You've taken care of your plants all summer, and now they are in full flower glory! As we head into October, your plants will begin to show you in many ways that they are ready to harvest.
Just like growing tomatoes there isn't the 'perfect' day to pick them. Hemp flowers are ripe for many, many days. They also have the advantage of not 'going bad' in the same way that tomatoes do. Just answer these three simple questions, and you are good to harvest:
1. Do I have my drying area setup? If not, do not harvest. We will cover drying little later. It's like hanging laundry, but in the shade.
2. Are the flowers getting sticky, stinky, and when you squeeze them, they feel firmer than they did a few days ago? If yes, you are ready to harvest.
3. Wait a minute, firm means ripe? Let's talk more about what firm means.
When your plants first start to flower, they will not be very sticky, and when you give them a squeeze (get on in there, squeeze!) they will squish. As your flowers mature, they will become more sticky (all that good CBD resin!) and will become firm. They will never be firm like a rock, but they will become firm like if you gave a a ripe tomato a squeeze. A little give, but not a lot.
Remember, if you think they are getting close to being really sticky and really firm, now is the time to setup your drying area. I know you've been waiting all summer, but once you think they are ripe give yourself 3 more days and you won't regret it!
Getting Ready for Harvest
Drying hemp is like hanging laundry, except in the shade! It really isn't different than slow drying any other woody herb, like rosemary. There are so many different schools of thought on this, but we recommend giving your flower stalks a light trim to remove the extra leaves. Once you have 'de-leafed' your flower stalks, just hang them upside down with a clothespin or unfolded paperclip somewhere dry, cool, and dark. At this time of year most attached garages are warm and dry enough. Hang them on a strung line, some old shade netting from your garden, or use coat hangers. There isn't a wrong way, just make sure the flower stalks have a little space between them so air can flow and dry out the hemp.
Most folks aim for 60F and 60% humidity while drying, but it isn't a big deal. After 7-10 days your flower buds should be less sticky and feel very dry, maybe even crackly to the touch when you squish. If they need more time, let them hang.
Harvest - No rush, no fuss!
Now that you're ready to harvest, get a pair of pruners or scissors. Cut the flower stalk just below a flower bud leaving a little stem. This will make it easier to hang. Are other flower stalks on your plant not mature? Still a little squishy, not looking as big as that big beefy flower stalk you just cut? No problem! Just cut the most ripe looking stalks, and leave the rest. Check back in a few days, cut more. Just like a rosebush, you don't have to harvest all of the flowers at once.
Once your hemp has been hang dried, you can store it in an air-tight container. A mason jar, Tupperware, whatever works for you. During this stage the flower will 'cure' which really just means some additional chemical reactions might be taking place as the water equilibrates throughout the flower. Again, many schools of thought on this, but after 5-7 days your hemp should be ready for use. Ready for use just means it will be smoother, have more flavor and smell.
It is a matter of preference with how 'trimmed' you'd like your flower. There are so many guides online, I'm just going to say keep it simple and use a small pair of scissors to remove whatever you consider too leafy. A loose more natural trim will be just fine, you don't need the ultra manicured store bought look to create a great bud.
Common Questions and Concerns
Q: How do I know it's dry? A: Snap off a small bud, give it a squish. If it still feels very wet and sticky, it's not ready. Generally if you can give it a chop with a knife and it cuts easily without squishing the flower stalk is ready.
Q: It seems like my flower is taking forever to dry. Why? A: Add a small oscillating fan to improve air flow. A: Maybe it is too cold. Try moving your drying setup to a warmer part of your garage/house. You could also move your setup outdoors into the sunshine on a warm dry day. It might brown your flower a bit, but that doesn't affect the CBD all that much.
Q: My hemp is smelling moldy, what should I do? A: Discard anything that smells moldy. If you can smell it, you don't want to use it. You wouldn't use a moldy tomato in a salad would you?
Q: What about all the smaller flowers that aren't on stalks, or fall off? A: You can dry those separately, The easiest DIY method is to stretch a piece of the netting you hung the colas with (or cheesecloth) across something to make it taught, and then put your small flowers on it to dry. They will develop flat spots on one side but otherwise will be great!