Harvest. It’s a special time for a grower. After spending months caring for your crop, you finally get to find out how well the finished product turned out. Before you get started though, let’s look at how you can have a more successful harvest through better preparation. There are many moving parts that encompass harvest time, so to keep track, it’s best to break it down into smaller steps to see the bigger picture. From the moment a plant gets cut down, the hourglass has been turned over, and for the next 14 days you have the ability to improve the quality of your product. Let’s take a look at the important steps that can help you extrapolate the most from your flowers by following correct harvesting protocols. Thorough preparation, utilizing the correct tools of the trade, identifying appropriate harvest times and collecting data can be important factors of a successful fall harvest.
For all commercial cannabis growers, harvest time is always around the corner, and nothing makes this process go more smoothly than being fully prepared. Not having everything in place before harvest can add unnecessary frustration to the process, so let’s look at what needs to happen before the first plant gets cut down.
Before getting started, do a quick walkthrough of the harvesting area and drying rooms. Bring a note pad along to jot down anything that needs fixed or replaced. Once you’re all squared away, take a minute to organize your rooms and straighten everything out. Prepare your drying area by removing any leaves and stems from past harvests. Vacuum or mop the floors and give the room a quick cleaning. At least once a year, but preferably more than that, disinfect all washable areas, including drying racks and lines. What you don’t want is dust from dirt or leaves floating in the air. A big no-no for any drying room is curtains, carpeting, rugs and tablecloths. These items are likely to harbor pathogens, and are a welcoming haven for pests. These scheduled cleanings are good preventative medicine to help stop recurring outbreaks from pests, particularly spider mites.
Next, do a quick inspection; check for light leaks and make sure the rooms are maintaining an airtight integrity. Move on to a system inspection — make sure that all mechanical equipment such as the HVAC, venting systems, oscillating fans, dehumidifiers and in-room sterilizers are all operational.
Having the proper gear is a real time-saver; it makes the harvesting process operate smoothly, and keeps you safe. Here is a check list for all the items you’ll need in your harvesting tool box.
– Magnification Devices
Having some type of magnifier is needed to view trichomes and their maturity level. Until you become proficient at recognizing mature trichomes, practice viewing them. There are digital magnifiers that can attach to your cell phone, and some higher-end devices can display an image to your computer in high definition, as well as viewing and recording macro-images.
– Disposal Buckets
The first step to harvesting your plants is removing the large sun leaves, or any other leaves without trichomes. Having a bucket or tray will make the process cleaner and will save you time with having to go back and collect the leaves off the ground. This is a labor saving tip.
– Loppers, Pruners and Precision Scissors
Having long- and short-handled pruners, along with some fine-point scissors are mandatory. You will use all three of them at different times throughout the harvest.
– Gloves and cleaning supplies
All of your harvesting tools should be wiped down with isopropyl alcohol — before, during and after harvest. Using latex gloves during harvest can save you a lot of hand washing, and your customers will appreciate that detail, as well. And besides, legal or not, there’s no reason to take your work home with you. The isopropyl and coconut oil, either by themselves or with salt added, work really well for removing the resin from your fingers.
– Safety Kit
If you’ve never had the privilege of getting resin in your eye, do what you can to avoid it. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s damned irritating. Expect swelling, redness and itching that will persist for 20 minutes to several hours. It’s almost impossible to avoid if you grow long enough, but paying attention and wearing safety glasses surely help. Use an appropriate eye flush upon getting resin in your eye, and repeat as needed. Another common, but minor injury is snipping the end of your fingers while trimming, so keep plenty of adhesive bandages on hand.
– Plant Hangers/Carriers
Having some type of hook, or cart, to hang and transport your plants will save you lots of time in the long run. Twelve-gauge electrical wires are handy for making your own hooks. You can customize the length, and hook ends to suit your needs. For larger harvests, a rolling cart to hang plants will speed up the process. Visualize a clothing cart as reference point.
– Masking Tape
Most licensed cannabis operations must follow seed-to-sale tracking rules, which means the plant’s tracking label will follow it through harvest. For those of you who track our own plants (medical growers or those in states without tracking requirements), painter’s tape can easily be transferred from your container to your plant’s branch after harvesting.
– Task Oriented Clothing
It’s best to wear latex gloves, eye protection and a long-sleeved shirt while harvesting. Not to sound like your mother here, but fresh resin is just plain irritating to your eyes and skin so it’s best err on the side of caution.
Peak Harvesting Window
Harvesting your plants during their peak cannabinoid level is fairly straight-forward. As cannabis plants near maturity, their cannabinoid levels weave in and out of varying percentages before settling on their finished profile. The more complex issue is deciding where along that harvest window to cut your plants.
A rule of thumb in determining peak cannabinoid levels is when 25% of the trichomes have matured by turning amber. At this stage expect to see 25% clear resins, 50% opaque resins and 25% amber resins.
As cannabinoids mature you can witness the resin within the trichomes turn from clear, to opaque, and eventually amber. As far as amber resin goes, be aware that some strains’ resin will actually turn different colors other than amber, such as red or purple. It’s this transition in the resin turning from opaque to its final color, to be on the look-out for.
Every cannabis plant has a unique cannabinoid profile; just like its DNA. Generally when you begin to see clear resin turn opaque, you know your plants have entered the harvesting window. This harvesting window can last from 10 days to 60 days, depending on the variety. Pure indicas have the shortest harvest window, while landrace sativas can take several months. Pure sativas are a little tricky in that they go through several harvesting windows before finally ripening.
Whether you have a new clone, or a new variety from seed, there are standard protocols to follow in determining the preferred effect from the cannabinoid profile along the harvesting window. The only way to determine what profile is right for you is to take samples every five days from the onset of the harvesting window. Even though THC and CBD levels are predetermined, the fluctuations in their percentages during the harvesting window are why you need to take samples. You will be surprised at the varying effects you’ll experience off the same plant because of the morphing cannabinoid percentages.
Tracking your harvest
Note taking is imperative, not only for your harvesting process, but for every aspect of your production operation. There’s so much constantly going in a commercial cannabis operation, that without good note taking and schedules to follow, the small details get forgotten and scheduled events get delayed.
The name of the game here is all about efficiency. Nothing overlooked, and nothing wasted — including your labor and equipment. If tasks are included with your schedules, then employees need less oversight. When everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, you’ll have a facility that runs at a high state of efficiency.
Using harvest time as an example of this, let’s take a look at what a checklist could look like. Assuming harvest takes place on a Friday, begin your scheduled checklist at least the Monday before. This leaves time to repair or replace any damaged areas of the facility or equipment before harvest.
1) Check all facilities and equipment.
__door and window seal integrity
__Dehumidifier operational, drain lines unobstructed
__Humidifier operational, feed lines unobstructed
__Dry lines and racks functional
__Thermometer and humidistat functionality
2) Check all state-mandated compliance systems
__Security cameras unobstructed and functioning
__Traceability system operational
__Quarantine room cleared, cleaned and ready
3) Harvesting equipment and supplies
__Hand tools cleaned and sharpened
__Wet/dry commercial trimming machines cleaned and operational
__Packaging supplies stocked
__Commercial sealing machine operational
__Nitrogen tanks full (if applicable)
__Automated packaging equipment operational
__First-aid kits stocked
__Safety equipment functional, latex gloves, safety glasses, etc.
Why is note taking so imperative? Observations of your harvesting process, labor, equipment functionality, and of course, the harvested product are all incredibly important. Note taking will help remind you of those little details that will be far removed from your mind later on. The objective with taking notes is to improve every process, and thus its efficiency. Examples of this are the appropriation of time to a given task, the functionality of your equipment, and of course the constant vetting of your plant varieties.
When it comes to your plants, there isn’t an end to what can be learned through taking notes. Information gathered through the note taking process is so valuable because it’s the last opportunity to improve your product before sale, and to make determinations on the qualities of the plant.
Morphology: Physical characteristics of the plant, pre-harvest. Including leaf type and size, floral structure, internodal spacing, colorations and branching pattern are but a few.
Smell: Olfactory identification in the fresh state.
Environmental stats: Temperature, humidity, light/dark cycles.
2) During harvest
Trimming efficiency: The time it takes to trim any given strain.
Equipment efficiency: Does the equipment take constant fiddling to operate? Can you make it through an eight-hour trimming session without having to break the trimmer down and clean it? Does the quality and efficiency meet your expectations?
3) Drying and curing
Temperature and humidity: The most crucial post-harvest information directly related to the quality of your product. Those first 14 days mentioned earlier are the most important for setting the quality of finished product, and temperature and humidity have everything to do with it. Constantly correlating the quality/smokeability of your finished product to your drying rooms environmental conditions can teach you what has worked best, and what hasn’t.
Finished morphological traits: Structural appeal of the dried product is especially important when working with a large number of phenotypes.
Smell: Post-harvest olfactory identification. Dried cannabis takes on a similar but altered version of its pre-harvest self. Once dried, you’ll be able to pick out subtle differences that will only surface after being properly dried and cured. These subtleties will be cross-referenced constantly to your drying and curing room’s environmental conditions. Constantly correlating these variables will help you better learn the exact conditions that are favorable in harnessing each stains odiferous potential.
Trichome identification: Some strains are particularly favorable toward hash production due to their natural tendencies for separation. There are three different types of trichomes: bulbous, capitate-sessile and capitate-stalked. The three types are differentiated mainly by the length of the stalk that carries the trichome head or gland. There’s so much more to be learned in the scientific world about trichomes. For producers, taking notes and pictures of the plant’s trichomes is very important. Among other reasons, these pictures can help you spot unique characteristics in future generations.
Packaging: The bigger the operation, the more likely it will someday use an automated packaging system. Until that time though, business owners will need to determine whether it’s faster to fill mylar bags, pop-top bottles, glass jars, etc. For every producer, packaging and branding are your first move for shelf placement and customer recognition. This is why you should cross-reference your choice of packaging via retailer feedback for full determination.
There is so much more that could be covered on this topic, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how important preparation, scheduling and note taking are. These practices go hand in hand and will help you continually improve the quality of your product. The most well-run facilities are the ones that have covered every last detail of their operations. In turn, well-informed business owners can make the most educated decisions concerning every aspect of their future harvests.
Until next time, remember, “Stay focused and let it grow.”