Harvesting & Drying Checklist: 10 Things to Know
Work Smarter, Not Harder!
In a vertical, multi-tier farm, efficient and effective harvesting and drying practices are essential for maximizing productivity and maintaining the quality of cannabis crops. This blog post will explore some best practices that can be implemented to optimize these processes and ensure successful outcomes in a vertical farming environment.
1. Prune Excessive Foliage
During the last week of the flowering stage, remove the majority of fan leaves and excess foliage while leaving the bud sites undisturbed. By doing this before harvest day, you minimize labor tasks and make the process more manageable. Additionally, it promotes better airflow and a more consistent moisture removal rate throughout the drying room.
2. Pre-Harvest Preparations
One harvest method many growers have found useful is to dim the lights and cease irrigation events approximately 24-36 hours prior to cutting the plants down. By leveraging transpiration during this period, growers can jumpstart the drying process and reduce the load on the HVAC system in the dry room during the initial stages of drying. This method also reduces the overall wet weight of the harvest, including the plant and its substrate, resulting in cost savings and a faster harvest process (i.e. less physical weight for your staff to move from the upper tiers).
3. Minimizing Touches & Transfers
Every touch and transfer increases the risk of product damage, degradation, and contamination. Minimizing unnecessary handling and movement of plants is essential. Aim to complete the harvest and transfer of a single crop into a designated drying room within a day to maximize efficiency and preserve product quality.
4. Utilize Modular Dry Carts
Invest in modular dry carts that facilitate the transfer of plants from the flowering area to the dry room. These carts simplify the movement process, minimize plant damage, and maintain organization within the facility.
5. Choosing 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 into a single drying room) provides better control over the drying environment and consistency, continual load-in strategies (multiple harvest batches into the same drying room) can support continuous production. A single load-in approach is preferable but choose the strategy that aligns best with your facility’s goals and available resources.
6. Whole Plant vs. Hook n’ Hang
Regardless of the drying method chosen—whole plant or “hook-and-hang”—maintaining consistent plant spacing is vital for even drying. Initially, the drying space may appear crowded, but as moisture content decreases, sufficient spacing is created, allowing for efficient drying and airflow. Whole plant hanging is the preferred method by most growers as it tends to result in a higher quality product, reduced labor tasks on harvest day, and simplifies track-and-trace compliance duties.
7. Maintaining 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. Increase room temperatures slightly (HVAC systems and dehumidifiers remove more moisture at higher temperatures) if the drying rate is too slow 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, allowing for a consistent and undisturbed drying environment.
8. Moisture Content & Water Activity
Tracking moisture content (MC%) and water activity (Aw) levels is a great way to standardize your drying process, reduce your risk of product loss, and maximize your revenue. In the early stages of the drying process, the goal is to get your crop’s water activity below 0.65 to reduce the risk of pathogen proliferation and product loss. Use these readings to fine-tune and optimize your HVAC setpoints, either increasing or decreasing your drying rate by modulating temperature.
9. Achieving the Desired Moisture Content
Target a moisture content between 10-14% for optimal product quality and smoking experience. This range ensures proper drying while preserving terpene profiles and cannabinoid potency. It is a delicate balance; higher moisture contents increase the total sellable weight of your harvest while slightly lower moisture contents increase the total cannabinoid potency on your lab results (less water weight per gram).
10. Minimize the Mess
Harvesting and drying cannabis can be a messy process, but taking certain precautions can help minimize the mess and maintain cleanliness within your cultivation facility. For example, when the drying process is complete, it is best to “buck” or remove buds from stems directly in the dry room. By doing so, you confine the mess to a room that is already in need of cleaning, rather than creating a mess in another clean area of the facility. This approach simplifies cleanup and reduces the risk of cross-contamination between different cultivation spaces. Educate your staff on the importance of maintaining cleanliness during the drying process. Provide training on proper handling techniques, emphasizing the need to work carefully and avoid unnecessary spills or messes. Encourage team members to clean up any spills promptly and maintain a tidy workspace throughout the drying process.
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.