The cannabis world is experiencing an incredible evolution. More favorable common-sense laws allow businesses across the country to join in on the green rush, providing a safer environment to produce cannabis and a legal framework to purchase and consume it. A greater amount of cannabis is being produced today than ever before in a more professional environment with experienced and knowledgeable cultivators. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of concentrates, where passion meets science, cultivation and ingenuity. The quest to extract the best-quality concentrates has had a marked influence on the cultivation of cannabis, changing how some approach growing. The results are a greater understanding of cannabis cultivation and a wave of cleaner, more enjoyable concentrates entering the market for consumers to enjoy.
Before considering the environment and the growing techniques involved in producing top-shelf concentrates, it’s important to understand how genetics play a role in extractions and how they can influence both yield and quality. Intimate knowledge of and experience with a specific strain or a strain’s particular phenotype can aid in choosing the right genetics for the production of concentrates. Multiple Cannabis Cup winner Ozi, a.k.a. the Cuban Grower, explains, “I like to use old-school, frosty strains like Cookies and Cream which will dump loads of kief and trichomes.” He prefers using sativa and sativa-dominant hybrids to make water hash and kief as “they seem to be more stable and stay sandy as opposed to greasing up too much.” Ozi adds: “The landrace, sativa-dominant strains seem to have more stability, especially at higher temps, making extraction easier.”
Perhaps this is inherent in equatorial strains, as they are accustomed to higher environmental temperatures and produce terpenes that are more stable. Conversely, more indica-dominant strains like OGs, Kushes and Purples are accustomed to cooler temperatures and tend to be volatile at higher temps, greasing up and becoming harder to extract via non-solvent methods that produce kief and water hash. Some terpenes begin to volatilize at temperatures as low as 74°F, while others are stable up until nearly 400°F-plus.
Cannabis Cup winner Nikka T of Essential Extracts California prefers the approach of choosing strains that exhibit a high oil-to-wax (fats and lipids) ratio. While he loves Cookies and Cream for its large yields, he “prefers strains like Forbidden Fruit, which returns a smaller yield but tends to have more terpenes and a larger nose.” Nikka adds: “Cookies and Cream doesn’t have the huge terpene profile. The best of both worlds would be OGs and Kushes, which have a decent yield but also the greasy, heavy terpene count.” The key here is that different strains will result in variations in quality and yield. Some strains lend themselves to kief while others provide a higher quality when extracted with cold water or via solvent extraction.
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Setting the Environment
Cultivation specifically for Cup-worthy concentrates means setting an environment that yields greater terpene and oil content. This can often conflict with an established garden objective, as big fat colas accompanying huge yields don’t necessarily mean a better percentage of high-quality concentrates. Intense lights that help produce massive flowers should either be replaced with lower-wattage ballasts or be placed farther away from the garden’s canopy. Lowering the temperature of the growroom to as low as 68°F can reduce flower yields but help retain precious terpenes that add to the flavor and quality of the end product. Remember when walking into a garden that those terpenes that fill the air are degassing off the plants, resulting in less essential oils and flavor in your flower and therefore in your concentrate. The Cuban Grower advises, “I use an infrared gun to monitor my canopy tops and try to remain below 75°F to avoid cooking the tops.”
Proper pruning and the use of trellising, stakes, and stem-bending or -twisting methods can help ensure that flower sites receive as much exposure to light as possible. This gives the plant enough energy to produce as much oil in the buds below the canopy as well as those on the top. And, as High Times senior cultivation editor Danny Danko teaches, “The more the root, the more the fruit.” Plants that have larger root-balls can divert more energy to the flower and into oil production. Providing an environment rich in CO2 gives the plant more fuel to produce a greater number of better-developed trichomes, and it’s a fairly easy means to boost concentrate performance. Some growers refer to themselves fondly as “terp farmers.”
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You Are What You Eat
One of the unforeseen consequences in the explosion of the popularity and the production of concentrates has been the way that it has illuminated some of the poorer practices in the cannabis community. What was once undetectable or present in very low numbers in flowers has now been concentrated and revealed in unacceptable amounts in extracts. While a flower may have 20 percent THCA, once concentrated it can reach 85 percent and higher. Any pesticides, heavy metals and contaminants can also increase in similar fashion, highlighting the need to grow without the use of chemicals, pesticides and other additives. Nikka T warns against “using feeds heavy in salts or synthetic sugars as they are harder to flush out, which creates a larger wax-to-oil ratio, resulting in inferior concentrates.” When growing specifically for concentrates, foliar feeds should never be used, especially in the flowering period, as any substance that gets on the flower material will wind up concentrated in your final material. Flushing at the end of a grow becomes paramount to the quality of your concentrate. Any salts, nutrients or non-cannabis elements will contaminate the flavor and smoothness of the smoke. Avoid foliar sprays as much as possible, as these can easily find their way into your finished product. Although it might be unnoticeable when smoking the flower, a discerning palate can detect a contaminant in its concentrated form. Harsh, bitter or unenjoyable flavors in your dab can often be attributed to neem oil or too many sugars or nutrients.
In the modern concentrate market, there’s an overall emphasis on keeping the concentrate as pure to the plant’s genetic expression as possible. Plants shouldn’t be fed or encouraged to grow to a freakish point. Steroid-fueled hulking nugs fed to the brink with PGRs (plant-growth regulators) will not produce smooth, favorably flavored top-shelf material. The flavor shouldn’t represent the terroir of the environment like old-school hash from overseas, containing impurities from the mountains from which the plants came. Distinct water and nutrient combinations as well as less-than-favorable extraction locations and methods lend their own uniqueness. Pounding stalks of cannabis against concrete walls and collecting kief from the dusty floor to press into hashish imparts flavors that are impure and complex. Modern extraction knowledge and improved palates have elevated the art of concentrates.
The modest use of some beneficial teas, finishers and bloomers can be used to increase terpene production, as long as they can be fully flushed away. The Cuban Grower prefers to use a feed finisher that makes the plant think it has a bacterial infection with the idea that this helps increase resin and terpenoid production midway through flowering.
When it comes to feeding, last-minute sugars, blackstrap molasses and many other finishers add too many sugars and nutrients that become difficult to fully remove from the plant and don’t have enough time to be converted into useful energy.
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The Fruits of Your Labor
Providing the best path to the greatest concentrates doesn’t quite end in the growroom and can be often overlooked. Drying and curing your flowers destroys terpenes and changes the overall freshness of the flavor. Older material and dried-out trim can result in an undesirable hay-like, earthy flavor, diminishing the boldness and burst of flavor. Putting your fresh-cut material into a cold environment and even freezing it to preserve those precious terpenes is the most popular way to run water hash. Solvent extractions usually use drier material, often resulting in loss of flavor and oil. Cold curing is slowly becoming more popular, cutting out that tinny flavor that often accompanies concentrates made from wet material. Lowering temperatures to the high 50s or low 60s and providing a small amount of airflow can help achieve a good ratio of dryness to terpene retention.
Intimate knowledge and experience with a specific strain, even a particular phenotype, can be a fundamental key in the craft of extraction. Providing cool and clean grow spaces that follow proper standards and practices gives the plant the greatest probability of producing the best extracts possible. Giving the plant enough sustenance to thrive without pushing it, ensuring that it only receives beneficial nutrients and water and avoiding any foliar contact to prevent foreign contamination, provides the best material to process into concentrates. The remarkable advancements of cannabis concentrates are primarily due to the growing practices of our cultivators. While we continually strive for the best-grown and cleanest cannabis possible, the truth is that, on the whole, cannabis has never been as clean as it is now. When the passion of cultivators and the modern techniques of extractors meet, the results can be the most effective and greatest gift that cannabis can provide.