By Robert Bergman, ILoveGrowingMarijuana.com
The best way to ensure year-round satisfaction is to make sure you’ve protected your cannabis crop. The techniques for storage are simple but vital for combating mold, mildew, and general spoilage. If a grower’s crop is anywhere near successful, the harvest will be too large to stash in a cupboard or dresser drawer, and you’ll be stuck with the happy task of preparing at least a year’s supply of smoke for long-term storage.
Besides the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the cannabis you’re putting into your body hasn’t been sprayed with insecticide or herbicide, the reason for growing personal—use marijuana is to ensure yourself of a good supply of the kind bud until next harvest. That means putting a year’s worth of cannabis into storage, where seeds will not be damaged by freezing, buds will neither mold or grow stale (a number of experts claim that stored marijuana will actually increase in potency for the first several months—I can’t say that I’ve ever noted an increase in the stoning, but aged weed does seem to be a smoother smoke).
Learning how to prepared dry, and store your crop is a skill set that just keeps on paying for itself. You’ll be glad you took the time to learn now, when you relish your ability to pull weed out from storage year-round. It’s equally important to remember that a year’s worth of work can easily be ruined by slacking off at the end. Placing green marijuana into storage without preparation almost guarantees that it will begin to mildew, then become moldy.
Drying the crop
Drying is the most common method of preparing fresh marijuana plants for storage. But within that seemingly simple stage of the growing operation there exists a multitude of different methods and opinions about how it should be accomplished.
Hanging the buds
Traditional methods of drying plants—the way it’s done by large-volume commercial growers—is to simply pull up mature plants by their roots and then hang them upside down in a dry place until nearly all moisture has evaporated from their tissues. Plants are not hung upside down to allow THC to “run” from the roots into the foliage. In fact, the primary reason plants are hung upside down is for convenience; it’s just easier to hang them in that orientation—the same reason that tobacco leaves are still hung by their roots for drying. A cord lashed around the stalk, below the last branch, is held securely in place when tied, unable to slide past the plant’s large root ball.
Another important reason for hanging freshly pulled marijuana plants is to permit them to expire more slowly. This practice is conducted for the same reason that it is used to “cure” tobacco leaves whose smoke would be disagreeably harsh and unpleasant tasting if they were quick-dried artificially using heat. Being uprooted and dying sends a plant into high-gear survival mode, one result of which is a high level of simple plant sugars in the tissues, and a less-bitter chlorophyll. And like tobacco, those phenomena of the curing process have the effect of making the marijuana you process for smoking into a product that is palatable, pleasing to the nose, and as gentle on the lungs as it is hard-hitting to the brain. In fact, some growers maintain that proper curing is necessary for coaxing maximum THC levels from a harvested plant.
Ideally, plants hung to cure should be under a roof to block out harsh sunlight that might dry plants too quickly and unevenly. It’s also important that falling rain be blocked from literally washing away THC from the outsides of curing bud, and of course to keep drying time to a minimum. Open air tobacco-curing sheds—essentially just a roof supported by posts—are probably best, but not always feasible; backwoods growers often accomplish the same purpose by stringing a green tarpaulin in the form of a peaked roof between trees, over a taut “clothesline” hung with drying plants.
Curing time is very dependent on humidity and ambient temperature, but figure on leaving plants—especially females with large, dense buds that have more moisture content—to hang for at least a week in dry 70-degree weather. Most growers concur that thoroughly desiccated marijuana foliage is not the best smoke; for maximum smoothness and minimum harshness, your bud or leaves need to contain a percentage of moisture that allows them to burn less hotly with more smoke. Leaves that are at prime dryness will have turned dark green, but not yet brown, with slight dry crunching at the edges, but a tough and fibrous consistency throughout the leaf. Buds will feel dry and slightly crunchy on the outside, but sticky (the stickier the better) when squeezed between thumb and forefinger.
Air-drying the leaves
Air-drying is the best method of drying leaves or whole harvested plants because it retains the most of a plant’s pleasantly fragrant scent and spicy taste. In the case of midsummer leaves trimmed from plants during normal pruning, the best way to air dry them is to bag the loosely wadded foliage—“fluffed” to maximize the airspace between leaves—in an airy sack. Two unsophisticated favorites are a plain brown paper bag and a net-type fruit sack. A paper bag, its top folded over several times to seal it, steadily and evenly absorbs moisture from inside, then dissipates it to the outside; shaking the bag from time to time to redistribute its contents helps them to dry more rapidly. A mesh onion sack containing loosely crumpled leaves is a favorite among pot growers who dry small amounts for personal use, because the netting provides for maximum air circulation and the shortest drying time.
When drying marijuana for smoking using any of the methods covered here, it isn’t necessary or desirable to dry it to the point of being crunchy. Foliage that is just moist enough to be flexible, but dry enough to burn evenly with a smooth, sweet smoke when chopped fine with scissors produces a superior smoke with leaves or bud. Air-drying is the only safe way to dry buds from which you intend to gather seeds for another crop.
Microwave leaves or buds
If you need to make leaf or bud smoking-dry in a hurry, a microwave is ideal. More than that, it’s a handy tool for growers who frequently need to dry small samples of their crops for test smoking. Samples of an eighth-ounce or so can be quickly dried by placing uncut foliage in a heavy coffee mug and microcoding it at high power for one minute. Larger portions can be placed, about an ounce at a time, into paper lunch sacks whose openings have been folded over to close them, and microwaves for a minute at a time. At the end of each minute, remove the bag and shake it to help dry its contents; if you have more than one bag to dry, rotate them, letting one or more cool and dry while another is being naked. Again, the dried pot will smoke best if you leave it just slightly moist. Do not use a microwave to dry buds from which you intend to gather seeds for next year’s crop, because the radiation kills the seeds.
Convection oven for leaves or buds
Large amounts of marijuana can be quickly dried in the gas or electric convection oven of a kitchen range. Spread plant material thinly over the bottom of a large ungreased cake pan, then place it into an oven set no higher than 150 degrees F (excessive heat appears to diminish potency). Turn drying plants every fifteen minutes, taking care not to overdry them. Be warned that this method will also likely kill all seeds in any buds you dry, so growers will want to clean their buds prior to baking.
Open skillet for leaves and buds
This method of drying marijuana brings back memories of squatting next to a campfire in the deep woods, shaking an aluminum campfire skillet filled with fresh- picked marijuana over hot embers until the plants were dry enough to smoke. The same technique has worked well using an iron skillet over a propane camp stove in a remote cabin and in a household kitchen.
If you’re like me, you’re going to want to sample the results of your labors as soon as the buds ripen—especially if this is your starter crop, and there aren’t buds to smoke from last season’s harvest. Over the years I’ve worked out a speed-curing method that enables small batches of buds to be dried quickly for immediate consumption, because it’s just too intriguing to wonder how good this year’s crop will be. Besides, having an ounce of good pot to smoke (or eat) takes the anxiety out of waiting for the rest of your crop to cure.
The trick is to retain as much of the buds’ flavor and potency as possible, and the obvious tool for that job might seem to be a microwave oven. I don’t recommend using a microwave to dry buds because ultrahigh-frequency radio waves kill seeds contained within them. Also, microwaves heat from the inside out, which is effective for drying buds, except that it also overheats them, detracting from their taste and possibly from their potency. If you must use a microwave to dry damp cannabis, be sure to remove all seeds first (they tend to explode anyway), break material to be dried into fine pieces, and never heat it for more than a minute at a time.
The method that works best for me so far is to snip off the buds I want to smoke, then place them in a airlock bag that is sealed with all of the air squeezed out of it. Then I knead the buds from outside the bag, making them warm to “activate” THC contained in them (much the same as making finger hash). I may even stand on the bagful of buds in shoeeless feet, squashing them with my heels until they become warm, wet with their own juices, and very dark green, almost black, in color (this operation does little or no damage to the seeds, which are protected by the diameter of the woody stalks to which they re attached). At this point I leave the bag sealed overnight, and may even sleep with it under my pillow to keep the contents warm.
After about twelve hours, I remove the warm, crushed buds from their plastic bag and lay them neatly—with air space between them—on a dry, clean cookie sheet.
Preheat your kitchen oven to its lowest setting—usually somewhere between 150 and 180 degrees—and place the cookie sheet of crushed buds inside for half an hour. After that, remove the sheet and turn the buds over. Replace the cookie sheet for another half hour. At the end of that time, the buds should be just slightly moist, and a little sticky—ideal for smoking. Gently remove the seeds, which are usually not harmed by this mild heating process, place the seedless buds into a coffee mug, and with large scissors chop them into pieces small enough to smoke.