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Strive for Post-Harvest Success: Part 1

The term “post-harvest” refers to anything that happens to a cannabis plant once it’s cut and removed from the cultivation area.

This stage of production is as critical as the cultivation process. If not done correctly, it’s possible to ruin the previous four months of work in just a few days.

Avoid this worst-case scenario by following these five tips for post-harvest success:

1. Have sufficient space to dry

For start-ups, so much attention is paid to planning cultivation capacity that drying becomes an afterthought. If post-harvest planning is left until the last minute, it’s unlikely that a proper drying facility can be designed and built while the first crop is actively growing.

Several factors should influence the amount of space that a facility needs to dry its cannabis flower. Mostly, it comes down to the part of the plant that will be dried. Will you hang-dry the entire plant or just the branches? Or will you wet-trim the flowers and only dry the manicured buds?

For greenhouse and indoor cultivators, allot the equivalent of 25% of your flower room area for drying. For example, if you will be harvesting a 1,000 square foot grow room, make sure that your drying space is at least 250 square feet.

2. Make sure you can get there from here

Transporting harvested plants to the processing area can present some unique challenges. The goal is to avoid contaminating the plant through excessive touching or exposure to the elements.

For operations that wet trim their product before drying, plants need to remain turgid, so the transportation process can’t allow plants to wilt on the journey or while they’re waiting to be trimmed. This requires close attention to timing.

For indoor growers, there isn’t much space for post-harvest activities in the cultivation area. The most efficient grow rooms utilize rolling benches with just one floating aisle, so there isn’t much room for bucking machines (equipment that removes the flower from the stem) or trim machines (equipment that removes the leaflets from the flower). The best option is to pack harvested plants inside large, covered bins and transport them to a processing area.

Greenhouse growers have more workable space at the cultivation site. If not in the growing zone, then certainly in the headhouse. If possible, greenhouse operators should perform as much post-harvest processing in the greenhouse as possible. If mobile bucking and trim machines can be stationed in the zone to be harvested, all that needs to be transported is trimmed flower that’s ready to be dried. Again, plastic-covered bins work well for this purpose.

3. Strike a balance between quality and automation

Craft-quality flower is usually hand-trimmed, but if you want to go this route, plan on hiring lots of people. On average, one employee can hand-trim about one pound of dry cannabis in an 8-hour shift. If you’re harvesting more than 100 pounds at one time, you’re going to need a lot of help!

Automated trim machines can lessen the need for a substantial trim crew, and the largest units can process over 100 pounds in an 8-hour shift. The tradeoff is that the buds may not look perfect, and some trichome loss should be expected as the flowers tumble around inside of the machine. Trim machines can process either wet or dry flower.

A good compromise between quality and labor is to perform two harvests per crop. The first harvest removes the “cream of the crop” and is hand-trimmed and sold as premium flower. The second harvest removes everything else, and it’s trimmed by machine. This allows the grower to offer craft-quality flower while keeping the size of the trim crew under control.

4. Be vigilant about environmental conditions

Drying too fast removes all the moisture from a plant before the chlorophyll has had a chance to break down. This can result in a grassy taste and harsh smoke.

Drying too slow can impart a musty smell to the finished product and result in potential mold contamination.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for the 60’s. Maintain the atmosphere at 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit and about 60-65 relative humidity. Under these conditions, you can expect a crop to dry in about 10-14 days.

If the dry room is packed, it’s ok to start the first 24-36 hours with a higher temperature and lower humidity to remove a lot of moisture at once. But after about two days, revert to the ideal setpoints.

5. Freeze dry your buds

For the ultimate in craft quality flower, consider freeze-drying your product. This novel method of drying saves space and time, and it eliminates the need for drying rooms.

Once the product is trimmed, it’s placed in a walk-freezer for a brief period before being placed into a freeze-drying machine. This process rapidly removes moisture from the buds while leaving most of the cannabinoids intact, allowing the grower to complete the drying process in just 24 hours.

The resulting product smells amazing, and the finished buds are the same size and color as the harvested fresh flower. For growers looking to preserve the integrity of their terpenes and stand out from the crowd, freeze-dried cannabis is worth investigating.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Strive for Post-Harvest Success,” where I’ll offer tips for curing, packaging, and storing dry cannabis flowers.

Ryan DouglasRyan Douglas

Ryan Douglas

Ryan Douglas helps businesses cultivate a profitable future in the cannabis industry. He is the founder of Ryan Douglas Cultivation, LLC and author of From Seed to Success: How to Launch a Great Cannabis Cultivation Business in Record TimeRyan has worked in commercial horticulture for 25 years and specializes in legal cannabis start-ups.

Before entering the cannabis industry, Ryan spent 15 years as a commercial greenhouse grower of ornamental and edible crops, growing up to 600,000 plants annually. As Master Grower from 2013 to 2016, he directed cultivation for Tweed Inc., the flagship subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation. Ryan now offers cultivation advisory services to cannabis operators worldwide, and he can be reached through his website, douglascultivation.com.

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