outdoors is triggered as autumn approaches and days start to become shorter. There is little you can do to manually induce flowering to your plants, except creating artificial darkness around them. When flowering, marijuana plants enter a period of impressive growth. You will see rapid flower formation and the stems will start to elongate. The resin covering the buds will start to darken and the base leaves of the plant will wither and die off as all energy will be focused on bud production.

If indoor growers have one distinct advantage, it is that of playing God by controlling the light intake of their plants. And, in marijuana growing, “He who controls the light cycles, controls the life cycles”. Cannabis, like all plants, responds to the change of seasons by sensing the amount of light it receives.


When to Harvest Your Plant

It’s vital to not harvest your plant as soon as you see buds forming– this is a very premature phase of the plant’s THC development and you’ll be very disappointed by the quality of the harvest. But harvesting too late will disintegrate THC into Cannabinol (CBN) – resulting in a high that is much more relaxing, not necessarily a bad thing, however it will result in a reduction of the value of your crop.

It’s not that difficult to determine what the optimal time to harvest for maximum THC is, just use your trusty magnifier to take a closer look at the buds and look for the resin-filled pistils. If the pistils are 50-70% brown – the marijuana plant is ready to harvest.

Pistil Stage THC Content
White Very low
50 – 70% brown Optimal THC
70 – 100% brown Lower THC, more CBN

You can also check if your plant is ready by checking the trichomes on the bud. You’ll still need your magnifier or jeweler’s loupe, but this time, you’re looking at the trichomes of the flower. The trichomes are tiny mushroom-shaped growths that contain cannabinoids in great concentration. Some of them are known as resin glands and are responsible for the snowy-white colour of the buds. When the plant is mature and ready for harvest, these glands will swell and grow, while the trichomes will have a milky white hue.

Marijuana trichomes - clear vs amber - ready

How to Harvest Your Plant

  1. Cut the plant from the base– it’ll be hardy and tough, akin to a small tree, so you may need large pruners to get the job done right
  2. Cut off every branch connected to the main central trunk
  3. Trim all the fan leaves from these branches, effectively leaving you with a bare branch and large flower nodes. It may become tedious cutting these fan leaves off, but it makes your life a whole lot easier in the trimming phase.
  4. These collections of branches with nodes are then ready to dry!


Hang ’em out to Dry!

Now that you’ve trimmed your cut branches, you should hang them upside down to dry in a dark space – the process typically takes between 7-14 days, depending on the drying conditions. The ideal temperature is around 65-70ºF (20-21ºC), with an average to low humidity. Temperatures that are higher than 86ºF (30ºC) can harm the cannabinoid and terpenoid content of your product.

We’ve found the ideal way to dry marijuana is in a two-step process:

  1. For the first 3-5 days hang them upside down in an outdoor shed or garage, or even inside a big cardboard box or brown paper yard waste bag.  You can use pieces of string across the room or wire mesh and then hang the branches right off them. The advantage of this, is that it takes a large initial amount of moisture off the plant in an outdoor setting – this allows much of the very pungent odour (the beautiful dank skunky smell of weed) to dissipate.
  2. You can then bring the branches indoors for the final drying process, as it’s much drier within a home and the branches will fully dry in a matter of 3-5 days.

Marijuana plants hanging to dry indoors

You may really only need to use step 1 of the process depending on what Mother Nature dishes out. There are many times when harvest coincides with a period of relatively dry weather with reasonable temperatures, allowing you to complete your whole drying process within the shed / garage.

Exhaust fans and dehumidifiers are also helpful in making the process move along more quickly, but under no circumstance should you attempt to point a heater directly opposite your cannabis. We really can’t stress this enough: letting cannabis dry slowly on its own will make or break its taste. Be patient and follow this process to the end.

Which leads us to the most critical question, how do you tell when the marijuana is completely dry and ready to be trimmed?

The branch snap test is the most reliable way to know when your bud is ready to be trimmed. If you can snap the small twigs holding the flower, then you can be certain your plant is ready for the next phase. If it’s bending, you know the drying process hasn’t completed.

Marijuana dry - harvesting

Chapter 9 – Trimming and Curing »

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