Tips on harvesting, and when to harvest cannabis
This is just how I do things, and there are bound to be other opinions from other growers on these topics (there are many ways to skin a cat or grow/harvest a plant!). I realize this is quite wordy, but I thought I'd just run through the process of how we do it.
Slow and steady is great with drying, so I'm careful to not let this process happen too quickly. Bud dried too quickly will have a vastly inferior flavor and will be weaker than properly dried/cured bud. Properly dried and cured, MMJ potency and flavor will be maximized.
As far as harvesting, and when to harvest, I look at and consider a number of things... mostly:
Seed companies recommendation for when to harvest: Some are better and seem more accurate than others. I tend to just expect it will take "at least" that long. Here's a tip for Subcool strains -- he claims his flowering times are based on going right from 18/6 to 12/12. Plants vegged under 24/0 might take a little longer (not much though if any in my experience) and plants that were vegged using the 12-1 technique (Gas Lantern Routine) might be a little quicker, for example. I also look up grow journals from other people to see what their experience was and when they harvested. Due to variations in phenotype and other growing factors that affect finishing time I use the breeders recommendation and other peoples experiences only as a starting point.
Trichome maturation: A small microscope or magnifying glass (I prefer the microscope) can be used to check the trichome development. Trichomes look like little mushrooms under a microscope, and they look clear to begin with. Over time, they typically turn milky, then eventually the head of it will start to turn "amber" colored signifying they have peaked in development and are starting to decline. Many people like to harvest their plants when these trichomes are about 50% milky, and 50% amber. The more amber, the more "stoned" or "couchlock" the effect will be. Less amber, more milky or clear, and your effect will be a little "racier" or "high" (think giggly) and you won't have as much of a narcotic effect. Personally, I prefer to harvest (generally speaking) when they are about 10-25% amber, mostly milky (I don't like to feel such strong narcotic effect). You may have multiple plants with different windows of harvest time, so you'll have to keep an eye on them individually as far as best window if you do. Plants are at their peak maturity just before the trichomes start ambering. Once they start ambering, they are dying and will start a gradual decline in potency. Individual budsites might mature faster than others, so I harvest based on what is happening at the height of the majority of the canopy for each plant, if that makes sense. When I check the trichomes, I sample from 3-4 places on each plant to get a fuller picture of what's happening.
Pistil/Calyx maturation: The pistils will turn reddish brown (color depends on the plant, but usually reddish brown) and start to recede into the false seed-pod as they mature. Basically, the calyx (where the seed would be if there were seeds) swells larger and larger until it almost looks like there really is a seed in it, and the pistils will begin to shrivel up almost receding back into the calyx. This is another sign of peek maturity. If the calyx doesn't look very swollen and the pistils are still really hanging out there on their own, you probably need more time. I also look for the majority of the pistils to have changed colors before it's ready.
Once I decide they are ready to harvest, I make sure I have everything ready in advance. I wear rubber gloves to keep my hands less sticky. The ones I buy personally are usually "purple nitrile" exam gloves that can be found at a drug store, etc. Additionally, I make sure we have our trimming scissors. There are many different types of trimmers that work for this. I prefer a good pair of small scissors with sharp pointed tip, but it's all personal preference. Lastly, we use pant hangers to hang our branches with, so I make sure we have enough of these to harvest our plants.
This is from my Deadhead Ripper plant, and it's ready for harvest. You can tell by how swollen the calyx's are, and how the pistils are almost completely receded:
Harvest time: I start by cutting off individual branches and separating them into different "piles" on our trimming tables by strain/plant. We immediately trim the large fans off of them, and any non "bud" leaf. Usually my wife is already working on this while I remove branches from the plants. Once we have all the branches plucked and separated, we start trimming the bud leaves and buds while they are on the branch. Personally, I try to trim them very close and thoroughly - (they dry faster with a good trim, so be careful not to overdry them too fast).
Once a branch is thoroughly trimmed up (there should be nothing but the branch and trimmed budsites) we hang it upside down either in a small separate room we have, or in our grow tent if there is room (no other plants in there still growing!). I use the little clamps on the pants hangers to "pinch" the fat end of the branch. I don't like it to be pinched shut (sealing moisture in) so I'm careful to monitor that. One great tip related to this: We found little add-on clips that can be put on hangers so that instead of (2) clips on the pant hangers, there are several. I think we found these at the local grocery or drug store somewhere, but they are handy! Otherwise we make sure we have enough hangers or use rubberbands to tie branches to the hangers. Our ceiling is easy to hang hangers from, but you can makeshift a clothesline or something (which is what we do in our tent).
As we trim, any loose buds that fall off (or get cut off by accident) go into a little dish that we use to quick-dry/sample what we are trimming. It's fun to be feeling the high from what we are working on, so I usually am vaping/smoking these little accident nuggets along the way. We save goo balls from our scissors and make larger goo balls as the night goes on. These get added to a bowl and smoked for fun! I keep a supply of 72% alcohol "wet-wipes", which work great for cleaning off the excess stickyness of scissors, etc. (I don't drink much, but Jandre had a cool idea about cleaning the scissors with 151 rum and drinking the shot!)
Once all branches are trimmed and hung, we usuallly place a small fan in the room blowing under (NOT on) the plants. Just to keep circulation in the room. You don't want them to dry too fast. We usually let them hang 3-4 days, depending on humidity. We check them periodically for signs that they are ready with this phase. We err on the side of still moist vs. too dry. When the branches feel more prone to "snap" and the buds feel somewhat dry on the outside, we take the branches down and clip the buds off. They go into jars right away, and sealed up for about 24 hours depending on how dry they seemed when put in the jar.
After about 24 hours, I open the jars. I'm looking for the buds to seem a bit damp/moist again. Basically, when you hang them, the outside drys first. Jarring them brings the moisture to the outer parts of the bud, too, again. At this point, I typically give them periods of airing out by putting each jar into it's own small brown paper bag for a period of time, looking for the outside to start to feel a bit "dry" again (don't overdry!!). Then, they go back into jars again. I keep repeating this process until I feel like they are "close" without being too dry.
Once they are close, I put them in jars and burp daily until I feel they are where I want them (one to two weeks usually?). TIP: Finally, I put these in each wide-mouth Mason style jar:
These "humidipaks" will help keep your bud at roughly 62% humidity, which is fairly ideal for MMJ. If your jar starts to get too dry, it adds humidity. If it gets too humid, it removes it. This is an awesome product from what I can tell so far (just started using this with my last harvest, and this product is fairly new (at least at a cannabis friendly humidity level). The 62% humidipaks were created specifically for MMJ as I understand it. These are working great so far for me! One tip on the humidipaks: They won't be a substitute for a proper drying process, but once you are there, they seem to do a great job of keeping things just right!
Lastly, for long term storage we use a "FoodSaver" food sealer, with the mason jar attachment. You have to buy the Mason Jar attachment separately from the machine, but it allows you to vacuum pack Mason style jars. For all bud that we are storing, once cured, we vacuum pack it. Vacuum packing can extend the freshness period for your bud by months for medicine that you won't be using right away. This can be extremely beneficial, and for a total investment of less than $100, it's a bargain in that sense.
Did I miss anything or leave any other questions? Again, this is just how we do it - many other great ways to do this, too!