Dark & Dry
After cutting the plant or branch, hang it upside down in a cool, dry, and most importantly dark place. Light must be avoided from this point on. Leave the larger shade leaves on and they will gently droop and wrap around the plant, protecting the buds.
The time to the next step depends on how dry your hanging area is. This requires regular checking to determine when to proceed. When the larger shade leaves become dry and brittle to the touch it is time to gently clip them off.
Re-hang the branches in the drying room and regularly check them until the smaller leaves and bud tips become dry and brittle to the touch. It is then time to remove the buds from the branch and remove the rest of the leaf material as best as possible. This is what is referred to as “manicuring”.
Now you have a few choices as to what to do with your manicured buds. The buds should still be a little wet at this point, especially on the inside, but the outer part of the buds should be starting to feel dry. Some of the buds, the smaller ones in particular, might even be smokable at this point.
If you are in a more humid area, or if the buds are still feeling heavy with moisture, you may want to try placing them on a suspended screen for a little while. This will help to hasten the drying process. Once again, regular checking to decide when they are ready for the next stage is crucial. This is also a skill that is developed more with time and experience, so practice!
Brown Bagging It
Once the buds are crisp on the outside but still moist on the inside it is time for the next step in the process: the paper bag. I like to use brown paper shopping bags due to their not being bleached, an unwanted chemical.
Simply fill a paper bag a few inches deep with the manicured buds. Don’t pack the buds down and do not fold the bag too tight. A few small folds at the top of the bag, like a lunch bag, should suffice.
If the buds are a tad wet or if humid conditions dominate, you might want to consider cutting a few small holes in the bag, above the level of the buds, for ventilation.
As with proper manicuring, regular checking is key. The bags should be gently shaken, ever-so-carefully turning the buds, at least once a day. As the buds dry they will naturally compact into the self-preserving state that we all know and love. It is at this time that the buds can be more compacted together and the bag folded down tighter. They should now be fully smokable, though perhaps still slightly damp at the core.
The entire process, from harvest to these first smokable products, should take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on your climate. Extremes in climate, such as very arid deserts or tropical humid areas, may take more or less time. There is no substitute for consistent, hands-on checking.
The Final Stage
A final curing stage, preferred by most connoisseurs, involves sealable jars. The nearly ready buds are transferred from the bag to the jar, packed in very loosely, and the jar is sealed. It is very important in the early jar-stage to check the buds at least once a day.
I like to dump them all out of the jar and gently fluff them up at least once a day at first, then less often as time progresses, usually for a week to ten days. It is important to be as gentle as possible so as not to damage too many of the resin glands. After a week or so all I do is simply open the jar and check the buds on a daily basis.
Watch for Mold
The main thing to watch (and smell) for throughout all of the curing process is mold. Whenever mold is found it must be dealt with immediately. The moldy bud needs to be removed, and the rest of the product needs to be exposed to a drier environment for a while.
The simplest solution is to go back one step. For example, if the mold was detected in the jar stage simply put the rest of the product back to the bag stage for awhile (after removing the contaminated product from the batch). If the mold is detected in the bag stage, go back to the screen. The screen is the driest process that I know of. If problems with the mold occur prior to this, a dehumidifier in the drying room may be the answer. Aside from watching and smelling for mold, always remember to keep the product in the dark.
Ready to go!
A bud is completely dry, cured, and ready for sale or consumption when the stem in the middle of the bud snaps when the bud is cracked with the fingers. The snap is easy to detect with practice. It is at this stage that the product can safely be sealed and stored for an indefinite period of time.
The longer you can stretch out this process, while also avoiding mold, the better. I like when it takes six to eight weeks from harvest to the finished product. You will be able to detect the fragrance of the product becoming more and more desirable as time progresses.