Cannabis Science


Why Fresh Frozen is Taking Over the Cannabis Harvest

Fresh frozen is a versatile method for cannabis cultivators to preserve their crop of flowers. As you can probably guess, it involves cryogenically freezing freshly harvested buds as soon as possible. This method of preservation offers growers with a plan several advantages, which we will get to in this article.

The growing season is rife with difficulties that can befall cultivators. Pests, environmental stresses, questionable genetics yielding poorly – take your pick! Then once harvest comes around, just when you think you’re in the clear, a trickier battle ensues to dry and cure your painstakingly grown bud properly.

Think you’ve got a handle on the drying and curing process? What about what to do with your bountiful harvest? Depending on the scale of your cultivation operation, you will likely run into problems selling it all. Every year, farmers in northern California’s Emerald Triangle watch pounds of quality product deteriorate before they can be sold.

Fresh frozen is an elegant solution to the questions surrounding the trickier aspects of the drying and curing process, as well as the long-term storage of the product. Oh, and as a bonus – fresh frozen cannabis flowers are in relatively high demand these days in the concentrates and distillate market. Cultivators who employ this method optimise their crop (read: make more money) in several important ways, which we will explore below.

Why Fresh Frozen is an Attractive Harvest Alternative

When marijuana buds are at their peak ripeness – indicated by full, juicy flowers, cloudy and/or amber trichomes on the flower surface, and intoxicating fragrances – they are ready for harvest. The harvest process may vary from cultivator to cultivator, but the basic principles remain the same. First, the flowers are cut down, their fan leaves removed, and then they are hung to dry in the dark for a while.

After five to seven days of drying in a controlled environment, the flowers may be removed from their stalks to continue the drying process. When ready for long-term curing, they are carefully stored in airtight containers away from degrading light.

This multi-step procedure is time-consuming to do properly and can go wrong at any point in time. Trichomes and their valuable contents – cannabinoids and tasty terpenes – are extremely delicate and volatile. For example, they are prone to degrading if the flowers are handled too roughly through oxidation or if drying conditions aren’t stable.

Fresh freezing harvested flowers removes any uncertainty about the drying and curing process (as long as freezers stay on). Once the flowers are cut down and fan leaves trimmed, the plant material is placed in bags (vacuum sealed if necessary) and stored in freezers at -38C as soon as possible. Terpenes and cannabinoids begin to break down as early as an hour after the flower is cut down, so speed and decisiveness are critical to this process.

Freezing fresh bud will preserve nearly all of the compounds produced by the cannabis flowers. Cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and water content are in no danger of degrading, and the cultivator can rest easier knowing they won’t need to stay on top of drying room conditions.

While resources that would have gone to make sure the harvest crew is paid up will be redirected towards running industrial freezers 24 hours a day, it certainly saves a tremendous amount of time. Growers will also feel peace of mind (quite valuable throughout a prolonged harvest) knowing their product is secure and not at risk of loss from uneven drying conditions. Fresh freezing a harvest will also save growers time and money by circumventing the trimming process.

A fresh-frozen harvest will also increase the amount of flower material cultivators can monetise. For example, a grower planning on harvesting and drying/curing the largest, juiciest buds traditionally may use the fresh frozen method to harvest smalls and otherwise undesirable portions of their crop. This opens different channels for selling more products, as the large, high-quality nugs can go into branded jars and the fresh frozen smalls towards cannabis extracts.

In short, if a grower’s crop is laden with cannabinoids and terpenes but not exactly desirable from a bag appeal point of view, fresh frozen is the way to go.

What can be Done With Fresh Frozen Cannabis?

Cultivators with a plan will benefit the most from the fresh frozen method. As farmers of any crop will be able to attest, growing and harvesting is only half the battle. The rest of it is in the selling of the product.

Fortunately, there are many different sales channels fresh frozen cannabis flowers can move through. The most significant and possibly most profitable is the extracts market that has exploded in different ways. Growers trying to move bulk quantities of the product may consider extraction companies as viable business partners (but don’t sell anything before seeing a contract!).

Companies have several extraction methods to convert fresh frozen material into delicious, terpene-forward products with high concentrations of beneficial cannabinoids. One of the most profitable and highest-profile extracts is live resin. Live resin is derived from a butane hash oil (aka BHO) extraction of ground-up frozen buds, with several mouth-watering options for the final product.

Diamonds, Sauce, Batter, and Sugar

Fresh frozen cannabis flowers can be transformed into various concentrate products. By freezing buds early after harvest, trichome heads (the resinous glands containing all the good stuff) are preserved as much as possible. This allows extractors to produce a variety of concentrates.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the more popular products one can find in any dispensary.

Diamonds are very eye-catching, crystalline concentrates. They are the result of THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid – the precursor to THC) naturally and cleanly separating from other cannabinoids during the closed-loop BHO extraction process. THCA is converted to THC when heat is applied to it, making it psychoactive.

Diamonds are extremely potent and usually sold in a terpene-heavy mixture of sauce. Sauce (aka live resin sauce) is a flavourful, terpene-heavy mixture that is created during the extraction process of creating diamonds. While THCA crystallises to form diamonds, terpenes and lesser amounts of cannabinoids separate into a runny, cloudy resinous liquid. This liquid is also known as high terpene extracts (HTEs) and is often combined with diamonds to serve up some loud flavours alongside powerful highs.

Batter, aka badder or budder, is characterised by its smooth, almost cake frosting-like texture. They tend to finish as blond or deep gold, eventually hardening and curing to a darker brown over time. Sugar is aptly named, appearing as rough granules of sugar in a honey suspension.

Go Solventless – Aka Live Rosin

Live rosin (please note the difference a single letter makes!) is the term used to describe a variety of cannabis concentrate products that are produced without using a solvent. Unlike live resin concentrates, which can use closed-loop systems powered by butane, propane, or ethanol, solventless concentrates are extracted by soaking fresh frozen cannabis in ice water baths and freeze-drying.

Live rosin or solventless concentrate is attractive for consumers who aren’t necessarily keen on the chemical compounds used in solvent extractions. For extractors, the process is generally considered as a safer alternative to solvent concentrates, which use many flammable chemicals under high pressure or heat to produce their products.

After being freeze-dried, the mixture of bubble hash is processed using a rosin press to produce an attractive, luscious, terpene and cannabinoid laden concentrate.

The Expanding Market for Fresh Frozen Flowers

Concentrates are surging in popularity as more growers embrace fresh frozen and more consumers are made aware of its benefits. The prevalence of dab rigs and other methods of consuming concentrates is evidence of their success in the market. Fresh frozen flowers can even be processed into THC and CBD-infused edibles, drinks, candies, tinctures, and topicals.

As acceptance for the cannabis plant grows worldwide, innovative and rewarding processes such as fresh frozen will open the door for cultivators around the world to share their bountiful harvests.

Post author
Martin is a production horticulturist with experience in commercial cannabis cultivation and sustainable farming from his time with Emerald Cup Award-winning farmers Esensia Gardens in northern California's Emerald Triangle.
See more from Martin

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