You’ve been trying your hand at cannabis cultivation over the past year or so, and now you’ve done it. You’ve finally harvested a batch of homegrown buds you can truly be proud of and can’t wait to start smoking. One thing, though, that was only half the work. Now it’s time for post-production, drying, trimming, and curing, the processes, methods, and techniques that will take your freshly grown flowers to their highest level in terms of quality, taste, and smokability.
The steps growers take after the plant is harvested, whether you’re a cannabis company or a modest ganja grower, are essential for ensuring the quality of the crop. In cannabis, there are many different ways to process your harvest, including things like choosing to trim buds fresh off the plant or waiting for them to dry before manicuring the buds. High Times spoke with three leading cultivators about which methods work best for them and how home growers can get the most out of their harvest.
“After you harvest the living plant from that point, it is, in a sense, a race against time,” said Ali Jamalian, founder and owner of manufacturing company Sunset Connect. “I believe post-production is 50% of producing quality end-products. You can harvest a really amazing looking flower, but still really mess it up in post-production if you dry it too fast, or if you leave too much fan-leaf on it.”
“Cannabis post-production is just like wine; when you’re looking at a plant that has so many different varieties of genetics, you can’t treat them all the same,” Jamalian said. “You can’t treat them the same during cultivation, and you sure can’t treat them the same during post-production.”
Once the crop is harvested, it’s time to dry. Drying the buds is essential not only to preserve and accentuate terpenes, but also to keep them fresh and bacteria/mold-free.
“We dry for 14 days, hanging the full plant upside down in really tall canopies, completely defoliated at 60 degrees temperature at 60 percent humidity,” said Anna Willey, CEO and head cultivator at CAM (California Artisanal Medicine). “In the dry room, which measures 1,150 square feet for a 550-light facility, we have it set up so the source of air is not just blowing in one space so that it’s evenly distributed throughout the entire canopy.”
Airflow in rooms used for drying cannabis flowers is essential.
“While you definitely want a good airflow in your rooms, at the same time, you don’t want to directly hit the plants with windy air,” said Jamalian. “It’s a little harsh for the curing process, and when buds are dried with direct air, they’re less flavorful after the cure because they’ve been dried a little too fast.”
When drying outdoor or greenhouse ganja, the approach is similar, yet the practice offers its own unique obstacles.
“We are careful about harvesting times in the greenhouse or full sun environment as you don’t want to harvest in the heat of the day,” said Craig Nejedly, owner and founder of Talking Trees. “Plants are chopped, weighed wet, then hung in a dark room that has great airflow and circulation with dehumidifiers set to 50% humidity, and then we usually take plants down after 7-10 days, when the stems will snap easily between your fingers.”
In terms of the time he spends drying the flowers, Nejedly said he doesn’t find value in drying the crop for more than 10 days.
“Some growers seem to find value in drying for more than seven to 10 days, but I don’t,” he said. “If I was going to hang longer, I would probably harvest earlier since the plant still ripens and matures once hung, for example. I don’t think you retain significant terpenes from drying longer.”
Nejedly also addressed the critical topic of moisture.
“Once the plant has dried properly to approximately 10% moisture content, you want to keep the plant intact on the stalk stored cool and dry until it is ready for processing,” he said.
Curing is the most subtle step in the pot post-production process, in which properly dried cannabis is placed in airtight containers to eliminate destructive bacteria that cause mold and mildew. Consistent curing can also result in a smoother smoke and retain flavor and terpene ratios while reducing unwanted chlorophyll.
To cure buds at CAM, Willey uses a tool commonly found in American kitchens: Tupperware.
“We don’t just move [buds] into a room where they’re going to be in turkey bags. We actually leave them in food-grade containers,” Willey said. “The joke around CAM is that I’m the ‘Tupperware lady.’”
Using the storage containers helps to preserve the plant. The key to a good cure in any sort of container involves regular burping, or periodically opening the containers to release built-up carbon dioxide and any moisture the buds may have shed.
“We use Tupperware to keep the integrity of the bud structure, to prevent damage or squishing, and it’s easier for handling and storage,” Willey said. “Then we open the containers every three or four days, to allow the product to breathe, and then shutting it and letting the moisture retain. We should get what we hope is a perfect bud on a consistent basis, where it’s dry on the outside, but still sticky and moist on the inside.”
CAM’s curing durations run seven to 10 days. At Sunset Connect, the buds go through a 17-to-28 day cure. The time duration is “played by ear,” depending on the size of the nugs being treated.
When it comes to the cure, it’s all about balance for Nejedly.
“Curing is a balance of trying to control the humidity and oxidation of the plant matter versus overexposure to natural elements, so keeping things cool and dark and burping to not allow air to get too stale is crucial,” he said. “Cannabis is like avocado or any other fruit. [The buds] continue to ripen after harvest, and then there is a fine line between ripening to preservation and not getting too moist or exposed to too much light, or the flower deteriorates quickly. I think, once harvested, a plant or bud is at its best about four to five weeks after harvest if grown, dried, and cured well.”
With trimming cannabis there are many different methodologies, but the ultimate aim is to remove the sugar and fan leaves from around the bud.
“We treat our trimmers like they are literally the most important folks in the building because they are the last people to touch our product,” Willey said. “Our training for [trimmers] is very extensive; even if they’ve trimmed [elsewhere] for years, we retake them through the entire process because a lot of them have been conditioned to the ‘get in there and finish as fast as you can’ [in the trimming process]. The ‘We gotta get through 27 pounds of trimming today or else’ method.’ With the CAM way, our folks can take their time because trimming is really an art form.”
Willey elaborated on her company’s trimming processes.
“The biggest difference at CAM is that we do our trimming on-stem, which allows for the least amount of touching on the buds,” she said. “The bud actually stays on the stem, and not until the very end of the trimming process does the bud come off the stem. This way, there’s very minimal handling of the product. When you’re grabbing the bud, you’re disturbing the trichomes. You’re basically mauling the buds.”
Jamalian likewise emphasized the high priority afforded to their trimming processes.
“We’re a 100% hand-trim outfit; no machines,” he said. “I think machines butcher the weed.”
But, he explained, not all trim jobs are the same.
“Because we process our flower into so many different products, we trim accordingly; sugar trim and the little snippings from the buds you inevitably have, are called ‘sugar trim,’ and we put those into our Fulton Fiver joints which cost only five bucks and are the best seller in San Francisco,” he said.
Jamalian disclosed that the difficulty of post-production work for any given strain even plays a role in selecting genetics. Strains such as Sour Diesel and Lamb’s Bread are sometimes difficult to trim.
“There are certain strains where our trimmers come to work and they hate it; when they have tiny little non-sugar leaves wedged between all the calyxes,” he said. “So while you might want to grow that strain (from a commercial perspective), you’re going to have an unhappy staff trimming it. I love Sour Diesel, but it’s a difficult trim. Lamb’s Bread is also not the most straightforward trim, but it’s worth it.”
Properly trimming cannabis plays a crucial role in preserving a product’s shelf-life.
“Another step that helps longevity is keeping the flower on the stalk until it’s ready to trim,” Nejedly said. “The synergy of the plant on the stalk helps maintain its freshness, which degrades faster once the buds are cut from the stems.”
Dry Trim vs. Wet Trim
There are varying schools of thought when it comes to trimming the buds when they are fresh off the plant or after the curing process is complete.
Willey and Nejedly agree that dry trim is best. However, Jamalian employs a two-stage method of both wet and dry trimming.
“On the wet trim, or primary trim, we like to take off all the ‘water leaves’ or fan leaves, and we’ll leave on the sugar leaves; those are the medium-size leaves that still have a good amount of sugar or terpenes to them,” he said. “For example, Blue Dream doesn’t have a lot of sugar on the leaves, yet the buds were frosty and chunky and big, so you could actually do a primary wet trim and take all the leaves off and then dry the nugs and you’re ready to go. So Blue Dream offers a lower cost of post-production. Some plants, like those that have a nice purple leaf, I’ll probably leave those on during cure. But water leaf takes away yield during processing, so we try to prep buds for processing with as little stem or water leaf as possible when it’s sent to the trimmers for the secondary or dry trim.”
A Close Shave Vs. Leaving the Leaf
In the context of post-production, there is some debate between employing a close shave of the buds as opposed to allowing more fan leaves to remain.
“It’s a fine balance. In general, the consumer does not want to see too much leaf, but we also don’t want to shave the bud,” Nejedly said. “So it’s literally a manicuring process that we train our trimmers to be mindful of, and more so pluck at the leaves and buds to manicure them, and not just chop away at it.”
Sunset Connect’s approach is flexible.
“We’re strain specific; the strain will determine how much leaf to leave on it,” Jamalian said. “You have to judge the flower by the genetics; if there are smaller, denser buds, we like to leave a little bit of fan leaf to cocoon and, in effect, cure the buds very gently. But other strains where you do have a lot of big sugar leaves, we’ll take off every single fan leaf and let it cure super slow to let the THC finish ripening; sort of like when you pick bananas, they keep ripening. And so does THC; the resin glands are still producing.”
Willey was more definitive.
“I don’t like a close shave because I like to make sure that the bud structure is honored,” she said. “Some strains will have a little foxtail (irregular bud shape), but we try to honor the structure so that every bud doesn’t look like a golf ball; that’s my personal preference.”
It’s tough to talk about weed or wax these days without a serious discussion of “terps,” aka terpenes, the chemical compounds that give cannabis strains their individual signature alluring aromas and mouth-watering flavors. For post-production, preserving, and even enhancing, terps are essential to crafting the most desirable end-product.
Willey suggests seeking equilibrium.
“If you dry it too fast or leave the buds hanging for too long, you’re going to negatively affect your terpenes, as well as if you cure and store buds in too hot or humid of a place,” she said. Terpenes are just like babies; delicacy is key.”
Nejedly likewise emphasized the role temperature plays in maintaining terpenes by avoiding heat.
“Terp preservation starts before harvest,” he explained. “Growing indoors, we start gradually reducing the light intensity about 20 days before harvest to preserve terps. Then once the plant is harvested, it’s all about being cool and dark to keep those terps.”
It’s All About the Humidity
All three pro growers agreed that maintaining the correct humidity is the number one challenge to producing great ganja. Each of them explained strategies to combat the unwanted water vapor.
CAM utilizes the Quest 506 commercial humidifier to extract humidity from inside its grow rooms.
“Air conditioners also work well on getting the humidity out of the rooms, at the end of harvest as well as during post-production,” Willey said.
Nejedly echoed his contemporaries’ feelings.
“Humidity is the biggest factor during the post-harvest process,” he said. “If humidity is high when you harvest and you don’t use dehumidifiers and fans for airflow, the flowers will mold and be useless. Dehumidifiers are an easy solution readily available at any hardware store or grow store. Temps should be under 70°F and ideally in the 55-60°F range. Colder is better than warmer, and humidity you can set at 50%, and for a slower cure up to 60%.”
Pro Advice for Home Growers
The post-production process can be just as important—if not more so—for the home grower than it is for the large-scale commercial company that can afford potential mistakes in drying, curing and/or trimming. But for a modest marijuana cultivator, the yield needs to be processed as perfectly as possible to make all the time, effort, and money expended worthwhile with a great end product.
“When growing in a home, make sure you have a climate-controlled area for your drying process; that you’re not just sticking it in a closet,” Willey advised. “Because even if you’ve done a great job growing the buds, if it’s not dried properly, the end-user is not going to be able to enjoy all the terpenes that come with properly drying and curing the product. Improper processes can also cause mold and things like that if your rooms get too humid or too hot during the dry/cure process, so you can actually hurt your end-product.
Willey advised home growers to utilize glass jars to cure on a small scale.
“I recommend curing in glass; it’s phenomenal for curing on a small scale,” she said. “There are also some really cool products out there, like these curing tubs where you can set the temperature and humidity. They’re not even that expensive, and it’s a perfect way for a home grower to kind of use some of that technology in their limited space.”
Nejedly offered additional tips for the backyard bud grower.
“Before harvest, make sure you set up a good environment for the post-harvest process,” he said. “A closet works well; you want it dark. A dehumidifier is absolutely crucial in most environments. Set your dehumidifier to around 50% humidity, and get an oscillating fan in the space to get a slight breeze flowing across the plants. Keep it dark and cool, meaning under 70F. After a week, see if the stems snap, and if so, on to trimming.”
Jamalian advised home growers to hang their harvest in a dark closet with a tiny computer fan or a clip-on fan running.
“Keep the buds on the hanger and nicely spaced so it has room to breathe and doesn’t mold,” he advised. “Check on it frequently to make sure it’s not developing any kind of dry rot. It’s all about environmental control; once it’s trimmed and cured, 4 to 5 millimeter mylar bags are really good for trapping terpenes.”
Knowledge is Power
Within the preferred processes of pot post-production are specific approaches that give each cannabis company–and by extension, every juicy bud, jaunty joint, and wicked wax produced–its own distinct stamp of quality. With so many post-harvest techniques to practice and with so many varied outcomes to consider, learning more about what goes into cannabis production after the harvest only serves to strengthen one’s appreciation for high-quality commercial cannabis products.
Read the full issue here.