Harvest Daze II: Drying and Curing Our Cannabis at the Crack of Dawn

Harvest Daze II: Drying and Curing Our Cannabis at the Crack of Dawn

by Nikki and Swami
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CULTURE
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"These days, we get up at 4AM, when it is pitch-black outside, to get to the garden before dawn. It is a truly magical experience, harvesting under the stars with the moon rising."

Photo © Jim Olive, courtesy of Swami Select

Harvest is in full swing. The culmination of months of planning, preparation, and parenting of the plants is at hand. We’ve watched the flowers appear, develop, and mature since August. The fullness of the buds increases daily, and their effulgent aroma permeates the air. Before we cut the first cannabis flowers last week, we performed a prayer ceremony honoring Ganja Ma, the Goddess of Cannabis, thanking her for a beautiful and bountiful harvest. 

Our gardening team has demonstrated great spirit throughout the season. Colin, Kevin, and Adam have known each other since high school in Colorado, and we have been friends with them for over 10 years. Cole, another friend and world traveler, is back for his third harvest with us. Each one seems to know what to do without really being told. They are born farmers.

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Photo © Jim Olive, courtesy of Swami Select

These days, we get up at 4AM, when it is pitch-black outside, to get to the garden before dawn. It is a truly magical experience, harvesting under the stars with the moon rising. The point is to cut the plants before first light. The Girls produce cannabinoids and terpenes all night long to protect themselves from mold and mildew. They exude them with pheromones, not unlike body odor, to attract beneficial insects and drive away the bad ones during the day. So the peak saturation of potency is in the two hours before first light.

In order to get a jump on the pre-dawn harvest, we park two 16-foot trailers next to the Sri Yantra Garden fence the night before. In the morning, the first thing I do is start up “Hank” the tractor to let the diesel engine warm up, so that once the trailer is loaded with flower we can make a quick getaway to the drying facility. At the garden, I can see by the several headlamps bopping around that Colin is already cutting the zip ties on the bamboo trellis around the Hindu cultivar (strain) we are going to harvest. Adam, Cole and Kevin are busy placing a large sheet of clear plastic on the ground next to the first Girl we’ll cut. I join Colin to pull out the bamboo sticks and cut the green tie-tapes holding up the weight of the plants’ numerous branches. 

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Photo by Sarah Johnson, courtesy of Swami Select

Once clear, I start at the bottom of the plant and, with a sharp downward thrust, pull the whole branch off the main trunk. “It’s all in the wrist!” as they say. Each branch is handed to one of the guys, who then places it on the plastic tarp. Everyone is bustling around in an atmosphere of focused efficiency. In a rush, each tarp starts filling up with the branches from one or two Girls at a time, and then the tarp is carried to the trailer; the trailer can hold three tarps without crushing the ones on the bottom.

I hop up on Hank, and drive the short way to the drying facility, with headlights guiding us through the dark. The plastic tarps are unloaded and put on the ground among the towering Doug Fir trees, where we have previously stretched taut ropes and ratchet straps. On the straps, we hang the cannabis branches for “big leafing,” meaning the removal of large fan leaves so air can circulate better while drying. Then, I quickly drive Hank back to the garden for a refill, and everyone scurries around doing their part to bring in the last load of the session before first light. When all the Girls we selected for the day are cut and hung outside, daylight is just beginning to bathe the farm with warmth. Time for breakfast!!

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Photo © Jim Olive, courtesy of Swami Select

While Nikki and the guys “big leaf” the branches from the morning's cutting, I make pancakes or oatmeal and lots of fresh coffee. [“I must say, Swami’s pancakes are world famous” - Nikki). After sharing a leisurely meal, everyone joins in removing the yellow, brown, and big green or purple fan leaves from the cannabis branches hung under the trees in the shade. The fresh juicy bulbous flowers glisten with crystals, and smell outrageously divine. The team chants New Age work songs as they ceremoniously carry the weighty sheaves into the spacious facility, where Nikki and I are ready to hang them on the nylon nets. Typically, we are done before noon.

One of the most important parts of cannabis cultivation is determining the exact moment to harvest each plant, in order to capture the optimum potency. Each farmer has his or her method of deciding exactly which day to to harvest which plant. Some look at trichomes with a 60x mini-scope and try to count the clear, cloudy, and amber-colored proportions, often cutting when there’s upwards of 30% amber trichomes. Others look at the color and dryness of the long hairs, also known as “pistils,” and cut when they are dry and brown. Some people just know when their Girls are ready to come in. “You feel it in your shoulders,” we like to say.

The way I go about deciding which plant to take is a rather mystical endeavor. My technique is to “ask” each plant if she wants to come in the next day, or stay a few days longer. Through the art and science of Kinesiology, I use muscle testing to receive an answer from the plant. A firm muscle response means “affirmative,” while a weak one is a “negative.” If she answers “Yes! I want to come in,” then she will be harvested the next day. If she says “NO,” then I will leave her to be cut another day.

The day before cutting the second round of harvest, we remove the dried branches hanging off the nets in the drying facility, and place them into open-ended brown paper sacks. Now, they have to continue their full dry-and-cure in the secure storage shed. Fortunately, the outside humidity has been between 30% to 67%, which is ideal, as it means the flowers will continue to dry naturally, and we won’t have to continue running the dehumidifiers (aka dee-hoos).

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Photo © Jim Olive, courtesy of Swami Select

Cutting, drying, and curing are some of the more mysterious parts of cannabis culture. There is a difference between the “drying” and the “curing” phases of the harvest process. We dry in a wooden structure, and it takes about one to week to two weeks if the outside humidity is 50% or less, and the inside humidity is 60%. It’s best if the interior drying temperature is approximately 50° to 60°F. 

The curing process begins once the flowers are dry and placed in a closed — but not quite air-tight — container while they are waiting to be trimmed. Curing continues after the manicured flower is placed in our ultra-violet glass jars, where they retain their freshness until enjoyment. Many farmers store their trimmed bud in “turkey bags” (clear plastic bags for oven roasting), which then go inside black contractor bags and into a big plastic tub.

A special thing about drying and curing cannabis here in the mountains is that the prevailing winds blow across the Pacific Ocean for 6,000 miles, and then this ocean air is filtered by 37 miles of Redwoods and Douglas Fir trees. In other words, the culmination makes for the purest, cleanest air in the world; these fresh breezes provide the perfect curing environment for our crops. 

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Photo © Jim Olive, courtesy of Swami Select

After a break and lunch, we return to the garden to complete the process of taking down the trellises and cleaning up the tie-tape and the zip-tie pieces that held it all together. We usually harvest for three days in a row, and then wait a week for those batches to dry before we have drying space to do it again. During this time we’ll be “bucking” — cutting the dried branches down into 4”-6” pieces that we wrap in Kraft paper, to continue their cure before they go off to the trimmer.

It’s a new regime this year. We can no longer trim or package the flowers here ourselves on the ranch, since we don’t have a commercially-permitted building. So, like parents sending their toddlers off to kindergarten, we’ll wrap them up and send them off to the processing hub to be manicured and placed gently — all steps by-hand — into glass jars. Then, they will be ready to offer their inspirational effects to the lucky people who are destined to smoke these precious buds.

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Photo by Sarah Johnson

For more on Swami Select, visit their website here


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Known as "The Cannabis Couple," Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitanya have been proudly promoting cannabis use for decades. As cannabis cultivators in Mendocino County, the heart of the legendary "Emerald Triangle" region, Nikki and Swami are behind the brand Swami Select, producing taste and pure flowers grown in full sun with organic methods, plus that extra little Swami touch.


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