How to Harvest and Dry CBD-Rich Hemp

There’s nothing more beautiful and aromatic than a field of flowering hemp. If you leave your hemp in the field for too long, however, all your hard work will go to waste.

You can harvest your hemp in a variety of different ways, and there are just as many methods of drying and curing your crop. Learn the best ways to harvest, dry, and cure your hemp, and find out why it’s essential to properly test your crop once it’s ready for sale.

How can you tell when hemp is ready to harvest?

Hemp is an annual plant. Therefore, you need to plant new hemp seeds with every crop, and in most parts of the country, hemp is harvested once per year in October.

If you happen to live in Southern California or Florida, you might be able to harvest as many as three hemp crops every year. For most of us, however, hemp is planted in June or July and harvested 90-120 days later.

Hemp plants that are cultivated indoors can be cultivated at any time of year. Keep detailed records to determine the ideal harvest date of indoor-grown hemp.

The best way to ensure your plants are ready for harvest is to inspect them directly. Harvestable hemp plants should feature:

  • Thick, resinous buds
  • Fan leaves that are starting to yellow
  • Darker bud coloration
  • Buds that are firm and solid
  • Stigma that are mostly dry and brown

Your hemp is ready for harvest. Now what?

Can you harvest hemp by hand?

The short answer? Absolutely, yes.

No matter how alluring flowering hemp might smell, nobody wants to spend all day out in a field cutting down plants. Depending on your circumstances, however, harvesting hemp by hand might be the right call.

Hemp intended for smoking or CBD extraction can become damaged and lose potency when harvested using industrial machinery. Harvesting by hand ensures that each bud is pampered and achieves its ultimate purpose undamaged.

Harvesting machines, called combines, are expensive. If you’re running a small-scale hemp cultivation operation, hand-harvesting might also be the most economical option.

If you’re new to cultivating hemp, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Harvesting by hand is labor-intensive, and if you don’t complete this task quickly enough, your plants might test too high for THC.

Can you harvest hemp with a combine?

It’s only feasible to harvest large-scale hemp crops with combine harvesters. Even so, using a combine to harvest hemp can damage your buds considerably.

Combine harvesting is most ideal when you’re cultivating hemp for its fiber. A combine can even damage hemp seeds, so choose wisely as you weigh the efficiency of this method against its potential downsides.

How do you dry out hemp?

Hemp should have a moisture content of approximately 14-15% at the end of the drying process. There’s more than one way to purge excess moisture from your buds, however.

Manual drying

Hanging buds on strings and allowing them to try in the open air is one of the oldest tricks in the book. All you really need to practice this manual drying technique is:

  • A large, open area
  • A line of thin ropes passing from one wall to another at head height

More advanced forms of manual drying, however, deliver better results. Drying plants in the open air inside a barn or warehouse, for instance, can oxidize the cannabinoids and terpenes present in hemp, reducing its potency and harming its taste and aroma.

As a result, some growers choose to dry their hemp in giant freezers. In most cases, hemp drying freezers make use of alternating periods of high and low pressure. Ice crystals form on buds before they’re sucked away by near-vacuum conditions.

Drying machines

You can also use industrial machinery to dry your hemp. Rotary hemp dryers, for instance, work similarly to clothes dryers. You place wet hemp inside, and a combination of spinning and heat dries it out.

Belt dryers usually consist of a series of conveyor belts assembled inside a shipping container. Hemp is passed from one belt to another in temperatures exceeding 100°F, leading to rapid removal of excess moisture.

Forced air dryers are the simplest hemp drying machines. Place your hemp inside a container, and a propane-driven fan pushes hot air through your buds at a rate of tens of thousands of cubic feet per minute.

Manual vs. machine drying

Let’s summarize the pros and cons of drying buds manually versus using machine dryers:

  • Manual drying takes longer, but it’s gentler on your buds
  • Machines can dry your hemp in a day, but they often reduce the potency of your hemp
  • Hemp freeze-drying chambers pamper your buds the best, but they’re expensive

How long does hemp take to dry?

Manually dried hemp usually reaches the desired 14-15% moisture content within 3-10 days. Dry, well-ventilated drying areas help hemp dry faster. In humid or stuffy environments, hemp takes longer to dry.

Machine-dried hemp usually attains an ideal moisture content within 8-24 hours. If you freeze-dry your hemp, it should contain 14-15% moisture within 2-3 days.

What equipment do you need to harvest hemp?

There are lots of different ways to harvest, dry, and cure hemp. Whichever method you use, however, you’ll need a few universal types of equipment.

Harvesting equipment

  • Agricultural shears
  • Combine harvester

To harvest your hemp, you’ll need to disconnect it from the ground one way or another. Large operations or farms that cultivate hemp for fiber can afford to invest in combines.

Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase enough heavy-duty agricultural shears to properly equip your harvesting team. With shears, you can remove bud-studded hemp tops from their stalks, protecting the cannabinoid-rich resin your plants have worked so hard to produce.

Drying equipment

  • Manual drying equipment such as ropes, fans, dehumidifiers, or freezers
  • Industrial drying machines

Immediately after you harvest your hemp, you’ll need to transport it to an adequate drying facility. If you choose to dry your hemp manually, remember to space your buds appropriately and provide proper ventilation to prevent mold. If you go the mechanical route, consider using the lowest drying temperatures possible to protect your buds.

Curing equipment

  • Large jars, lined plastic totes, or lined bags
  • Industrial curing machine

Once your buds contain 14-15% moisture, you’ll need to remove an additional 2-3% in a sealed environment. There are lots of ways to cure your buds, and some manufacturers even produce industrial curing machines. The basic goal of curing, however, is to seal your buds away for 1-3 weeks while opening your containers occasionally to allow off-gassing.

Packaging equipment

  • Trimming scissors
  • Trimming machine

Does your hemp contain 11-12% moisture and smell divine? Then your cure is complete. It’s now time to trim your buds by hand with scissors or a trimming machine.

While it’s labor-intensive, manual trimming delivers the best results. Trimming machines can make your buds a mangled mess or reduce their potency.

What do you do once your hemp is dried and cured?

Your buds are trimmed and beautiful. Now, you just need to offload them to a willing buyer. Before you get there, however, you’ll need to test your hemp to ensure that it’s properly potent, not too moist, and free of contaminants.

How much does it cost to test hemp?

Hemp testing varies in cost significantly depending on the types of tests you commission and the analytics lab you work with. Contact CLIP Labs today for up-to-date pricing information.

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