When it comes to flowering cannabis plants, the best part of being a grower is during this stage. The anticipation of watching your babies grow into mature ladies, packed with dense buds, oozing resin, and stinking up your grow room. Knowing when to harvest your plants can be the difference in the amount of resin, trichome ripeness, calyx development, and overall psychoactive experience. Below better explains the harvest window and knowing when’s the perfect time to pull down your plants.
The trichome is a fascinating part of the cannabis flower. Within the walls of the resin glands are where the essential terpenes and cannabinoids are found—what an extractor is looking to remove from the head of the terpene. A good way to think about trichomes is comparing them to eggs: Inside the shell is a maturing and developing nucleus that contains all the essential vitamins and minerals for life to begin. A trichome is very similar, especially when the resin gland is shattered and a sticky resinous sap is released.
The body of a trichome closely resembles a mushroom formation, with a long neck followed by a round head that often appears translucent in color. Hash makers specifically pay attention to the ripeness of a trichome neck. The structure can begin to deteriorate and fall down, representing a perfect harvesting window. Once you are able to view the trichomes close up with the aid of a lupe, inspecting the color of the trichome gland can be somewhat tricky and there is no set way to determine what color is perfect.
It’s down to the grower’s preference. It should be known, however, that the later flower is picked, the heavier in trichomes it will be. Trichomes go through various stages of color and development, ranging from a clear transparent glass to a darker white, and then shifting to a darker amber. For those seeking a more psychoactive experience, pick your flowers when the resin glands are clear and lightly white.
For smokers who prefer a couch lock night nurse, allow your plant to develop to the latest possible stage and wait for trichomes to become a dark yellowish amber with hints of red in some varieties of cannabis. Different varieties also produce different sized neck and heads, which is why trying to identify every strain with a set color, size and stage is difficult.
The calyx is the part of the flower in which the pistils emerge from and resemble a pip shape. Inside the calyx is where a seed will form if the pistil was pollinated during the early parts of the 12/12 cycle. When you look at a calyx closely you will see there is a cluster of trichomes forming around the surface area.
When a plant is fully matured and the calyx are left to swell as much as possible, the grower not only benefits from a maximum yield, they also enjoy buds coated in frosty resin glands. We always give plants a week longer than when we first think they’re ready to go in order to push them as much as possible as they endure a flush. This is a successful way to grow couch-locking flowers.
These are the white hairs that first begin to show themselves during the early stages of flowering. Cannabis plants will display either male flowers or female pistils. Each can easily be identified with a little bit of experience, however, it should be known that the female is the one with the white hair emerging from the inner parts of the internodes. Once plants enter the 12/12 cycle, the pre-flowering stage will reveal the male or female preflowers very quickly and normally male plants will begin to flower slightly earlier than females.
There’s a common misconception about what color pistils should be and to what ratio before the plants tells you it should be chopped. One thing for sure is harvesting plants when the pistils are mainly white is not the best idea. There’s no rule about what color a pistils needs to be, and we’ve personally grown some strains that have thrown out pink and red pistils before. If you are new to growing then a good tip is to wait for the pistils to brown off by 90 percent. Avoid harvesting any parts still clustered in white hairs and especially any undeveloped lower buds unable to receive substantial light.
There’s a balancing act that must be performed to not only harvest plants at their peak, but also to flush them to ensure a smoking experience that teleports you back to puffing luscious Amsterdam bud. It can seem convenient to apply as much feed as possible during the final stages and to pack those carbs on like no tomorrow. There is not really much point in growing top shelf flower that has a harsh taste and leads to an ashtray full of black ash.
Leaving the right amount of time to water your plants, whilst knowing when your buds are as fat and swollen as can be is a skill that will develop over time. From my experience it is far better to have a plant that’s smooth, deep, and tastes properly that’s had an extra week of flush as the plants were maturing; instead of a plant that was cut short on the flush period just to purposely fit in with a set number of weeks according to a feeding chart or seed catalogue.
A cannabis plant that is drawing close to the end of its life cycle will be very noticeable. The characteristics you’ll see are a plant that’s slowly depleting itself of all leftover nutrients and trace elements. The first thing that is noticeable is how the chlorophyll of the leaves will change pigment and switch from green to a mixture of yellows, reds, purples, and orange.
Often referred to as seasonal colors, this represents the end of the season for outdoor farmers. Of course not every plant will display uniform seasonal colors and some may flourish with a dark, velvet purple and black. Other strains may stay completely lush green if growing with a strict true life organics program.
The most important thing to consider is that water is, in fact, a solvent: It can dissolve sugar or salt. And the same principle applies deep in the root zone. Have you ever done a grow that was bottom feeding plants and at the very end of the grow, you were left with a layer of chalk white residue that seems impossible to clean off?
Imagine what the insides of the pots were like with the leftover salts and toxins that the roots naturally excreted. This is why supplying enough water over a certain time frame towards the end of the plant’s life cycle is important. It not only pushes the plants to their limit, it also guarantees a smooth flavor and white ash.
Get a close look at the trichome gland heads; Stoney Tark
There are a number of downsides to harvesting cannabis early. There is no reason it should ever be chopped prior to a recommended harvest time. Growers who face tough challenges towards the very last stages of the flowering may be forced to cut down early and wipe their mouth off any profits due to security risks, insect infestation, attacked by mould and mildew, unexpected power cuts, hermaphrodite crop or perhaps due to keeping up with a strict schedule which guarantees a certain number of grows are run.
Harvesting plants too early will cause the flower to seem underdeveloped in size, the trichomes will be a shadow of what they would have been and the psychoactive experience can be edgy, racy, and uncomfortable for those who use cannabis to relax. Pistils will turn brown (even if white) when harvested early. But a well-versed smoker will know from the undeveloped calyx and minimal trichome production.
If you are unable to get your hands on some type of loop or magnifying glass that allows you to see up close, then you should follow a list of things to look out for to see how swollen your buds are and what density they have formed. How smelly your plants are will also indicate how close the terpenes are to ripeness, in the same way a flower has a point of maximum aroma. Be sure to check that the majority of the pistils have become dark red and maroon.
If under your top buds, you are left with smaller buds that did not receive as much light as the top parts, then there are two things that can be done. Either leave the lower buds in the tent to be flowered for a further week or two and give them the chance to swell up in biomass.
If that seems counterproductive to you in terms of resources then just use the lowest buds for making hash or extracting oil. There are ways to train plants to make sure that you do not end up with lower schwag buds, as these are always the last to develop and the ones that take the most time to trim.
Cannabis is a phototropic plant, so like many other fruits and vegetables, it will respond in accordance with the seasons, particularly the lighting periods. When growing seedlings or vegging clones the plants are given 18 hours of light and six hours dark. When plants flower and receive 12 hours or more of darkness they will go through hormonal changes, and as a result, stretch and flower.
There’s a way to revert your plant from a flowering plant back into the growing stage. By leaving enough growth on the plant after buds have been harvested, the plant will begin to focus its energy on growing new shoots and will respond back to the long days and short nights once again of the 18/6 cycle.
You must be really patient and this can be a very slow process, especially depending on which varietal species you are growing. Usually, indica dominant hybrids tend to reveg quicker than sativas, which can take much longer.