After spending months planting and tending to your plants, you’re probably eager to try your final harvest. In order to make sure your yield is as healthy and flavorful as possible, though, you’ll need to do a little bit more than simply chop your yield off the plant. There are two important things you’ll need to do with your harvest in order to preserve — and even enhance — your harvested yield: drying and curing it.
Whether you're growing in a garden or using an indoor grow tent system, dried and cured yields last longer, taste better.
In this article, we’ll go over what drying and curing harvests actually does to your plants. We’re also going to explain to you how it’s done so you can dry and cure your own harvests. Before you actually touch your harvest, though, let’s talk about what these processes are.
What Is Drying and Curing?
Drying and curing are two processes that go hand in hand after a yield has been harvested by the grower. Rather than simply consuming your fruits, vegetables, herbs, or after harvesting, you’ll want to spend an additional couple of weeks — in some cases even months — drying and curing your crops.
As its name suggests, drying involves reducing the water content of your harvest. From fruits to vegetables and herbs to buds, drying your yields can help reduce excess moisture inside. This allows for better tastes, smells, and longevity.
Drying fruits and vegetables allows them to develop more resistant skin. Good skin and rinds help lock in the amount of moisture needed for the “meat” of each piece. Too much moisture and your yield can break down easily and begin to spoil or rot. Not enough moisture and the fruit or vegetable will have bad flavors, eventually shriveling up and rotting out.
Whether you want to use your yield immediately or you’d rather store the fruits, veggies, or herbs for a while, it’s a good idea to dry them thoroughly before doing so. Thankfully, doing so is fairly hassle-free if you use a harvest kit that comes with sheers, a pruning tray, and a drying rack.
Curing is the process by which dried and dehydrated plants are kept in areas with regulated climate conditions before they are placed in long-term storage. Curing plants that have been dried helps preserve them by making them stronger, healthier, and able to last for several months.
During the curing process, yields are dehydrated a little further from the drying phase through osmosis and evaporation. This creates an adhesive bond within a plant’s structure that keeps it from falling apart easily. It also causes the plant to produce more chemical compounds that provide great flavors and scents.
For instance, when plants are dried and then cured, the first thing you’ll notice is that they don’t break down easily. That’s a sign that you’ll be able to use and extract the buds in a variety of ways. Not to mention you’ll be able to store these buds with enough moisture to keep the scents and flavors preserved for a long time.
What Does Drying and Curing Do for My Harvest?
While drying and curing your harvests will help improve the quality of your yields and help them last longer when stored, there isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all approach. Different yields require different post-harvest treatment so they can be enhanced in different ways. The following are just a few examples of what drying and curing different yields can do for your harvest.
Fruits and Vegetables
Drying and curing your fruits and vegetables will make sure that they taste great and are able to be stored and preserved for long periods of time.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider curing your fruits and vegetables:
- Locks in flavor. Drying and curing fruits and vegetables helps preserve flavonoids to keep their flavors when they are stored for later use. Otherwise, even if they don’t rot, flavor cells will deteriorate and your yield will lose flavor.
- Prevents rot. When you dry and cure your fruits and vegetables, it helps their skin to harden and dry. This prevents rot and mold that you do not want anywhere near your fruits and veggies.
- Protects your harvest. When you dry and cure fruits and vegetables, the hardened skin protects them from internal scrapes, bruises, and scratches that can damage the “meat” of each piece.
You can prepare your herbs for long-term use by making sure they are completely dried before you use or store them. It’s worth noting that there’s really no way or reason to cure herbs, so drying them will suffice.
Here are the key reasons herbs should be dried before consumption:
- Prevents spoilage. When leafy herbs are stored without being completely dehydrated, mold-producing bacteria can cause these herbs to spoil. Drying herbs prevents mold from spoiling them.
- Enhances flavor. Drying your harvest will preserve the flavor of the herbs, from the leaves to seeds.
How to Dry and Cure Harvests
Now that you know why you should dry and cure your yields, let’s get into the actual process of how to do it!
One of the best ways to make sure that your plants are properly and completely dried is to use drying racks. These let you set your yields on each level and receive 360 degrees of airflow for efficient drying. Whether you use a hanging dry net, a hanging metal drying rack, or a stackable square drying rack, these tools will ensure that you can prevent mold and dry multiple plants at the same time.
Once you’re set up, it’s time to clip your harvest and get to drying.
- Start by trimming the harvest off your main plant.
Place the trimmed harvest in your desired drying area.
- Some people use drying racks, while others hang their harvests directly from the branch they were cut from. Be sure wherever you dry your harvest is out of reach of pests.
- Keep your drying area around 65 to 75°F so that your yield doesn’t overdry or rot as a result of drying too slowly.
- Maintain humidity levels around 45 to 55 percent to ensure your yield doesn’t dry out too much or too quickly — or worse, grow mold from too much moisture.
The moisture level you’re looking for is up to you. That said, keep in mind that various yields require different drying times depending on what you want to do with your yield.
Fruits need a lot of moisture to stay juicy, but you can dry them a little longer before curing to reduce unnecessary moisture. This helps them last longer during storage.
- Depending on how dry you want them, drying fruit can take anywhere from six hours with manual heat to a few days with natural heat.
Vegetables vary with regard to the moisture you need, but generally, the less moisture the better. This is especially true when it comes to grains and root vegetables like carrots.
- Leafy greens and stalky vegetables like celery tend to retain plenty of water, so the drying process on these can be minimal.
- Depending on the drying system used, drying vegetables can take anywhere from one to eighteen hours.
Herbs and medicinal plants should stay minimally moist. They’ll still need some moisture — otherwise they can dry out and lose the majority of their flavors and effects. Too much moisture, however, will make them virtually unusable.
- herbs and buds can take over a week to dry — versus leafy herbs that typically only take two to four hours to dry.
If you’re not sure whether your harvest is dried yet, take one plant and bend the stem. If that stem is able to bend considerably, the plant may need to dry for a bit longer. If either the plant or the branch it came from snap when bent, it’s more likely the harvest has properly dried and is ready to cure.
In order for different plants to cure properly, they need to be in an environment that offers ideal temperature, humidity, and curing conditions for their specific needs.
Here are some common curing environments for different plants and their complexities:
- Garlic should be cured at warmer temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees, and it should be kept in an area with roughly 70 percent humidity. Garlic typically needs to be cured for one to three weeks.
- Potatoes, should be cured at cooler temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees, but they require higher levels of humidity levels around 95 percent.
- Sweet potatoes may seem similar to potatoes, but they require a completely different curing environment. Sweet potatoes need to cure at around 90 degrees with 90 to 95 percent humidity.
- Onions and shallots can be sun-cured, but they do best when they’re cured in an area with a temperature between 80 and 90 degrees and a humidity around 80 percent for two to three weeks.
While there are many other plants and herbs that are conducive to drying and curing, it’s important to realize that the curing conditions will play a major role in the final product.
Growers need to have a curing space where they’ll be able to regulate the temperature and ventilation. That means having room for all of your equipment — such as fans with speed controllers, drying racks, and curing containers — to provide the perfect curing conditions for their specific harvest.
Storing Your Cured Harvest
While drying and curing your harvest will make a big difference when it comes to the shelf life of your harvest, these measures are only helpful if you store and preserve your harvest properly. Without the proper storage techniques, your crops won’t be able to reach their full shelf life. That means you’ll either have to throw them out or consume them much quicker.
Eventually, every fruit, vegetable, or herb will go bad. Even then, the better a grower is able to dry, cure, and store their plants, the longer their daily harvests will last.
Depending on what it is you’re growing, there are a few resources you will need to properly store your cured harvest:
- Glass jars, such as mason jars, are ideal for storing plants that need cooler temperatures during the curing process. This is because glass jars are better at retaining controlled temperatures — so long as you’re not opening and closing the jar every few minutes — and therefore can potentially keep moisture and humidity levels at a minimum.
- Vacuum sealers like the NatureVAC Economy Vacuum Sealer are ideal for fruits and vegetables because they remove as much air from the bags as possible while protecting the harvest inside. Because fruits and vegetables are prone to scratches and damage, vacuum sealers are a great option for storage.
- Herbs last longest when they’re kept in cool spaces outside of direct sunlight. You can help preserve their flavor by finding cooler, darker spaces to store your herbs. It can be as complicated as a separate mini fridge or as simple as a corner in your kitchen.
With the right storage conditions, fruits and vegetables can be stored for around six months, herbs can stay fresh for about a year, and can maintain for up to two years.
Should You Dry and Cure Your Harvests?
If you have the time and means to do so, you absolutely should take the extra steps necessary to dry and cure your harvests.
Drying and curing your harvests will require you to spend more time and energy on the growing process than you normally would, but it will pay off in the end. If you know how to cure and store your harvest properly, your efforts will be worth it, and you’ll be rewarded with longer-lasting plants that have more flavor, better scents, and higher potency.