Curing Your Cannabis Crop:
When you can’t grow large amounts of marijuana, you want to make sure what you do grow lasts for a long time. The best way to ensure your harvest lasts year-round is to cure it properly. Curing prevents mold, mildew and general spoilage. Plus, if you’ve grown anything worth smoking, and it’s more than you can stash in a drawer, you’ll need a storage plan. Curing is how you safely store marijuana long-term.
There are many techniques for curing marijuana; and learning how to properly dry, cure and store your crop is a skill set that quickly pays for itself. You’ve worked hard to grow the best weed; why ruin it by slacking off at the end?
This guide will explain how to dry, cure and store your marijuana like a pro so that you can enjoy top-shelf marijuana. But don’t worry, if quick and easy is more your style, I’ve included the shortcuts as well.
Why You Should Cure Marijuana
The best marijuana is cured. From cannabis cup winners to expertly grown medical strains, curing is not an option, it is the rule. However, many do not realize that you do not have to cure marijuana to enjoy it. It’s only required if you intend to keep it for a while. Freshly grown weed (often called green marijuana) is also enjoyable, but not cured and should be consumed as soon as possible. Because it is green, it can become moldy or develop mildew, especially if stored.
Some commercial growers, both legal and black market, prefer to spray their harvest with chemicals instead of curing to shorten the production time. While this saves them money, it does not necessarily improve the experience for the end user. As a home grower, you can control everything involved with your cannabis, including how it is prepared for long-term storage. Cured marijuana can be safely stored for months without impacting the flavor or potency. In fact, many believe that curing improves these qualities.
If you’ve started with great genetics, you’ll probably want to reuse them. Curing marijuana properly can preserve seeds for future use. If your flowers produce seeds, those seeds can be saved for future grows, but only when cured correctly. If they are harshly dried, the seeds will be ruined.
If you aren’t planning to store your marijuana, curing is a matter of preference. It is entirely possible to produce good marijuana without it; however, for the best quality, it is a must. Many believe that cured buds produce a smoother effect, stronger potency, and better taste. This may be due to the processes effect on terpenes and cannabinoids. Still, others prefer green marijuana and avoid storing their harvest.
If you are not planning to cure your harvest, do not store your buds with other grow. If they become moldy, you could quickly ruin an entire crop. In fact, try not to store any uncured marijuana – consume it fresh, just like any other perishable good.
The Curing Process
The curing process is a two-step. It involves an initial drying period, followed by an extended drying period. The length of this process is up to you, with many suggesting that the longer the process is, the better. The initial drying period usually takes about a week, after which you cure for 2 weeks to six months. Two to four weeks is recommended (at a minimum). The drying process can be done in the open air, whereas the curing process is done in a closed environment.
Both drying and curing can increase the smell and bring out the subtle flavors of your buds, indicating the greater involvement of terpenes. Curing affects the smell of fresh marijuana by breaking down chlorophyll, removing the noticeable taste of hay or grass. If you grew a strain that is known to cause anxiety or coughing, the process of curing could also reduce this effect. The best way to experience the difference is to cure some of your grow and compare it to freshly harvested buds.
To optimally cure marijuana, you should carefully trim your harvest based on your environment, slow dry your buds in the open air, then continue drying in quart-sized glass mason jars. The room temperature should be around 70°F (21°C), with 50% humidity during the drying process and 58-65% Humidity, while curing in the jars. There are other methods of curing, of course, with varying effectiveness, and we will include those as well.
The critical thing to remember is that curing is an exercise in patience. If you can be more patient, you could be rewarded with superior results. If you choose to use the quicker methods, you could reduce the overall level of THC, smoothness of your smoke and seed options. However, anything is better than having unusable moldy weed.
Preparing to Dry Your Crop
Once you’ve harvested your plants, you need to immediately plan for drying. Not only does it make your marijuana smokable, but it’s also the first step in the curing process. The drying process begins the moment you cut down your plants, so every grower needs to choose their ideal method before it’s time to harvest.
Depending on your chosen method, you can dry your marijuana in as little as a day, but it could take up to a week. The first three days of the drying process are the most crucial for preventing mold and bacteria growth, and the slower the drying process, the better. You can also use speed dry methods (as discussed later) but these methods are not appropriate for curing and could impact the flavor of your final product. You should do your best to not over-dry your buds, but, if you accidentally do, you can fix it with products such as HumidPacks.
Regardless of how you choose to dry your marijuana, start by properly trimming your harvest. Cut down your plant, either by the bud or the branch. Then trim the buds so that it is easier for them to dry evenly. If you live in a very dry area, leave a few leaves on your buds – this will keep them from drying out too quickly. If you live in a humid area, remove the buds from the stems and trim as many leaves as possible.
For a reference, here’s what we mean by dry and humid:
- Dry areas have humidity that is under 30% RH
- Humid areas have humidity that is greater than 60% RH
Humid areas will also benefit from using a drying rack (or raised mesh racks) instead of simply hanging branches of fresh cut marijuana. Keep in mind - big buds may take longer to dry.
Once you are done trimming, save some of your trim for other goodies such as marijuana butter or oil. You’re now ready to start your chosen method of drying. Decide where you will dry your harvest and plan to check on them regularly.
Hanging Your Buds
The traditional method of drying plants---the way it's done by large-volume commercial growers---is to simply pull up mature plants by their roots and then hang them upside down in a dry place until nearly all moisture has evaporated.
Despite popular belief, plants are not hung upside down to allow THC to "run" from the roots into the foliage. In fact, the primary reason plants are hung upside down is for convenience; it's just easier to hang them in that orientation---the same reason that tobacco leaves are still hung by their roots for drying. A cord lashed around the stalk, below the last branch, is held securely in place when tied, unable to slide past the plant's large root ball. You can also hang them upside down in a closet using clothes hangers. The possibilities are endless.
Another vital reason for hanging freshly pulled marijuana plants is because it dries more slowly this way. It’s the same method used to "cure" tobacco leaves whose smoke would be disagreeably harsh and unpleasant tasting if they were quick-dried artificially using heat. Being uprooted and forced to dry sends a plant into high-gear survival mode – causing a high level of simple plant sugars in the tissues, and a less-bitter chlorophyll. And like tobacco, those phenomena of the curing process have the effect of making the marijuana you process for smoking into a product that is palatable, pleasing to the nose, and as gentle on the lungs as it is hard-hitting to the brain. In fact, some growers maintain that proper curing is necessary for coaxing maximum THC levels from a harvested plant.
Ideally, plants hung to cure should be under a roof to block out harsh sunlight that might dry plants too quickly and unevenly. It's also essential that falling rain is blocked from literally washing away THC from the outsides of curing bud, and of course to keep drying time to a minimum. Open air tobacco-curing sheds---essentially just a roof supported by posts---are probably best, but not always feasible; backwoods growers often accomplish the same purpose by stringing a green tarpaulin in the form of a peaked roof between trees, over a taut "clothesline'' hung with drying plants.
Drying time using this method is very dependent on humidity and ambient temperature, but figure on leaving plants---especially females with large, dense buds that have more moisture content---to hang for at least a week in dry 70-degree weather. Your optimal humidity is 50%.
If you are using an indoor drying room, you can adjust your environment. To do this try:
- An air conditioner to cool the air and lower humidity
- An evaporative cooler to cools the air and raise humidity
- A dehumidifier to heat the air and lower humidity
- A humidifier to heat the air and raise humidity
- A heater to heat the air and possibly lower humidity
Be careful not to over dry your marijuana and do not let your buds touch each other while drying. For maximum smoothness and minimum harshness, your bud or leaves need to contain a percentage of moisture that allows them to burn less hotly with more smoke. Leaves that are at prime dryness will have turned dark green, but not yet brown, with slight dry crunching at the edges, but a tough and fibrous consistency throughout the leaf. Buds should feel dry and slightly crunchy on the outside, but sticky (the stickier, the better) when squeezed between thumb and forefinger.
Other Air-drying methods
Air-drying, in general, is one of the best ways of drying leaves or whole harvested plants because it retains the most of a plant's pleasantly fragrant scent and spicy taste. In the case of trimmed leaves, the best way to air dry them is to bag the loosely wadded foliage---" fluffed'' to maximize the airspace between leaves---in an airy sack. You can also dry small amounts of trimmed buds using this method.
Two unsophisticated favorites are a plain brown paper bag and a net-type fruit sack. Using a paper bag, fold the top over several times to seal it. This setup steadily and evenly absorbs moisture from inside, then dissipates it to the outside. You don’t want the buds to sit in the same place and possibly develop mold; so shake the bag from time to time. This also helps them to dry more rapidly.
You can also lie buds on cardboard or on a drying rack– just remember to move and rotate them to prevent wet spots. A mesh onion sack containing loosely crumpled leaves is a favorite among pot growers who dry small amounts for personal use because the netting provides for maximum air circulation and the shortest drying time.
The most important thing to remember is to check on your plants. They need to dry slowly, but thoroughly. Watch your temperature and maintain a good drying environment. Even mildly hot temperatures, such as 85°F (30°C), can burn your marijuana- potentially reducing terpenes and cannabinoids. If you live in an environment with lots of molds, you may want to consider drying indoors with a dehumidifier or air conditioner or using a fan.
These air-drying methods are best for drying marijuana for smoking but can be used for curing if you do not dry them too quickly or too much. Remember, just like with the hanging method, to not let the plants get too dry. Leaves should be just moist enough to be flexible, but dry enough to burn evenly with a smooth, sweet smoke. Chop your dried buds into fine pieces with scissors for a superior smoke with leaves or bud. Air-drying or hanging is the only safe way to dry buds from which you intend to gather seeds for another crop.
Heated Methods of Drying Leaves and Buds
Of course, air drying isn’t your only option. Sometimes you need to dry marijuana rapidly. In those situations, you can use heat to dry your buds but do so with caution. Heat significantly speeds up the drying process and increases your chances of over-drying your harvest.
Heat drying can also:
- Remove terpenes and cannabinoids
- Ruin seeds
- Cause an earthy, dried grass smell
- Make it impossible to cure your buds later
When marijuana is dried fully in less than 3 days, there isn’t enough time for the natural chemical process of curing to begin. Once all the moisture is removed from the plant, it is unable to cure – even if it is remoistened. As a result, you may end up with harsher weed that could cause migraines or increase anxiety symptoms.
You also do not want to over-dry your weed, because then it is difficult to smoke. However, you can properly dry marijuana for immediate consumption with heat using microwaves, convection ovens, or an open skillet.
If you need to make leaf or bud smoking-dry in a hurry, a microwave is ideal. More than that, it's a handy tool for growers who frequently need to dry small samples of their crops for test smoking. Samples of an eighth-ounce or so can be quickly dried by placing uncut foliage in a heavy coffee mug and microwaving on high power for one minute.
Larger portions can be placed, about an ounce at a time, into paper lunch sacks whose openings have been folded over to close them, and microwaves for a minute at a time. At the end of each minute, remove the bag and shake it to help dry its contents; if you have more than one bag to dry, rotate them, letting one or more cool and dry while another is being nuked. Again, the dried pot will smoke best if you leave it just slightly moist. Do not use a microwave for buds that have seeds for next year's crop, because the radiation will kill the seeds.
Large amounts of marijuana can be quickly dried in a gas or electric convection oven. Spread plant material thinly over the bottom of a large ungreased pan, then place it into an oven at no higher than 150 degrees F (excessive heat will lower potency). Turn drying plants every fifteen minutes, taking care not to over-dry them. This method will also likely kill all seeds in any buds you dry.
This method of drying marijuana brings back memories of squatting next to a campfire in the deep woods, shaking an aluminum campfire skillet filled with fresh- picked marijuana over hot embers until the plants were dry enough to smoke. The same technique has worked well using an iron skillet over a propane camp stove in a remote cabin and in a household kitchen.
How to Know When Your Marijuana Is Dry Enough
Overdrying your marijuana is a problem for multiple reasons. It can ruin the quality of your smoke and also limit or entirely prevent curing. If you plan to use your dried marijuana in any way you need to know when it is dry enough.
Marijuana is finished drying when you touch it, and it feels dry. If you dried trimmed buds, you don’t want the buds to dry fully. They should only be dry on the outside. Leave a little moisture on the inside.
If you left your plants on the stem, a more precise method is breaking off a small stem to see if it snaps. If it snaps without any effort, it’s dry enough. If it leaves behind a stringy trail of plant matter, it is not dry enough. Bigger stems, on the other hand, should be a little flexible; this indicates that there is still a little water left, and you want that. That water will travel from the stem to the buds, providing the perfect moisture. You can also try to snap of an individual bud. If it pops off effortlessly, you are ready to go.
If you aren’t sure, err on it being slightly too moist. If you are planning to cure your marijuana, it’s better to be slightly moist rather than over-dry. The buds will finish drying during the curing process. If they are too dry, they will not be able to cure correctly. As long as your marijuana is dry to the touch, or snaps off of the stem, you do not need to worry.
Now that your marijuana is dried, you can either smoke it or prepare it for curing. If you choose to smoke it, remember, it still hasn’t been cured, but it will be a different experience than consuming green marijuana. Whether you plan to cure or store your marijuana, remove the buds, place them in glass mason jars and close the lid.
Curing Marijuana in Jars
The curing process begins after marijuana has been dried for at least 3 days, but for the best results, use a slow-drying method that takes at least 7 days. Marijuana is ready to cure when it has 60-65% RH. If it is close to this, place it in jars but leave the lid open so that it can finish drying. If it is too dry, you may need to rehydrate your weed before it can be cured.
With traditional curing, marijuana is dried in a controlled environment. In this case, the controlled environment is quart-sized glass mason jars. If your marijuana was dried correctly, the containers will create the perfect humidity due to the moisture left in the plant. Your jars should be stored in a room kept at around 70°F (21°C). A hygrometer can help ensure your jars maintain the optimal humidity of 60-65% RH.
Place about an ounce of dried marijuana into the jar and fill it no more than ¾ full. You want to leave enough space for the buds to move when you shake it. Do not use a larger Mason jar, because it could encourage mold. Once again, make sure your buds are not wet when you touch them. If they are, do not put them in the jar; they will not dry enough with the lid on. If you’ve already placed it in the jars and notice an ammonia odor, that means your buds are too wet and are starting to grow bacteria. If its slight, you may be able to save it by simply opening the jar and airing out your buds.
For the first few weeks, you should open your jars once a day and inspect your weed. Shake your weed around a bit. Do this daily. It is crucial that this is done the first two weeks.
It is also essential to keep your marijuana at the right moisture level to prevent mold and bacterial growth. You can test your buds by touching to make sure the outside is dry or use a hygrometer to test the humidity in the jar after the buds had some time to ‘sweat.’ If your buds stick together, they are probably too wet. If they have over 70% RH, they are too wet and should be dried immediately. Depending on the humidity outside of the jar, you may be able to dry them further by leaving the lid open for up to four hours, or you may need to remove them from the jar and air dry them further.
During the first couple weeks of curing, your marijuana still won’t smell ready, although many choose to sample it at this point. Your buds will probably smell like grass, but after a while, you should notice that top-shelf cannabis aroma. Repeat the daily checking process for up to four weeks. Cannabis should not drop below 55% RH while curing.
After 2-4 weeks you can open the jars less often, perhaps once a week. Once your cannabis does not ‘sweat’ after 24 hours, it is too dry and cannot be cured further. Many people cure for four weeks, but you can continue the process for up to six months. Keep in mind, that after two months, the buds will start to lose some of their color. After a year, your buds will begin to lose their potency if not stored.
Wet Curing Marijuana
While curing in low humidity settings is the standard, there is also a way to cure ‘wet marijuana.’ Also called high humidity curing, this method involves using bacterial growth to cure partially dried marijuana. This type of curing produces different effects and may deliver a harsher experience. It is a type of anaerobic curing.
Wet curing is similar to composting and is used to create brick weed. To do this, fresh cut marijuana is placed in a pile and left to ‘cook.’ After some time, the marijuana is wrapped and compressed for storage.
This type of curing produces marijuana that does not stay green, instead taking a tan or golden color after a few weeks. It is also very crumbly. Anaerobic cured marijuana is preferred by some people, but it is risky because of its tendency to cause bacterial growth or mold. For those that prefer the effects of ‘brick weed,’ dry curing for at least two months can produce similar results.
If you're like me, you're going to want to sample the results of your labors as soon as the buds ripen---especially if this is your starter crop, and there aren't buds to smoke from last season's harvest. Over the years I've worked out a speed-curing method that enables small batches of buds to be dried quickly for immediate consumption because it's just too intriguing to wonder how good this year's crop will be. Besides, having an ounce of good pot to smoke (or eat) takes the anxiety out of waiting for the rest of your crop to cure.
The trick is to retain as much of the buds' flavor and potency as possible, and the obvious tool for that job might seem like a microwave. While you can dry your harvest with a microwave, I don't recommend it because ultrahigh-frequency radio waves kill the seeds. Also, microwaves heat from the inside out, which works for drying buds, but it also overheats them, detracting from their taste and possibly from their potency. If you must use a microwave to dry damp cannabis, be sure to remove all seeds first (they tend to explode anyway), break material to be dried into fine pieces, and never heat it for more than a minute at a time.
The method that works best for me so far is to snip off the buds that I want to smoke, then place them in a sealable airlock bag. Squeezed all of the air out of it, then knead the buds from outside the bag, making them warm to "activate'' THC contained in them (much the same as making finger hash). Sometimes I even stand on the bagful of buds barefoot, squashing them with my heels until they become warm, wet with their own juices, and very dark green, almost black, in color (this operation does little or no damage to the seeds, which are protected by the diameter of the woody stalks to which they’re attached). At this point, I leave the bag sealed overnight and may even sleep with it under my pillow to keep the contents warm.
After about twelve hours, I remove the warm, crushed buds from their plastic bag and lay them neatly---with air space between them---on a dry, clean cookie sheet.
The next step is heating the crushed buds. Preheat your kitchen oven to its lowest setting---usually somewhere between 150 and 180 degrees---and place the cookie sheet of crushed buds inside for half an hour. After that, remove the sheet and turn the buds over. Replace the cookie sheet for another half hour. At the end of that time, the buds should be just slightly moist, and a little sticky---ideal for smoking. Gently remove the seeds, which are usually not harmed by this mild heating process, place the seedless buds into a coffee mug, and with large scissors chop them into pieces small enough to smoke.
Storing Marijuana Long Term
After your marijuana has cured for at least three months, you should plan for long-term storage. If you plan to keep your marijuana for a few months, the mason jar used for curing will be enough. Simply place them in a cool, dark environment and use it as needed. If you plan to store your marijuana for longer than six months, you may want to vacuum-seal them or tightly pack them in mason jars and store them in the freezer.
If stored for over a year, cured marijuana will have more of a mellow effect and have more of a beige color. The potency should remain intact, however.