Harvest solutions every grower should know
So you've put up the funding, worked seemingly endless hours over the season, babied the plants with the best care and nutrients, and soon you will harvest. This is the worst time to take shortcuts. Harvest and processing requires the proper timing, the right environment, correct tools and enough labor resources to get the job done in a timely fashion.
Every strain, and often even individual plants will “finish” at different times. A handheld microscope will tell the grower when the plant is ready by the color of the trichomes. When the majority of the miniature mushroom like crystals are creamy white and a few are starting to turn amber is the right time to harvest.
Unfortunately, there are time sensitive processes that must be performed to insure the flowers are of the best quality. Take flushing, for example. You'll want to have been flushing for about a week or more before harvesting, yet how can you predict when to start to flush when you're not sure when the trichomes will show the flowers are ready? This is where growing becomes more an art than science. You can watch the trichomes mature steadily. As they swell and the clear crystals start to show their first cloudy white, you should plan on starting the flush. That way, when you get the 10 percent amber, you are ready to chop.
Planning the harvest should include these key elements. First, the flowers should be handled as little as possible. Second, the drying flowers should be given priority attention. When they are dry and ready for curing, they need to be put in a container that can more carefully manage the amount of moisture and air circulation to affect a quality cure. Third, when trimming the flowers, do it in small amounts so that they are quickly handled and returned to curing space as soon as possible. Keep them out of the sun, and in a safe structured tray system where they don't get crushed.
The most efficient way to dry without causing wear or damage to the flowers is to cut stems and hang the plants by the string method. The bigger the branch, the longer the drying time. To make the whole process streamlined, cutting branches approximately the same length will shorten the window of time that the drying will be completed. In other words, the crop will be ready for the next step about the same time.
For most growers, the trimming of the crop is the least attractive part of the entire season. Both hand trimming and machine trimming have advantages and disadvantages. Hand trimming requires more handling by humans, can add weeks or even months to the process, and, if you hire help, can bring more human variables into your home and garden than you may be comfortable with. Still, a good human trimmer can produce a better appearing finished product, and there is no cost that would be associated with the purchase of a trimming machine, albeit that cost is usually much less than the labor of the human trimmers.
Machine trimmers fall into a few different types. There are the hand crank “salad bowls” mainly suitable only for small “b” grade flowers. Pretty much any trimmer with rubber “fingers” to roll the flowers around will degrade the quality beyond the benefits of using the trimmer. Then there are the table top type, where the trimmer rolls the flower around on the grill and allows the blades and airflow draw from the blades to pull the shade leaves down for a quick grooming. These might streamline the process, but are not in the finish category of machine trimmers. Drum type trimmers do the best job. Some are designed to trim “wet,” or “green,” and others trim dry. Wet drum trimmers (for example, the Twister), are very expensive, require blade sharpening and other maintenance, and will definitely reduce the crystals visible on the outside of the flowers.
The flowers are more durable when dried, so dry net and drum style trimmers (for example, the Tom’s Tumbler) perform the best as finishing trimmers, and are considerably less expensive than the wet trimmers. A dry drum machine trimmer is much faster than hand trimming. First of all, since the flowers are trimmed dry, the garden can be harvested over a period of several days, the flowers hung to dry, the prepping of trimming down the flowers from the stems, then the machine is employed over a couple of days to trim a large quantity. This makes using a rental unit feasible, or co-op purchasing a trimmer with a couple friends.
Even if you choose to touch up the flowers after the machine does its work like most, you can get through a lot more weight than hand trimming alone. While you can let a dry drum trimmer do 95 percent of the work for you, some flower wear will occur if you leave them in the trimmer long enough to do that much. A better solution is to do a 60 percent trim, then touch up the flowers by hand.
Once trimmed, your harvest must complete the curing process. You must “burp” daily to allow moisture to escape from the container. When opening the containers, be sure to check the texture of the flowers. If they get soggy again, you may want to leave the container open, or even bring them out to dry on a rack. The ideal texture is crusty to the touch, but with substance. Flowers dried like popcorn, fluffy and light, are over dried. While they will store fine, the loss of weight and poor cure will affect the quality and volume of your harvest.
The curing process is gradual; after a week or so, you can reduce the burping to every other day. Then every third or fourth day, and finally once a week. Do continue to check your containers to insure there is no mold developing, and that the flowers retain their original pungent aroma. If long term storage is required, the best way is to use glass jars stored in a dark, cool place. Some growers swear by freezing, but once thawed, you need to use it quickly.
For large quantities in long term storage, nothing beats the vacuum sealer systems like Shield N Seal. Shield N Seal makes a black out bag that keeps the flowers in the dark as well as conventional clear, clear/black and mylar materials.
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