Harvesting marijuana is a bit like harvesting grapes (or other fruits). The longer you wait, the more potent the grape and the stronger the alcohol. With marijuana, the longer you wait, the more cannabinoids there will be.
That means a stronger product.
See, after the flowering phase, your plant starts to die…
But, guess what?
There are many signs that will alert you of this upcoming event. Such as:
- The pistils turning red
- The stem broadening
- Resin on the buds browning and darkening
- Leaves starting to yellow and die
If your plant has flowered and you notice any of these symptoms, the chances are good that you are ready to harvest!
For those of us growing cannabis outdoors, we get to reap the benefits of gardening in the natural world. We skip the artificial light, ubiquitous chemicals, and noisy inline fans, and instead use sunlight, living soil, and gentle breezes to nurture our plants to maturity.
Of course, the great outdoors has its downsides too, like unpredictable weather, pests, and nosy neighbors. Following these tips will help ensure a smooth outdoor harvesting process, just as Mother Nature intended it to be.
Know When to Pull Your Harvest
Knowing when it’s the right time to harvest your high-value crops can be a little nerve-wracking.
After all, you’ve spent weeks getting to this point, caring for your precious plants, and now you’re probably champing at the bit to start harvesting and enjoying the final product.
But the fact is, harvest time can be somewhat confusing for many growers, because the best time to harvest can vary from strain to strain.
In general, most high-value crops are like fruit — the longer you wait, the more potent the product.
This can be both good and bad, depending on what type of end-user outcome you’re looking for in your product. Some strains can be almost too strong if you wait too long to harvest, while other strains might not be potent enough.
Those from regions close to the equator—sativa types—need a long, seemingly endless summer to ripen fully. While those from harsh, colder climates—indica types—tend to finish earlier since, well, winter is coming.
Indica: harvest after 8 weeks of flowering
Sativa: harvest after 10 weeks of flowering
Autoflower: 10 weeks from seedling to bud
50-70% brown – young, light marijuana
70-90% brown – ripe, heavy marijuana
90-100% brown – sharp, heavy marijuana
Clear trichomes – wait a bit longer
Milky white/amber trichomes – ready for harvest
All Amber trichomes – overripe
Mind the Weather
With cannabis ripening as the seasons change from summer to fall, chances are high that the weather is going through some changes. Depending on your climate, there might be cold snaps or rainstorms on the horizon.
In colder, temperate areas, growers will also find themselves restricted when it comes to choosing a variety. That said, they can achieve superior results in comparison to growers in the extreme north or the extreme south, since their temperatures and the cultivation cycle should be somewhat more favourable. In temperate and cold areas, the temperatures usually fall too low to be able to successfully complete flowering by mid to late October. Those cultivating in these areas can also consider forcing and inducing flowering so as to improve the chances of obtaining a good crop.
More resistant varieties of plant with earlier flowering are used for this type of climate, such as Early Skunk Feminised and Jamaican Pearl. These varieties of seeds have been developed specifically for outside cultivation in northern areas, and are able to grow and flower in latitudes around 50ºN, and in many cases even 60ºN.
Warm temperate (or tropical) climates are the perfect environment for the majority of cannabis varieties developed for commercial cultivation. Here, the climate is characterised by long, sunny summers and mild winters, and the seasonal variation in the length of the day provides a clear sign to plants to start flowering once daylight drops to 12 hours, at around the spring equinox. Generally speaking, in these areas, temperatures continue to be favourable for producing buds until as late as November, or even the start of December, which is why dominantly sativa varieties with a long flowering time are manageable, and also those that are dominantly indica are strong growers.
Aside from the temperature and the hours of daylight, the most important environmental variable is the level of humidity and there might be major differences between places located at the same latitude, solely due to variations in rainfall. This is why it is also important to take this factor into account when it comes to cultivation.
Similar to a cold snap, it’s not the rain itself that’s a huge problem, it’s the duration and severity of the storm. If it’s going to warm up and dry out quickly, you can feel fully confident in leaving not-quite-ripe cannabis to weather the storm. If the rain will be there to stay, problems with mold await. Cut your losses and harvest before things get soggy.
Note that in cold or rain—especially rain that might become hail—you can create a buffer by surrounding your plants with a few tall stakes and draping burlap or a tarp over the top. Just be certain to remove the cover when the cold/rain passes to let the plants warm up and get the sun and air they need.
Choose Your Harvest Pacing
With artificial light and complicated pruning practices, most indoor weed ripens all at once. There can be a little more variation in plants grown outside, with outer, exposed colas ripening first, and interior, more shaded buds ripening a few days later.
Generally speaking, you’re fine harvesting all at once. But you also have the option of dividing the work, harvesting ripe ones first and leaving inner ones to soak up the sun and ripen fully for a little longer.
More waiting, more resin
The one benefit to waiting until you near the point of the leaves turning brown is that the resin glands will contain more resin. Some people don’t mind the harsher smoke since they bargain that they are receiving a stronger, more intense high. This is a personal decision that gets easier after you learn more each successive harvests.
Longer is not necessarily better
Although a longer flowering period may lead to a greater harvest, letting your plants flower longer doesn’t always lead to optimal results. You must time it correctly.
I can’t say this enough:
If you wait too long, you could experience an overpowering and unpleasant flavor. You may also experience decreased effectiveness of the active ingredients – and yes, I mean THC!
The easiest way to keep from reaching that point is to pay attention to the pistil color. In fact, it is the most common approach.
Some growers harvest as soon as the pistils begin to turn red. Others wait until they are almost entirely red, and the resin is dark.
Freshly cut branches offer an easy opportunity for a close-up inspection. After chopping, hold each branch up to the light and give it a once-over. If you see anything fishy—deadened, brown, or grey areas of flower or leaves—cut them out fully and clean your shears with rubbing alcohol before making any other cuts. Any problems with fungus or mold can spread rampantly in the drying room.