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When Is the Right Time to Harvest Cannabis?

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For new growers, harvest time can either make or break all your efforts in getting your marijuana crop ready for consumption. You’ve invested money in buying the best LED Grow Lights and setting up your indoor garden in the best grow boxes.  Now you want to make sure your harvest is tasty and powerful.  You need to know what to look for in your plants.

Harvest time – pick the perfect buds!

(Updated August 2020)

Though fairly easy with auto-flowering varieties, you need to look carefully to pick the right moment for that perfect high. Let’s look at this from before you even plant a seed.  Here are the seeds and a couple of tools we recommend as best for the job.

What effect do you want?

The cannabis plant develops different cannabinoids at certain times of its lifecycle. The bit that gets you high is THC, but not everyone wants to be so stoned they can’t sit down so it may pay to sit back a couple of weeks for CBD to form in the bud – this gives a relaxing sensation and dials back the THC effect. CBD develops at the later stages of the lifecycle so it is a case of watching the trichomes to see just when the CBD develops.

Choosing the right seeds

Before even planting the grow, you should be thinking of what you want at harvest time. The first thing you should look for is feminized plants. Like humans, there are two sexes of cannabis plants. Male plants are of no use unless you want seeds, and females produce those succulent buds. This is why you should consider feminized seeds that minimize the risk of growing male plants and maximize females.  Even some feminized seeds can produce both male and female traits so watch out for those!

Auto-flowering varieties like the Gorilla Glue Autoflower will make your whole grow easier. Auto-flowering plants don’t need a changing light pattern and will ripen to perfection after just eight weeks of flowering. Just read the directions, plant the seeds, and off you go. This can save you a lot of the effort of the grow and you just won’t need to examine the individual plants to see the high you seek.

Feminized plants like the Girl Scout Cookies variety need to be worked on through the growth cycle. Where a complete beginner may choose the auto-flower plant, the feminized Girl Scout Cookies plant will need to have its lighting changed when you transition from the vegetative growth stage to the flowering phase. (We have you covered in our article about The Best Lights for a Budget and our explanation of lighting requirements here.) Another great feminized seed variety is the Super Silver Haze, which has a big punch of THC without any real couch-lock.

In each case, you will wait around eight weeks from the bud’s formation until it is time to harvest. Every seed that you can buy will have some information on different harvest times online. These will show you what to look for when it comes to picking your buds.

How to Look At the Buds

Before we go into what you should look for in a bud that’s ready let’s look at how you should look for it.

cannabis plant anatomy detail
Trichomes are the tiny glands on the flower that produce the resin and add the different cannabinoid compounds to it. They change color as they do so, but being so small you will need the right equipment to look at them. Pistils also change color and can be the first indicator that harvest time is here.

At the cheapest end of the spectrum, you should at least consider a jeweler’s loupe that will allow you to see the trichomes in detail with minimal effort. These can cost less than $15 and could be a great little investment.

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The next cost-step up is the magnifying glass. Magnifying glasses cost a little more than the jeweler’s loupe but you can zoom them in.

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If you have $80+ to spend then consider a digital microscope that can magnify what you see by up to 200X the original size. You will have to hook this up to your laptop but you will be able to see the image in perfect detail and make the best judgment as to when your flowers are ready.

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What to Look For?

The first thing you should look for is the redness of the pistils, which are small hair-like structures on the bud. Some people pick the flowers as soon as the pistils change, and in most cases, this will give you an energetic, buzzing high with no couch lock as the THC is peaking and the CBD and other cannabinoids have yet to emerge. Perhaps you need to function through the day after taking some, but some people like to chill a bit more.

The pistils

pistils on cannabis plantWhere the CBD has formed in quantity the pistils will be all red and that is the right moment for you to pick for a chilled, relaxed buzz from the plant. Too much CBD and you may be laid flat in your chair!

This takes the harvest from being a science to an art. You may pick a bud at different times of flowering to see where it takes you. From there you can experience for yourself just when the plant is ready for you. That could be very rewarding as even in states where you can buy it legally at a dispensary you won’t get the choice of when it is picked. They often just offer different varieties, not growth stages.

Don’t Leave It Too Long

pistils turned brown
Brown Pistils–late to harvest

It is important at this stage NOT to just leave the plant until it is completely brown as much of the THC and other compounds will have degraded. It also makes smoking the bud a poor experience, with some describing an over-ripe bud as “an overpowering and unpleasant flavor.”.

Another important thing to look for is when the resin is at its maximum. This will be the case with an over-ripe plant but before that stage, you should look for the trichomes to be fat and sometimes deformed as they put the resin out.

An art, not a science!

As we say above you will learn just when a cannabis plant’s lifecycle is right for you. This is to say that growing your own is both a science – judging from sight when the time is right – and an art where you must get the feel for what the pistils and trichomes are showing you, corresponding to that high.

In learning to look for the signs and effects, so you should learn to nail the art of growing using the science of assessing when to harvest your plants to perfection.

MaryJane Farmer’s Advice

Don’t stress too much about the harvest time.  If you have done a good job of growing, then your buds will be full and tasty and won’t care if you are a few days late or early in harvesting.  The most important thing you can do is relax and let your plants grow.  Here is our free ebook to help you as you go.

Comment, suggest, criticize or question in the comment area below.  Send me your photos:MaryJane@420Beginner.com

Last update on 2023-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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