How do I know when my cannabis plants are ready for harvesting?

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Q:

I’m a first-time cannabis grower and my first plants are starting to flower, but I’m not sure exactly sure when I’m supposed to harvest them. How do I know my buds are ready? Also, is there anything I can do with the fan leaves after harvest, or do I just throw them out?

A:

There are two common methods to determine when a cannabis flower is ready for harvest: with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass or microscope.

With the naked eye, the grower should closely watch his or her flowers until the pistols (little white hair protruding from the flowers) start turning red or brown.

As the cannabis flower reaches maturity, more of the pistols will become red or brown. A good rule of thumb is to harvest when just over 50 per cent of the pistols have become red or brown in color. The naked eye method is good for beginners who do not have access to a magnifying glass or microscope.

If possible, use a magnifying glass or microscope to determine the appropriate time to harvest your cannabis flowers. A magnifying glass or microscope allow a gardener to observe the trichomes (the small mushroom-like glands that contain most of the cannabinoids).

As the cannabis flowers start to ripen, the trichomes will turn from translucent to milky, and then, eventually, to an amber color.

For most hybrid plants, the peak THC percentages will be when the trichomes are mostly milky in color. In other words, most growers wait until most of the trichomes have become milky to harvest.

However, some growers like to harvest earlier (when trichomes have developed, but are still translucent) which produces a more energetic high for most users or later (when the majority of the trichomes have turned amber) which produces a more lethargic high for most users.

Having a magnifying glass or microscope allows the grower to determine when to harvest more accurately depending on his or her personal preferences. All in all, a magnifying glass or microscope is a valuable tool for harvesting and an investment worth making.

To answer the second part of your question regarding the fan leaves, you can make extracts from them. The large fan leaves contain cannabiniods, albeit at a far less concentration than the flowers.

Due to the low percentage of cannabinoids they contain, many growers dispose of the fan leaves. Personally, I like to make a coconut oil extract with my fan leaves. I do this by heating water and coconut oil in a large pot (I use one of my water bath canning pots).

The amount of water and coconut oil will vary depending on the amount of fan leaves you have. After the coconut oil has melted completely in the water, add the fan leaves, and cook over low heat for three to five hours.

You do not want to heavily boil the leaves; a light simmer is sufficient. After cooking, strain the water/coconut oil mixture through cheese cloth to remove the leaf material. The remaining mixture can be placed in the refrigerator for separation.

After 12 hours, the coconut oil will separate from the water and become hard. Discard the water and scrape the bottom of the hardened coconut oil to remove any sludge left by the plant material.

The resulting cannabis-infused coconut oil can be used for making capsules, baked goods, or as a topical ointment.

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Written by Lee G Lyzit
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Lee G. Lyzit has been involved in the medical cannabis industry for nearly 15 years. His passion for natural healing drives him to learn as much as he can about the miraculous cannabis plant. Lee breeds his own strains of cannabis to create concentrated glycerine and coconut oil extracts. Aside from cannabis education and consumption, Lee enjoys playing music, gardening, hiking, and cross-country skiing. Full Bio