Preparing The Harvest
Curing your harvest is an important step in the cultivation process.
Many new growers are so eager to try the product they don’t even wait for it to mature. They cut off buds that aren’t ripe and dry them out fast. I’ve heard of people putting buds in the microwave because they couldn’t wait for them to dry. If taste, aroma and maximum potency is important to you then you want to cure your buds and not just dry them.
The First Steps: Preparations must be made well before curing begins. The experienced grower harvests his crop when 50% – 80% of the pistils have turned color. If you have grown out the strain before you have a good idea when they will be ready. Don’t forget to flush! Remember – the growing medium and the plants themselves store some of the nutrients you have given them. This will give a nasty taste if you harvest without clearing it out. Excessive nutrients will also make the buds hard to burn. This can be done by changing the solution and using only plain water. Some growers will change the solution twice because the rockwool or grow rocks may hold a little. With soil you need to change to plain water at least a week and preferably two weeks before harvest depending on how much soil in each pot. Don’t use slow release fertilizers because they are very hard to clear out.
Note: Outdoor farmers who need to use slow release can time it and use just liquid fertilizers toward the end.
So by now you have harvested right at the peak. You cleared out the nutrients beforehand and you have fragrant, spicy highly potent buds you want to preserve.
Curing The Crop
Immediately after the harvest comes the cure. The reasons for curing and not just quick drying your crop are to make the herb sweet smelling and increase the quality of smoke. You want it mild not harsh and you want a good smell and flavor. After all that work don’t ruin it with a too quick cure. A good “proper” cure lasts for from 3 to 8 weeks but satisfying results can be had in two weeks or so. Some growers cure their bud for years! The idea is to remove the water slowly enough to let biological processes take place that convert the sugars and starches into harmless and flavorful compounds. Sugar or starch will give a harsh smoke that hurts the lungs. Plants need sugars to live on and they produce them from fertilizer and sunlight.
This curing process also breaks down some of the chlorophyll which gives herb it’s green color. Too much chlorophyll gives an unwanted leafy vegetable taste. Your main enemy when you are curing is mold. After pot is dried it’s not very susceptible to mold but you have to maintain a certain level of humidity to let the curing process do it’s work. The way you control humidity is by controlling how much ventilation you allow. You want some ventilation but not too much. Too much and it dries out without curing properly, too little ventilation and you may get mold. If you see or smell the slightest sign of mold you must immediately stop the cure and let it dry out. If mold is unchecked it can destroy your crop in short order. Mold can be detected by sight and smell. It looks white usually and will be fuzzy. If you see it in one part you can be sure the spores are all over so you may as well let it dry. Mold also has an odor which is always nasty. Never never smoke herb that has mold on it.
You want to avoid light and heat at all times with your crop after it has been harvested. Light will destroy it and temperatures over about 80°F (26.6°C) are bad. The best place to store it is in the freezer or fridge. If that’s not practical a cool dry dark place will do. You need an enclosure to put your crop in for the cure. Depending on the size of you crop you can use a cardboard box, a closet or an unused room. With the cardboard box you want to hang the plants from a string. Don’t just dump everything into the box because the plants on the bottom won’t get enough air and may turn moldy. Many growers put string across the open top of a box and tape the ends to the outside. They then would crisscross several strings and attach the plants with twist ties. Make sure the box is tall enough for your plants. If it’s not tall enough you can cut the plant in half or even cut off each branch and hang it in the box. The plants or branches should be loose and have some space between it and the next. It doesn’t take a lot of space just as long as air can circulate.
With a closet you do the same thing. You might want to put nails or thumbtacks in the walls for the strings or the clothes hanger bar may be enough. If you are using a whole room you need to set up something to keep the plants hanging upside down off the floor. The first few days you allow more ventilation and as the plants get dryer you allow less. In the box leave the top off, with the closet leave the door open and if you use the whole room leave the door open and use a fan to blow air in. After one or two days you will have lost a good bit of moisture and you can begin to restrict air flow.
Put a section of newspaper over the top not quite covering the whole top of the cardboard box. As the cure progressed cover the top more and more. As soon as the leaves began to get stiff cover the top completely. They still got a little air because the newspaper was not airtight. With a closet after a day or two close the door all except for a couple inches. As the cure progresses and the plants get drier, close the door completely. Almost all closets have cracks around the door that air can come through. If you have a very large closet treat it like a room. When using a whole room to cure, after a day or two of letting the fan blow air in, close the door part way. With the room cure it’s a good idea to have a fan inside moving the air around and another fan in the doorway blowing fresh air in.
Watch the plants very closely to see how fast they are drying. As soon as you notice a little bit of stiffness to the stems they have lost probably 50% of their moisture. When the leaves start to get a little bit crisp you have lost most of the excess moisture and you must restrict ventilation some more. Using a whole room at this point you turn off the fan blowing air in but you leave the door open a little. You never cut off ventilation completely because mold is a threat right up until the end. The leaves should start to get a little crisp after a week or two. If it happens sooner you may be using too much ventilation and should cut back.
Along about this time you should notice a very nice smell. This is the curing smell and it smells a little like baking bread along with a piney or fruity or skunky smell from the pot. This is the nice smell you want your herb to have. If you notice the least bit of a nasty or rotten smell it is probably mold and you need to check very closely. After the leaves start to get a little stiff and you have restricted the air flow it takes anywhere from a week to 6 week more to finish it. When to stop is up to you. You might want to decide by the color of the herb. It gets less green as it goes along. Buds will retain the green color longer than will the leaves. Buds may still be green at the end of the cure but not quite as bright a shade of green.
You will be the proud possessor of a stash of sweet smoking, good tasting buds without the harshness of fresh cured smoke.