Harvest time is no doubt one of the most anticipated times for any cannabis grower. After months of hard work and caring for your plants, it is finally time to enjoy the fruits, or more appropriately, the flowers of your labor.
When should you harvest your cannabis? How can you tell it’s time for the harvest? Why does it matter when you harvest? These are among the questions that we will answer in this article.
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Relationship between Harvest Time and Potency
With harvesting, timing is everything. The cannabinoid and terpene levels may vary quite significantly depending on the harvesting time. Do it too soon, your marijuana will not be as potent, and if you wait too long, you will end up with a harvest with an overly narcotic effect and just strong a taste.
What Determines Harvest Time?
The least accurate determinant of when to harvest cannabis is going by the estimated flowering time. Each strain has its own flowering time, and the breeder should be able to give you an estimate of the same. Indica strains will take 6-8 weeks to flower, whereas Sativa strains which mature a little slower may take 8-12 weeks. These estimates are not an accurate measure because environmental factors may alter the blooming phase.
The optimal harvest time is when the plant’s THC and terpene production are at their peak. Harvesting during this window guarantees a plant that is potent and flavorful.
Given the relationship between the harvest time, potency, and effect, what determines the best harvest time comes down to the effect you want from the plant. Are you looking for a very calming and less psychoactive experience? Or an overly stimulating experience?
Knowing When it’s Time to Harvest
A basic understanding of plant anatomy will help you determine when the harvesting window is closing in. Certain parts of your plant will begin to change in appearance as they ripen and these changes serve as accurate indicators of when it’s time to harvest cannabis.
There are two main methods for determining harvesting time, as outlined
1. Examine the Pistils
The pistils are the long hairs found on female cannabis plants that cover the buds. When the plant starts flowering, the pistils will be white and appear stringy. As the flowering window comes to a close, and the buds mature, the pistils will change color, first to orange, then to brown. Observing these color changes will let you know when it’s time to harvest.
2. Examine the Trichomes
Examining trichomes, albeit a little more complicated, is the better method of determining when to harvest cannabis. As with the pistils, trichomes will turn color as the buds mature.
Trichomes are the plant’s resin glands and contain psychoactive cannabinoids. To the naked eye, trichomes look like small sugar crystals, and you will find them on the buds. Under a microscope or magnifier, you will make out that the trichomes are composed of a resin head resting on a stalk. The trichomes are clear initially, and very delicate such that they easily rapture.
The best time to harvest is when the trichomes take on a creamy or milky white appearance. Any darker color, that is amber or brown, and that’s a pointer that the cannabinoids contained in the glands have started breaking down and decomposing. If this happens, you will get a less potent harvest. Note that some strains will turn pink or purple instead of amber or brown.
Other visual cues that you can rely on include:
- Changing Leaf Color: During the flowering phase, nitrogen will give the leaves a green color. During the harvest window, the nitrogen levels decrease, causing the leaves to turn yellow and start falling off.
- Curling Leaves: As the leaves turn color from green to yellow, they may also begin to curl as they dry up. This is expected, as the plant takes up less water during harvest time.
- Bud shape: Bud shape, although not an accurate indicator, may give hints about plant maturity. You will know it’s time to harvest when the buds are firm and tight.
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When to Harvest Cannabis: Day or Night?
After deciding when to harvest your plant, you must also decide the time of day to remove the branches or cut down your plant. Whether yours is an indoor or outdoor garden, do your best to harvest in the dark.
The best time is at the end of the dark cycle for indoor gardens and just before dawn for outdoor gardens. At these times, the terpene levels in the flowers will be at their highest. These terpene levels will start to dissipate once the sun comes up or the lights come on.
If you allow direct light on the plants, it will cause stored sugar and starches to be drawn up from the root system. Your day-time harvest will have these stored sugars and starches will be harsh, difficult to burn, and requiring a long cure time. The sugar and starch reserves act like fire retardants and also change the chemical makeup of the smoke.
Harvesting for Peak Potency
The trichome examination method, as highlighted, is the most reliable method of determining when it’s time to harvest your cannabis. With the help of a magnifying glass, you can observe your plants, so you know when to harvest cannabis for CBD when to harvest cannabis for THC, and of course, the right time to harvest cannabis for oil.
When the trichomes turn color from clear to a milky or opaque white, it’s an indicator that your plant has reached full maturity. If you are wondering when to harvest cannabis for THC, this is the time, as the production levels have reached their peak, and the plant is not producing any more of this cannabinoid. When the THC levels are at their peak, CBD levels are low and stable, since the CBD molecules quickly convert to THC.
If you leave the plants out for longer, you will observe a change of color to amber. This indicates the breakdown of the THC, resulting in cannabinol (CBN.) CBN results from the degradation of THC, following exposure to rays of the sun, and oxygen. CBN has no psychoactive effects but has highly sedative qualities. Most growers do try to prevent the trichomes from degrading to the CBN production level, but if it’s the effect you are looking for, then let your plant sit a little longer.
Patience and Preparedness
Most growers end up harvesting cannabis too early because of a lack of patience to wait for just a little longer. Unfortunately, the result is a less potent harvest, that may not deliver the desired effects. On the other hand, lack of preparedness, among other factors may lead you to wait too long to harvest your cannabis. As already highlighted, this also has its downsides.
Getting the timing right requires both patience and preparedness. Be diligent about examining your plant so you can catch all the transformations that serve as botanical indicators that it is indeed the right time to harvest cannabis. Even a first-time grower can get it right, and enjoy their yield.
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Ask the Experts
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