Monday August 23, 2021
By Trevor Ross
Drying and curing are often mentioned in the same breath, and may sometimes sound as if they are one collective step. It’s true that both drying and curing remove moisture from your harvested product, but they are two distinct processes.
Drying is critical to prevent mold from overtaking your harvest, and curing your cannabis preserves it to last longer. It also minimizes the acrid flavor of plant residue, instead letting the strain’s unique flavor profile shine through.
Let’s look more closely at these crucial steps in the growing process.
A Brief Word About Trimming Cannabis
The last thing you’ll do before drying and curing your weed is to harvest it — to trim the buds from the plant. This is done one of two ways: wet trimming, and dry trimming. And your choice will affect your drying process.
Wet trimming is the choice to remove the buds from as much living plant matter as possible before drying; whereas dry trimming is the choice to trim and dry whole branches, then remove the buds between drying and curing.
Keeping branches and leaves attached will keep more moisture connected to your buds. If your space is already very dry (because of high altitude, desert climates, or even a dry midwest winter), then consider trimming at the branch, and even letting some leaves remain for the buds to draw moisture from. If your drying room is already a little humid (60% or higher) you may want to trim buds while they are still living and “wet.”
Drying too slowly leaves the door open for mold and mildew to establish, but drying too quickly can leave your buds brittle and bitter.
Drying ~1-2 Weeks
Most growers plot out the growing process from seed to harvest, but ready or not, the drying process begins as soon as you separate the buds or branches from the living plant, so have a plan in place.
If wet trimming, collect your buds in a drying rack. Remember to turn them at regular intervals to prevent them from flattening out, or becoming misshapen. This will also ensure a more even drying process, similar to flipping food on a grill.
If dry trimming, clip whole branches and hang them in a dry space. The goal is to get as much air as possible flowing around each piece. A warm room may be good for this as long as it is not also humid. Humidity below 50% should be fine.
How long your buds take to dry depends on several factors, most prominently the size of said buds, but expect this stage to take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks. It can be an agonizing wait if you’re excited to spark up, but rushing these final steps will jeopardize the months of work you’ve already put in.
Buds will lose a little size and a lot of weight (mostly from water). Branches will feel much lighter as well. After a week or so, try to bend them. If they’re still flexible, then they’re still moist. Once they snap like twigs, and the buds are spongy and sticky, they’re ready to cure.
Curing ~4 weeks
Curing does not involve airing your cannabis out, but rather locking air in — or strictly controlling its exposure to air.
Collect the dried buds in a wide-mouthed jar. Mason jars used for canning are perfect for this. If they have rubber seals with clamping lids, even better. Fill the jar about ¾ full so there’s still some air inside. Many growers also drop a digital hydrometer into the jar to track moisture levels (many will also show temperature as well). A humidity level between 60-65% is ideal for curing cannabis.
The limited breathing space allows aerobic bacteria to feed on the remaining sugars and chlorophyll in the buds, eliminating the bitter taste they would otherwise carry. Eliminating this sugar also helps preserve your buds as there is no “food” for mold or decomposing bacteria to then feed on.
Open the jars at least once a day early in the curing process. This allows any gases from the aerobic bacteria to be released, and fresh air to be replaced, before again being sealed away from any airborne mold or mildew. Aptly, this process is called “burping.” Do this at least once a day for the first two weeks, after which, burping once or twice a week should suffice.
While your buds are breathing, don’t be shy about taking them out and checking for mold. If you find signs of any, throw out the affected buds. It’s disappointing, but mold spreads fast, and it’s not worth trying to salvage every bud if it risks infecting your whole harvest.
Store your curing jars in a cool, dark space. Light, particularly sunlight, may dry them too quickly or unevenly. Properly cured buds will turn a darker green without going brown, and feel dry and sticky without becoming crisp or brittle. When done correctly, curing also preserves seeds.
Finally, patient growers will also be rewarded with a more potent product. In the days immediately following harvest, the cells in the green buds are still alive, and THC synthesis will continue until the plant’s cells are well and truly dried.
If you’ve just harvested, feel free to smoke one of your fresh, green buds. They will likely taste bitter, and make you cough more, but it is still smokeable. Tasting the product before you dry and cure it will help illustrate the benefits of the drying and curing processes, and even help you find your preferred duration. Some growers cure their cannabis for up to six months.
Growing cannabis is a holistic process, with decisions made at every step that affect the final product, and the path you take to get there. Try to enjoy the wait as your cannabis refines into its final form.
Are drying and curing the same thing?
No. Though these two steps are related, they are distinct steps. Put simply, drying is about taking moisture out, and curing is about locking desirable elements in.
How long should I dry my cannabis?
One to two weeks, or longer if your bud requires it. Different environments will affect the humidity of your bud and drying space, which will affect how long the drying process should be. See above for a more thorough explanation.
What is the best length for curing cannabis?
Unfortunately, there is no set answer. A standard starting point is about 4 weeks, but the ultimate duration is whatever you decide. To further complicate matters, the ideal curing time will differ from plant to plant, harvest to harvest. Similar to aging wine, there is a “sweet spot” in the curing process where doing it any longer might not be worth it. Through trial and error, you can get a feel for what approximate duration you prefer.
Can I skip drying or curing my cannabis?
Technically, you can skip both and still have a smokable product, but you might not want to. Not only will you lose out on terpenes, but it may also affect your cannabinoid production and potency. The taste will likely be more bitter and difficult to smoke, but it’s doable. As mentioned, you’d be ruining a lot of hard work that went into making your cannabis as desirable as possible, when all that’s required is some simple techniques and a little patience. That extra time will pay off.
What are your tips for drying and curing cannabis? Share in the comments!