Harvesting your crop can be the ultimate victory for any pot grower, However, the key to reaping the best marijuana lies in knowing when to harvest and how to cull your plants properly. Short of actually smoking or eating the plants you grow, no part of the growing operation offers greater satisfaction than harvesting the fruits of your labors. It’s a sweet feeling to take two or three hits from a spicy-tasting, potent bud that was nurtured by your own hands, and then realize that this stuff rates with some of the best you’ve smoked. Maybe it’s just prejudice—gardeners always say that the tomatoes from their own crops are the sweetest—or maybe marijuana that has been hand- grown, harvested, and cured with personal care is better than stuff grown by the hectare and shipped by the bale from down south,
When to harvest
The key to knowing when to harvest is to observe your plants and to look for signs of peak THC content. All cannabis plants produce THC throughout their life cycle as an insect repellant. The chemical can be found in each part of a marijuana plant (stems, leaves, stalk) but the potency and amount of THC is negligible except in the leaves and buds of a plant. More importantly, THC will build up in each biological structure, but the cutoff for THC production will be different depending on which part of the plant you’re working with. In other words, the amount of THC in a leaf will plateau once that leaf turns fully green and stops growing. However, an unfertilized female bud may continue to build up THC content for six to ten weeks after first flowering, depending on the strain.
Most seed sellers will offer instructions on when to harvest (again depending on which strain or strains you initially purchase). However, if you’re working with a mix of strains or if you’ve culled seeds without instruction, then your approach will be more instinctive than scientific.
You should have been pruning your plant along the way so you may have an idea of how potent your leaves are by the time your marijuana starts to flower. If you’ve been pruning simply to focus on removing yellowing or dying leaves, then you may have been waiting for the right time to start culling leaves for smoking. Basically, THC content tends to plateau once a green leaf is fully extended. You can definitely gather some grass while your plant is still in the vegetative state. However, you want to make sure you’ve got a balance going between pulling leaves and allowing for growth. If your plant is strictly vegetative, then pulling too many leaves at once will stress the plant and may cause delayed flowering or trauma.
If your plant has moved into the flowering stage, you’ll want to ignore the leaves closest to the buds. These leaves will continue to build up THC content along with the flower itself. So if you clip too early, you’ll basically be ripping yourself off.
Flowering Male Plants
Generally male plants produce less THC overall than female plants. But seeing as you can still get a great high from males (plus I’ve never been one to advocate sexism) harvesting males can be just as rewarding as harvesting females. The general rule of thumb is that THC content is highest for males right before they pollinate. So you’re looking for fully flowered male plants with hanging pollen sacks that are visible but not yet open. (Remember to keep a few male plants intact if you want to pollinate for next year’s seeds.)
Flowering Female Plants
Harvesting an unfertilized female plant is the ultimate reward for a marijuana grower. As with male plants, flowering will occur at different times depending on which strain you’re working with. The characteristics you want to look for in a ripe female bud all depend on the color of the reproductive organs of the plant. A female marijuana plant has hairlike “pistils” that rise up from the flower. These will appear white at first, but as they approach peak THC content, the appendages will appear toasty gold or brown. In addition, the buds and top leaves of a flowering female plant will be covered in tiny stalks of THC-filled resin. This gives the plant a dew-covered or frosted appearance that comes from almost microscopic growths called “trichomes.” Trichomes appear when a female plant is in full bloom, and each individual trachome tends to resemble a tube with a beach ball at the top. The THC content is highest at the “beach ball” top of each tube, so be careful when you finally do harvest. The trachomes will reach peak THC content when they are clear or milky white. If they appear to turn amber, the THC is starting to degrade as the trachomes collapse and start to decompose.
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