How does Humboldt grow? Over the last several issues, Emerald Triangle farmers have shared what they’ve learned from years of cultivating cannabis under the Northern California sun for every stage of the grow cycle.
I’ve collaborated with Kevin Jodrey, an internationally respected cultivator and propagator, to spotlight for the rest of the world how Humboldt heritage farmers produce their top-tier cannabis — from selecting the right genetics (Issue #128), building soil (#129), transplanting indoor and outdoor plants (#130), and caring for plants during the vegetative growth cycle (#131) and the flowering cycle (#132).
Now we wrap up this series with the final stage of cannabis cultivation: Harvesting and Processing.
Harvest Timing and Technique
“Harvesting is this little riddle — when is this plant ripe, as a plant, as in optimal for me to harvest it?” Jodrey said. “And when is it chemically ripe when the terpenes have started to mature? And optimally ripe for harvest?” This depends on what you intend to do with your crop once it’s cut from the living plant.
When farmers are planning to sell their harvest as flower, Jodrey said the buds need to have the right ratio of trichomes coloration — 30% golden amber to about 70% milky/clear with a couple that are black. “We’ve found that once we harvest and hang it, a little more maturation occurs,” Jodrey said, and that coloration ratio accounts for that to prevent over-ripening. The point at which you harvest the flower is not when the plant would consider itself “ripe” from a biological perspective, Jodrey said. Excessively ripe cannabis flowers won’t meet the expectations of buyers, and he said it changes the terpene profile, enhancing sesquiterpene while losing others.
Large plants are typically harvested gradually, while smaller plants are often chopped down all at once. Brian St. Clair of Riverview Gardens in Southern Humboldt takes a 3-step approach with his tall, sun-grown plants. “My harvest takes a month from about beginning to end,” St. Clair said. “I found out that you can get a higher yield if you wait.
St. Clair said his first step is to harvest the most developed flowers. “I just go through my garden and harvest what’s ready when it’s ready the first time, just taking the tops, the kolas, and then I come two to three weeks later to take the next layer” for what many call “seconds.” The plant continues developing what buds remain so he’s able to pull a third run from his crop.
“Not everybody wants to take the extra time to do that, and I get it because it’s labor intensive. I have 100 plants so I have the time,” St. Clair said. “I have the time to go through the garden until it’s completely harvested.”
Finding the sweet spot for harvesting strains on your property is a matter of time, attentiveness, and knowledge of what you’re looking for in the end-product, Jodrey said. While growing Creme Brulee on Ganjier Farms, he ran that cultivar for three years before he determined the best time to harvest it in his farm’s microclimate. He took regular samples of the plants starting in mid-September, always from the same place with equal sun exposure.
Every few days he would take samples and let them dry, and he said he compared the sample’s quality and weight to find the ideal harvest date.
“When we ran Creme Brulee the first time, I took it to October 4 and lost a lot of the monoterpene signature that was present. It started to fade,” Jodrey said. But when he harvested it around September 27 the next year, the monoterpenes remained. “If I take it a little longer, I have a really rich thick flavor in the extract and a rich flavor in the smoke, but I don’t have that same monoterpene signature. Those are things that are really crucial if you’re trying to drive sales.” Monoterpenes are the ones that are the most volatile — that means these are the terpenes that buyers can most easily smell, Jodrey said.
Once the flowers are harvested, they head for the drying room. Jodrey said he selects a season’s cultivars in part based on when they will mature. He plans for 10-15 days in between each harvest to allow time for drying.
Not all cannabis is dried and harvested the same, however. Humboldt farmers have learned as the concentrate markets developed in the last several years, harvesting for extract requires a different approach.
Harvesting processes vary depending on the kind of concentrate a farmer intends for their harvest, Jodrey said.
“The processors actually come to the farm and either bring mobile processing rigs or freezers,” Jodrey said. “They take the cannabis flowers fresh from the plant, they either handpick the fan leaves off, and use some simple machine trimmers to rough it down into a cylindrical shape, or they blast it in CO2, BHO, or Ethanol.” An ideal setup for farmers who don’t have the facilities to properly dry, he said
How to harvest for:
- Live resin: Never hung and dried, the plant is full and live. The extra leaf is either machine-trimmed or hand-trimmed off, and it goes directly into extraction.
- Fresh frozen: Processed like live resin and then placed in a freezer to hold frozen for extraction. Flower is fed through a machine to get rough leaves off, and broken down into a size small enough to fit into plastic bags that they put into large plastic containers. These are placed into freezers and this preserves all the terpenes with none of the loss, Jodrey said.
- Straight Concentrates: Hang and dry, then shear the flowers. The flower will never been seen so the trim doesn’t need to be neat.
- Distillate (for pens or edibles): This can be done with fresh, live plants or it can be dried. This can be trimmed even less, basically needs to be roughly broken down off the main stems.
Jodrey said there is a lower yield from live resin and fresh frozen than other methods, but the market is hungry for them. They have an “exceptionally terpy extract, what we’ll call a sauce, literally wet,” Jodrey said. “The delivery of terpenes is so aggressive that it makes other extracts pale in comparison.”
“Distillate is its own world,” Jodrey said. “The entire concentrate market is 30 slices, and 29 slices are distillate production. The last slice is all the other concentrates.”
Drying — Just Enough
Indoor cannabis can dry in about 3 days, and outdoor can take 7-10 days to pull liquid out of cannabis, Jodrey said. “Only way that can happen is over course of time. It takes a long time at that level to get the moisture out of the cannabis.”
Drying rooms must have good air circulation and just the right amount of heat and humidity, Jodrey said — increase the heat to speed up the drying of sun-grown flower, and all you’ll being doing is crisping the outside and sealing moisture into the middle, “like browning a roast.” This locks in a wet, damp flavor and gives you mold problems, he said. If you do the same to indoor flower, it just gets overly dry and the terpene signature doesn’t hold well in the bag, Jodrey said.
A delicate balance must be maintained to properly dry flower all the way through. That’s why Brian St. Clair considers drying to be the most important part of the growing process. A make-or-break moment every season.
“That’s what makes craft cannabis different from an oil product,” St. Clair said. “When pushing out oil, they’re looking for crystals. They’re just squishing it or taking it out and they have the crystals. That’s not the market I’m going for.”
St. Clair keeps the drying rooms at Riverview Gardens at a humidity of 45-55% and at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s dying as it dries and its immune system is, too, so you need a sanitary environment,” St. Clair said. “Mold and russet mites will keep doing what they do, even though it’s not in the garden.”
After about a week, the moisture content should be down to 12-14%. St. Clair uses the Stem Snap check. If he pulls on a cola and the stem bends, it’s still too moist. If it snaps, it’s nearly ready. Snapping the stem isn’t a perfect tell for the moisture level but acts as a guide.
“Some colas were so big this year that, even though the sticks were snapping, the moisture content was still higher than what the distributor wanted,” St. Clair said. “They were asking for 8-10% moisture and it was 10-14%. You can still have mold developing if it’s too wet. These microbes and spores are just waiting to be activated.”
Plants can also be contaminated by other factors, and farmers have to be prepared to eliminate every source. At Sunboldt Farm, Sunshine Johnston increased her drying space to keep it cleaner.
“I dry outdoor in tents, and I gave myself more square footage and more rooms so I don’t have to bring fresh material into a room that is already dry,” Johnston said. “This is so I’m not constantly bringing fresh material in, and I don’t have as much traffic going in and out of that room. I can control each room better.”
Her approach to drying is to remove moisture rapidly for the first 24 hours and then slow down after that. She uses a desiccant dehumidifier, which uses an absorbent and the exhaust is ionized air. “So even in this heat, I’m getting on average 7-8 day cures,” she said. “I prefer it to be 10 days, but I’m still figuring out the system.”
Jodrey agrees that cleanliness is a big issue, and contamination comes from surprising places. Animals, dirty clothes, and dirty shoes, are all common sources of unwanted microbes. If room itself has dirt or if there is carpeted areas in production, these are likely sources of contamination, too, he said. “What you find is that any of these things can occur after you cut the plant.”
Containers for plants must be clean, and workers wearing gloves is the new standard, Jodrey said. The dry room needs to be easy to wipe down and sanitize.
Jodrey said there are many ways of hanging cannabis to dry, and the simplest is hanging from wires across the ceiling. Hang the plant from a limb and allow it to dry in that manner. That’s the slowest method but by far the easiest and fastest way to get cannabis to hang.”
If a farmer can move large amounts of treated air through the dry room with a ventilation system and heaters, Jodrey said plants can be packed tighter together. Without those tools, there needs to be more room between the hanging plants to prevent moisture pockets, he said.
For farmers that multi-harvest their plants, pieces of the plant are hung to dry instead of the entire plant. “Those pieces should roughly be the size of your elbow to fist,” Jodrey said. Those also hang on wires but because they’re smaller, Jodrey said famers can create multiple tiers of wires in a grid. For a larger scale operation, Jodrey said farmers can get vertical arrangements like fencing material to a create 6-foot-tall swath of hanging sites.
This structure allows farmers to start at the bottom and work their way up, hooking branches through the wire. Jodrey prefers securing branches with zip ties if the branches are less than 18 inches long. He only hooks on one side of the wire frame and then it can be hooked into the ceiling. A U-shaped rail can be installed in the ceiling and used to hold multiple racks for an efficient use of space, he said. That rail system can provide dry space for the harvest from a 10,000 sq. ft. farm canopy using 1500 sq. ft..
Once the flowers are fundamentally dry, Jodrey said the next step is bucking it down. All flower from main stem comes off, and then goes into a sealed container and held for two days to stabilize. “The longer that stem is there, it’s a moisture sink,” Jodrey said. After it stabilizes, the flower goes to the trimmer.
A few take cannabis to the next stage of curing, Jodrey said, by storing the cannabis and “burping” the container by opening it periodically to release the moisture that still remains in the flower.
Modern trends of using nitrogen are just a band-aid for a quick dry, Jodrey said. Other industries like dog food work with industrial drying companies to ensure their products are dried in such a way that they don’t mold in the bag, he said. If you dry it correctly, you hardly need any nitro at all.
“The idea is to get a product that is shelf-stable and doesn’t require exceptional packaging efforts,” Jodrey said. “Once we have this stabilized, I have a product that absolutely shines because we dried it on a level where the temperature was never too high to flare off the volatile oils and the volatile terpenes; it was never so moist that any kind of decomposition occurred; you did not increase your fungal problems, nor did you create a fermentation situation that changes the flavor.”
by Allison Edrington & Kevin Jodrey
Images – Nomad’s Landing
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 133
- How to Grow it like Humboldt by Lynnette Nutter
- How Humboldt treats its soils by Allison Edrington & Kevin Jodrey
- Strong roots survive – Heritage farmers share tips and advice on transplanting
- Unbound Growth – Veg cycle advice from Humboldt’s finest
- Feeding Humboldt’s Flowers How Humboldt’s Sungrown Farmers Handle the Flowering Cycle and Harvest
- How Humboldt harvests – meeting demands of California market