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Guides, News

Preparing for an Outdoor Harvest

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

November 24, 2023 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Preparing for an Outdoor Harvest

With fall well underway, many growers are getting ready to harvest their cannabis cards. When it comes to harvests, you better have a plan ready, or things will get really hectic real quick.

Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be. With a little due diligence and some planning, you can make harvesting your outdoor cannabis plants a breeze. Our easy-to-follow guide will teach you the tips you need to properly harvest, dry, and cure your cannabis plants.

When to Harvest Outdoor Cannabis Plants 

If you’re trying to figure out when to harvest outdoor cannabis plants, chances are, you’re new to growing cannabis. That’s okay, in fact, that is great news! Everyone has to start somewhere. The more people growing cannabis, the better.

Knowing the right time to harvest outdoor cannabis plants is trickier than most might think. When cannabis plants are grown outdoors, you do not control the light cycle. You are at the mercy of nature and its unexpected cloudy and overcast day — not to mention fluctuations in temperature. All that said, as a general outline, October is the month when most people harvest cannabis.

A lot of people go by the Harvest Moon as the time to harvest cannabis, but this isn’t always the best practice. Before the days of electricity and lights, farmers relied on the bright light of the Harvest Moon to harvest their crops. Today, we know that the cannabis plant itself will let you know when it’s ready.

Here are some general signs your cannabis plant is harvest-ready:

  • The majority of hairs on the plant are red or brown
  • The plant’s buds are covered in trichomes
  • You start to notice signs of leaves turning yellow and falling.

Generally, you want to harvest cannabis plants before the first freeze. That first freeze can be detrimental, causing all kinds of damage, even killing cannabis plants. Of course, some warmer climates allow you to keep your plants outside through December.

Some strains, such as Haze and GMO, require longer flowering times of 11-16 weeks. The best way to know when to harvest your outdoor cannabis plants is by having a microscope on hand. Take a small sample of your bud and look at it. How far along is the trichome development is. How many Amber dots do you see, and how far along is the Amber inside of the trichomes? Once you have the desired optimal range, harvest your outdoor crop anytime from mid-October.

How to Harvest Outdoor Cannabis Plants

When it’s time to harvest your cannabis plants, make sure to have some good snips on hand. Cannabis plants can be quite tough. Harvesting is the easy part.

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Chop your plants down, leaving about 12 inches of stalk in the ground. This will make removing the old plant roots easier. Make sure you have a designated space to hang your cannabis plants to dry. This is also the point at which you will want to decide if you’ll be wet or dry trimming.

Many people believe dry trimming helps preserve the flavor of your harvest. If you’re going to dry trim, hang them as you cut them down. However, if you’re planning on wet trimming now’s the time to put in your work before you hang your plants to dry.

Tips for Harvesting, Drying, Storing Your Outdoor Harvest

A little preparation can save you a lot of extra work.

While your plants are growing and in their final few weeks outdoors, start mildly defoliating them. Remove dying yellow leaves and large fan leaves. Start pulling leaves off of the bottom, working your way up. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can be done a little each day. By the time harvest day arrives, it is completely okay to have nothing more than big branches of buds with minimal leaf coverage.

Harvesting & Drying

Cut the plant a few inches from the ground. Then, slice the plant stalk a good portion of the way up to help encourage drying. Hang your plants in a dark, cool place with low humidity and good ventilation. Preferably a place that does not have direct air blowing at your plants or excessive heat. Both of these can create conditions that destroy terpenes and degrade cannabinoids. Hang your plants upside down, with the split stalk at the top. Give them 7 to 10 days of dry time or until the stems snap.

The Cure

At this point, it’s time to cure your buds. If your harvest is relatively small, you can cure your buds using glass mason jars. Fill the jars loosely with buds about 3/4 of the way and put the lid on it. Open the lids up at least once daily to allow fresh air exchange. Leaving the lids off for 15 to 30 minutes at a time can help prevent molding and mildew, allowing your buds to dry more thoroughly.

If you have a large harvest on your hands, turkey bags are the way to go for the cure. Fill the bag about half to 3/4 of the way full and slap a twist tie or rubber band on it. Just like jars, turkey bags will need to be opened daily to allow for fresh air exchange. You can add special humidity packs that will also help your cannabis cure maintain a better level of humidity in its environment.

When curing cannabis, ensure it stays in a dark area, as light can also degrade cannabinoids and terpenes. In as little as 14 days of cure time, your cannabis can be ready to smoke. The amount of time cannabis cures will determine the effects it has. The longer cannabis cures, the heavier and more sedating the buzz typically becomes. Once your cannabis is cured, it can be stored in an airtight container and placed in a dark space for storage. Using a seal-a-meal to vacuum seal your cured harvest is a great way to store it for later.

As you grow, with each cycle you will begin to learn your preferred way of doing things. I urge you to read the plethora of cultivation articles available here in Veriheal’s Cannabis Central — there, you’ll find more information on harvesting, drying, curing, and cultivation in general.

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