There are plenty of challenges that come along with harvesting such a huge crop, cannabis or not. Commercial operations do tend to be more streamlined than micro-cultivators. A harvest process which is more efficient leads to lower labor costs and a better return on investment.
There are a few standard steps to harvesting cannabis. Every single flower you’ve encountered have been through these basic harvesting stages:
- Large Fan Leaf Removal
- Removing the flowers from the stem
Let’s first talk about how the Fan Leafs are removed. When harvesting cannabis, the goal is to produce a bud that is viable for the market. These buds, at the end of the process, should be tight and only reflect properties that the cannabis consumer enjoys. Large Fan Leaves grow on the stem below the female flowers. There are two processes in which fan leaves are removed. Wet trimming and dry trimming.
Wet trimming is the easier choice. The fan leaves are rich in chlorophyll, so they appear greener. This also means they are easier to locate and remove. Some even wet trim the fan leaves before harvesting (although in most cases, especially in commercial grow operations, this is not the case).
Dry trimming means that the cannabis plant has been hung or placed in a facility in order to dry the plant out before the trimming process. Many consumers agree that this method is preferable because of how it affects the plant’s taste. This is a more difficult process to apply because the fan leaves curl up when dried and are harder to locate while trimming. Not only does this technique require a lot of time and precision, but it has also led to the innovation of cannabis automatic trim machines.
Next, the plants (If their fan leaves were trimmed wet) will go into the drying process. Most plants are cut into more practical and convenient sizes and hung upside down, but some producers decide to leave their plants dry whole. The state of the drying enclosure is also heavily monitored by commercial growers. In order to deliver a quality product, drying rooms are kept at a temperature of 65-75°F and at a humidity level of 45-55%. The drying process usually takes between a week and 10 days and most producers choose to dry their cannabis in complete darkness as it is believed that light damages cannabinoids and terpenes. A trade trick to tell if the cannabis plant is finished with the drying process is if you bend the plant’s stem and it cracks.
Once the product is dried, it is ready to be de-stemmed. This is a very time-consuming process for producers who do not use automated trimming technology. It is traditionally performed with a pair of garden scissors where the flower is cut off of the stem at its base. In order to improve efficiency, many commercial growers opt for machines that can de-stem the plant automatically. Most machines that execute these tasks operate by feeding the stem into one end, and by pulling the stem through its hardware, the flowers are removed. After the flowers are removed it’s time to sort the cannabis.
The sorting process is fairly simple. Flowers are separated by size so the producer can process their stock in a more efficient manner. It also aids in the marketability of the product. Most commercial harvesting procedures include an automated sorting machine which greatly optimizes the time it takes to sort the flowers. From there, it’s time to start trimming the cannabis.
Trimming is a slow process that can be tedious and time-consuming. Even with the removal of large fan leaves, the cannabis plant still retains some unuseable leaf material. Many producers continue to trim by hand, but this means that their labour costs will increase. The more hands on deck these producers have trimming cannabis, the higher their cost of production. This is why most commercial producers choose to automate their trimming process. It dramatically cuts down on cost while still producing a quality, polished product.
The next step in the commercial harvesting process is curing. This is where the flower becomes more flavorful, potent, odorous and its shelf life is extended. The dried and trimmed flowers are placed in containers and stored in an air conditioned, dark place. These buds are tended to daily. A fun term in the industry for opening the containers in order to circulate the air/inspect the cannabis is “burping.” Each container is burped once or twice daily for the first two weeks of the curing process. After the initial burping is complete, the containers are still opened daily or every other day for the next few months. Once properly cured, the product is ready for market!
Not every licensed producer follows the exact same harvesting process. Smaller producers lean towards a more manual processing manner and bigger, more commercial producers include more tech and automation. One thing that is for sure is that every producer is constantly trying to optimize their product’s potency and aroma.
We hope that this blog shed some light on the harvesting of commercial cannabis and demystified some of the behind-the-scenes workings of the industry for you! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to NatureMed and we’re more than happy to answer you!