The most frequents errors harvesting cannabis

Of all the pleasant experiences to savour when growing our own cannabis, undoubtedly one of the most special and highly anticipated is the moment we finally take the scissors and cut the plant at harvest time. In many cases this emotion is followed by a great relief, brought on by the tranquility of removing plants, especially outdoor grown plants, which may have been exposed to certain prying eyes.

Situations such as this one, as well as others such as, for example, the grower’s sheer impatience to finish the crop, can lead to bringing forward the harvest and cutting the plants too early, before they reach their optimum maturity. Rushing these things is never a good idea, as haste clouds our judgement and can force mistakes, so the decision about whether to harvest or not will require close observation and patience.

The most common harvesting mistakes are usually to do with to the maturity of the plant, although there are other, less serious errors that can prove decisive to the quality of the harvest, alongside following the proper drying and curing process to ensure a top quality cannabis crop.

Harvesting and trimming our variety Fruity Jack
Harvesting and trimming our variety Fruity Jack

Do you know the flowering time for the cannabis variety you’re growing?

A common mistake is not having enough information about the plant that we’re going to grow. It is essential we know as much as possible about the cannabis strains we cultivate, to be aware of important information such as the vegetative growth, flowering and ripening cycles of the plant. Commercial varieties produced by seed banks will always include the approximate flowering time or harvest date with the general information about the variety.

In the cultivation details of autoflowering strains, the total cultivation time in days is indicated, from germination of the seed to harvest. This total cultivation time is always approximate and tends to be the same for outdoor and indoor gardens, although it must be said that for environmental reasons, depending on the time of the year, outdoor plants may take a little longer to mature than the days indicated in the variety description.

On the other hand, in the cultivation details of feminised photo-dependent varieties the time will differ between indoor and outdoor plants. For indoor-grown cannabis plants, the approximate duration of the flowering period will be given in days, indicating the approximate total time from switching the vegetative growth photoperiod (18/6) to the flowering photoperiod (12/12) until harvest.

In the case of feminised photo-dependent plants grown outdoors, the information given regarding the cultivation time will refer to the approximate dates for harvest. The reason for this difference in the data we’re given for indoor and outdoor crops is because, when grown outdoors, photo-dependent plants are subjected to the different daylight cycles as they change over the seasons, which will determine the time for harvest. Depending on the variety of cannabis plant, in the northern hemisphere these harvest dates are usually between the end of August and late October, while in the southern hemisphere the harvest dates are mostly from late February to the end of April.

Brown pistils on cannabis flowers

One of the things that cannabis growers are most fixated with when deciding when to harvest cannabis plants is in the appearance and colour of the pistils. It is widely believed that when 75-80% of the pistils of our cannabis flowers have turned brown, then they will be mature and ready to harvest.

This assessment may be correct, if it is combined with other indications or signs that the plant gives us regarding its state of maturity. If you rely upon only this one observation, you run the risk of making the mistake of chopping early, as this oxidation of the pistils may be due to environmental factors or the grower’s actions.

Just because the pistils are brown doesn’t mean that the flowers are ready
Just because the pistils are brown doesn’t mean that the flowers are ready

In indoor gardens, sudden shifts in humidity levels, high temperatures or a lack of irrigation can cause the pistils to take on a brown colour. In outdoor gardens, rain and wind can oxidise the pistils prematurely without the plant being mature and ready to cut.

This indication of the brown pistils on cannabis buds must always be combined with other types of observation, in particular the examination of trichome colour.

Checking the trichome heads and the colour of the resin

Trichomes are outgrowths of epidermal origin that occur in many herb, fruit and vegetable plants. Cannabis trichomes are found mainly on the flowers and are mostly of the glandular type. These glandular trichomes generally have a unicellular head where most of the resin of the cannabis plant is concentrated.

The resin secreted by the trichomes takes on a domed shape, similar to a mushroom, allowing us to observe the colour of the resin inside them, which will give us the clearest indication of what stage of maturation the plants are in. To be able to observe these resinous formations properly, you need a microscope or a magnifying glass of at least 5x magnification.

Trichomes with clear resin, indicating that this Cheesy Auto isn’t yet ready
Trichomes with clear resin, indicating that this Cheesy Auto isn’t yet ready

The main clue to recognising the maturity of the plant is by observing the colour of the resin in the trichomes. At first it is transparent, then becoming opaque, later to a milky white color, and finally the resin oxidises and takes on an amber tone.

While the resin is still transparent it indicates that the plant is immature. When the resin ceases to be transparent, becoming opaque, and reaches the milky white colour, it is a sign that the plant is maturing. There are plenty of growers who prefer to harvest at this point of maturation, as the flowers produce a more euphoric “High” effect when consumed.

In a few days, the resin of the trichomes begins to oxidise and take on the typical amber colour which every experienced grower associates with the maturation of the plant. This is the time chosen by most cultivators to cut the plant. In this final phase of maturation the cannabis resin will have a more sensory and relaxing effect.

Trichomes showing the resin beginning to oxidise, taking on the characteristic amber colour indicating the plant is mature
Trichomes showing the resin beginning to oxidise, taking on the characteristic amber colour indicating the plant is mature

Before harvesting, whether we choose to cut when the resin inside the trichomes is a milky colour, or if we wait for it to oxidise and turn amber, we must always ensure that approximately 75% of the trichomes on the plant are showing our desired colour.

Stop fertilising before cutting

A key step in achieving a high quality crop is to stop feeding the plants by switching to water-only irrigation around 15 days before harvesting. The action of applying nutrient-free water will help eliminate the fertiliser residues and mineral salts accumulated in the substrate during cultivation.

This action, together with a final flushing of roots at the end of flowering, in other words, rinsing the cultivation substrate with abundant plain water and allowing it to drain, will eventually dissolve and wash away not only the nutrient residues, but any remains of insecticide or fungicide treatments applied during cultivation as well. This action helps to avoid these residues reaching the buds, and gives the plant enough time so that it eliminates the accumulation of nutrients through its metabolic processes, thus safeguarding the flavours and the final quality of the resin.

After flushing the roots at the end of flowering, the plant should look like this Orange Candy which is ready to harvest
After flushing the roots at the end of flowering, the plant should look like this Orange Candy which is ready to harvest

The most visible effect of flushing the roots is the yellow colour gradually taken on by the leaves, starting the bottom and progressing to the top of the plants. The best time to harvest, once we’ve stopped feeding the plants and flushed the roots, is when the lower leaves of the plant have fallen off and those that remain are no longer green but have taken on a yellowish colour.

How to cut cannabis plants down

When we want to harvest our cannabis plants we must differentiate between three types of harvest: chopping the entire plant; cutting off just the branches of the plant; or harvesting only the flowers (buds). If we are dealing with a small or medium sized plant (0.50 meters - 1.50 meters), we can easily harvest the entire plant by cutting through the bottom of the main stem.

To perform this cut, we can use a small handsaw or pruning shears if they are large enough to be able to chop through the stem with relative ease. We won’t have too much of a problem finding a space where a plant of these dimensions can be hung upside down. To ensure proper drying we must remove the large and medium-sized leaves before hanging the plant.

When the plants are large it’s better to cut the branches off to allow for better spacing and air movement in the drying room
When the plants are large it’s better to cut the branches off to allow for better spacing and air movement in the drying room

If the plants are large or very large (1.6 metres or more) we will find it more difficult to find a space that meets all the conditions of size and airiness required to properly dry cannabis, so if we want to optimise our drying space, the best option is to harvest the branches one by one, taking care to cut the branches as close to the main stem as possible, and to remove the large and medium-sized leaves before hanging.

The most suitable tool for cutting the branches is a good quality pair of pruning shears, which, as in the previous case, should open wide enough to allow us to make a clean and effortless cut. Then we have two options for drying, we can hang the branches from lines, or use a drying mesh sufficiently wide and airy to accommodate the branches, carefully placed slightly apart from each other.

The third harvesting option, cutting just the buds, is the most laborious, since we have to go from flower to flower and hurry the trimming process, removing most of the leaves. This type of harvesting has the advantage that as soon as the buds are dry they will already be prepared to go on to the curing and conservation phase, giving us a head start in comparison to the two previous options, in which, once the cannabis is dried, we must then finish trimming and take the flowers off the branches before we can store them.

A screen mesh dryer is a great option for drying the branches and cannabis buds
A screen mesh dryer is a great option for drying the branches and cannabis buds

How we do this depends on what kind of plant we’re dealing with. If it’s a small plant then we can cut the buds directly off the plant, whereas with larger plants we will find it easier to remove the branches before cutting the buds off them. Once again, the best tool for this job is a good pair of pruning shears. If we harvest in this way, we must dry the flowers on a mesh screen or other type of suitable dryer. To ensure proper drying, the buds should be placed with care on the screen, well spaced without touching each other.

If we take all the above advice and information into account before we begin to harvest, it’s highly likely that we will end up with a high quality crop of flowers picked at their optimum point of maturity for our enjoyment.

Happy harvesting!

Comments in “The most frequents errors harvesting cannabis” (12)

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Ryan Is an Philosopher Seeds client 2021-10-06
Hi yes I lose quality after bagging my product , what if I just leave it in the dry room on nets at a constant humidity of 60 % instead of bagging it and then when a sale is in I only bag it then would I lose weight etc if the room is always at 60% Thanks a million if you could shed some light on

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-10-07
Hi Ryan, thanks for your comment. To preserve the best quality, it's always best to store your flowers in a hermetic container once they are fully dried and cured. Glass jars are superior to plastic bags for this purpose. I would lower the humidity for a week to ensure the product is fully dry and then follow the proper curing procedure according to our blog post: Drying and Curing Cannabis. I hope that helps. Happy harvests!

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Bushdweller 2021-07-11
What happens if the plant doesn’t get flushed properly?

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-07-12
Hi, thanks for your question. A lot will depend on the levels of fertilizer used during the flowering period, but if a plant is not flushed properly before harvest, it can contain excess residual nutrients which will lead to an unpleasant taste and a harsh experience on the throat when smoking. If you've used low levels of fertilizer then this will be less of an issue but with a crop that's been supercharged for maximum production, a proper flush is important to achieve the best flavours in the buds. I hope that helps, best wishes and happy growing!

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Jazz 2021-06-19
Started my stuff from seed, had them on a 18 light 6 dark schedule, but since I started from seed I need to sex them before I gave some away. So I put them on a 12/12 for 2 weeks. So since she's been sexed ive had her on a 19 hours light and 5 hours of sleep. But now all of her hairs are turning brown and I dont know what to do Or how to fix it.

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-06-21
Hi Jazz, thanks for your comment. The plant started flowering and now it need to "revegetate" or begin vegetative growth again, which is a stressful time for plants, with many hormonal changes needed to turn things around. It's a bit like turning a huge super-tanker around... it doeasn't happen quickly! A lot will depend on the genetics being grown, some plants will reveg readily while others will take a lot longer, but all plants except autos will reveg eventually. Feeding some Nitrogen-rich fertiliser is a good idea, and pruning the apical tips will often help to initiate regrowth too. The advantage of this approach is that you plant, once it has revegged, will have a much larger number of bud sites developed and should give a really good harvest once you flower it again (a technique known as monster-cropping). In future, to avoid this happening again, when you want to sex plants quickly, remember that it's only necessary to subject them to 24 hours of total darkness to do this, and they will show their sex a couple of weeks later as a result. That way they won't have started the flowering process and hence won't need to go through the stressful process of revegging. I hope that helps, best wishes and happy growing!

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triumph 2021-04-18
First off your pictures and outlines are terrific. With my second harvest coming about with gelato, I am just standing by for the amber trichomes to come about. Traveling in three weeks finally, a little nervous with my dead line. I may have to cut the wait down and start the harvest shortly. Luckily in a warm climate plantings will resume upon returning. Your comments on this would really be appreciated. Thanks triumph

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-05-05
Hi, thanks for your comment. How long are you traveling for? If it's for a week or less then you could simply chop the plants on the day you leave, hang them up to dry without trimming them fully, just removing the large shade leaves, and then trim them when you get back and the plants will hopefully be dry. I think that's what I'd do in your position. I hope that helps, best wishes!

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John Carleton 2021-01-25
i've been growing for 35 years & have always foiler fed my plants for the first month with purchased spring water form walmart/ pensylvania & moved toward that when it happened @ first & have always used well water weather it be in alaska for 25 years or up & down the east coat & cali ! never had a problem !!! i've quit all together now foiler feeding that is my PH is good running 6.2 to 6.8 & clones @ 5.3-5.6 !!!! WTF is going on ??? i've thought of all the obvious things ! everything was beautiful & my 5 week old snowballs were pure white & heathy !!! Help please !!! i'm stumped on this one also more the regular foilage remains unaffected ? the water has been micro filtered ionized & ultra violet light @ the factory they say anyway ??? PLEASE help if can !!! THA

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-03-31

Hi John, I can't quite work out what happened to your plants but it doesn't sound too good. The first thing would be to change the source of water and see if that helps. If you're buying mineral water then change the brand, otherwise, maybe look into getting a Reverse Osmosis filter system and using the mains water or well water. Best wishes!

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Troy 2020-11-18
If I cut off like one or two branches just to test the marijuana can that hurt my plant like basically one size cut off a couple branches do I have to cut all of them off or what will it hurt the plant if I don't cut it all off at once if I just cut off a few branches and then let it keep growing?

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-03-25

Hi Troy, yes, there's no problem in removing a couple of branches for early testing, there's no need to harvest the whole plant all at once. In fact, many growers will harvest the top buds when they are ready and then leave the rest of the buds on the plant to carry on fattening up before completing the harvest. Best wishes!

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Ken 2020-10-30
And the brown color might be because the buds still had some moisture before you zip locked it for a year...lol. As long as it doesn't smell like mold or mildew.... I myself don't play with fungus weed ...... but set it out for a day or two before you make any hasty decisions. Good luck!

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Ken 2020-10-30
Smoke it up Daphne.... BUT!!!! First...was it dry when you stored it? Does it smell like it did? All in all.... it's not going to hurt you.... but I don't know what strain it is,..so it might be more harsh....or it might be extra cured, and be very mellow and tasty.... I think your safe and if it was good before, it should be fine now.... Maybe let a little set out for a few minutes to air out....lol..... Good! Smoking! To! You!... hope it's a perfect blend for you sweetie!

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Daphne 2020-10-19
I am wondering if this weed i have is any good. I have a pound of what are brown buds it has sat for a year in a zip lock bag has not been put in the oven to decarb. Wondering why it is brown and could it be any good? thanks very much for helping this old grandma with her new ways!

Philosopher seeds Staff

Tim 2021-05-21

Hi Daphne, thanks for your comment. As already mentioned, it depends on the humidity levels of the buds when they were stored. If they were fully dried then I don't think there'll be an issue - depending on the variety of cannabis, the buds can turn a golden brown colour simply through a long cure - it doesn't necessarily mean it's gone off. However, I would take a very close look at the buds, under a magnifying glass if possible, and check for mold... this will usually look like white/grey fur or fine hairs. Break up a bud and check inside it, that's where any signs of a fungal pathogen will be most evident. If it's got mold, don't smoke it! I hope that helps, best wishes!

 

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Julian Vincent 2020-10-13
I have a CBd plant and don't know how long to wait to harvest the pistols are alight amber and the leaves are starting to go yellow. Any suggestions thanks

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JP Desveaux 2020-09-05
I have a plant that the buds are turning brown. It seems like they are rotting?

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Newby0913 2020-08-17
Hello newby here first 3 grows hermied purchase from autos in week 8.5 out possible 11 flowers getting fatter every day pistals at top still white only 15% are orange working from bottom up all fan leaves big or small turning yellow trichs are mostly cloudy eating to c some amber no leaves on colas are yellowing only place I going to have when harvest Wich I assume will b within nx 10 days do pistals all need turn red or orange? it's sold mate fem auto says 8-10 maby 11 weeks first time didn't hermie anyway my closet my room is only place 55-65% Rh and temp72-76 closet is small 3'x8ft tall can hang from top or middle is it safe to dry inside my tent 70rh temps 85-94 it's hot summer.so closet all I have it is lined with cedar against back wall should I hang in middle should I take all clothes out I can take all clothes out there on hangers and can put small fan blowing at wall but was hoping I could keep closet door closed keep light out and most smell in in your opinion will my closet work how long do I leav in closet 7-10 days or when stem cracks but not breaks completely was told leav some fan leaves to help hold in moisture to keep drying process slow wen fan leav stems have crack sound but not break in half remove fan leaves after 48 hrs then dry another 5-7 days when flowers crisp on outside and break off stem easily with no stringy stuff hanging form flower after pulling off flower it's time to jar? And will my closet work or do I open slightly at night? PLEASE HELP FIRST TIME HARVEST,have done alot reading

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