Written by Megan McEntee.
Germination: Cannabis plants start their journey just like any other: with a seed. In order for those seeds to be planted, they need to go through a process called germination. Germination is when the seed sprouts into a seedling, or a baby plant, and therefore is ready to be planted in the soil. Cannabis seeds love warm, dark and damp places. If you store them in between two wet paper towels, the first root should start to appear within 3-10 days.
Seedling: After placing the germinated seed in the soil, your cannabis plant will sprout two small, round leaves called cotyledons. These will be the only round leaves that the plant will produce. Every leaf that sprouts afterward will be serrated, but won’t yet look like those cannabis leaves you know and love. After 2-3 weeks, the leaves will start forming digits and may look a little more familiar. This marks the point when the cannabis plant exits the seedling stage. The ideal conditions for a cannabis seedling would be a relatively warm and humid environment, low-intensity blue spectrum light for 18 hours, and then darkness for 6 hours.
Vegetative: Once your cannabis leaves start forming those digits, the plant enters the vegetative stage. This is the stage directly before buds start to appear, and is also the longest stage in the growth of a cannabis plant, ranging between 4-8 weeks. Your little cannabis plant will grow as much as it can in height and size, depending on the size of the roots, and also continue to produce leaves with a wider reach. The vegetative state requires relative humidity and warmth and increased blue spectrum light intensity. Usually, the plant should start showing its sex by week 6, and this is when you should take measures to eliminate anyplant that isn’t female! Because only female plants will produce the smokable flower, any presence of male or hermaphroditic plants could hinder that growth, due to pollination.
Flowering: Congratulations, your cannabis plant has started to flower! Usually lasting 8-11 weeks, the flowering stage is a delicate process that needs to be handled with care. When growing outdoors, the natural shortening of the days causes buds to start forming. In the first 1-3 weeks of this stage, called flowering initiation, the plant will start forming little white hairs called pistils. By the third week, buds will form where the stems and the branches meet. Weeks 4-5 mark the mid-flowering stage when buds slowly grow in size. Then the plant moves to the ripening stage or late-flowering stage. The buds start to take up most of the weight of the plant, and also start to smell more potent. This is when the trichomes appear, giving the buds a frosty look.
Harvest: So, how do you know your cannabis plant is ready to harvest? The secret to a successful harvest can be found in the color of the pistils and the trichomes. The pistils should turn amber while the trichomes should appear translucent, but not transparent. You can use a magnifying lens, such as a jeweler’s loupe, to view the trichomes to assure that they’re ready for harvest. Chop the plant at the root, and then slowly remove the leaves until all the buds are left.
Drying and Curing: The next step is to dry the cannabis, monitoring for any possible mold growth to be discarded. Hang each branch upside-down in a dark, open space, and make sure there is enough airflow. The humidity should be around 50%. It takes about 7-15 days for cannabis to dry, so make sure you don’t rush the process. Once the small stems start to snap instead of bending, it’s time to cure the cannabis. Curing the cannabis involves snipping each bud off the branch, leaving a small portion of the stem intact. Place individual buds into glass jars for 2-3 weeks. Make sure you’re opening the jar periodically during this process, in order to release any excess moisture.
Trim and Finish: Once the curing process is complete, you’re almost ready to package or consume your cannabis. Take small scissors and trim away dried leaves and debris from the cured flower. Now you’re all done with the harvest process, and your freshly-grown flower is ready for the consumption style of your choice!