3 ways to maximize your cannabis grade during harvest season
By Gregory Frye
Cannabis grading is quickly becoming the norm as the industry embraces standardization. Buyers on the cannabis marketplace have come to appreciate graded cannabis because they know the product has been objectively evaluated and fairly priced.
When Big Tree Grading sends in graders, they use the International Cannabis and Hemp Standards (ICHS) to assess the quality of cannabis flower based on aroma, bud structure, color and trichomes. The greater the grading score, the more the cannabis is worth at both wholesale and retail levels.
Big Tree, the industry’s first grading service, recently revealed important tips for cannabis processors to maximize their cannabis grades come harvest time.
1. DON’T CUT ANY CORNERS WHEN DRYING AND CURING
While there is no one best way to dry and cure your cannabis harvest, there are plenty of ways to do it wrong. This is a frequent pitfalls seen among cannabis operators.
“Getting the drying and curing process properly dialed-in is crucial to getting that high grade in the end when your cannabis is finished,” says one Big Tree grader. “Your flower could make the cover of High Times magazine when it is in your garden, but if you don’t dry and cure it properly, when it goes to get graded, the smell, the taste— none of that is going to be there.”
There are a lot of different ways to achieve success with proper drying and curing. From super high-tech facilities to no-tech situations in a barn, what it really comes down to is good ventilation, proper temperature and humidity levels, and patience.
“If you don’t dry it enough the flower can actually mold, and if you dry it too much, it becomes very harsh to smoke,” Big Tree's grader notes. “You don’t want to hang stuff too close together or try to rush the process with heaters and dehumidifiers, and you really want to have someone checking it several times a day, smelling it, checking the branches, and monitoring the dryness until the product is ready for processing.”
Getting the drying and curing process dialed-in does cost time and money, however processors stand to lose even more when they try to rush things or cut corners.
“It can be tough for farms that are really big, doing thousands of pounds. They sometimes don’t have the option to handle the cannabis properly and to let it dry for the appropriate amount of time. Sometimes you might even have multiple harvests, and you need to clear out the dry room to get the next harvest in there — you might be sacrificing the quality of your product in the process.”
2. HANDLE THE FLOWER AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE WHEN PROCESSING
When Big Tree sees really high-quality flower, it’s obvious that it was hand trimmed — that it didn’t go through a machine. This makes a big difference.
“One of the things that I think is forgotten in the processing phase of cannabis is that every time you handle that product it knocks trichomes or parts of the flower off, which can degrade the product,” Big tree's grader reveals. “So the less you can touch it, the better — and you’re going to see those long-term results.”
The main thing is to be gentle with it as a plant and remember that it’s a flower, not a nut or a bolt. “The farms that take this stuff seriously are the ones who get a high price on the wholesale market and also at the retail level.”
3. EMBRACE PROPER STORAGE METHODS
The best way to store finished cannabis is in an airtight container in a temperature-controlled environment, with no exposure to light.
Another tip here is to store the cannabis in shallow, trough-like containers as opposed to buckets or big tubs. If you store your cannabis in buckets, the weight of the flower on top will crush the flower on the bottom, degrading bud structure and potentially allowing for unwanted levels of moisture.
You also want to store it in a room where it’s not going to get hit by a lot of light while keeping temperature in the 60s— you don’t want it to get too cold either.
What you really don’t want is a situation where you’re constantly flipping the container open and running your hand through the material over and over again.
“I know a guy who vacuum seals his stuff in one-pound bags and stores it in a dark room. Six months later, you can open that stuff up and it smells just as good as when he put it in the bag,” reveals Big Tree's grader. “And I’ve seen people who had beautiful weed improperly stored in plastic bags with no real seal and too much light — and six months later it smells sour, is discolored and is only worth a fraction of the amount it would have been.”
PROCESS AND KNOW-HOW ARE EVERYTHING
While none of these tips are a guarantee, they are critical if you want to improve your chances of a successful harvest. There have been super clean $10 million facilities producing disappointing cannabis, and unorganized, old-school operations producing the best flower in the state.
“When you take the time to do it properly, it’s amazing. There are some amazing flavors and smells that come from cannabis plants,” says Big Tree's grader. It all comes down to plant genetics, experience, patience and not cutting corners or overhandling the plants.
Gregory Frye is a storyteller, writer, editor and award-winning journalist with a love for meaningful collaboration. Most recently, he was part of the founding team at Green Flower Media, where he spent almost five years as executive online editor.