There’s lots to say about the importance of a carefully vetted nutrient regimen, a high-quality cut or batch of seeds, and the vitality of the soil into which those seeds or clones are planted.
However, once that plant is out of the ground, storage is the single most important factor as your product moves through the harvest process, onto the shelves, and into consumers’ hands.
Great flower can lose value if poorly stored. Buds can dry out, grow mold, lose their scent, and experience diminished potency. Great storage can prolong the quality of each bud and truly make it last.
When it comes to storage, there are three primary factors to consider: container, location and oxygen. Not every grower is on the same page on these subjects, but you will also be customizing your method based on your unique crop and resources.
Containers For Cannabis
Oral traditions — and Reddit chatrooms — are at least in agreement on one thing: Shrewd storage begins during the drying and curing period. When buds are curing, whether trimmed or not, keeping them in glass containers, in the opinion of many cannabis cultivation experts, is the only way to go.
Indeed, the glass jars should be filled to the top, leaving little room for air, which will mostly be expelled due to diminished space. Nonetheless, you do need minimal air and moisture to remain in the jar as this will allow the aerobic bacteria to develop so that it can consume chlorophyll, resulting in buds that smoke smoother, with less harshness on the throat and a more pleasing taste.
Just like most green things from the ground, light and wide swings in temperature will cause reactions in the jars that can cause buds to dry out or be ruined. For that reason, many grow experts are also in agreeance that buds should be stored in a dark, cool place, which is a convenient circumstance for dispensaries, given that they have to stock most product in massive safes, 24/7.
Speaking of dispensaries, cumbersome glass jars are far from ideal on the other side of the counter.
“Most vendors bring product by the pound, but even that sized glass jar is so heavy and large, it’s more a pain than anything,” says Luke, one of the purchasers at Virtue Supply Company recreational dispensary based in Portland, Oregon. “Vacuum-sealed plastic containers are the most practical on our end.”
For that reason and also as legal cannabis continues to spread, the niche industry and technology of cannabis storage is likely to evolve, depending on where your product is headed after harvest, and when. People who are looking to provide storage solutions in what could potentially be a booming ancillary industry must think about space and transportation. And if you’re transferring a delivery to a dispensary, remember to consider what will be most functional if the retail facility buys on the spot.
Cannabis And Oxygen 101
Whether storing cannabis in glass or plastic, after the curing process is complete, the general consensus is: The less oxygen, the better.
Removing oxygen via vacuum prevents the chemical changes that oxidation causes to the terpenes and potency of cured buds. When asked about whether long-term storage in vacuumed bags could result in crushed, shaky popcorn buds — i.e. those buds that look like underwhelming little nuggets of leftover popcorn — Luke explains that if well-cured and kept snug in their containers, buds shouldn’t be that delicate.
“It’s better in a tight fit in a bag with oxygen vacuumed out, because when there’s room for buds to jumble around. That’s where the real damage happens.”
Some cannabis producers have taken a leaf out of the food industry notebook and implemented nitrogen, an inert gas traditionally used in food packaging, to drive out oxygen and moisture. Rosebud Farms, a medical facility based out of Southern Oregon, experimented with nitrogen for long-term storage, using a conventional nitrogen tank like the kind you’d rent to fill birthday balloons.
With a hose, staff at Rosebud Farms filled the bags of bud with nitrogen, which ideally would push out oxygen, a lighter gas, as it filled the bag. The staff wanted to be able to stack bundles of product without ruining the buds in cramped, vacuum-sealed bags, so each 1–2-pound bag was filled to the brim until it was shaped like a pillow.
Not Everyone Is On Team Nitrogen
There are experienced veterans of the agricultural industry who aren’t totally on board with nitrogen storage. Alisha, a budtender at retail and medical Farma dispensary in Portland, Oregon, who previously worked for an organic vegetable farm, is suspicious of adding another element to jars of cannabis.
“I’m wary of nitrogen because of potential molecular changes to the flower. Light, moisture and oxygen are the main concerns. [But] I’ve seen cannabis that’s been stored with nitrogen and really couldn’t tell a difference.”
Alisha also pointed out that any instance she’d seen of nitrogen storage was more of an attempt to preserve product during times of market saturation.
“If someone knows they’ll make more off their product after a few months, there’s an incentive to sit on it until it’s a better time to sell it. It seems like people use it as a last resort of desperation, not that it does a better job for regular timelines of managing product after harvest.”
In Rosebud’s case, the buds weren’t quite yet cured, and the staff had to prematurely open bags to check quality before a real difference could be measured.
As with most things in this burgeoning legal cannabis industry, it’s difficult to determine a baseline when we’ve only just begun to share our methods and gather enough data to move beyond trial and error every October when it’s time to harvest.