Its a question we have been asked many times over the decades, when is the best time to harvest cannabis? Seed banks in general often tend to state the earliest recommended harvest time for a particular variety, but we know from experience that lots of customers have their own ideas on when to harvest their home grown cannabis.
Over the last 30 years we have had lots of time to look at the various opinions and theories on this topic. The answer is not as simple as we would like, and since the emergence of Autoflowering cannabis there are now even more ideas on the best moment to harvest your home grown cannabis.
Early-harvested cannabis is not quite as popular as it used to be a couple of decades ago. Many connoisseur smokers feel that commercial growers ruin their crop by harvesting early instead of waiting an extra week or two for the crop to fully mature and develop a more ‘rounded’ effect. Fans of early harvested crops claim that the smoke offers a unique energetic ‘buzz’ with a special cerebral impact. An early harvested crop can be done when
- The pistils are all still white, and all the new pistils being produced are also still white. The pistils are the easily identified hairs that come out of the calyx, as the plant ages the pistils turn from white to golden brown.
- The trichomes are predominantly clear. The trichomes are the small resin glands that cover the buds, they contain the cannabinoids which get us high. The trichomes are initially clear and colourless, but as the cannabis plant approaches maturity the trichomes tend to change from clear to become increasingly cloudy. As they are left longer the trichomes start to become increasingly amber coloured. Many home growers that prefer early-harvested cannabis will chop their cannabis plants down while the trichomes are clear, before they become cloudy.
Many fans of early harvested cannabis will often grow specific varieties which they feel offer the best ‘early harvest high’, this is a question of personal taste. Often they will have grown the variety and smoked samples harvested at early, normal and late dates. So they will know that the variety should be harvested after a certain number of weeks, when the trichomes are mostly clear and before the pistils have started to run brown.
With early-harvested cannabis plants it is often obvious to the grower that the buds are still developing and growing. An early harvest often means that you will lose some of the harvest potential, but if you like early-harvested cannabis then its a price worth paying.
Harvest at normal time
Probably most home growers these days look to harvest their crop when it is nether too early nor too late. Often they will look for the point when the trichomes have started to transition from clear to cloudy but before the trichomes have started to become amber. For many growers this gives them a cannabis harvest with a rounded and enjoyable high, neither too heavy nor too cerebral. Experienced growers will be able to notice subtle differences on plant feeding behaviour to judge harvest point. For example, hydro growers will notice when a plant is starting to slow down on the feed by looking at the electrical conductivity (‘EC’) of the feed solution, that can be a signal to harvest.
For many growers a good time to harvest is when they see around 50%-75% of the pistils (hairs) are brown or when they see most of the trichomes have developed a milky (cloudy) appearance.
Late-harvested home grown cannabis is probably becoming more popular these days. There are a few reasons for this trend:
- late harvested crops are often heavier because they have been allowed an extra week or two to finish, these allows the buds to get heavier, more plentiful and more resinous
- if you prefer the extra sedation and strength of late harvested cannabis you often have to grow it yourself. ‘Street weed’ is usually harvested at the earliest opportunity because dealers like to produce their crops as quickly as they can caring little for the optimal harvest point. So if you prefer a fully matured cannabis crop then you probably need to grow it yourself.
Late-harvested cannabis often tends to show a large proportion of the trichomes with amber/red colourations. Pistils are often all brown. The smoke from a late harvest cannabis can often be narcotically strong with a heavy feeling which may make you feel like relaxing on the couch and doing very little. For some recreational/medical growers this is perfect. Sometimes fans of indica varieties will prefer late-harvested cannabis.
Late harvested crops will often look somewhat autumnal, with hints of yellow, brown and red in the leaves and general plant appearance.
Autoflowering harvest theories
Autoflowering cannabis varieties are now just as popular as traditional photoperiod cannabis varieties and some growers have their own theories about harvesting. Some growers prefer to judge the harvest point by the leaves, when the leaves start to fade from green to yellow they feel this is the signal to harvest the cannabis buds. Many auto growers feel that there are significant extra harvest quantities available if the plants can be left longer, so we often see auto growers leaving their plants for an extra week or two beyond the normal harvest date. Some auto growers routinely leave their plants longer than the normal 10-11 weeks simply to get bigger harvests of heavy-hitting cannabis. However the idea of harvesting your plants according to leaf colour is not a 100% reliable method since many growers use Nitrogen rich feeds all the way through growth which can keep the fan leaves greener than nature intended. So you will need to use your own judgement and experience in addition to your eyes.
Now the complicated stuff
Cannabis is a plant that, just like the grower, doesn’t always follow the rules. So you will need to apply your own experience to the timing of the cannabis harvest. Some varieties, such as Frisian Dew, may show trichomes that are pink and are difficult to judge whether they have gone cloudy or amber.
Other times you may have a plant where the trichomes appear to stay clear and don’t change until after harvest. Some plants will show trichomes that seem to go from clear to amber without the cloudy stage.
Its a question of looking at a few different factors (pistil colour, trichomes appearance, plant general appearance, leaf colour, feeding characteristics etc) to understand when to harvest your cannabis. Experience will help, as will knowledge of the particular variety that you are growing.
The best advice we can give to any home grower is to make some tests and find out what YOU prefer – early, middle or late harvested cannabis. If you are growing your own cannabis it is produced more-or-less for free, you just need to decide when it is best to harvest. One of the beauties of home growing is that you choose the genetics and the timing of the harvest. Not all varieties show the same characteristics regarding trichome appearance or pistil colour, so you may prefer to harvest your next crop in 3 stages (early, medium and late) to make a smoke test. This will allow you to gauge your own future preferences. And remember its your home grow, your passion, your cannabis. Home growing gives you the chance to produce cannabis of far superior quality than anything you will buy on the streets, so next time you grow a plant have a think about making your own smoke test on buds harvested at different times. You never know, it could change the way you think about harvesting your future crops.