Trimming is a crucial step in the post-harvest process and one that can directly impact the value of a grower’s products. An over-trimmed bud might have bag appeal, but the loss of valuable biomass to trim can hurt a grower’s potential revenue. Meanwhile, an under-trimmed bud can look sloppy and unappealing to consumers.
Given the balancing act cannabis cultivators must perform, it’s no wonder that 74% of participants in Cannabis Business Times’ Cannabis Post-Harvest Report mentioned hand-trimming as their greatest post-harvest challenge, with trimming efficiency (29%), consistency (22%) and quality (12%) being among the top issues.
So, what exactly makes a good trim?
To answer that, Cannabis Business Times and Hemp Grower interviewed Sara Morse, lead trimmer for LOWD Cannabis in Portland, Ore., who shares her trimming philosophy, how LOWD trims its high-end line of Smoke Like a Grower (SLAG) bud using stick trimming, how she keeps her 7-person trim team motivated to repeatedly produce high-quality work, and more in this interview.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.
Brian MacIver: What's your personal philosophy when it comes to trimming? Or, in other words, what effect should a good trim have on the product?
Sara Morse: We spend months growing these buds and the trim team is kind of the last line of defense in really making sure that we're letting the truest expression of that genome, of that ... strain, really express itself and make sure that we're leaving all the little beautiful little nuances of different strains intact.
When we're approaching a different strain or when I have a new trimmer that hasn't worked with a strain that we grow before, I encourage them to take a little piece of a branch with a couple of buds on it, or cola, and kind of hold it at arm’s length and look at that bud objectively and be like, “What on this bud would I want to smoke and what on this bud am I going to want to take off before I smoke?”
BM: LOWD treats its SLAG products to a stick trim. How is stick trimming done and what are its benefits?
SM: Our guy that leads up our operations team, one of our head growers, he will take some of the plants that got especially nice and hang those to the side as we're harvesting. Then me and Jesce, our CEO, will go into the dry room and we spend half the day just going through all of the curtains of our cured product and picking out our favorite branches, the branches of the plants that have just the most beautiful buds. We'll get maybe one or two buds that actually meet SLAG bud standards from each branch. It takes us quite a while to really make sure that we really feel like we're getting the very best buds of our whole harvest to be able to stick trim.
I have myself and my two top trimmers in the trim room for that process. We'll take a whole branch and we hold it by the bottom of the stick, so we don't ever actually touch the bud. We're not handling them anymore than we have to, and that's to be able to really preserve as much [of] those trichomes. They can shake off and they stick to your fingers every time you touch the bud. We hold them at the stick and then just use the very tip of our scissors to clip the stems of the little leaves that we want to clip out, making sure that we're not even getting anywhere near those little hairs, those little trichomes so that they all stay on there. We just clip it straight into the jar.
BM: How do you train a new trim team member to quickly get them up to speed on what you expect?
SM: That can definitely be tough. I have high enough standards in my trim room that it's been really difficult for us to be able to give the opportunity to somebody who doesn't have any trim experience at all to be able to have a shot in our trim room just because, in order to be able to be on schedule, to be able to keep up with the rotation of the plants, we all have to be able to trim a pound a day.
The way that I've tried to approach it, when I am bringing a new person into the trim team, or making sure that everyone's on the same page, is I will seat them in our trim room in between a couple of my more experienced, faster trimmers. And I'll encourage both of them to be keeping an eye on the pace that the prospective new trimmer is working at, and then every half an hour or so I'll peek in at their pool and see how they're doing, and then sometimes we'll sit down and we'll trim together and I'll kind of be helping, giving pointers about organization.
A lot of maintaining quality while still trimming a pound a day has to do with organization at your trim station and making sure you're cutting down on any kind of superfluous motions with your scissors or with supplies at the table. If you're trimming a pound a day, that's many, many buds. So, every little motion that you make with every trimmed bud really adds up.
BM: How do you keep a trim team motivated to do such a repetitive task over an eight-hour shift?
SM: That can be tricky. There are a lot of kind of social and environmental factors right now that have led most of the people on my team to have some perspective about how amazing it is to have a job where we work full-time and very much enjoy the company of our coworkers and have great bosses and have a great job because that definitely feels like it's a little bit of a luxury in today's world.
I also have been working on building an incentives program, which Jesce has been very receptive to. So, we track what everybody trims every day, and then we tally those up by the week. At the end of each harvest, we have an average of how many grams everybody trimmed each day [relative to] how many hours everyone was there to come up with an average of what everyone's trimming per hour. Halfway through the harvest, we'll buy a bunch of gift cards from a local coffee shop, or there's also a little grocery store a half-block away from work that some of us go to, to pick up lunch and stuff like that. And so sometimes they'll get a gift card for that, and I'll get like a little handheld back massager.
BM: What tips do you have to offer on increasing the quality of the hand trim?
SM: Make sure that your team is very clear on how it is that you want your buds to look by the time it's done being trimmed. In my experience, a lot what helps people be able to pick up their efficiency and pick up their speed and their numbers and still have a really good looking trim at the end of the day definitely has to do with making sure that each individual person feels confident in how it is that the trim leader or the grower expects their finished product to look.
BM: What tips do you have to increase trimmer efficiency?
SM: If the trimmer is confident in what they're doing, then they can kind of zone in. It's confidence that the job that you're doing is exactly what is required that helps you to really be able to move faster. If you're not fully confident on how to handle it, you're just really not going to be able to move fast because you don't want to screw it up. It's a fact that sometimes buds get over-trimmed; sometimes you've got a newer person that's not super sure what they're doing and they trim for an hour, and they were just shaving everything and then you can't use those buds. Then that definitely puts into the trimmer's mind that, 'I just ruined all these beautiful buds,' and that takes away all their confidence. I get them more confident by encouraging them and the things that they are doing correctly.Another tip on efficiency would be making sure that you're very organized. I have a method that I have everybody use, no matter how much trim experience at other places that they've had or ways they've tackled it before: We take our trim tray and then we put all of the buds that we're about to trim in the top part of the tray. As we're trimming, we're pulling any little sticks out of the tray, putting those separate as we go. We're taking any smaller “B-buds” that we don't necessarily want in our nice big half-ounce jars out as we go. We're making sure that we're not wasting any time trimming “B-buds” when we're actually going for the “A-buds.”