A quick note about withering pistils
You will regularly read forum posts from novice marijuana plant growers referring to harvesting a crop when the hairs are at 50% of a color change to either brown or red, but that is not always an accurate read. If you notice a color change in Calyx hairs it can mean a readiness of the plant, but it does not have to mean that. Now if you notice those same Calyx hairs withering, that typically means the plant is very close to complete readiness. The hair color shows that the ripening process is happening, but is not always a good indicator on just how ripe the cannabis plant really is. You can harvest Sativa strains when 90% of the hairs have changed colors and Indica strains when only 60% of the hairs have changed and still have them both fully ripe. The withering is a much more tell-tale sign of ripeness. You must rely on the color of the trichome to indicate ripeness above anything else.
The entire process: from flushing to curing
We would recommend that before you harvest, you flush your marijuana plants with clear water or start a reverse-osmosis filter 2-3 weeks before harvesting. If you can't filter, then use tap water with a clearing agent. This will allow most toxic chemicals to flush out of the soil after 10 days.
Plant's moisture level before cutting
Before you cut down your crop, you may want to let the soil dry out some. You do not want to starve your marijuana plants for water, but closer to how dry your plants should be when they need more water. This will help you speed up your drying time.
24 hour period without light
We recommend that you give your plants a 24 hour period without any light just before harvesting to help your plant produce more resin. With potency being lowest during the full heat of midday, darkness will allow your marijuana plants to show their full potential. You will notice some marijuana plants respond incredibly well to this, such as those in the White family (like White Widow or White Queen). Even if your plants do not respond favorably to where you can see a difference, it does not cause them any harm to try. The only thing it can potentially do is help, so why not, right?
Cutting, trimming and drying 101
Here is the part you have been waiting for! Hopefully you are ready for sticky scissors! You're going to need some good, sharp, trimming scissors for this part. You can usually find varieties with small blades and a comfortable handle at most hardware stores or garden centers. We recommend bonsai scissors for this. Closets and small rooms are usually plenty for personal harvests. Larger crops typically require more room, however. Rope or clothesline that can be strung up across a room will do for your hanging needs, but make sure each end is securely fastened to the wall. The last thing you want is your crop taking a nose dive down to the floor.
You will want to keep your temperature in the range of 70-80°F (21-26.5°C), ideally staying near the bottom or middle of that range. The drying room should also remain dark. Your two biggest enemies to the THC formed on your marijuana plants are UV rays and heat. You will also want a small fan that oscillates. A humidity gauge is recommended, but not essential for smaller crops in dry climates. We would say it is essential for more humid climates or damp basements so it does not increase your drying time or infect your marijuana buds with mold.
The cut down
The way you are supposed to cut down your crop totally depends on the method you chose to grow it. Some growers choose to cut the entire marijuana plant down, only trimming up the biggest leaves, while other growers will cut off single branches. We have even experienced some growers who cut and trim it down in two parts: first the top and then the bottom. We typically do singular branches for smaller crops. You just cut each branch off of the main stem of the plant, taking the time to trim off smaller leaves so they have a quick drying time. We trim off the excess leaf as we go through each branch, helping to cut down on later adjustments. You will sometimes find growers that leave the leaves on the branches to protect the trichomes under each leaf, but we think it makes most sense to do it all as one job. The job becomes much more messy if you try and trim later after the crop has dried, so we try and get everything done in as few steps as possible. (We tried doing if after the dry once, and it will never be a process we repeat!!) We have also found that trimming before drying makes the drying process a bit easier to boot.
You can use paperclips poked through the stems and curled around the clothesline or even clothespins to hang up your branches and colas. You just have to keep in mind that everything needs to be secure as the weight of your marijuana plants is going to be ample.
You can let your marijuana buds hang around for an entire day without air movement so long as you can keep your humidity levels at or below 50%. This allows your buds to dry slow enough to not cause them harm. If you have the humidity too low (30% or below) or you dry your buds too quickly, you will end up with a crunchy and crispy harvest. Starting on day two, we leave a fan in the drying room that does not oscillate to hit the harvest directly. You want air movement around the harvest, just not hitting the plants. You want even drying, and a fan can mess that goal up if it hits the plants. Your goal for humidity should be between 45 and 55%, and we also recommend you carefully move around the plants each day so they dry evenly.
Drying out before curing
In order to cure your harvest, first your buds must be dried out. If you have too much moisture within your marijuana plants that go into jars, you will end up with mold, negating all of your effort thus far. Learning when your marijuana buds are really dry involves a few markers. First you want to make sure it has been at least 5-7 days. This is a good marker usually for curing preparedness. Second try snapping one of the stems that is holding your marijuana buds. If you are able to crisply snap off the stem, that is another good marker that your buds should be dry enough. Finally, you will want to compare the feel of the bud from when you first started drying them. You will notice a distinct difference from soft to hard when they are dried out. If your harvest fits all three of these markers, you are ready for your curing jars!
The overall curing process
If you are storing your marijuana buds for up to one year, clear glass mason jars along with canning lids should do the trick. You can find these at many department stores, hardware stores and supermarkets, no matter where in the world you live. While gently holding the buds, you will want to cut them off of the stems and place it within the jar. Don't put too much force on anything or you will push the glands off of the plants. You will want to pack your marijuana plants gently into your jars without putting too many in to where they get smashed. Once your jars are full and covered, you will want your jars stored in a dark place that stays between 65 and 75°F (18 and 24°C) so you can avoid any damage from heat or light. Every day for the first five days we recommend you open your jars up completely for approximately 15 minutes each day, allowing any excess moisture to escape. Once those five days are complete, you can leave your buds undisturbed until you choose to smoke them. If you smoke them immediately, you will get decreased potency and flavor, but if you wait about two months, you will notice that nearly all varieties have smoothed out to a better product. This product will taste better, give you a better high and be more smooth, and it will stay that way so long as you keep it away from heat or light changes.