If somebody would ask me, 'what is one of the most underestimated but cheap tools each grower should have?' My answer would be, a handheld microscope! This must-have gadget that is very easy to use, will open a whole new world for your eyes to wonder at, especially in the flowering stage or if you have some nice buds laying around! An alien-like-looking world will open for you!
The word, microscope, comes from ancient Greek ( mikros : 'small' and skopein : 'to look' or 'see' ). It is an instrument, most common in laboratories and used to observe objects, materials, and much more that is too small for the human eye to see. There are many different types and also have separate ways of operating.
A few types of microscopes are :
Simple microscope : One of the very first was built by 'Antony van Leeuwenhoek', in Holland during the 17th century. The lens he used to create his microscope came from a 'wirecounter', this was a special magnifying glass used at the time in the textile industry. The lens in this 'wirecounter' was a convex lens. By placing it in a special holder that Antony made and by looking into it under the right angle and daylight he was able to achieve magnifications between 200-300. At the time this was about 10 times as powerful as the average microscope available. Interesting fact : He kept his technology a secret for 5 decades to the displeasure of the scientific world!
Compound microscope : Because of using two lenses, these devices have a much higher level of magnifying upwards to 1000. Of all types out there, these are the most common ones because they are inexpensive to make and have a broad field of use. This goes from being in the biology classroom in your local high school to laboratories in any industry imaginable.
Confocal microscope : With the aid of special mirrors and laser light, these are mainly used to inspect dye-injected samples to create 3D images. The main use is in the medical world such as cell biology.
Electronic microscope : The electronic microscopes, which can be subdivided into scanning ( SEM ) and transmission ( TEM ) microscopes, both use electrons to either create a 3D or 2D image of objects and their surfaces even with a certain level of transparency.
Why growers need to have one
Not only are handheld microscopes a useful tool for jewelers or rare coin collectors and such, but they probably are the best tool to have for a grower to take a close-up look at the plants and more specifically, the trichomes! Even for those who don't grow it is a great thing to own to help you inspect and take a gazing look at the buds you are getting high from. Since growing is a patient process we must control ourselves to not harvest too early, or in some cases, too late, and this is where the handheld microscope helps us a very long way!
There are a few ways of telling when a plant is ready for harvest :
Based on timing: Depending on what seeds ( feminized Indica/Sativa - autoflower ) and what strain you are growing there will be a different moment of flowering and harvest. Usually, this timing is described from the seedbank, for example on the packaging, but cannot be seen as an ultimate guide when to harvest! Some will be days off, others can be weeks off depending on many circumstances, such as indoor or outdoor growing.
Color of the flower by eyesight: When looking at the color of the buds in the last stages of flowering, a difference in the appearance of the pistils and trichomes can be seen with the naked eye, but not as detailed as we would like to see to find the perfect moment of harvest! The pistils will start to curl in and darken, and the trichomes will appear to become milkier and even later also darker. But again, we cannot really determine fully what is going on in detail.
Close up trichome studying: The absolute best way of timing the harvest is by having a very up-close look at your trichomes to see at what stage they are, but keep in mind: The trichomes on your leaves are not the ones to guide you, it is the ones on the flower that we shall inspect because the leaves mature quicker than the flower!
When are your trichomes ripe and how to see this?
To put it in the right words, let us take a closer look at the subject. Trichomes or 'resin glands' are the sticky material on the surface of the plant which develops most over the flowering period, especially at the end-stage. These blankets of microscopic mushroom look-a-likes appear mostly in the flowers but also on the leaves and even on stems and branches. In nature, it has several purposes such as protection from harmful UV rays or insects. Depending on the state of these trichomes your bud will have a difference in potency, taste, smell, and appearance. In nature, trichomes come in many different shapes and sizes but when it comes to Cannabis, we can find 3 different types :
Bulbous trichomes : The smallest of the pile and can be found all over the plant surface. Made up of only a few cells and a size rating from 10-15 micrometers. These have no stalk.
Capitate sessile trichomes : With a size of 15-50 micrometers, these are slightly larger and contain both a head and a stalk. These can be found in large numbers but are only an honorable mentioning when it comes to the third type of trichome.
Capitate-stalked trichomes Going from 50-100 micrometers wide, the largest of all and observable with a good set of eyes, these are made up of a stalk comprised of epidermal and hypodermic cells, that make a basal cell who is attached to a large gland head. This gland head, which is held together by a waxy cuticle layer, is the epicenter for cannabinoid and terpenoid synthesis.
The trichomes will change in appearance during the lifecycle of the plant, and depending on the grower's own experience and opinion, a compromise will be made to determine the best moment of harvest. These changes can be divided into these 4 stages :
Transparent/glass : in this stage, the trichomes are too small and have no potency, low THC-levels, the flower itself is still growing in size ( picture transparent trichomes/undeveloped flower )
Misty/Cloudy : at this point, the levels of THC are rising, the flower is close to maximum size but still has to reach maximum potency
Milky/Matt white : it is at this moment most growers harvest and it is where levels of THC are at maximum or very close to, the flower is fully developed
Amber : when a trichome starts turning amber, the level of THC starts to drop and actually starts to break down into CBN.
A few tips for buying and using one
There are a few types out there and not all will serve our purpose as well as the other. To be able to look at your trichomes clearly, your device will need a few specifications for you to get a clear look at that alien-looking world!
Zoom range from 30 to 100. Preferably with adjustable zoom and sharpness.
We need one equipped with an LED light to get a clear sight of what is going on.
The more expensive and bigger models are equipped with an extra mirror, cheaper and small models don't have this, so you have an upside-down look at the subject
If you want a model to be able to take pictures or videos, there are types that come with a USB connection or models that come mountable on your smartphone!
When your newest growing gadget has arrived, make sure to take in mind, they can be a bit frustrating in use at first. If you have followed the tips said above, it will probably take you a few times to get the right view angle, and also the correct zoom/sharpness setting to get the perfect view or that amazing picture you are looking for.
And take in mind, you will be looking at a live plant, try to be as gentle as possible when looking, and make sure to clean your device after using it! And my final pointer to this article: When you are close to harvest, be patient and take notes about the appearance of your trichomes and experiment a bit, do not look at one flower per plant alone to judge the timing! Once your harvest is dry and ready to go up in smoke, you will be able to tell the differences in high, taste and more, and for a grower that is a great experience!