7 Tips for Flower Trimming Success

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Trimming is often either one of growers’ favorite or least favorite tasks.

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July 28, 2020

Photo © Luke Zigovits

Trimming is often either one of growers’ favorite or least favorite tasks. All the hard work that went into growing those beautiful flowers has come to an end, and trimming is the final push needed to create the products they desire.

Growers have several considerations when preparing themselves and their teams for the upcoming post-harvest event. For new growers or hired trimmers who don’t have a lot of experience, here are a few tips that can help ensure a successful trimming process.

1. Prepare pre-harvest. Before harvesting the crop and hauling it to the drying shed, some farmers save a little work down the line by doing some level of defoliation or removal of large fan leaves from the hemp plants. This not only improves airflow to the flowers in the final days before harvest, but also means less to dry, and fewer leaves to remove during trimming. In addition, rounding up and prepping the trim crew before harvest is very important and often overlooked. It’s never fun to be completely overwhelmed with too much work to do and not enough help or a sloppy operation.

2. Consider the market.

Growers should consider where their flowers are headed. Are they headed to an extraction market, where minimally trimmed biomass is accepted, or to a smokable or premium extraction market, where an extensive and detailed trim job is required? The end customer can help growers determine which method, or combination thereof, they want to undertake.

3. Consider hand-trimmed vs. machine-trimmed. When dealing with thousands of plants, the thought of hand trimming seems ridiculous. Many farmers have invested in mechanical trimming units to not only trim their copious amounts of flower, but also save in labor expenses associated with a trimming team. Other farmers enjoy providing seasonal employment and choose not to use machines at all. Some growers combine the two, utilizing mechanical trimming machines to do the bulk of the work and then finishing with hand trimming before heading to premium markets that require a more detailed job. When it comes to mechanical trimmers, proper preparation of raw material and following specific requirements set by manufacturers is essential.

4. Consider wet-trimmed . vs. dry-trimmed. A long-standing debate has surrounded whether wet- or dry-trimmed flower is better. While both methods have their pros and cons, when evaluating a large hemp flower harvest, growers typically choose dry trimming, especially when they’ve chosen to trim flower by hand. Farmers with smaller grows may choose to trim while wet. Wet trimming is easier for novice trimmers because the plant material is stiffer, as it is full of water. Eliminating the additional plant material may also reduce drying times. Some mechanical trimmers have been designed to handle wet flower material, but when a farmer has thousands of plants in the field, wet trimming is unlikely, as much of the crop will dry out while waiting to be trimmed. Hemp is typically hanging in the shed, and trimming begins when the majority of the crop is dried.

5. Set up a workstation. It is important for a trimming operation to be clean, organized and well-lit. For new farmers, this process can be overwhelming with lots of plants everywhere. Setting up a workstation that incorporates a smooth workflow can cut back on the confusion. The workflow should include where to bring the plants in, where to set them for bucking (removing the flowers from the stalks) and trimming, where the buds will accumulate, what to do with the stalk by-product, and finally, where the flower will be packaged and stored. Keep the floors swept and tidy, and of course, keep pets away from those finished flowers. (Many farmers’ pets have free run of the farms.) There is nothing like beautiful buds and trimming equipment filled with pet hair!

6. Consider equipment needs.

When it comes to hand trimming a harvest, having the right equipment is essential. Many styles of scissors and snips are available. Growers should make sure that whatever they choose is sharp and fits their hands well. Farmers also need to be sure to keep their equipment clean. Some use rubbing alcohol or vegetable oil to help clean their gear. Ergonomic tables, comfortable chairs, plenty of light and good music help keep positive vibes during the heavy workload. Most growers also choose to wear gloves to prevent residue buildup. Additionally, some trimmers enjoy working over a tray, enabling them to work right on their laps with the flexibility to sit, stand or move location at any time.

7. Prioritize bucking, sorting and packaging. Bucking can be done by hand or by machine. Hemp farmers have been creative in developing bucking methods. Some farmers have utilized a simple saw horse design, where holes are drilled into a piece of lumber and hemp stalks are pulled through the hole catching into a tote. Others have fabricated machines that grab the stalk between a set of tires, ripping the flowers via a steel plate. Both methods work for biomass markets but can be considered cruder. When quality counts, some farmers have purchased bucking machines or relied on the trusted method of removing flowers from the stalk with trimming scissors. Once again, growers must know their markets. When the goal is to sell into biomass markets, cruder methodology can be used for bucking flower, but when striving for a premium market, more gentle handling is required. Like trimming, bucking can be accomplished either while wet or dry depending on how growers are trimming the flower. After trimming, sorting the flowers by size can help with customer satisfaction. And, of course, proper packaging, curing and storage will assist growers in successfully marketing their premium hemp flower.

Luke Zigovits is the owner and farm manager at Higher Level Organics, an organic and Sun+Earth certified farm. With a 20-year history of cultivating and breeding cannabis, Zigovits has worked with landrace, heritage, and low-THC hemp cultivars.