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Harvesting: From Hand-held to Fully Automated Trimmers

Posted May 29th, 2018 by Eric Hopper in ,

The harvesting process can be a fun and exciting time for cannabis growers. After waiting eight (or more) long weeks for the flowering period to be completed, the cannabis plants are finally ready to be harvested. As with other procedures in the garden, harvesting can be approached many different ways. There is no right or wrong way to harvest so a gardener shouldn’t be afraid to try new methods to see what works best for him or her.

Although many techniques will come down to personal preference, there are some important steps that all cannabis growers should take during harvest time. For example, a grower should take the appropriate amount of time to properly cure the flowers to ensure a higher quality end product. One aspect of the cannabis harvesting process that can become tedious is the trimming process. After the cannabis plants are harvested, a good amount of leaf material is trimmed or removed from the flowers. Due to the tedious nature of trimming, many growers opt to use some sort of mechanical device to speed up or reduce the labor required during the process. There are a wide array of both hand trimmers and fully automated commercial trimming devices available to today’s cannabis growers.

Harvest Process

Cannabis plants are generally harvested in stages. Each grower may have his or her own way to harvest, but, generally speaking, all growers must go through the harvest process in three stages: the removal of the large (fan) leaves, trimming the remaining leaves around the flowers and de-stemming the dried flowers for storage or before placing them into an automated trimming machine.

Fan Leaf Removal

The first stage of the harvest process is to remove the large fan leaves. These leaves can be plucked by hand, cut with a scissors, or removed with an automatic trimmer, such as a hand-held hedge trimmer or table top trimmer. The concentration of cannabinoids found in the large fan leaves is not as concentrated as the leaves near the flowers and, therefore, many growers find them expendable. After the fan leaves are removed, a cannabis grower has two choices: to trim the remaining leaf material while the plant is wet (wet trimming) or dry the plant with the remaining leaf material still on and remove it after the plant has dried.

Wet Trimming

The wet trimming process begins as soon as the marijuana plants are cut down and the large fan leaves are removed. This makes it easy to access and trim with a scissors. Many automated trimming devices require dried cannabis plant material; however, some of the hand-held trimmers, such as the vacuum attached hand trimmer, work better when the cannabis plant material is wet. The reason for this is the majority of the plant material that will be removed is perpendicular to the flowers and is easier to access when wet because they are not stuck to the flowers as they would be after drying.

Drying

After finishing the wet trim or if the grower is opting for a dry trim method, the cannabis plants should be hung up to dry. The ideal conditions for drying cannabis are temperatures between 65-75 degrees F and humidity levels around 45-55%. Drying should take place in the dark as UV light from the sun or grow lights can damage some of the sought after compounds in the flowers.

De-Stemming

If a wet trim method was implemented and the drying process is complete, the flowers can be de-stemmed and stored in the appropriate holding containers. If the grower chose to use an automatic trimmer, he or she should de-stem before placing the dried flowers in the device. Although many growers de-stem by hand, there is an automated device available that actually removes the flowers from the stem. This type of innovation shows how truly automated the harvesting process for cannabis is becoming.

Dry Trimming

When done by hand, dry trimming can be a tedious and slow process. This is because the leaves that need to be removed are now stuck against the flowers. Large grow operations may require a plethora of hired hands to help during the trimming process. Hired hands are not only costly, but also require micromanagement and increased security measures. This is why so many serious marijuana growers have invested in commercial trim machines. After the flowers are properly dried and de-stemmed, they can be placed in the automated trim machine for their final manicure.

Types of Automated Trimmers

There are many products that can be considered cannabis harvest automation tools. In order to classify these products, they are usually broken down into two categories: hand-held trimmers or commercial trimmers.

Hand-Held Trimmers

As the name suggests, hand-held trimmers are trimmers that a horticulturist holds in his or her hand while trimming. There are many different hand-held trimmers and, although they differ in appearance, they are all designed to do the same thing: remove the large leaves and/or leaf material close to the cannabis flowers. The following are some examples of the different hand-held trimmers available.

Mini-Hedge Trimmers

The majority of the hand-held trimmers fall under this category. Similar to a full size hedge trimmer, these tools rely on flat metal plates with “teeth” that move quickly back and forth. The “teeth” trim any plant material they come in contact with. These trimmers are made specifically for cannabis by having finer blades and more powerful motors than the typical hand-held trimmers found at big box stores. There are also models with high grade interchangeable and/or replaceable blades.

Rotary Tool Trimmers

Another type of hand-held trimming device used by cannabis growers is the rotary-style tool. This type of trimmer resembles a rotary tool, such as a dremel, but with a protective covering over the blade. The rotary-style hand trimmer is used for more fine trimming work and is meant to replace the final stage scissors trim employed by many cannabis horticulturists. The advantage of this tool is the fine trim work it can do. The disadvantage of this tool is that it is specialized and not very versatile for the other stages of the harvesting process.

Vacuum Attached Hand Trimmer

A new, highly innovative type of hand trimmer is the vacuum attached hand trimmer. This device connects to a wet/dry vacuum and relies on the suction to draw the leaves into the cutting chamber. These hand trimmers are not only less messy than other mechanical trimmers, but they also allow the grower to conveniently save all the trim material for later use. Due to the attached vacuum, these trimmers create less mess compared with other hand-held devices that scatter the leaf material as they cut.

Hand Crank Bowl Trimmers

Hand crank bowl trimmers actually operate in a very similar manner to the larger commercial-grade automated trimmers. The untrimmed cannabis buds sit on a perforated sheet of metal and under this perforated metal sheet is a blade that rotates. Any plant material that is protruding through the perforated metal sheet will get cut by the blades as they rotate. The hand-held models are powered by hand. A crank, which the grower must turn, causes the blades to rotate and also causes a series of “brushes” to gently move the flowers over the perforated metal grate for an even trim.

Commercial Trimmers

For large scale grow operations, a hand-held trimmer won’t increase efficiency like it does for a hobbyist. Therefore, many large scale cannabis growers invest in a commercial trimming system. These systems range in automation, with some being almost completely automated. The following are some examples of trim machines commonly used by commercial cannabis growers.

Trim Tables

Trim tables were among the first generation of mechanical trimming devices. These devices consist of a flat perforated metal grate that sits right above a blade which is spun by a motor (much like a thin fan blade). The person trimming lays the cannabis plant horizontally on the table top, allowing the leaf material to go through the holes in the metal grate and get trimmed below. The plant material is moved back and forth until the blades trim all the leaves that can reach through the holes in the metal grate. Most table top trimmers offer some sort of bag or container to catch the trim material as it falls beneath the blade.

Drum Trimmers (with brushes)

Drum trimmers are essentially more automated versions of the trim tables. There is a drum, or holding chamber, that sits above the perforated metal grate and blades. Within the holding chamber there are brushes or soft rubber pieces designed to slowly move the flowers within the chamber, maximizing the flower material’s exposure to the cutting blades. The brushes gently roll the flowers over the blade until all sides of the flower are manicured. Unlike table top trimmers, which require a person to maneuver the plant material, these devices are relatively hands-off, saving even more of the gardener’s time.

Horizontal Tumble Trimmers

At the pinnacle of the automated harvesting devices for cannabis sits the horizontal tumble trimmers. These trimmers use a rotating horizontal perforated metal tube to tumble and move the flowers across a cutting blade (which sits below). There are many types and styles of the horizontal tumble trimmers available. Some are so advanced they include hoppers and feed conveyors for increased automation. There are also models that allow multiple trimmers to be chained together to produce an even more effective trim. The leftover trim material from horizontal tumble trimmers is collected in a bag or holding chamber for later use, which may include making extracts or other cannabis-infused products.

Automation in horticulture is not a new enterprise. Due to the restrictions on growing cannabis, automation devices specific to cannabis harvesting have been slow to develop. However, attitudes toward both medical and recreational cannabis are shifting and more innovators are putting their time and money into inventing automation devices to help cannabis growers.

Although small scale growers may still enjoy the harvest process by hand trimming, many commercial growers are looking for viable solutions to reduce labor and increase efficiency. There is no telling what the future will bring to automation devices for cannabis harvesting. The automated harvesting products currently available to the cannabis cultivator are no doubt impressive, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Suggested Vendor

Until recently, growers didn’t have many quality alternatives for automated trimming and even less for hand trimming. All the large scale trimming machines operate under the same principle of rolling, bouncing, or dragging flowers across a rotating or oscillating blade that tends to remove more trichomes than leaf material. No trimmer manufacturer has ever adequately addressed the need for a trimmer that can accurately remove water leaves and stems while at the same time having the ability to volume trim the bulk of the flower. Unlike any of the other trimmers, Speedee Trim’s custom angled teeth at the blade tip allow you to get into the tight spots on the plants removing only what you want to take off while leaving the surrounding foliage intact providing you with a finished trim identical to that of scissors. Additionally, the main body of the blade can be used for volume trimming the sides of the flower at a rate of up to 2 LBs per hour. Independent lab tests showed no difference in trichome content when compared to scissors. Speedee Trim offers a choice of 4 unique blades for dry trimming, wet trimming, de-leafing and pruning. There are both corded and cordless motors for working in the field. No other automated trimmer on the market at any price has the versatility and multiple manicuring functions as the Speedee Trim. For more information call 415.866.0117, Email al@speedtrim.com or visit SpeedeeTrim.com.

Eric Hopper is a Professional Marijuana Grower Senior Editor.

Some of the images for this article were provided by Speedee Trim. Visit SpeedeeTrim.com.

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