Properly executing the harvest is a critical step after the hard work of getting a cannabis crop all the way through the vegetative and flowering stage.
Depending on the cultivation facility, the workforce and desired end product, cultivators should consider the following:
- What is the best method to achieve the sought-after results?
- How to get the plants ready to be cut down.
- How to prepare the crop area so employees can harvest the plants efficiently.
“The key is balancing efficiency and quickness with doing it right without harming any of the flower,” said Brandon Pollock, CEO of Theory Wellness in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Select a Method
At Otis Gardens in Hood River, Oregon, Lead Grower Pieter Summs oversees an indoor operation that is primarily hydroponic-based. It operates on a 10-week flower cycle.
His crew harvests the crop one of two ways, depending on whether the plants will be used for concentrates or flower.
With the first method, the cannabis is “bucked down,” so that the flower components are removed from the main stalk.
Summs chooses this method when he wants to use the cannabis for extraction to produce concentrates, such as hash oil, shatter and budder. It accelerates the drying process because the flower is no longer connected to the main water source, the stem.
“The bucking down increases air flow,” Summs said. “We get the products done quicker.”
While this method takes less time, it might cost terpenes. That doesn’t concern Summs because, if he sends the material to be extracted with a CO2 machine, it will likely be distilled only for THC or CBD.
“We go for the shorter route,” he added.
After the plant is bucked, the material will be dried on a baker’s rack, which flattens one side of the flower.
For the second method, Summs’ crew will leave more on the stalk and hang the plants to dry. His facility isn’t set up to allow for hanging the entire plant, so each plant is cut into four to six colas, or large flower sections. This flower will eventually be sold on retail store shelves.
Hanging the plant helps it retain the integrity of the flower’s shape and structure. It also saves time for trimmers who don’t have to reshape the bud. Summs said hanging plants also slows the drying process and helps to retain terpenes.
“We’re constantly evolving the process,” he said.
For David Holmes, founder of Clade9, a Los Angeles cultivation, extraction and distribution company, adjusting growing conditions before the harvest is as important as cutting down the plants. His crew cuts down the whole plant, but before that, he starts dialing down the temperature and humidity.
“We try to go as cold as possible,” he said.
Holmes will lower the temperature to the mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit from the 80s. He believes the cooler temperatures help increase the trichome production and plant color.
For example, if a strain has purple genetics, the violet hue will shine brighter at lower temperatures, which is more appealing on a retail shelf.
Pollock of Theory Wellness said the color expression of strains is akin to how leaves of deciduous trees change colors in the fall.
He also drops the temperature and humidity in his grow room a couple of weeks before harvest. The idea is to mimic the conditions a plant would experience in an outdoor environment at the end of its life cycle.
Turning down the humidity helps to prevent the risk of any mold or mildew growth.
“They’re at a vulnerable stage at that point,” Pollock said.
Summs uses a similar strategy in his grow. He drops room temperatures to 75 degrees from a typical 85 degrees and lowers the humidity from 60% or more to about 50%.
“You want to minimize your water content and increase your plant content,” he said.
Prepping the Crop Area
To keep his whole staff on the payroll full time, Summs uses the trimmer crew to help with the harvest, with two people in supervisory roles and up to nine in more manual-labor positions.
Otis Gardens harvests every Monday, so Summs’ staff sets up the harvest room on Fridays with all the necessary tables and trash cans.
If everything goes well, his crew will finish the hang-drying harvest of 192 plants in three to four hours.
Part of the preparation process also involves pruning the plants before harvest.
“We prune the room really hard, so when we harvest it, the plants are almost ready to go,” Holmes said. “We hang them and they can just dry and we don’t have to do any more prep.”
At Theory Wellness, Pollock said it takes his team about eight hours to harvest 400-500 plants.
Before harvest, his crew fully sanitizes the drying room to make sure they avoid potential contaminants such as mold and mildew.
He also gives the trimmers work along with the harvest crew.
“Everyone has a job, and it’s all hands on deck,” he added.