How To Produce Top Shelf Cannabis That Stands Out

How To Produce Top Shelf Cannabis That Stands Out

Cultivating top shelf cannabis flower takes time, patience, and resources, but the reward in the end is a premium cannabis flower that speaks for itself. Of course, there are a lot of factors that contribute to the overall quality of cannabis flower; virtually everything a plant experiences throughout its life can influence the final product. To cultivate truly top shelf flower, the process requires attention to detail and reliance on the latest best practices and techniques the cannabis industry has to offer.

What is top shelf cannabis?

Top shelf cannabis is flower that’s often above and beyond what’s typically sold in a dispensary. This could be judged on the size of the bud, levels of THC and other cannabinoids, terpene levels, and other factors. 

Everything from bag appeal to nose and flavor to the consumption experience will be demonstrably exceptional, even to the most experienced consumers. Truly premium cannabis can be identified by its appearance, aroma, consistency, and experience, all of which belies the effort a cultivator puts into growing such high quality buds. 

What goes into producing top shelf cannabis?

The best cultivators maintain tightly controlled environments so their plants experience the ideal growing conditions throughout their entire life cycle and post-harvest. Here’s an overview of some of the key aspects that go into producing top shelf cannabis.

Genetics

Everything starts with genetics. Genetics affect everything about your plant, including potency, flavor, appearance, yield, overall health and durability, and the consumption experience. 

To grow top shelf flower, you need top shelf genetics, so sourcing your seeds from reliable breeders who focus on quality is always key. Whatever cultivar you plan to grow, be sure the parents of your seeds were strong, healthy flowers chosen by the breeder specifically for their exceptional traits. 

Sourcing top shelf genetics requires establishing a relationship and partnership with breeders you can trust. For any cultivator interested in consistently producing the very best flower, networking with breeders and understanding how they develop their seeds is a crucial step.

Grow medium

Once you’ve acquired your seeds and confirmed the quality of the genetics, it’s time to select a grow medium. Each cultivator has their own preferences when it comes to growing medium. Some work with a soil mix, others prefer soilless mediums like coco coir, and some rely on hydroponics. There’s no right or wrong medium, necessarily, but there are some key considerations that apply no matter what medium you select.

  • pH levels: Cannabis plants require a slightly acidic grow medium in order to take up nutrients. If pH falls outside the optimal range, it doesn’t matter how many nutrients are available, the plant will not be able to make use of them. Exactly how acidic the medium should be depends on which you’ve chosen. Soil mixes should range between 6 and just below 7. For coco coir or hydroponic grows, aim slightly more acidic in the 5.5 to 6.5 range. Some fluctuation of pH in these ranges is desirable, as it will ensure the full range of nutrients are taken up by the plant during its life cycle.
  • Nutrients: Cannabis plants need a range of nutrients to grow to their fullest potential. These include three key micronutrients: nitrogen, which promotes leaf and stem growth in both the vegetative and flowering stage; phosphorus, which encourages the growth of big, healthy buds in the flowering stage; and potassium, which encourages strong plants that won’t wilt. In addition, cannabis plants can benefit from macronutrients like boron, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, silicon, and zinc.
  • Microbes: For soil grows, certain bacteria and fungi are beneficial for cannabis plants, creating a symbiotic relationship in the grow medium that makes nutrients more bioavailable to the plant. This is important to optimize growth and bloom. Some beneficial microbes include endomycorrhizal fungi, ectomycorrhizal fungi, microorganisms that serve to decompose minerals so nutrients can be better absorbed by the root system. These microorganisms can also serve to ward off pests and diseases that can harm cannabis plants.

Cultivation environment

Finally, the environmental conditions in the grow room are critically important to growing top shelf cannabis. Even if you start with the best genetics and your grow medium and nutrients are precisely optimized, environmental conditions still need to be ideal in order to produce top shelf flower. Some of the most important factors in a grow room environment include:

  • Temperature and Humidity: The ideal temperature and relative humidity for cannabis plants changes throughout its life cycle, like most conditions that influence its growth. During the vegetative stage, when a plant is producing most of its leaves and experiencing stem and node growth, temperature should range between 70℉ and 78℉, while humidity should remain between 45% and 55%. During flowering, both temperature and humidity should drop a bit to simulate the end of the growing season, signaling to the plant it is time to put all its energy into growing big, resinous buds that can be fertilized before winter so it can drop its seeds and make way for the next generation. During flowering, temperature should range from 68℉ to 75℉, while humidity should range from 35% to 45%.
  • Light: Cannabis plants not only need the right brightness of light for the appropriate amount of hours each day, they also need the right spectrum of light. In the vegetative stage, cannabis plants require a minimum of 13 hours of light each day, though many cultivators opt for as many as 18 hours of light. During the flowering stage, plants need up to 12 hours of light per day. Additionally, the ideal light spectrum for cannabis plants in their vegetative stage is blue light at a wavelength between 400 and 500 nm, while during flowering they do best with red light between 620 and 740 nm.
  • Stress: Some stress is good for cannabis plants, but too much will overwhelm them. Think of it like working out: lifting weights is good to a point, but overtraining will result in injury. In nature, cannabis plants deal with strong winds and animals passing by, so simulating this with techniques like low stress training, supercropping, and topping can be helpful to encourage strong growth. Just be careful not to over-stress your plants.

Drying and curing

The way in which cannabis is dried and cured after harvest is critical not only to its quality but also to its shelf life. Drying and curing cannabis is intended to reduce moisture content to optimal levels to prevent contamination by mold and mildew, as well as improve smokability and preserve the maximum amount of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Traditionally, mature cannabis plants are chopped down and hung from a string or wire in a drying room. The conditions in the drying room are important; temperature should range from 60℉ to 70℉ and humidity should range from 45% to 55%. Ideally, the drying room should be kept dark as well, because light can cause cannabinoid and terpene degradation. Finally, airflow is needed to ensure the buds are evenly dried. Most cultivators will use cold air flowing from the ceiling to the floor.

Once the drying process is complete, the dried flower must be cured to equalize the moisture content throughout all the buds. To do so, the dried flower is placed in an airtight container, such as plastic bags. During this process, the remaining moisture in the larger buds will be absorbed by the smaller ones, resulting in a balance.

This process can take weeks in total to get the flower to an ideal place, where its moisture content ranges from 8% to 12% and water activity is no more than 0.6 aW, the ideal conditions to preserve flower for the long haul and reduce the risk of contamination.

Drawbacks of conventional drying and curing

While taking great care to ensure conditions in the drying room are ideal, conventional approaches to drying and curing leave a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, even the most meticulous cultivators will inevitably see a degradation of their flower’s quality during this process, which takes weeks to complete.

Cannabinoid and terpene degradation

During that time, even favorable environmental conditions will cause the degradation of cannabinoids and terpenes. These compounds naturally degrade over time when exposed to oxygen, light, heat, and humidity. And while cultivators can control these conditions in their dry room, degradation is natural and will inevitably occur over the weeks it takes to dry and cure the flower. 

Dulled and shrunken buds

Additionally, as the flower is dried and cured, the buds tend to shrink. As moisture is evaporated from the buds to preserve them, the fluffy, bountiful appearance diminishes and some of the vibrant colors that can be viewed at harvest fade. This results in reduced bag appeal, which can directly impact sales.

What about freeze drying?

To try and get around these drawbacks, some cultivators have tried freeze dryers for the drying and curing process. And while freeze dryers indeed significantly reduce the time the process takes, freeze dryers that aren’t specifically built for cannabis cause additional problems that ruin the integrity of the flower. 

Zapping the moisture out of freshly harvested buds leaves them too dry. While the purpose of drying and curing is to reduce moisture content, it is important that roughly 6% to 12% moisture content remains for the flower to retain its freshness. Overly dry flower not only produces a harsh smoke but will also lose all its terpenes, eviscerating its aroma and flavor. 

Additionally, the trichomes of freeze dried flower will be extremely brittle and liable to break off, reducing the potency of the bud. In other words, freeze drying top shelf flower with equipment not made specifically for cannabis is a sure way to diminish quality.

While top shelf flower remains high quality after the conventional drying and curing process, it’s not the very best it can be. Luckily, there’s a better way to preserve top shelf flower at its very best and help cultivators realize a return on their investment much more quickly.

Beyond top shelf: Producing Live Resin Flower with Cryo Cure

Cryo Cure’s patented method of drying and curing cannabis flower not only expedites the process to as short as 11 to 14 hours, it also ensures that cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved at their freshly harvested levels and that moisture content remains in that ideal 6% to 12% range. There’s no shrinkage or dulling of the buds, cannabinoid and terpene content remains at its maximum, and your top shelf flower remains just that — top shelf. 

That’s why we call freshly harvested flower dried and cured using Cryo Cured “Live Resin Flower.” It’s as close as you can get to cannabis flower on a live plant, only in a smokable form that provides a smooth, flavorful experience. The consistency of the bud speaks for itself, as well; there’s no need for a grinder with Live Resin Flower, which easily breaks apart in your hand thanks to its ideal moisture content. 

Take top shelf to the next level with live resin flower

When you’ve put all your time, energy, and care into growing top shelf flower, make sure it stays that way when it reaches your customers. From bag appeal to aroma and flavor, potency to consumption experience, Cryo Cure ensures the quality of your top shelf flower shines through even after the long trip to market. 

How Cryo Cure Simplifies Trimming Cannabis

How Cryo Cure Simplifies Trimming Cannabis

It can be considered one of the most tedious aspects of cannabis cultivation, but properly trimming cannabis after (or before) it’s dried and cured can make all the difference in the dispensary. Removing excess material from your cannabis not only provides a more aesthetically pleasing flower, but it creates a higher quality product that your customers will want to keep coming back to enjoy. However, this is a notoriously tedious process done by hand; no machine has come close to the intricacy of the hand-made trimming process. Here’s how Cryo Cure makes it much easier to bring beautifully trimmed bud to market.

What is cannabis trimming?

At face value, cannabis trimming is exactly what it sounds like—it’s the process of cutting fan leaves, sugar leaves (also known as sweet leaves), and manicuring the bud to create a more aesthetically pleasing finished product.

While cannabis trimming is why our favorite cultivars look the way they do, the process is not solely done for bag appeal. Removing leaves can benefit the overall results of the final product. Trimming unnecessary moisture-holding material helps minimize the chance pathogens like mold and mildew will form, and it can also impact the taste and smell of your cannabis. The plant pieces left over from manicuring, commonly referred to as “trim” or “shake,” are also sold separately to consumers or can be used to make other types of cannabis products.

How is cannabis trimmed?

Conventionally, there are two ways that most cultivators trim their cannabis. You can either do all your trimming by hand or you can use specialized machinery to handle most of the process for you. There are good and bad aspects of both methods, so it’s important that you weigh your options before deciding on one over the other.

Hand trimmed

If you imagined someone sitting at a table with a pair of scissors carefully snipping away at a cola of cannabis, then you’re pretty much already there. Hand trimming begins first with the removal of the large fan leaves, which typically do not contain a significant amount of phytocannabinoid and terpene-containing trichomes. After removing the fan leaves, the buds can then be cut from the stem.

Only once the buds are more easily accessible can the more intensive side of hand trimming take place. Any leftover fan leaf remnants are cut away and the tiny sweet leaves are trimmed away from the buds. It’s at this stage that the buds are shaped and trimmed.

It’s important to note that cannabis is a very fickle plant that’s susceptible to contamination from bacteria, mold and other problem factors. While trimming the flower, it’s absolutely paramount that scissors used in the process are properly sterilized and that gloves and other PPE as required are worn at all times.

Benefits of hand trimming:

  • Trimming the plant by hand gives the cultivator complete control over their product, resulting in a more uniform, manicured flower.
  • Any trichomes that fall off the plant during trimming can be collected for future use.
  • Hand trimming lets the cultivator more easily check for contaminants.
  • This method does not require expensive, specialized machinery.

Disadvantages of hand trimming:

  • Trimming each bud by hand takes a significant amount of time, which only prolongs time to market.
  • If you want the hand trimming process to go faster, you’re going to need more hands, and that means hiring more people to speed up the work.
  • Cutting up any kind of plant results in a mess. Cannabis is extra messy due to the resins, leaves, and trichomes that can fall off the plant or stick to your tools and your hands.

Machine trimmed

While hand trimming cannabis gives the cultivator a level of personal control over their product, machine trimming brings speed. By removing human interaction with the plant and replacing it with raw efficiency, machine trimming removes excess plant material in less time and with lower labor-related overhead.

There are scores of machine trimmers on the market today, each with their own set of features and functionality. There are machines ranging from $170 for a hand-cranked model to several thousand dollars for a machine that can churn out 50 pounds of wet or 10 pounds of dry buds per hour — and that’s not even the most expensive or impressive trimming machine! The ultimate cost depends on how much product you intend to trim on a consistent basis.

Benefits of machine trimming:

  • These machines can be easy to use, usually requiring one or two people to operate them at any given time.
  • Machine trimming is significantly faster than hand trimming.
  • By using a machine to trim your bud, you will need fewer employees to handle this step in your cultivation process, reducing the labor needed and the human touch points that can contaminate flower.
  • Since the trimming is confined to the machine, there’s not as much mess as there would be with hand trimming.

Disadvantages of machine trimming:

  • Without any direct control over the trimming process, less-than-stellar bud can still make it to the dispensary shelf, where customers take notice.
  • Machines are not as discerning when it comes to the final aesthetics of the bud, making it possible that the result is less visually pleasing.
  • Trichomes are often lost at a much more consistent rate in machine trimming than they are when trimmed by hand.
Dry trimming vs. wet trimming

You’ll also need to consider when you trim. If you’re inclined to begin trimming immediately after harvest, that’s considered “wet trimming.” If you decide you want to wait to trim your bud until after the drying and curing process, then you’d be “dry trimming.”

When it comes to wet trimming, most people consider using this method because it allows for a more uniform drying experience. That’s because the additional leaves carry moisture that can negatively impact humidity levels in a drying room. Moisture is your enemy when drying and curing your cannabis, and that extra moisture adds time to the drying process. Removing excess plant material also means you can fit more buds onto a drying rack without crowding it.

One of the biggest benefits of wet trimming is that sugar leaves haven’t had time to dry up and curl into the bud. Since they stick straight out from the bud itself, those leaves become much easier to remove by hand. That comes at the cost of everything getting dirty and sticky, as the plant’s trichomes will get everywhere and create a mess.

Conversely, dry trimming allows for a longer and more deliberate curing time. That slower cure creates a bud that’s more flavorful, yet at the cost of potentially diminished aesthetics. Still as the leaves remain on the bud, more moisture is retained, leading to a lower rate of terpene loss. That being said, dry trimming is harder to do by hand since the leaves have wilted and curled onto the bud. Also, the longer drying and curing time means the buds themselves are significantly more brittle. Brittle bud means a higher likelihood that you will lose more trichomes in the trimming process.

How Cryo Cure improves the trimming process

While Cryo Cure is not made for trimming cannabis, our customers report back that our patented machines have a significant impact on the entire harvesting process, including trimming. The freeze drying technology at the heart of the Cryo Cure process makes cannabis trimming a much less daunting process.

Fans of dry trimming enjoy using our machines on their harvest because it makes those pesky sugar leaves much easier to remove. That’s because freeze drying essentially turns those tiny leaves into an afterthought, since they stick straight out of the flower and flake right off when touched.

If you’re an acolyte of wet trimming, Cryo Cure machines effectively reduce the number of touchpoints that your flower has to go through to get ready for sale. By simply removing everything you can before running your plant material through our machines, you essentially end up with buds that you can cut from the stem. Everything is good to go at that point.

In fact, since those sugar leaves stick out they’re much easier to identify and remove. Since they have already gone through our proprietary drying and curing process, their phytocannabinoid content levels will be stable. As a result, the excess leaves can be used to extract additional phytocannabinoids and terpenes, turning this plant waste into another avenue for revenue.

Cryo Cured cannabis simplifies trimming

At Cryo Cure, our patented process alleviates many headaches in the cannabis and drying curing process, including stabilizing the flower’s THC content, extending shelf life, and of course, simplifying the trimming process. The sugar leaves on Cryo Cured bud stick right out, making them way easier to find and remove than they would be during the dry trimming or wet trimming process. This saves precious time while minimizing human touchpoints, delivering a cleaner flower to market faster than any other technology out there.

The future of cannabis flower is here, and it can be found in Cryo Cure’s Live Resin Flower. Contact Cryo Cure to learn more about our machines and how they can be used in your facility.

What Does GMP in Cannabis Mean For Cultivators?

What Does GMP in Cannabis Mean For Cultivators?

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are a core part of the food and beverage industry and the pharmaceutical industry, serving to ensure these manufacturers create safe, reliable products through a consistent set of documented processes. Currently, GMP standards do not apply to the cannabis industry, but they are widely expected to in the near future — especially as the legalization movement advances worldwide.

For cannabis cultivators and manufacturers, conforming to GMP standards now will not only result in safe processes and consistent products, but will also give a competitive advantage when GMP standards do apply to the cannabis industry. This guide introduces the concept of GMP standards and describes what they might look like when it comes to cannabis cultivation and manufacturing.

What are Good Manufacturing Practices?

GMP standards are meant to ensure that all products are made with a process that consistently meets certain quality standards. Adhering to GMP means establishing documented, repeatable processes that will always provide the same result — safe, high quality products. GMP compliance is vital to the overall success of any company that desires to sell consumer products, including cosmetics, food, and eventually, cannabis.

The 5 Ps of Cannabis GMP

GMP standards are a set of guidelines that allow manufacturers to arrive at their own unique GMP compliant process, rather than a set of strict rules that must be followed. These guidelines include five main components, commonly referred to as the “Five Ps” of cannabis GMP. Cannabis cultivators and manufacturers can work toward GMP compliance by focusing on each of these factors.

1. People

Employing a highly-qualified team of experienced individuals is essential to establishing GMP compliance. Beyond the initial hiring process, establishing and documenting proper training is an investment that can make or break a company.

Employers should always develop safety protocols and provide their team with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Generally, training for cannabis cultivation employees should cover everything from caring for the plants to safety precautions to environmental concerns following harvest.

The day to day work of personnel should also be tracked and recorded in a systematic way. That’s to create an auditable record of every step taken in the life cycle of a plant from seed to sale. Manufacturers must also define roles and responsibilities in a clear, documented hierarchy to ensure that their facility runs like a well-oiled machine.

2. Premises

The premises step involves all facility design factors and safety considerations within a cultivation site. All cultivation and manufacturing facilities should be maintained to high-quality standards to guarantee the safety of health or employees. This includes proper ventilation systems and, in the case of extraction facilities, C1D1 and C1D2 zones to prevent fires and explosions and mitigate damage should these accidents occur.

When it comes to cannabis, proper premises selection and facility design has a lot to do with storage conditions of inputs and finished products. While machine maintenance is essential, post-production storage of harvested flower and products is just as necessary. Cultivators should consider all factors of their facility, from the HVAC system to filtration to fire safety.

While building GMP compliant premises can be quite costly, proper facility design is essential to verifying product quality and, ultimately, the longevity of the business. A GMP compliant process is also likely to be more efficient, saving money in the long run despite the upfront investment.

3. Process

All cannabis facilities must implement documented standard operating procedures (SOPs) describing every facet of their operation. These SOPs should be followed strictly to ensure that cultivation and laboratory facilities will pass regular inspections. As GMP compliance is an ongoing process, SOPs should also be frequently revisited and updated accordingly with current best practices.

Part of the process stage relates to the equipment used in cultivation or manufacturing. Generally, there are three phases when it comes to machinery in the GMP validation process: the installation qualification (IQ), the operational qualification (OQ), and the processing qualification (PQ). Each of these bars must be passed to obtain GMP certification.

    • Installation qualification (IQ): This verifies that machinery is qualified and was installed and configured to meet GMP standards. Cannabis manufacturers should always work under medical GMP standards, especially if they plan on exporting products. IQ means the material of the machinery is made to quality standards, and anything touching the product is 316 stainless steel or better.
    • Operational qualification (OQ): This verifies that a machine has been installed and is operating consistently and dependently within the manufacturer’s standards. Operational qualification ensures that a facility is ready for function and that the devices will run exactly as intended every time.
    • Processing qualification (PQ): Cannabis companies must prove that they follow the same SOPs every time to achieve the same intended results. These instructions should be as clear to a third-party inspector as it is to facility personnel. They must also be easy to replicate and test procedures to guarantee their effectiveness.

4. Product

Product quality is one of the most essential parts of GMP qualification. Third-party testing ensures that products are being manufactured via a repeatable process that results in the same final product every time. Product quality testing is generally conducted using a third party to track and manage all materials used to manufacture cannabis products.

Relying mainly on inventory tracking, each product must be managed down to the raw material inputs used to create them. Where those products are sourced, how they are shipped, and the conditions in which they are stored before the process begins all matter when it comes to GMP standards. Testing also confirms product quality and label accuracy. Cannabis companies that do not produce products in line with GMP standards could face consumer health problems, recalls, and damage to brand reputation.

5. Procedures

Procedures cover how administrative teams track and enforce their cultivation and manufacturing processes throughout the facility. Generally, GMP standards cover everything from safety and emergency protocols to organizational hierarchy. Cannabis cultivators seeking GMP certification should keep detailed records of their procedures to present such information to a third-party auditor.
Cannabis GMP and what it means for cultivators
GMP certification is generally regarded as “when, not if” when it comes to the U.S. cannabis industry. While many cannabis cultivators choose to ignore GMP regulations, there’s no denying the importance of documented, repeatable processes and consistent results.

In Germany, for example, GMP certification remains the most basic requirement for any company producing medical cannabis and exporting it to the European Union. According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), “Any manufacturer of medicines intended for the EU market, no matter where in the world it is located, must comply with GMP.”

As cannabis legalization expands across the U.S., GMP standards will likely become the norm for this industry. Regardless of current regulations, any business that wishes to ensure safety, quality, and demonstrate to consumers and partners their commitment to each should make GMP compliance a top priority.

GMP certification in the EU

As the cannabis industry grows, it’s more important than ever that companies with international reach are prepared to enter markets overseas. This means that it’s essential for cannabis companies who want to enter the European market to obtain GMP certification, even if it’s not required in the U.S.

Because cannabis is considered a medical product in the European Union, GMP is a prerequisite for most cannabis companies operating in Europe. According to the EMA, all cannabis products must be manufactured and tested under formal conditions, including a listing in the Eudra Database European Medicines Agency. Generally, suppliers and partners in Europe are not likely to work with non-GMP certified companies.

GMP certified vs. GMP ready

“GMP ready” generally means that a company has not received GMP certification from a third-party organization, but believes it would qualify if it did apply. The phrase “GMP certified” confirms that a cultivator has gone through all or any of the steps of the GMP certification process.

Cultivating cannabis with GMP compliance in mind

With the cannabis industry continuing to grow, there has never been a better time to prioritize GMP compliance. Designing your cultivation or manufacturing facility with the right equipment and methodology is the only way to ensure that your company will be prepared for GMP compliance and other regulatory changes.

Choosing top quality machinery that meets GMP standards, including Cryo Cure’s line of patented freeze drying machines, is a major consideration when setting up a GMP compliant process. To learn more about how Cryo Cure can support your cannabis cultivation or manufacturing business, contact us today.