October is the universal cannabis harvest month. Farmers who grow earlier, Afghanica-based strains often start in September, but their harvest window always continues into October. Farmers who grow later strains that go into November may not start early but are always underway by now.
Farmers are bringing in the crop; it is a tedious process made joyful by an ethos of celebration. Harvesting any crop is hard work — cannabis is no exception. The body begins to ache from repetitions of the same act, cutting branches, hanging branches on lines, taking branches off of lines into paper or plastic.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is bad this time of year; farmers use cannabis to soothe the aches and pains. Sampling is always part of the magic, but increasingly tinctures, salves and other topical uses are finding their way into the pharmacopeia (check out how to use medicated salves).
Harvest is a long, grueling period in which the farmer has to make inevitable choices about where effort is best spent. This pressure is vast; crops tend to ripen all at once and then become overripe if they are not brought in. There is more work than can be done in any given day; cannabis keeps us grounded in the moment, preventing us from being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
Cannabis should be hung to dry, like other herbs. It should not be wet trimmed except to remove contamination from powdery mildew, botrytis, budworms or mite damage. Leaving the flower intact preserves turpines and adds to the overall curing process so that when trimming does occur (by hand, never by machine) the release of bouquet is unmistakable.
How We Hang
We hang cannabis on galvanized baling wire strung and pulled tight, between five and seven strings (each about 6” apart) to a row with rows hung somewhere between 16” and 24” apart depended upon how long you want to hack the branches and how much space you have. You can cram them together if you don’t have space, spread them out some if you do.
Basically, you make a series of 2×4 ladders and attach 5-7 strings to each step of the ladder. A floor and ceiling runner provides nailers for the ladders, and the far wall provides the other mounts for eyehooks. This way you have an aisle down the side with space to walk in between each set of racks.
Air Circulation and Humidity for Drying
Fans are good for air movement; you want to avoid damp, stagnant air in your drying process. They say ideal is 60% humidity at 60 degrees. On-grid folks run dehumidifiers to control the process. Off-grid is often done with wood heat and can be a very finicky process akin to an art form. Too much hot and dry is just as bad as too much cool and damp. The sweet spot is where you want to be; enough air movement much not too much, enough warmth but not too much, enough moisture but not too much.
This year is such a dry season that we’re having a hard time with cannabis over-drying. To prevent drying from happening too fast, we harvest in waves so that we’re bringing fresh material in every day. This slows the drying for other material to a more appropriate pace. Balance again is key; too much moist cannabis too often and drying won’t happen fast enough (or at all in humid weather).
We harvest in waves because we want each section of the plant to be exposed to full sunlight. This also helps us to stay ahead of powdery mildew by taking off layers of the plant and bringing into full light and air movement the next layer.
Quality Control — Removing Contamination
When we process cannabis, we strive to achieve a clean product which means we maintain very close Quality Assesment/Quality Control (QAQC) procedures. Each step of the process provides an opportunity to remove contaminants and secure the future quality of the medicine. It is inevitable that contamination will occur in some portion of the crop; how we deal with this contamination defines the quality of what we produce.
Careful segregation of powdery mildew, trimming it off and then dipping the flowers in a water and food-grade peroxide solution has been shown to be helpful in removing potential contamination. These types of policies are the things we will need to decide on as the industry moves forward; what are the thresholds for clean medicine, what are our standards and procedures for producing as such? There is a long-overdue conversation about what things are safe to be used on cannabis and how we can set standards for the use of said products.
Happy October from HappyDay Farms!