By Johnny Green
I will never forget the first time that I cultivated cannabis. It was full of ups and downs and learning experiences, and while my harvest size left a lot to be desired, it was still a very rewarding experience. From the start of the process until the very end I was full of questions, and solid answers were hard to come by. I was too embarrassed to ask most growers I knew for tips, but I did have a good friend who I was comfortable enough with to bounce questions off of.
Most of my questions were straightforward, involving such things as what to feed the plants and how much to water them. Arguably the most nerve-racking question that I grappled with during my first crop was how to know when it was time to harvest my cannabis plants. Every day for multiple weeks I would call my friend and ask him if he could come over and take a look. ‘Just wait it out, you will be glad you did,’ he would tell me.
I, of course, wanted to get high on my own supply so I was eager to chop down the plants and dry them up, and almost made the mistake of doing so too early. I would daydream all day during that time about what it would be like to fill jars with cannabis buds that I had cultivated myself. But rather than jump the gun I went with my friend’s advice and waited until about 70% of the pistils/hairs on the buds had darkened before I harvested.
It’s not the most scientific measurement of when to harvest a cannabis plant, but it’s a decent rule of thumb. Some people will harvest as soon as when 60% of the pistils have darkened, and some people wait until it’s a 90/10 ratio. Other people use a more technical approach and look at the trichomes under a handheld microscope or ‘jewelers loupe.’ When the trichomes on the bud go from clear to opaque white it’s time to harvest. It requires looking at the trichomes daily for some time to ensure that the timing is right.
One thing that you will notice, whether you are looking at pistils or trichomes, is that they are never in a perfect ratio all over the plant. By that, I mean that the top nugs on a plant may be ripe for harvesting, but the under-nugs may still be developing. Because of that, it is often useful to harvest a plant in two stages. As one of my friends pointed out to me, fruit trees and vegetable plants are not 100% harvested in one swoop.
Some fruits and vegetables on a tree or plant may be ripe while others are not. So just as in those cases, harvesting cannabis buds can be part of a multi-step process. Strain breeders and outlets that sell clones will likely have a rough idea of how long flowering should occur for a particular strain, however, those timeframes need to be treated as a guide rather than gospel since a cannabis plant’s rate of growth depends on many factors.
If you cultivate the same genetics long enough then determining when to harvest will become easier with each subsequent crop. If you put in enough time and care on your plants, you will be in tune with them and know not only when to harvest, but also when to give them what they need by just looking at them. It’s something that may not make sense now, but trust me, it will as time goes by and you gain more cultivation experience.
One resource that is great for aspiring growers is Robert Bergman’s ‘Free mini guide: When to harvest your marijuana plants?‘ I wish it was around back when I first started growing! I encourage Weed News readers to check it out and incorporate the tips and tricks found in the guide into their gardens. As my friend Jorge Cervantes always says, happy gardening!