Seed to Store
From seed to store; the cannabis life cycle
Depending on species, growing method and conditions, it can take up to 40 weeks from the time a seed is planted until you’re able to bust up some bud to enjoy it with your buds. It goes a little something like this:
The seed’s genetic makeup and environmental variables are the two most important factors that dictate how well a plant will grow. These factors determine the plant’s sex, its level of pest resistance, the levels of cannabinoids it will produce, and more! All seeds have the same basic requirements for germination and seedling growth, but strong healthy parents, proper breeding practices, and quality care will yield strong seeds that germinate well. Strong seeds? Strong, healthy plants. Seeds stored under adverse conditions (hot, cold, humid)? Likely, they’ll germinate slowly and have a higher rate of failure. It’s also important to know that the vast majority of growers don’t grow from seed, but from propagated clippings of female plants. A big, glorious clone army of flowering, babealicious plants!
During the 2-4 week vegetation stage of growing (between propagation and flowering), consistency (or lack of consistency!) of light available will impact the sex and the size of the plant. Alteration of these factors during the vegetative stage is a tool for experimenting with creating differentiated plant traits. However consistency is the best way to ensure an outcome that is replicable and uniform.
In the northern hemisphere, cannabis normally flowers in the fall, when nights grow longer and days shorter. In general, cannabis is a short-day plant that will initiate flowering when it receives uninterrupted 12-hour darkness cycles in a 24-hour photoperiod, and is highly dependent on consistency of light pattern. Altering the photoperiod to an even 12 hours, day and night – the classic Equinox ratio of daylight: dark – will induce visible signs of flowering in 1 to 3 weeks. Also, typically around 2 weeks into the flowering period is when early signs of sex determination become present (females grow pistils, males grow pollen sacs), as well as the emergence of the actual flowers.
When an entire plant or branch is harvested and hung to dry, the transport of fluids within the plant continues, but it does so at a much slower rate. Stomata (plant pores) close soon after harvest, and drying is slowed since little water vapour escapes. Once formed, resin does not move, so it cannot drain into the foliage. Drying the entire plant by hanging it upside down is simply convenient. When stems are left intact, the drying process takes much longer. Like fruit or other plants, the outer cells are the first to dry, but when the drying and curing processes occur properly, plants should dry evenly and thoroughly.
Removing leaves and large stems will speed the drying process since less fluid will be attached to the flower, however moisture content within the “dried” flower could become uneven. If flower buds are dried too quickly, chlorophyll and other pigments stay trapped within the plant’s tissue, making it burn unevenly and with less taste. Who wants that? Nobody. Drying releases 75 percent or more of a freshly harvested plant into water vapour and other gases, and if dried slowly the moisture evaporates evenly into the air, leaving us with a uniformly dry flower with minimal cannabinoid decomposition. When flowers are dried slowly they also retain terpenes, giving the best flavour and effect. Hanging entire plants to dry – though more labour intensive – allows the flower to dry over a period of 5 to 14 days. Just like in consumption, a slow approach is often best!
How does a grower know when the cannabis is dry enough? A gentle squeeze after a few days will give a clear indication of moisture content, but the real telltale is the stem. If the stem is bent, it will break rather than fold if it’s ready to cure.
While not essential, curing after drying the cannabis will help remove any remaining chlorophyll and other pigments that have accumulated in the flower buds. The curing process is a longer drying period with a very low temperature, to preserve even more terpenes and cannabinoids. Curing also adds to the drying process by retaining a layer of moisture that allows for even burn and a smoother taste to the flower. Well-cured flower buds are soft and pliable but dry inside.
Cannabis likes to stay away from light and oxygen to keep its freshness, so immediate packaging is key once the buds are dry – dry cannabis oxidizes when over exposed to oxygen, which breaks down the THC molecules, converting them to cannabinol. Plastic sacks are commonly used in packaging and storing, and once packed they’re pretty much left alone so as not to disturb or bruise the buds. Bruising the buds degrades the resin glands. Ideally, a rigid, dark glass container protects your flower best from extra movement and abrasion. Similar to other dried plant materials, storing in a dry, cool, dark place will preserve your aroma, taste, and cannabinoid content.
For growers, who package and store high volumes of cannabis long-term (say, 6-48 months), more effort will be required to keep it fresh. Vacuum sealing is the best option; it removes the oxygen from an airtight storage container, slowing down any biodegradation to a virtual halt. Properly sealed, a vacuum-packed batch of flower will stay as good as the day it was packaged!