The Key to Curing
Curing, as much as any stage of cropping, is an important step in the process that is often overlooked by beginning farmers. Even after weeks of hard work ensuring a bountiful harvest, many young gardeners overlook this crucial last step; a mistake that often ends up hurting the final potency, flavor and smell of their fruits and flowers. Although it does take a little extra time, proper planning and a little patience will give your flowers a chance to lock-in the flavor and smell you’ve work hard to get, and will often “bring out the nose” of material that was dried too quickly or otherwise wasn’t exhibiting a strong aroma at time of harvest.
What Curing Does
Curing does three important things that work together. The first goal of curing is to equalize the material’s moisture level. At the end of 7-10 days of drying, when your stems are snapping, the moisture that remains is mostly stored deep in the flower material. The outer most layers of the buds will be dry to the touch. Upon breaking a flower open however, you’ll notice that the center is still rather moist. If you then allow the plant to continue to dry, the center of the plant will reach an ideal finished moisture level after the outer most layers of the plant have become far too dry and brittle, leading to the breaking off of material that creates the “duff” and “shake” we see in the bottom of finished bags of material. This hints at the second goal of properly curing your flowers, which is durability. A properly cured flower will contain just enough moisture, evenly spread throughout, that it resists crumbling or breaking-apart, yet is easy to work with and use. We call this “bag stamina,” and it refers to the ability of the flower to stay intact and not crumble despite being handled and rustled in a container. Lastly, and possibly most important, is flavor and aroma. The moisture stored inside your flowers carries essential oils and sugars that need to be expressed evenly throughout the material to get a great finished smell and appearance.
The only real preparation required for curing is to have the right amount of the right size of containers and the right environment to store them in. If you are working with longer, thicker branches, you’ll want to use storage totes, approx. 18-20 gallons in size. If you are working with shorter, thinner branches, then it’s possible that smaller food-grade containers or even turkey bags will work for you. For totes and containers, home improvement stores and places like Target and Wal-Mart will have a variety to choose from. Some people will need a half-dozen small containers or a half-dozen turkey bags. Others will need 2-dozen 18-gal large storage totes. It just depends on the quantity and average girth of your material. After you’ve chosen your ideal container, make sure you get plenty of them, as you’ll only be filling them halfway. So, if you have enough material that it will all fit in 6 totes, get 12, so you can spread the material around.
Clear the space necessary to store your containers in a room that you can keep at approx. 65 degrees with approx. 65% humidity. This will ensure a relatively neutral environment that allows the plant to breath and sweat naturally without being excessively dried or being overly moistened.
Curing and Checking
After your space and your containers are ready, take your full branches of material (it’s best for it to cure on the vine if possible) and pile them loosely and evenly in the totes until they are filled halfway. The branches should have plenty of room for air to flow in and out between them and for moisture to escape, but close enough together that they can spread their moisture around amongst each other. If you just stack them loosely and don’t compress them (or bury them under too much of their own weight) then you will be fine, and you’ll notice lots of 1-3 cm airways between your branches and all the flowers.
Now we’re going to “sweat” them. After you are finished loading your totes, tightly fasten the lids on each of them. In 12 hours, check them by removing the lids. If the stems bend again instead of snapping, and the flowers squish instead of crumbling, then you know you’ve done some proper sweating. Leave the lids off for 6-12 hours for this moisture to dry away, and then repeat the process. If there is no change, check them again in 12 more hours, approx. 24 hours after the lids first went on. If you notice a change at 24 hours, then leave the lid off for 24 hours, and repeat the process. Some material will cycle through the sweating process quicker and some will do it slower, so it’s important to check at 12 and 24 hours to determine the right “rhythm” to breath and sweat your plants by. Either way, the goal is to alternate in even intervals between having the lids on and taking the lids off. When the lids are on, the air supply is cut off which slows the drying. The moisture inside the material spreads around throughout each branch and from branch to branch. When the lids are off, the drying continues and the newly released moisture is dried away. This process, when repeated, slowly extracts the remaining moisture and oils, drying away the moisture and leaving the flavor and aroma spread throughout the material and condensed on the surface of the plant. It’s important to remember that his is not an exact science, some environments with relatively higher or lower humidity or temperature may require an intermediate approach, where the time cycle is closer to 6-12 hours and the lids are put on but left askew or slightly cracked for air flow.
Finishing the Cure
After repeating the sweating/drying process several times, you’ll notice that little change has occurred since the last interval. This is your indication that your plants are done curing, although some farmers insist that good flowers are never done curing, and if properly stored, will get even better and better over many months! In reality most of us can’t wait that long, so if you are noticing little change between sweating and breathing, it’s time to trim your flowers off the vine and bag them up. If you are keeping some of your harvest for yourself, or have grown an especially important “head stash”, then take the time to store it in mason jars or some form of glass container. Either way, when choosing your final container to store your finished cured medicine, make sure that the air-to-material ratio is rather low, i.e., don’t put a small amount of material in a large container. Loosely fill a container all the way, this will prevent the finished material from further drying. For personal stashes, consider a container that you can fill with enough medicine to last for 1 month. You can continue to breath and sweat it (you will naturally every time you open it for a sample) and you’ll notice that after a few more weeks it is even more potent and aromatic than before. Like fine wine, this process will continue for months and months, resulting in an aroma and flavor you just can’t get any other way.
If you have any tips or techniques you use for curing your flowers, let us know, and leave a comment! Keep it organic and keep growing!