Using Trichomes to Identify Cannabis Harvesting Times

Harvest season is quickly approaching. Pleasant fragrances greet you as you walk into your grow room and look around at the results of all your hard work. Fat colas stand majestically among yellowing fan leaves, and you know that you’re almost ready for the big event.

But how can you tell precisely when it’s the best time to harvest? That will require taking a close look at your trichomes. This article will show you how.

What Are Trichomes?

As an herb connoisseur, you probably have a somewhat Pavlovian response when you see a sticky, frosty nug. To the naked eye, trichomes look like a layer of snow or glittering crystals. However, when you look at your buds under a microscope, you’ll notice that this crystalline layer is composed of thousands of mushroom-like protrusions.

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These phallic-looking resin glands are where the plant produces all of the active ingredients in cannabis plants, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. When you liberate the trichomes from the plant matter and collect it with a pollen scraper, you get tasty and potent kief that you can sprinkle on top of a bowl or press into hash.

Using Trichomes to Determine Peak Harvesting Time

The exact time you choose to harvest your cannabis depends on several factors:

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  • your desired effects
  • your preferred flavors
  • the type of strain you’re harvesting
  • peak cannabinoid and terpene production

As cannabis flowers mature, the trichomes turn from clear to milky to a golden amber color.

Clear Trichomes

When you harvest while trichomes are still mostly transparent, the buds will produce more cerebral effects. At this stage, the flowers contain low CBD and CBN levels and will be less sedating. 

Some growers choose to harvest potent indica strains while the trichomes are clearer to avoid the “couch-lock” effect. However, if you’re hoping to produce buds for insomnia or pain relief, you probably want to wait until the trichomes start to become milky or amber. 

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Harvesting your buds earlier will also give them a slightly sharper flavor, which will be better for some strains than others.

Milky Trichomes

Milky trichomes will put the energetic/sedating effects right in the middle of the spectrum. Most balanced hybrid strains harvest well when the trichomes are primarily milky white.

Golden/Amber Trichomes

Most growers wait until the trichomes are at least 30% golden or amber for strong sativas to avoid overwhelming stimulant effects. In general, harvesting when the trichomes are mostly golden or amber allows for more terpene production, giving the buds a more well-rounded flavor. 

When in doubt, harvest your cannabis on the later side. Regardless of how well they’ve been cured, buds that are harvested too early will contain less THC and terpenes, resulting in weaker effects and a hay-like flavor. There’s a saying among Emerald Triangle legacy growers that goes something like this: “When you think it’s time to harvest, wait a few days. After that, wait some more.” 

If you’re really impatient to sample your harvest, you can snip a few test buds from the ends of the colas. They will be more exposed to the light, and the trichomes will be more developed than the buds lower down.

How to Examine Cannabis Trichomes

There are several tools you can use to get a closer look at cannabis trichomes. 

Using a Jeweler’s Loupe

A jeweler’s loupe is the most economical option for viewing trichomes. Jewelers use these handy devices to determine the quality and value of gems. You can buy basic jeweler’s loupes online for as little as $10. Protip: Slip one of these handy devices in your pocket and carry it around to examine other aspects of your grow, such as health conditions and tiny pests.

Looking at Trichomes Under a Microscope

If you happen to have access to a microscope, you can use it to study your trichome development. Today’s digital microscopes are fantastic tools for looking at trichomes. Digital microscopes will project the image on your computer screen and allow you to zoom in and save your favorites in your photo gallery. Gardeners can purchase a simple USB digital microscope for around $30.

Photographing Trichomes

An HD digital camera with a macro function is an excellent tool for examining cannabis trichomes. The added benefit of using a camera is that you’ll have some lovely photos of your buds to share with friends. Protip: Take your photos under natural sunlight and use a tripod to prevent blurring. 

Other Indicators of Cannabis Harvest Time

Around harvest time, other indicators of readiness will tell you to start monitoring trichome color. 

Dropping Fan Leaves

As your cannabis plants approach harvest, they will dedicate more energy and nutrients to the developing buds. As a result, the large fan leaves will begin to turn yellow and fall from the stem. When this happens, you’ll want to start taking a closer look at your buds for signs of maturity.

Shriveled Pistils

Pistils are the reddish hairs you see on your finished buds. Pistils start out as relatively straight white hairs when the flowers first begin to form. As harvest approaches, the pistils will begin to darken and curl inward. When you notice that around 70% of the pistils have darkened, it’s time to start keeping an eye on your trichomes.

Harvesting and Curing

Even if you perfectly time your harvest, you could still end up with subpar buds if you don’t cure them correctly. Studying harvesting and curing methods is a fabulous way to pass time while you’re anxiously awaiting for your buds to be ready. Here are a few book suggestions to get you started:

  • Marijuana Horticulture by Jorge Cervantes
  • Ed Rosenthal’s – Marijuana Grower’s Handbook
  • True Living Organics by the Rev.
  • Greg Green’s Cannabis Grow Bible

Although detailing curing methods is beyond the scope of this article, the basic technique involves drying the buds before placing them into containers to cure with desiccant or specialized Boveda packs. You then store your containers in a cool, dark, and dry area for at least 60 days. You’ll need to open the jars once or twice a day for the first few weeks to let built-up gasses escape.

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