10/3/18: The Harvest (Part 3): More Tough Decisions

We are now three weeks into 2018’s cannabis harvest!  It’s been a difficult harvest so far; my Blueberry Muffins flowered early, my Sherbets never seemed to fully mature, and bud rot is quickly spreading through my prized Blackberry Fire plant.  I’ve had to make a lot of tough choices in the last few weeks as to when to trim; if I cut too early than I will have immature trichomes, wait too long and I will lose everything to bud rot.  I made the second of what is usually three cuts last week, leaving the small-to-medium size buds another week to mature.  Rain was on the forecast and the already humid air has helped the spreading bud rot wreck havoc on my garden; I expected to come home to a wasteland of rotten plants, what I got was somewhat unexpected…

Lollipops, Beautiful Lollipops!

The rain never came!  Yes, there is still a lingering humidity in the air and yes, the bud rot is still spreading but for the most part, the buds are staying strong!  I expected a disaster, instead I was rewarded with a garden of lollipops.

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an example of a “lollipop” bud

Lollipop buds are mature, medium-to-large buds that are spread apart across a branch and have had most of their fan fallen off.  I usually focus on colas (large structures made of several buds growing closely together) for my first cut and then lollipops for my second and third cuts.  They are the easiest type of bud to hand-trim and because I harvest them later than colas, their trichomes will usually be a bit more mature than the colas I take down on my first pass.

Long story short; the colas and large buds I cut down in the first two weeks will be used for processing (tincture, oils, etc) while these lollipop buds are gonna be for smoking.

Not So Fast!  A Look Under the Microscope…

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this bud may look mature, but a closer look tells a different story

With a newfound sense of confidence that this harvest will actually produce some quality, mature buds I decided to put one of my lollipops under the microscope to see how their trichomes are coming along.  If they are clear they are immature, if they are cloudy they are on their way, if they are amber than they have peaked; mine were mostly clear with hints of cloudiness, these trichomes are not mature.

More Tough Choices

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The Gorilla Glue (left) has been severely pruned to prevent the spread of the rot, the Blackberry Fire is now gone

I am a bit shocked that the trichomes are still clear; these plants are mostly indica-dominant and indica usually matures by now.   The bud rot is still spreading, but it seems to have slowed down a bit.  I’ve decided to harvest every bud that is in immediate risk of rotting and pruned away as many of the branches and leaves that I could to prevent the plants from holding on to too much moisture.  The Blackberry Fire plant, which has had the worst of the bud rot, is taken down completely leaving just my two Sherbet plants (which seem to have the highest tolerance of the rot) and the Gorilla Glue (which is holding up fairly well too).

A quick look at my drying rack and I conservatively estimate that I’ve harvested at least 24 ounces of cannabis so far; this is enough for 8 32-ounce bottles of my tincture recipe and enough to last me and my loved ones for the next year and allow my to add 4 bottles to my “tincture bank”.  Weighing the pros and cons of everything, I make one more difficult decision this year; I have decided to risk giving the rest of my lollipops one more week to mature.

9/27/18: The Harvest (Part 2): The Bud-Rot Spreads

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our well-used trimming station

We are now coming up to the end of September, have done our primary trim of the plants, and are closely watching them incase the dreaded bud-rot take them over.  I did my first trim a week ago where I targeted the buds that were showing signs of bud rot as well as the largest colas that were not likely to grow much more.

I don’t like to harvest all of my plants so early, before the trichomes fully mature, but bud-rot can spread very fast and I’d rather have immature cannabis than no cannabis whatsoever.  In the end I decided to compromise; I would cut the largest buds and the buds at the most risk for rot, then give the plants one more feeding to maximize the growth potential for the buds that I left on the plant for the second cutting, and then give those plants 2 weeks to flush out their nutrients and grow some more.  So; did my plan work?

The Bud-Rot Spreads: More Early Harvesting

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the bud-rot continues to spread on the Blackberry Fire

In a word; no.  My plan to give the plants two weeks to recover has completely failed as the bud-rot continues to spread.  This is one more disappointment in what has been a disappointing year in general.  In the past, such loses would paralyze my mind as I stare helplessly at the dying plants but I have learned a valuable lesson; no bud is sacred, no bud is perfect, just keep cutting.

Memories of 2015: When a Blue Dream becomes a Brown Nightmare

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These Blue Dream Plants were salvable, but the clock ran out

Whenever I see bud rot spread through a plant I am reminded of 2015; the year I lost two gorgeous Blue Dream plants in a matter of a week.  The plants (my only Blue Dream that year) had been growing robustly throughout the year and by mid-September had become the largest and healthiest plants I’d ever seen!  At the time I was hand-trimming all of my plants and was determined to harvest every single bud at their peak.  Because of my love for indica and because indica tends to mature sooner than sativa, I focused all of my attention to harvesting them to their very last bud.  I had turned my back on the two Blue Dream plants for a week; by the time I was done with my indica, bud rot had spread throughout the Blue Dreams and I lost about 90% of them.  What should have been my largest harvest to date ended up being one of my smallest, largely because I tried to do things perfectly.

A Change of Attitude, a Change of Equipment

Green Fever

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large buds like these can distort your thinking, do not fall for “green fever”!

California is currently going through a “green rush” just as it went through a “gold rush” 170 years ago; just as the miners of yesteryear would often succumb to “gold fever”, many growers today face the risk of “green fever”.  Green fever is a direct result of decades of prohibition; because of it’s historical scarcity there are generations of enthusiasts who can be afflicted with green fever at the sight of even a modest harvest.  Symptoms of green fever include hogging the pipe or bong during a smoking session, demanding cannabis hookups when not offered, and farmers who ironically ruin their harvest by trying to make everything perfect.  There is only known cure for green fever; being in control of your own bountiful harvest.

A New Hero Emerges: The Bonsai Hero Testarossa

Being an outdoor cannabis fame is a two-edged sword; one edge is that nature takes care of most of the hard work, the other edge is that we have no control over nature and it can bring a premature end to a harvest.  We can’t control the weather, but we can control the tools and strategies we use to harvest.

Before the “brown nightmare” of 2015 I had always used spring loaded hand trimmers to trim my cannabis.  Hand provide a superior trim and are what experts recommend for a professional trim, dry, and cure that results in a superior bud for smoking.  The cannabis industry is filled with “gatekeepers” will make it seem that using any “spinning trimmer” or motorized trimmer will knock off so many trichomes that your bud becomes un-smokable, thus triggering a case of “green fever” in which the home grower unintentionally sacrifices half their crop trying to get that perfect, instagrammable bud.

2015 taught me that quantity can be just as important as quality and that the backyard cannabis grower needs to learn to balance the two in order to maximize their harvest.  Realizing that one guy with a pair of hand trimmers will not be able to do a full harvest on the random weekends they have off and most of my cannabis gets processed anyways, I did my research and settled on a pair of Bonsai Hero Testarossas and they have become my main trimmers ever since.  With these in hand I am able to quickly and confidently trim my buds and salvage any buds at risk of the rot; 2015 will never happen again.

About Those Nutrients…

I made my first round of trimming in the middle of September and made the controversial decision to give my plants one more round of feeding before I do a second cutting.  Why is this controversial?  Generally, it takes two weeks for a plant to “flush” itself of nutrients; I went with the assumption that the plants would last another two weeks before they start rotting and figured the risk was worth the reward.  Needless to say, it wasn’t; the rot kicked in sooner than expected and I had to move my secondary trim up a week accordingly.  After doing online research it appears that flushing is optional, that it can be done in a week, and that the worst effects of an influshed plant tends to be the flavor when smoked; with this knowledge I feel comfortable using these buds for personal consumption but will separate them from what I give to my friends and loved ones.

Winding Down the Harvest

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The drying rack slowly fills up

With the secondary trimming out of the way and the bud-rot moving in on my plants, it looks like this year’s harvest is already winding down.  Assuming the plants survive the week, I will be doing the final trimming the first week of October and move onto processing after that.  Every year this process goes by quicker and quicker; each year I wonder where it all went.

9/19/18: The Harvest (part 1)

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One last look at the plants before we start cutting, notice the bud rot in the upper left corner

After months of waiting, worrying, and speculating it’s finally here; the harvest!  Harvest season generally runs from mid-September to the end of October; it’s is perfectly nestled between Labor Day and Halloween and is in many ways it’s own holiday season for cannabis farmers.  It can be a bittersweet time; we’ve spent all of this energy growing these beautiful plants just to cut them down and dry them out but the end products are absolutely worth it.  Welcome to the cannabis harvest of 2018!

Knowing When to Harvest: Trichomes and Bud Rot

Most outdoor cannabis growers will tell you to start harvesting your indica in the middle of September and your sativa after that, usually early October.  While this rule generally works quite well, there are a few other factors to consider.

Mature Trichomes

Trichomes are the things that makes cannabis flowers sticky and the things that contain the cannibinoids and terpenes that produce the effects we desire.  To the naked eye, trichomes look almost like a sugar coating around the flower; under a microscope (or strong magnifying glass) they look like little mushrooms.

Trichomes start forming during the flowering stage and initially appear translucent (see-through), then (by early September) become opaque, and finally mature into an amber-brown color (usually by the middle or end of September).   A cannabis grower will ideally harvest the plants when he trichomes are mature (amber) but there are times where we may have to harvest early.

A Race Against Time: Rotting Buds

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The cola on the left has turned completely, the one on the right has a little bit that can be salvaged.

Cannabis is an annual plant; it’s natural life cycle takes place within one year and then it dies.  In an ideal growing situation the trichomes will fully mature a few weeks before the plant begins to turn and we will be able to harvest large, healthy flowers with beautiful, mature trichomes; this year, nature has decided to be less than ideal and some of my buds are already showing signs of turning!  Because a rotten bud is useless, it makes more sense to harvest a flower with immature trichomes that is about to turn than to wait it out hoping that the flower somehow survives.  Cannabis growing and harvesting is never perfect; we will have to compromise.

Progressive Trimming: Maximize Your Yield

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An ergonomic, standing trimming station in the shape with iPad for entertainment

There are many approaches to harvesting and preparing your cannabis flowers; some methods will produce exceptional flowers for smoking while others can maximize your yield at the expense of quality.  Considering that I only have 4 plants that have fully matured this year and that I plan on converting most of the flowers into tincture, I have decided to focus on a progressive trim that will maximize my harvest.

Focus on the Big, Mature Colas

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3 trimmed colas;    top: a mature cola picked at its peak   middle: a cola that started to turn but was salvaged  bottom: a cola that has turned and is not salvageable 

A progressive trim is when you harvest any buds at risk of rotting as well as the biggest, most mature colas first and then let the smaller buds on the plant grow and mature for a week or two.   Bud rot can spread quickly so it’s important to get rid of flowers that have been effected and to harvest any flowers that are at risk immediately.  Large, mature colas are also at risk and can often weigh down or even break branches which means smaller buds will have a harder time getting sunlight or nutrients.  Remove the rotting buds, harvest any buds at risk or rot, and harvest any big colas that are weighing down branches.

Let the Smaller Buds Grow

With all of the biggest buds gone, the smaller buds will receive more nutrients and sunlight and will often go through a late growth spurt that will increase your yield.  Since I have so few plants this year, I can take my time in the trimming and processing and not feel the need to rush things.  Normally, I would only give the plants a week to recover from their first trim before I move on to the second; instead, I have decided to give the plants one more meal of Earth Juice’s “Bloom” formula and allow them two weeks to grow and let the plant digest and flush itself from the nutrients.

About those Blueberry Muffins…

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while these buds never matured into dense colas suitable for smoking, they did produce enough trichomes to be processed into tincture, feco, hash, butter, or oil

My Gorilla Glue, Blackberry Fire, and Sherbet plants have all matured into strong, productive plants and are all going through the process described above; my Blueberry Muffin plants, sadly, flowered too early and didn’t mature properly.  All is not lost, however, the immature buds still have trichomes on them which means that they are salvageable!  Rather than attempting a progressive harvest, I pulled the plants out of the ground, trimmed around the “fluff buds” and was able to get enough for at least one batch of tincture!  Sadly, the buds will not be suitable for smoking but it’s a relief to know that the plants are not a total loss.

On the Drying Rack

Cannabis growers with a large number of crops or growers who want to focus on buds for smoking will often cut large branches off a plant and hang the entire branch up to dry; this method is quick to harvest and the longer drying time (due to moisture in the branches and fan leaves) will produce a superior tasting smoke with a smooth mouth-feel.  Since we are doing a progressive harvest and focusing on producing tincture and feco we have removed the buds from the branches and removed the fan leaves from the buds and will use an herbal drying rack.  The buds will dry on this rack (in a cool, dark place with plenty of ventilation) for two weeks before we begin the curing process; they will be ready to smoke or to be processed in one month.

The Next Step

Because the plants will take two weeks to process their food and regrow their buds and the buds that were trimmed will also take two weeks to dry we have a little bit of down time.  There is a small chance that the plants can turn over the next two weeks and we could lose the rest of the harvest but this is unlikely; the trimming we did will lessen the chance of moisture getting caught in the plant and the forecast is not predicting rain.

 

9/11/18: Eve of the Harvest

It’s been 5 months since we purchased our clones and planted them in the ground and we are at the most exciting time for a cannabis grower; the eve of the harvest!  So, how are our plants doing?

Blueberry Muffins: A Total Loss?

a blueberry muffin plant that flowered too early

Compare the dying leaves of the BlueBerry Muffin to the healthier plants in the background.

In our last blog post a the end of July we noted that our Blueberry Muffins had flowered early and were at risk of maturing prematurely; a month later our predictions turned out to be true.

The buds of the plant matured too quickly and never had the chance to harden into the dense colas or popcorn buds we are looking for; instead they are a fluffy, sticky mess unsuitable for turning into smoking material.  With such little material to work with, this will be salvaged by processing it into either tincture or hash.

Sherbet: Back from the Dead?

A flower from the Sherbet strain

This plant flowered early a month ago, but this fresh bud proves that a plant can bounce back!

Another strain, Sherbet, was also exhibiting the signs of premature flowering managed to reverse itself back into vegetative growth.  I’ve read that it’s possible for flowering plants to reverse themselves if the amount of light increases or if they get enough nitrogen in their diet.

The buds of the Sherbet plants are maturing into textbook examples of “popcorn” buds and should turn into easy to trim “lollipops” within a few weeks.  Sadly; the fan leaves of the Sherbet plants are not developing into the brilliant purple and violet hues advertised on Darkheart Nursery’s website but who knows what the next few weeks will bring?

Gorilla Glue and Blackberry Fire: Saving the Harvest

The colas of a Gorilla Glue Plant

These large colas are what every grower wants to see this time of year.

While it’s been a difficult year so far experimenting with new strains and dealing with premature flowering, two plants have grown into the large bush-like structures that we are hoping for.

The Gorilla Glue is a little small for a sativa while Blackberry Fire is quite massive for an indica and both have developed the large colas every grower desires.  Once their fan leaves begin to die down, trimming these plants will be a breeze and sure to be productive.

The Calm Before the Storm

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One last look at the family before the harvest

Harvest season typically begins in the middle of September and, depending on the strains and the number of plants, can last up until early November.  For amateur cannabis growers who can only harvest in their spare time it can be a hectic and stressful month as we race against time and try to balance our work, personal lives and our love of growing and processing cannabis.  Take this time to relax in your garden, take some pictures of these beautiful plants that you are about to cut down, and start thinking about next year’s grow.

 

 

 

7/30/18: Planting Early vs Planting Late

Hello everyone, CannaDan here with our mid-summer update!  We are officially passed the summer solstice (which happened on June 21st); the days are getting shorter which means our plants’ vegetative growth will slow down as they prepare for flowering.  This is the slowest period of the growth cycle for the backyard cannabis grower where the only tasks are watering, feeding, and keeping an eye out for fungus, molds, or bugs.  So, how’s the garden doing?

The Good: Gorilla Glue and Blackberry Fire

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The Gorilla Glue (far left) and Blackberry Fire (2nd from left) are massive and dwarf the Blueberry Muffin Plants and Sherbet to the right

The Gorilla Glue (GG#4) and Blackberry Fire are continuing their vegetative growth and have added a foot to their height in the last month!  At 6′ tall, the Gorilla Glue is not particularly tall for a sativa but still dominates this indica-heavy garden.  Coming in just a few inches under the Gorilla Glue, Blackberry Fire is proving itself to be an impressive indica that may end up being the biggest outdoor indica this grower has produced.  Both plants have a fresh, light green tone to their leaves and they are both only showing the first signs of flowering; I expect both to be impressive producers in a few months.

The Bad: Sherbet

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The Sherbet is slowing down in growth; it may grow a bit more but will unlikely be a big producer

Sherbet is a 50-50, indica-sativa hybrid that is a cross between Girl Scout Cookies and Pink Panties; it is described by Darkheart Nursery as an intermediately difficult plant to grow with moderate yields and the pictures on their website display fist-sized colas framed with the most gorgeous, purple-tinted fan leaves ever seen in the cannabis kingdom.  My plants as of the end of July?  Both victims of early flowering and stunted growth; their leaves and stems are a turning a dark green color and may not develop much more

The Ugly: Blueberry Muffin

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This Blueberry Muffin was planted a month earlier than recommended; it’s vegetative growth is stunted, it has already flowered, and is most likely going to be a complete loss

Blueberry Muffin is an indica-dominant strain that Darkheart describes, just like Sherbet, as an intermediately difficult plant to grow with moderate yields.   In their “Growing Tips” section, Darkheart states:

“This strain can show signs of pre-flower but as long as it stays at at least a 15 hr light cycle during vegetation growers should have no problem. Essentially if it is planted outdoors after June 1st it will require no additional lighting and harvest can be expected September 15- Oct 1st.”

These Blueberry Muffins were planted in late April, a month before Darkheart’s recommendation; they began flowering two months prematurely and have peaked two months before harvest.  A little reading goes a long way; had this grower bothered to read the plant’s description and waited a month to plant than he might have had one of the best smelling gardens ever.

Planting Early vs Planting Late; Greenhouse vs No Greenhouse

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A fellow gardener’s Blueberry Muffin that was planted after June 1st; planting late helps prevent early flowering but at the expense of extra time for vegetative growth

A fellow cannabis grower who grows in a similar environment who happens to be growing the same exact strains as I am invited me to their garden and their results are the polar opposite of mine!  My Gorilla Glue and Blackberry Fire have grown very large while my Blueberry Muffin and Sherbet have stunted and peaked early; my neighbors Gorilla Glue and Blackberry Fire are relatively underdeveloped while their Blueberry Muffin and Sherbet both look healthy with just the first signs of flowering.  The difference?   I planted mine in in late April whereas my neighbor planted theirs in late May; I used a greenhouse and my neighbor did not.

Lesson learned: Know Your Strain!

Cannabis plants switch from vegetative growth to flowering based on the amount of light they receive; having said that, different strains are more “eager” to flower than others. These strains, such as Blueberry Muffin and Sherbet, can be triggered into early flowering under lowlight conditions such as an extended period of cloudy days or possibly the relative shade of a greenhouse; planting them outdoors, as Darkheart suggests, should be held off until after early June.  I have always planted early as it ensures the plant will get maximum vegetative growth and the strains that I have picked in the past have always done well under those circumstances; I most likely will not risk my harvest with an “eager to flower” strain in the future but now I know to take the warnings seriously.