Harvesting, Drying, & Curing Cannabis for Beginners

Harvesting, Drying, & Curing Cannabis for Beginners

Drip-To-Dray Cannabis Grow Trays

Work Smarter, Not Harder!

After spending months growing a cannabis crop, you want to ensure your work pays off–both in terms of yield and quality. Properly harvesting, drying, and curing cannabis is essential for maximizing profit and successful outcomes. Following best practices can help you avoid losing your crop to mold and rot while preserving terpene and cannabinoid concentrations. Join us as we explore methods you can implement to optimize these processes.

When Is Cannabis Ready to Harvest?

Timing is critical in the cannabis industry. Harvesting too early inhibits cannabinoid development, while waiting too long can leave your crop non-compliant with regulatory restrictions.  So, how can you tell if your plants are ready to harvest? Generally speaking, cannabis plants reach full maturity within 7-12 weeks. Nevertheless, every strain and crop looks different–recognizing the ideal harvest window can be an intricate process.  Below are two common signs your cannabis is ready to harvest: Pistil color: In the early stages of growth, cannabis pistols are bright white. A darker pistol color can indicate a plant has reached maturity.  Trichomes: Trichomes can also help growers identify when to harvest crops. Trichomes start glass-like but become opaque with development. Plants are at peak potency when 80-90% of trichomes have achieved this cloudy appearance.

What Is the Difference Between Drying and Curing Cananbis?

Drying cannabis is the process of removing moisture from a cannabis crop to preserve quality and prevent mold. Conversely, curing refers to the purposeful development of taste, aroma, and potency via specialized environments. These methods are more intricate and time-consuming, as they involve facilitating chemical changes to improve and solidify quality.

Is Hang Drying or Rack Drying Better?

Rack drying can be viable for large-scale facilities with ample drying space. This process allows for easy handling and monitoring because each plant is laid out for complete visibility. 

On the other hand, hanging cannabis is often the optimal method for facilities seeking a quicker dry. Suspension offers sufficient air flow, protecting crops against mold and mildew build-up. This approach also means using your space wisely, as laying plants on screens or racks can eat up much of your dry room footprint. 

Of course, you’ll want to establish the drying method that best suits your unique business. What works for you may depend on space allotment, time constraints, budget, and other factors. Spend time exploring the parameters of your drying needs to develop an effective strategy.

How to Harvest Cannabis

Harvest is one of the most exciting times of the season for cannabis growers. Here, they can finally see the fruit of their labors–a healthy, robust yield. Still, prepping for this time is equally important.

Prepping for Harvest

During the last week of the flowering stage, growers should remove the majority of fan leaves and excess foliage while leaving the bud sites undisturbed. Doing so minimizes labor tasks and makes the process more manageable. Additionally, pruning promotes better airflow and a more consistent moisture removal rate in the drying room. Another useful pre-harvest method is to dim the lights and cease irrigation events approximately 24-36 hours before cutting. By leveraging transpiration, growers can jumpstart the drying process and reduce the load on HVAC systems in the dry room during the initial stages. 

This technique also lessens the wet weight of the plant and substrate, saving money and expediting the harvesting process (i.e. less physical weight for your staff to move from the upper tiers).

Additionally, Pipp’s Room Generator Tool can help you calculate the exact amount of space and ideal layout for your cannabis operation. This information can be a guide as you plan ahead for the harvest, drying, and curing processes.

Harvesting Your Cannabis

Every touch and transfer increases the risk of product damage, degradation, and contamination. Minimizing unnecessary handling and movement of plants is essential. 

To maximize efficiency and preserve product quality, aim to complete the harvest and transfer to a designated drying room within a day. Modular dry carts can simplify the movement process, limit plant damage, and maintain organization within the facility.

Wet vs. Dry Trimming

After the initial harvest, trimming is essential for ensuring a quality yield. Larger facilities often rely on industrial trimmers for this process (cutting thousands of plants by hand is overly demanding), while smaller growers may favor a more hands-on approach.

Either way, trimming can occur in two different ways. Dry trimming occurs after the drying process but before curing. Cannabis branches are suspended upside down for roughly 10 to 14 weeks, depending on the strain and environment (we’ll delve into this deeper below). This trimming method is typically preferred by cannabis facilities, as it can better preserve terpene profiles, cleanliness, and quality.

Alternatively, wet trimming requires less time because growers separate the buds from the plant before initiating the drying process. Additionally, this method uses less space, which can be ideal for cultivators with smaller crops, fewer resources, or older equipment.

How to Dry Cannabis

After harvesting plants, growers must decide the drying method that best meets quality, quantity, and time requirements. As with growing cannabis, the drying process is complex, and making one mistake can jeopardize an entire yield.

A suitable environment can be achieved by monitoring airflow, managing humidity, and choosing the right equipment. Another important consideration is employee education–ensure your staff is trained on how to implement effective sanitation strategies and proper handling procedures.

Choose the Right Load-In Strategy

Evaluate the benefits of both single load-in and continual load-in strategies. While a single load-in approach (one harvest batch in a single drying room) provides better environmental control, continual load-in strategies (multiple harvest batches in the same drying room) can support continuous production. A single load-in approach is preferable, but choose what aligns best with your facility’s goals and available resources.

Prioritize Plant Spacing

Regardless of the drying method chosen–whole plant or “hook-and-hang”—plant spacing is vital for consistent drying. Initially, the drying space may appear crowded. However, sufficient spacing is created as moisture content decreases, allowing for efficient airflow. Whole plant hanging tends to yield a higher-quality product, reduce labor tasks on harvest day, and simplify track-and-trace compliance duties.

Maintain a Controlled Drying Environment

Invest in a properly sized HVAC system with sufficient latent load sizing to remove moisture effectively. The drying rate is influenced by factors such as the total wet weight of the harvest, room temperature, dehumidification capacity, airflow, and time. 

If the drying rate is too slow, increase room temperatures slightly (HVAC systems and dehumidifiers remove more moisture at higher temperatures), but be cautious to avoid excessive heat that may lead to terpene loss. 

To preserve product integrity, keep the dry room door closed and lights off as much as possible. Minimize unnecessary entries into the room to maintain a consistent and undisturbed drying environment.

Check Moisture Content and Water Activity

Tracking moisture content (MC%) and water activity (Aw) levels is a great way to standardize your drying process, minimize potential product loss, and maximize your revenue. 

In the early stages of the drying process, the goal is to get water activity below 0.65 to reduce the risk of pathogen proliferation. Use these readings to fine-tune and optimize your HVAC set points, either increasing or decreasing your drying rate by modulating temperature.

For an optimal smoking experience, target a moisture content of 10-14%. This range ensures proper drying while preserving terpene profiles and cannabinoid potency. 

MC is a delicate balance. Higher MC increases the total sellable weight of your harvest, while slightly lower MC raises cannabinoid potency on your lab results (less water weight per gram).

Minimize the Mess

Harvesting and drying cannabis can be messy, but taking certain precautions can help preserve cleanliness and sanitation. For example, “buck” or remove buds from stems directly in the dry room. By doing so, you confine the mess to a room already in need of cleaning, rather than creating a mess in another area. This approach simplifies cleanup and reduces the chance of cross-contamination between different cultivation spaces. 

Educate your staff on the importance of cleanliness during the drying process. Provide training on proper handling techniques, emphasizing the need to work carefully and avoid unnecessary spills or messes.

How to Cure Cannabis

The curing process begins once the buds are thoroughly dried and trimmed. Like drying, curing is crucial for preserving flavor and quality. This process allows cultivators to store cannabis for extended periods with little risk of mold or cannabinoid degradation.

Create the Right Environment

Curing is similar to drying in that humidity and temperature are essential. Exact ranges vary depending on the facility location and cannabis strain, but a general rule of thumb is to keep at 55-70°F with a 50-65% humidity level. Buds must also be stored in a dark area, as too much light exposure can erode terpenes.

Choose an Airtight Container

Depending on the size of your facility, curing equipment can differ. Cultivators often opt for airtight jars or stainless steel containers to house buds during the curing process. These vessels ensure that environmental levels remain consistent, thus keeping quality intact.

Growers should remember only to fill containers ¾ full, as doing so allows buds to breathe and lessens the risk of mold. “Burping” is also a must during the first week of curing. Open each container once or twice daily, permitting extra moisture to exit and oxygen to replenish.

Working with the Experts

Now that you’ve read through our harvesting, drying, and curing for beginners guide, PIPP Horticulture is here to help you get started with the best equipment and expert advice. We are dedicated to providing your facility with mobile vertical grow racks and other solutions that optimize the entire cannabis cultivation process. Let the experts with over 40 years of experience in the industry get you ready to produce top-quality yields.

Anders Peterson

About Anders Peterson

Anders is a Cannabis Operations Specialist at Pipp and helps integrate mobile vertical racks and VAS airflow systems into facility designs. He is a leader in indoor CEA facility design and operation, with an academic background in cell and molecular biology and over 10 years of cannabis industry experience.

At 21 years old, Anders co-founded his first legal Prop 215 cannabis company, which manufactured solventless concentrates. He was also one of the first wholesalers of hash rosin in the California medical market and co-founded one of the first medical cannabis dispensaries in Arkansas.

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