Do you know the best time to harvest your high-value crops?
Did you know that when you harvest can make a big difference to the type of experience your final product delivers to the end user?
In today’s harvest guide, we’ll cover:
- The importance of timing your harvest correctly
- The most reliable ways to know when it’s time to harvest
- How to harvest your crops, both indoors and outdoors
- Top tips to help you get the most potency and yields from your harvest
So let’s get started.
Why It’s So Important To Time Your Harvest Correctly
Knowing when it’s the right time to harvest your high-value crops can be a little nerve-wracking.
After all, you’ve spent weeks getting to this point, caring for your precious plants, and now you’re probably champing at the bit to start harvesting and enjoying the final product.
But the fact is, harvest time can be somewhat confusing for many growers, because the best time to harvest can vary from strain to strain.
In general, most high-value crops are like fruit — the longer you wait, the more potent the product.
This can be both good and bad, depending on what type of end-user outcome you’re looking for in your product. Some strains can be almost too strong if you wait too long to harvest, while other strains might not be potent enough.
WARNING: Don’t Harvest Too Early!
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of growers make, especially if you’re a new grower, is to harvest too early.
After waiting for weeks and watching your plants grow and flower, you can imagine how easy it is to be overly excited and jump the gun when harvesting your plants.
The problem, of course, is that this can often give you lower yields and lower overall potency.
Add to this the fact that the correct harvest time can be difficult to ascertain in advance, especially if you’re growing with an unfamiliar strain.
While you certainly don’t want to waste any time and risk harvesting too late, the biggest threat for most growers is to get overexcited and harvest too early.
Our No. 1 Tip To Get The Timing Of Your Harvest Correct
In a moment, we’ll discuss various methods of determining when it’s time to harvest. But first we want to share a tip that will especially help first-time growers.
And that is to harvest your buds in stages.
Start with a small sample.
In other words, if you’re growing a strain you’re unfamiliar with — or if this is your first grow — and you think it’s time to harvest, then you can simply flush one plant, then pick off the buds you think look the most ripe.
Cure them and then try them out.
See if you were correct.
Are they displaying the potency, aroma, mouthfeel and other characteristics that you’re looking for? If so, then you should make a note of the time period and continue to harvest the rest of your plants after flushing with a product like Flawless Finish.
If you think they need a little more time to ripen, then you’ll discover that, too.
This is a great strategy to combine with the other methods in this article to get the best timing of when to harvest your plants.
Three Reliable Ways To Know When It’s Time To Harvest
In general, because you don’t want to harvest too soon, you only want to harvest your crops when they stop growing.
Does it look like they’ve stopped putting on size? Have the buds stopped swelling? Have they stopped sprouting new hairs?
All these are signs that it’s time to harvest. But in general, over the years growers have found three reliable ways to determine the best time to harvest:
1. Flowering Time
One way to know when it’s time to harvest is to simply know what the expected flowering time is for your particular strain. Often you can find online posts and information about other growers who have grown the same strain you’re growing, and you can read their reviews about when to harvest.
As a general guideline, these are some of the most popular strains and when it’s best to harvest them, based on their flowering cycle:
- Indica: Harvest after eight weeks of flowering
- Sativa: Harvest after 10 weeks of flowering
- Autoflower: 10–12 weeks from seedling to bud
2. The Color Of Pistils
The pistils on your buds are the reproductive organs of your female plants. They look like little hairs sticking out. The good news is that as your buds mature and ripen, these pistils change color. They start white, then get darker, often looking brown.
A reliable method that growers have used for years to determine the best time to harvest is the pistil method. Quite simply, it involves looking at the color of the pistils on your plant.
If you pay close attention to the colors as they change, you’ll know when it’s time to gather your crops. Here’s what to look for:
- Mostly white: Way too young to harvest
- 50–70% brown: A young, light plant (so you might want to wait)
- 70–90% brown: The plant is ripe and heavy (probably an ideal time to harvest)
- 90–100% brown: Sharp, heavy plant — harvest now (because if you wait, it might be too late)!
Pistils can also change color prematurely due to environmental conditions such as higher humidity in the air or moisture on the plants. So keep this in mind and also check the other important indicators listed in this guide.
The most reliable way to see if your plants are ripe and ready for harvest is to look at their glandular stalked trichomes (a.k.a the resin glands) using a magnifying glass.
These trichomes are like crystals or look frosty on well-cultivated buds. Trichomes change color as they ripen. They start clear, then turn translucent (or milky white) before finally turning an amber color.
When roughly 50 percent of the trichomes on your plant have turned a milky-white, translucent color, then most strains are at peak ripeness. Here’s what to look for:
- Clear trichomes: Wait a bit longer
- Milky-white/amber trichomes: Most strains ready for harvest
- All amber trichomes: Overripe
Also remember that harvesting trichomes too early or too late can greatly impact the effects of certain high-value crops, including the high. Early harvested trichomes (mostly clear and milky) will have a clearer high, whereas trichomes that are 30–40 percent amber will have more of a couch-lock effect with indica and a more sedative-like effect with sativa, while also diminishing sativa’s main characteristic of an energetic high.
Some Tips To Get More Potency And Yields Right Before Harvest
There are a few things you can do, even in the final days before harvest, to help increase final potency and yields.
First, make sure you flush your plants. Click here to see how to flush for maximum yields and potency.
Another great method that is often underused by growers today is to stop watering 1–3 days before harvest. This is a unique way to stress your plant to get it to become more potent.
After flushing, in the final days of harvest, you can stress your plants by depriving them of water. You want to allow the plant to start to wilt just a small amount, because then the plant thinks it’s dying and as a last-ditch effort it will increase resin development. (If you want more tips like this, check out our post, How To Get Bigger Buds During Flowering.)
Gather These Must-Have Tools For Harvest
There are a few tools that are considered must-haves for a successful harvest.
- Big pruning shears: These are necessary for cutting through the tough stalks and branches of the plant. Large pruning shears are what you want.
- Sharp trimming scissors: Smaller, sharper snippers like Fiskars Soft Grip Micro-Tip Pruning Snip are ideal for trimming buds and the smaller leaves around buds.
- Gloves: While not a must-have item, this will make things cleaner and more sanitary while you’re handling your buds. Otherwise your hands will be covered in resin. (Top tip: Rubbing alcohol can help clean off resin better than soap and water will.)
- Trays: A common way to trim is to use something like several cooking trays or bowls — one for the branches you cut off, one for trimmed buds, and one for all the plant matter you cut off the buds. But the best tool for this is the Trim Bin from Harvest More.
Differences In Harvesting Indoor And Outdoor Crops
There are a few crucial differences in harvesting your indoor versus outdoor crops.
The main difference, of course, is when you harvest.
If you’re growing indoors, you determine the lighting schedule of your plants so you can pretty much determine when you want to harvest.
If you’re growing outdoors, then in most cases the changing of the seasons determines when it’s harvest time.
Either way, if you’re growing outdoors, we recommend cutting down your plants and moving them to an indoor location to finish the harvest. This will give you greater control over the environment, the weather, humidity, and other concerns that you can’t control outdoors.
Step-By-Step How To Harvest Your Crops
Step 1: Cut Off Branches. The first step in harvesting your crops is to cut from your plant the branches that have buds.
There’s not really a right way to do this per se, but many growers like to cut their plant down, one branch at a time. A good tip is to cut these branches off in sizes that are manageable for you to work with. In short, you don’t want to cut off a four-feet-long branch, because it will be difficult to handle.
Step 2: Trim While Wet. First, you’ll want to remove any large fan leaves.
Next, you’ll want to trim the so-called sugar leaves, which are the small leaves that stick out of buds. How you trim these and how much you trim is up to you. Some people like to leave them on if they’re covered in trichomes, instead of trimming them. Others like to remove them completely because they say it makes the product less harsh. You’ll develop your own preference with each successful harvest.
In the next step, we’ll be drying the buds. We want them to dry relatively slowly, so to help do that it’s recommended to keep the buds on the actual branches at this point. However, if you’re dealing with a very humid environment, you could remove the buds from your branches so they dry quicker.
Lastly, you’ll want to save all your trimmings and plant matter that you cut from the buds and branches in a separate pile, because they could have value in the future.
Step 3: Dry. This starts the moment you cut and trim your crops and continues for 3–7 days.
The idea is to slowly dry your buds for the best benefits while protecting them against mold and bacteria growth.
Now, how you go about drying your buds is up to you, but there are a few proven methods. If you’re dealing with normal humidity or even a dry environment, then you’ll want to keep the buds on branches as we discussed. This makes them easy to dry slowly by simply hanging them upside down. There are many methods to do this, including using strings, clothes hangers or wire.
If you’re harvesting in a very humid environment and you’ve decided to cut the buds off the branches, then you’ll want to use a drying rack, which is also an option if you need to dry a large volume of buds in a small area and you don’t have the space for many branches to hang all over the place.
Either way, you’ll want to dry your buds as slowly as possible in a controlled environment. This will make the drying process slow enough while reducing the chances of mold and bacteria growth.
Here’s the ideal environmental conditions and timeline for drying:
- Days 1–3: 65 degrees and 55% humidity
- Days 4–6: 70 degrees and 50% humidity
- Days 7–10-ish: 73–75 degrees and 45% humidity, until stem breaks evenly and audibly.
How do you know when your harvest is dry enough?
If you’re drying just the buds (i.e., no branches or stems), then you’re done when the outside of the buds are dry to the touch. If you’re drying with the branches and stems, when the smaller stems snap evenly and audibly instead of just bend, then they’re ready (larger stems should still bend).
Step 4: Cure. You’ll want to use airtight glass jars, similar to mason jars, for curing your buds. After your buds have dried (i.e., they pass the snap test), then put them in the jars with the lid firmly in place.
You’ll only want to fill the jars about 75 percent of the way, leaving room for a little air at the top, because it helps break down sugars and chlorophyll in the buds as part of the curing process.
The breakdown of sugars makes for a smoother product, while reducing chlorophyll takes away any bad tastes (such as grass).
For a period of about 1–2 weeks, you’ll want to check your buds at least daily for mildew and mold (or even many times per day if you think they may be still too wet). Take them out of the jars to inspect them, then put them back in after you’ve removed any that seem to have problems. Changing their position in the jar like this should help them cure more uniformly.
After two weeks or so, you only need to open the jars about once per week, not daily. And the longer you cure them this way, the better the buds, up to a period of about six months. After that you probably won’t improve the quality much more. You can always sample small amounts of your harvest as the curing process continues, to see if you think it’s ready for market.
Reaping The Results
Harvest time is probably the most exciting time in the life of a grower.
But as you’ve read here, there are many ways to go about it — and the wrong way could hurt your yields or product quality.
Above all, remember that you’ll get better at this over time. So don’t stress if your first few harvests don’t turn out perfectly. You will improve as you gain more experience.
As long as you follow the tips and guidelines in this article, you should be fine.
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