Hand-trimming has been compared to potato peeling: A rite of passage for entry-level employees and integral to product success.
Long days and tedious work that results in sticky hands make trimming one of the cannabis industry’s least favorite jobs. While machines exist to automate the process, many of the contraptions trim a bit more than excess leaves. According to Barry Schroeder, inventor of the Ultra Trimmer, that’s a crime against nature.
Trichomes are more than just tiny, glossy, Instagram-able balls found on the ends of cannabis buds. They protect the plant’s precious cargo—cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids—from environmental threats that can destroy “the good stuff” that makes strains unique and popular. Though tedious, hand-trimming preserves most of a bud’s trichomes and, consequently, potency and flavor.
“Other machines out there destroy trichomes,” Schroeder said. “Trichomes are the product. That little ball of oil is the product, and if you destroy that little ball of oil, you destroy the product.”
To say Schroeder is obsessed with trichome preservation would not be hyperbolic. But obsession is a hallmark of the farmer and serial inventor. Prior to the Ultra Trimmer, he invented another agricultural device to do less harm: the patented Varmitgetter. Remote-controlled and designed to eliminate pests instantly, the device does not prolong crop vermin’s suffering or rely on poisons that can seep into drinking water. Ironically, for a product that stamps out animals, Schroeder was recognized and thanked by the Humane Society at a business conference, he said.
Varmitgetter sales have been brisk, providing Schroeder with enough financial comfort to pursue new endeavors. He quickly identified a major inefficiency in the cannabis cultivation process: trimming. “I grew 380 pounds in my first medical grow,” he said. That’s a lot of flower to cut by hand, and the time investment is significant. Since time is money, Schroeder invested in an automated system.
“I bought a tumbler trimmer that was supposed to be the best one on the market,” he said. “Well, I used it for two hours, and it destroyed the trichomes.”
Research convinced him the deficiencies he perceived in the machine could not be solved with any other product on the market. “Tumblers do not work,” he said. “Every tumbler out there destroys trichomes.” And to Schroeder, a flower without trichomes is no flower at all.
He set to work on a ground-up—and, it turned out, groundbreaking—redesign that would accomplish the trimming task efficiently and cost-effectively. Ultimately, he received a United States patent for the resulting piece of equipment. “I am the first person in the history of federal patents to get a patent for a cannabis trimmer,” he said, with no little pride.
Handcrafting just about anything carries a certain cachet, but Schroeder insists his machine delivers results that are almost indistinguishable from hand-trimming. Ultra Trimmer’s action mimics scissors, the tool of choice for preserving trichomes. Schroeder said his machine’s mechanical “scissors” are safer than traditional manual models, though. They don’t cut fingers, but he admitted they can pinch a bit.
The Ultra Trimmer does its work quickly, leaving buds lying on the table for only ten to fifteen seconds. The device can process twelve to eighteen pounds per hour using what Schroeder calls “scissors on steroids.” The machine is equipped to handle both wet and dry bud, though Schroeder said best results are obtained after buds are cured and dried.
Based on experience with his own harvests, Schroeder isn’t shy about touting his product’s benefits: The Ultra Trimmer not only preserves trichomes, but also profits, by reducing time and manpower requirements. “If we don’t save you 50 percent to 70 percent of your time, then we will give you your money back,” he said.
Schroeder isn’t the only one espousing the virtues of his machine. High Times named Ultra Trimmer Best Trimmer and Gear of the Year. The magazine included Schoeder himself in its 2018 list of the 100 most influential figures in cannabis. Venerated elder statesman Ed Rosenthal also took notice. “I have the only trimmer in Ed’s book Beyond Buds, because this is the only trimmer that puts [trim] out like scissor trim,” Schroeder said.
Gregarious to a fault, Schroeder enjoys performing demonstrations at trade shows. After buds go through his trimmer, he allows curious onlookers to scrutinize the results. “We hand [the finished product] to the people and let them put it under the microscope,” he said. “They can see the trichomes are still there. Other companies won’t do that.” He also routinely trims large buds by hand while his machine trims one of about the same size. Then, he encourages the audience to compare both, side by side, under a microscope. “Four out of five people say the machine is better,” he said. It’s hard to consider that a boast when even he seems awed by the phenomenon.
The Ultra Trimmer is available nationwide. “I will go to any state with a medical program and should have a dealer in Florida soon,” Schroeder said. “But now, I think I can go to all fifty [states] with the hemp market, and [Ultra Trimmer is] in Canada, as well.
“I never expected this,” he said. “I just built a machine to trim cannabis. It feels good. We’re saving trichomes, and we are giving the clients a quality product.”
What Are Trichomes?
Trichomes are small hair-like structures covering many plants’ stems, leaves, and flowers. They may be silky, bristly, or scale-like depending on their purpose and function. The trichomes on stinging nettles, for example, inject inflammatory chemicals that deter predation. Venus flytrap trichomes are sensory organs that alert the plant to the presence of prey.
Cannabis trichomes protect the plant and produce metabolites important for growth and reproduction. As in fragrant herbs like mint and basil, cannabis’s trichomes produce the terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids that give the plant its signature flavor and fragrance. They also impact some strains’ magnificent colors. Although a primary function is to secrete a taste animal predators find unpalatable, the trichomes on some strains produce psychoactive effects in humans.