Trichome collection is a valuable aspect of commercial cannabis cultivation. With the right tools and handling, even trim turns a profit thanks to the plant's natural and potent coating trichomes.
While there are ways to process and collect these trichomes with hydrocarbon extraction techniques, this is not always an available or desirable option. Many prefer to skip the butane and collect dry sift kief instead.
What is Dry Sift Kief?
Resinous glands called trichomes thickly coat cannabis flowers. These glands contain the vast majority of the plants' delicious terpenes and cannabinoids. Trichomes exist on sugar leaves and fan leaves, but to a much lesser degree, so these parts of the plant become waste products during trimming.
After harvesting, trichomes become increasingly brittle during the drying and curing process. They are prone to breaking off during trimming, especially with machine trimming. But once they detach from the flower and leaves, these crystallized trichomes become kief. Far from a waste product, kief is much more potent than flower.
Dry sift kief comes from the dry processing of flower and trim to remove the trichomes. It is useful on its own or as a basis for additional processing into hash and concentrates. Generally, most kief comes from dry processing trim and shake, although some producers may choose to sift low-grade buds as a means to get higher value out of a formerly low-value product. Either way, collecting kief is a crucial aspect of capturing the most value from any size grow.
A Note on Trichome Size
Cannabis technically has three different types of trichomes:
The smallest and most prolific of the trichomes, these exist across the entire surface of the plant. They can be as small as 10 microns across and may only form a stalk (no head). They are often lost during processing, even for dry sift kief.
Slightly larger than bulbous trichomes, the capitate sessile trichomes may form a head. They are still often too small for kief collection but will make up some of the final weight in combination with the capitate stalked trichomes. Typically these are between 20 to 30 microns in size.
Capitate-stalked trichomes (Glandular)
Glandular trichomes form the bulk of kief collection. These are the largest type and exist primarily on the flowers. They contain the most cannabinoid and terpenes out of all the types of trichomes. Capitate-stalked trichomes range in size, typically between 50 to 100 microns, have a sizeable resinous head, and are often large enough to see with the naked eye (although a LED Magnifying Loupe Is useful).
The goal of kief collection is to capture the glandular trichomes, which means considering trichome size. Targeting trichomes between 50 to 120 microns captures the most potent (and therefore the most valuable) trichomes. Anything under 50 microns is not worth the time, and anything above 120 captures too much plant material.
The Best Kief Collection For Small Scale Growers
On a small scale, kief collection requires little more than a pair of trim scissors and a kief collection tray. During the act of manicuring a bud, the handling naturally loosens the trichomes. Further rubbing of the shake across the tray surface separates the kief from the plant material. Kief collection rays are a perfect solution for anyone processing a few plants, but labour intensive for more extensive operations.
The Best Kief Collection for Larger Grows
For big grows and commercial enterprises, faster, more efficient kief collectors need to capture dry sift kief without massive labor expenditure. Of course, manual trimming should always happen over a kief collection tray, but there are easier methods of shaking the trichomes loose.
There are two key components to kief collection for a superior product on a larger scale:
- Cold Temperatures
- Two to Three Fine Mesh Sieves (Sized Between 160 to 70 Microns)
Cold temperatures freeze the trichomes, which is crucial for quick and effective separation from the plant material. Some processors choose to freeze the flower (or trim) before processing, while others plunge it into an ice water bath for bubble hash. Still, others introduce dry ice into the equation. All methods transform formerly sticky, resinous trichomes into hard, brittle crystals that easily break off from the flower or leaves.
The second component is a series of fine mesh sieves, graded from 160 (larger mesh) down to at least 70 (smaller mesh) microns in size. Each progressively finer-mesh captures finer and finer kief for what becomes a premium grade product.
Combining both techniques is the basis of bubble hash production. A basic bubble hash set up needs a bucket lined with several layers of mesh bags, with the finest mesh on the bottom and the largest at the top. Then add the plant material into the top bag with ice water, and begin agitating the mixture. The first bag captures only the plant material, and then each progressive bag captures a finer and finer grade if kief.
Automated Kief Collection
Of course, if the budget allows, there are now automated kief collector machines with exponentially greater throughput than manual collection. Automated kief collectors, from the likes of Nug Smasher, can pull upwards of 90 grams of kief from a pound of leftover premium trim.
But you don't necessarily need a brand new piece of equipment for commercial kief collection. Automated trimmers like the Triminator Mini and Standard Dry Trimmer machines have a kief kit add on feature. With the additional kief kit, the Triminator becomes a two-in-one automatic machine, both trimming the flower and collecting the kief.
Kief Collection for Cultivators
Ultimately, you'll want to choose a kief collection process that suits the size of your operation, available labour, and budget. But never forget about it altogether. Kief captures the most valuable aspect of the plant for a potent secondary product.
Whether you choose to utilize the pure kief, press into a hash, or create a cannabis concentrate, the kief collection is an essential aspect of trimming and processing.