Chapter 14 – Growing Top Shelf Buds
The next steps in the growing process are very important . They should be followed carefully and patiently to bring out the best quality in the harvest. You have spent a considerable amount of time, money, and effort to this point. Do NOT blow it now by rushing things and winding up with dried buds that aren’t what they could have been. Proper handling can make some very discernible differences in flavor, aroma, trichome preservation, color, and density.
Since we have already discussed when to harvest in the Late Flowering & Ripening section of our SOP’s (standard operating procedures), we can get right down to business.
Preparation & Planning
Establish, ready and clean your drying and trimming area before you get started. You won’t want to be kicking up any dust in the drying area once plants have been chopped. Part of the goal is to maintain a good level of sanitation to prevent the chance of your beautiful harvest getting dirty or contaminated.
Using heavy gauge wire, like used in fencing or baling and eyehooks, create a series of drying lines. You can have several levels of drying wires suspended in an average ceiling height. Make sure the eye hooks are fastened securely into studs or framing members.
We intended to have some air circulation in the drying area along with good plant preparation. This way we can pack a lot of branches in a relatively small area to dry our crop. If you don’t use a dehumidifier and fan, you will need more space between hanging buds so the drying area will need to be larger. We don’t want buds to get post-harvest diseases. Rots or mildews from having wet buds sit tightly together with poor air movement and air quality. A five foot by five-foot area with two levels of wire drying lines is typically ample for up to four square meters worth of harvest (two three foot by six-foot horticultural trays). These dimensions assume use of a dehumidifier and fan present.
Why not drying racks?
Hang drying produces a superior quality bud versus drying racks, in every respect. Secondly, after just one or two uses the screen material on the racks begins taking on a musty odor. Eventually your dried buds will smell like used drying racks instead of top shelf buds. Hang drying is easy, inexpensive, and very flexible. Plus, this process yields a higher quality finished bud.
Recommended Harvest, Drying and Curing Equipment
- Heavy duty garden shears; for cutting down plants right at the base of the rockwool pot.
- Heavy gauge wire & eye hook; for use to support weight of crop on drying lines.
- Several clean plastic bins and totes of varying sizes; busing trays for dishes are great.
- Floral snips; for trimming, micro tip scissors with spring handles
- Adjustable speed and tilt floor fan for air movement.
- Dehumidifier; for maintaining 35%-45% humidity in drying area.
- Latex or Nitrile gloves to keep resin off fingers.
- Sealable food grade bins, stainless steel or glass is preferred for curing dried buds.
- Carbon Filter and Fan to scrub air and remove odors (optional).
- Packaging materials for sealing up and storing dried and cured buds for long term storage or handling.
Harvesting, Step by Step
Using a large clean plastic tote. Cut plants down with shears at the base of the pot. Gently place in the bin and carry away from the growing area to your drying and trimming area.
Let the rockwool dry out a bit right before chopping your plants down. It will be easier and less expensive to dispose of when dry versus wet. Also cut as much stem from the pot as possible so it won’t poke through garbage bags if discarding used rockwool root balls.
Start cutting off large individual limbs from the main plant, one at a time. Remove large fan leaves and discard away from the drying and growing area. Leave the small resin covered fan leaves intact. We’ll trim and collect those off once the buds are dry.
Keep branches intact. If longer than twenty four inches, cut limbs into sections. Make sure to leave a “crotch” at the base of each limb, this way every branch has its own built-in hook to hang on the drying lines.
You can place cut and stripped branches directly on the drying lines as you go. If using fans and a dehumidifier as recommended you can pack the branches pretty close together on the drying lines. Make sure your drying lines can support all the weight adequately.
Set your dehumidifier to 35-45% relative humidity. You want to retain dry air, there will be a lot of moisture escaping the buds. Set the floor fan to a low setting and direct air upwards towards the hanging buds. You want gentle and even air movement over all the hanging branches, they shouldn’t be swaying around wildly. Easy does it.
Make sure temperatures are in the 70-to-80-degree Fahrenheit range. Excessive hot and dry air will take away all the flavors and aromas and leave the buds smoking harshly. Cool moist conditions promote rots, molds and contaminants while dragging out the drying time required.
Ideally, the branches will be ready for the next stage, trimming, in 4 to 6 days from cutting down plants and hanging up the branches to dry. Buds may feel very dry on the outside; however, there can still be a fair amount of moisture on the inside. Bending a larger diameter branch will be a good indicator of how much moisture is left. Let them get very dry before proceeding to trimming. Once sufficiently dry, the bud quality will be better in the final appearance and it will be easier to trim away the small resin covered bud leaves.
Do your trimming over a large clean plastic bin to capture any fallen resin capped trichomes and all the resin encrusted smaller bud leaves as they get trimmed away from the bud. There are plenty of cannabinoids on this material that can be saved. If you pulled off the big fan leaves as recommended before hang drying and let the branches dry out very well, the smaller bud leaves will trim away quickly and easily with micro tip spring handled scissors. Some strains are easier to trim than others, however, with a little practice a square meters worth of harvest can be dry trimmed to picture perfect in around a few hours.
Handle dry branches and buds gently, the dried resins can break away and fall off easily, you want to keep those high quality nugs looking like they were dipped in sugar for maximum appeal and potency. Collect your dry trimmed buds into sealable food grade containers (glass or metal) for the final step, curing. NOTE, plastic containers can sometimes diminish or reduce the flavors and aromas of buds. Also be sure containers for curing dried buds are totally clean, use alcohol to clean thoroughly between batches of buds to be collected and cured. You don’t want any carry over from previous crops or batches.
If you are growing on a modest scale the high cost and reduction of finished bud quality makes using trimming machines tough to justify. Granted, they can be a huge time saver. However, most trimming machines work best for wet trimming which of course would require drying racks, the combination of rough tumbling in machines and then drying wet buds on racks puts a dent in harvest quality. Commercial growing operations are more likely to benefit from trimming machines where the high purchase cost is offset in labor savings and convenience, and where the mandate is quantity over quality.
Before starting this process make sure buds are very dry, there can still be a fair amount of moisture hidden in the stems underneath the bud surface which may feel very dry. If you start curing while the buds are too moist it will hurt the final flavor and aroma as well as the appearance. For those dank buds that looked dipped in sugar you want things to be very dry. Once curing is completed you can use moisture packs like Bovida packs to get the desired moisture content levels you want in your buds (so they don’t turn to dust with lots of handling).
A piece of apple or orange peel in your bud container is also an easy and effective way to get some moisture content back into your buds once dried and cured.
The Curing Process
The curing process, which typically takes a week or two, helps draw out any residual moisture left deep in the bud. This allows any “green” notes in the bouquet to dissipate so all you are left with is potent and flavorful nugs to smoke.
To cure buds, keep dried and trimmed buds tightly sealed in food grade glass or stainless-steel containers. Don’t pack the containers too tightly, you want to leave some air space. Once or twice a day, open the lid. Very gently turn the buds over by hand, so the bottom buds are on top. Keep the lid off for an hour or so to let any moisture and “green taste” escape.
Repeat this process for seven to fourteen days. You will be rewarded with the absolute best looking, tasting, and smoking buds possible from following our grow guide. While it can be tempting to rush to the finish line after cutting down your cannabis plants. The extra time and diligence in drying and curing will take your dried cannabis flowers to the next level. Congratulations, you now have AAAA+ quality potent, healthy, and tasty flowers to smoke or do with as you please! For long term storage glass mason jars stored in a cool dark place are tough to beat. Avoid freezing buds.