The Post-Harvest Process
Drying, trimming, and curing are all equally as important to creating quality cannabis as the grow process.
Growing cannabis is a long, but rewarding process. Over months you watch your seedling or clones grow into large plants and then flower into the buds we all wait for. However, the growing process doesn’t stop once those flowers are produced. One of the most important parts of growing quality cannabis comes when you are ready to harvest your plant.
To end up with the beautiful buds we know and love, there are a couple final steps to ensure your flowers maintain their taste and potency after being cut. These post-harvest processes are commonly referred to as drying and curing. While every grower has a preferred method, the process and reasoning behind the methods are similar.
When cannabis flowers are harvested, they are initially dense with water. Growers need to dry their flowers to reduce the water content. While it is still possible to consume fresh flowers, it may be less enjoyable of an experience. Fresh flowers tend to be harsher and less flavorful. They are also more susceptible to mold because of the higher availability of water. Additionally, compounds in cannabis like cannabinoids and terpenes are volatile, meaning they easily evaporate or degrade. Properly drying and curing your cannabis can help maintain the flavor and potency of those compounds overtime.
There are two common types of drying methods. One involves hanging plants to dry, while the other places buds on a mesh drying rack. There are other methods such as freeze drying or ice drying, but these are the most common. Hang-drying involves cutting branches and hanging them upside down with string, clothes hangers, etc. Some people even hang whole plants upside down to dry. Others cut the plant into small stems or cut buds off and place them on a mesh drying rack.
Room temperature and humidity are just as important when drying as they are when growing. Most growers agree keeping humidity between 45-55 percent and temperature around 70 degrees is a sweet spot. Depending on your environment and flowers, drying can take anywhere from 4-12 days. Generally, the slower the drying process the better. Buds should feel completely dry to the touch, but not brittle. Keep in mind it is possible to overdry cannabis so keep a close watch. A good rule of thumb for drying is when smaller stems snap off and do not bend, your cannabis should be properly dried and ready to be cured.
Prior to curing your cannabis, your flowers should be trimmed. Trimming involves removing the sugar leaves from the flower. Sugar leaves are the small leaves that grow out of cannabis buds or colas. They are covered in trichomes that tend to look like grains of white sugar, hence the name sugar leaves. Once you remove them a perfectly manicured bud is left. As with drying, there are several ways to trim flowers depending on preference. The main differences involve the time and process of trimming.
The two main ways to manicure flowers are by hand or with a trimming machine. While many home growers will just trim their flowers by hand, large cultivation facilities tend to use machines due to the quantity of plants needing to be trimmed. Additionally, some growers choose to trim while the flowers are still fresh while others wait until it has dried. There are pros and cons to each, but regardless of the time and way you choose to trim, it should happen prior to curing.
Once your buds are dried and trimmed they should be stored in a sealed container in a controlled environment to cure. Mason jars are one of the most common and easy-to-find containers. Jars should be filled up ¾ of the way full with buds and stored in a dark environment between 60-70 degrees with around 60 percent humidity. Curing is perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of the growing process. However, curing will create a product that is able to be stored without worrying about degradation of cannabinoids, terpenes, or any other volatile compounds.
During the curing process, the containers should be opened occasionally to replenish the fresh air in the jar or container. In the first few days you may want to check even more often to ensure the buds do not have too much moisture. A good rule to go by is if you open the jar and the flowers feel wet or you smell ammonia. If so, your buds are too wet and need to be aired out before closing the jar. In the first few weeks jars should be opened at least once a day to evacuate moisture and replenish dry air, a process sometimes referred to as burping.
The length of the curing process can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months. Generally the longer the time, the better the results of the curing process. Once cured, your buds are ready to be properly consumed and stored.
For those of us who cannot wait to try our harvests, a fun experiment is to compare tastes, harshness, and flavor over the curing time! See for yourself the benefits of the process and keep a log of your experiences to better inform your future grows.