Emerald Mountain Light Dep
Variety is the Spice of Life!
I am interested to reconsider breeding strategies and their affect on the cannabis seed market. I have been saving and breeding medicinal cannabis seeds in California for over a dozen years and been growing ganja in the Pacific Northwest for just over 18 years. I will be the first to say that a healthy vigorous clone is hard to beat. Nothing is better for commercial cannabis cultivation than the productivity of a known variety and a good feeding schedule in the right medium and right environment. Anyone can figure out how to grow one or two strains to perfection, some may even be growing 10 or more strains to perfection, and for some this may be satisfying. But what if it is not? What if growing the same clone the same way getting the same product over and over again gets boring? I understand all too well, that greenhouse after greenhouse of Headband and OG Kush makes someone barrels full of money and keeps the market full of produce that the public desires. This is good, but is it really doing anything to improve the medicinal quality of cannabis in the industry? Don't get me wrong, having a quality product with known quantities of terpenes and cannabinoids is essential for commercial production of medicine for the patients so that they can get the same effect every time they medicate, but what if OG Kush just isn't the best medicine for your condition? Over the years I have spoken with many other growers and breeders. It seems when I was younger all of the old timers still grew from seed. Each year they would make new seed from the previous year's stock. It seemed like the conversation was often based around selection and breeding and less about bragging on how much weight they pulled or which chemicals they used. Now days it seems like breeding is becoming a lost art, even the old timers are looking for that clone that the market will consume and wondering about what "formula" they need to feed to get the best results. In these changing times and shifting markets I don't blame anyone for trying to stay ahead of the game, I know that my mortgage payment hasn't gone away and the cost of living goes up on the daily. Growers are looking to the consumers to find out what they should grow, in a more and more saturated market where it is harder and harder make a living, commercial production seems to have become more and more prevalent. So what about those of us who would rather grow from seed? For the past few seasons I have been growing all of my medicine from seed, even my indoor. Personally I like seed plants much better than clones. I like to see differences from plant to plant. All of the ganja I grow is chronic, it is all organic, and it is all from seed. The past few years in the Emerald Triangle we have been subject to changing weather patterns, I have talked to more than a few growers who are having problems with clones for their full-term outdoor gardens. The late spring and early summer rains have been causing a lot of the clone plants to trigger early and start to flower when they should be in full vegetive growth. It can often take weeks, even months for a plant to revert from floral to vegetive growth. I know of more than one grower's collective that was pulling up flowering clones and replanting with seed starts this spring. This can be really detrimental to yields. Why not just start from seed? A lot of growers are convinced that they have to grow certain strains or their product will have little value in the commercial market. Everyone wants name brand weed, and if it isn't one of a top few brands than you might end up sitting on it until late summer or early fall. So the real question is how do we get a consistent chronic product from seed that meets the needs of the consumer market while holding all of the vigor and yield of a seed plant? I read Marijuana Botany by Robert C. Clark for the first time when I was fifteen years old. This book changed my life and my perspective on cannabis and cannabis breeding, one of the only books of it's kind published to date, it still reigns as the old school guide for cannabis breeding, however the old school unfortunately is being laid to rest to as an emerging new school dominates the industry. So where is the middle ground?? I propose that there exists a middle road or path where the old school meets the new school and any grower who truly loves what they do will find their niche in this evolving market. The first idea I would like to introduce is that anyone who grows from seed has the potential to breed. Seed saving is as old as agriculture. Indigenous people all over the world have been saving seed from crop to crop since we made the shift from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Luther Burbank's strategy of select the best and discard the rest actually works quite well for cannabis, as simple as it might sound. So what I would like to promote isn't my brand of seed but the consciousness that everyone should be growing and saving as much seed as possible right now, and not just cannabis. Who knows what the future holds, the more sustainable and self sufficient we are, the better off we will be. The most important thing I can stress about growing and saving seed is knowing that your stock is solid and the germplasm you are starting out with hasn't been altered in some fashion to make the progeny (offspring) sterile. I personally shy away from feminized seed, especially for breeding. I think feminized seed has the potential to irrevocably alter the gene pool of cannabis in a negative way. Can you imagine if all of the offspring in subsequent generations tended towards hermaphroditism? We don't know what the long term effects of using chemicals to alter the sex of plant to create feminized seed does to the DNA of the plant. So far I have heard only negative reports about clones and seeds produced from feminized lines. I would suggest that feminized seed is good for one thing and one thing only, to grow a population of plants for the purpose of commercial production. I would not propagate them in any fashion, however the xx chromosome linkage seems to fix recessive traits more readily than xy chromosome linkage. It is what I have heard some old school breeders refer to as "top crossing" using stress induced hermaphrodite pollen from a mother plant to pollinate the offspring of that mother to bring out desirable recessive traits in the next generation. These plants are then cloned and even used for further breeding, often without problems in subsequent generations. It is important to remember that cannabis has the potential to be both dioecious (having the male and female reproductive organs in separate individuals) and monoecious (having both the male and female reproductive organs in the same individual; hermaphrodite) and one must be careful when inducing hermaphroditism, or sex reversal, not to end up with whole populations of plants that herm out. So let's say that you're fed up with growing clones. You're sick and tired of all the problems that can occur, be it mites, powdery mildew, photo-period sensitivity, week or unstable genetics or mislabeled stock. Last year a friend of mine planted his whole garden in clones he thought were Blue Dream and turned out to be Chem Dawg. He was going for high yielding and easy to grow and he got low yielding and finicky. Needless to say he was bummed. Not that Chem Dawg isn't killer, but it was this grower's first outdoor garden and it didn't come out the way he had hoped. So where do you start? Where do you get good old fashion male/female seed of a popular variety and how do you know that the seed you buy is going to be a good place start? This is a good question, once you have found a strain you like, doing seed increases is not too complicated. What I recommend is doing some research on the Internet or checking in with other growers or dispensaries and seeing what they recommend. There is a lot of good information, miss-information and propaganda out there, sometimes it is hard to separate the good from the bad. I will do my best to keep it simple and not lead you astray.
There are many styles of breeding that you can practice, it is not as simple as it may seem. Like I said before I am interested to reconsider breeding strategies and their affect on the cannabis seed market. Many companies out there would have you believe that stability is king, that uniformity is a necessity. Many breeders strive to create "in bread lines" (IBL's). I agree that if you buy a package of ten seeds and you are expecting a certain strain you want the seeds to express the traits that are expected from that strain. Let's take Northern Lights 5 as an example, NL5 is a stable, true breeding line and shows little or no variance in it's offspring, it has been used as a progenitor (parent) to a lot of other strains, there are some that say Headband is a Northern Lights/Diesel cross. Many of the strains in today's marketplace are poly-hybridized and only exist in clone form. The Sour or New York Diesel is a perfect example, many breeders (myself included) have so loved the Diesel that they have tried to re-create it in seed form. The literature out there would have you believe that you can take any clone and "cube" it, that is take a clone and cross it with a male of similar taxonomy and then back-cross to the mother a couple times and voila, you have a population of seeds that are just like the mother. I am afraid it is not that simple, an IBL like northern lights which has true breeding dominant traits will probably cube easily, and in 3 or 4 generations most of the progeny will show all of the traits of the parent strain, however a highly recessive poly-hybrid strain like the Sour Diesel (13 different distinct traits) has a 1 in 64,000 chance of getting the allele alignment or "linkage" to occur for all of the traits to be expressed. If you have ever grown the true Sour/New York Diesel, and those who have know, it only comes from clone. So the question remains, how do you get your favorite clone strain to grow from seed? Especially a strain with highly recessive characteristics like Diesel. The answer; develop strategies that are conducive to achieving the linkage necessary for the expression of the desired traits in subsequent generations. In the old school you would start with two P1 strains, say a pure Afghani and a pure Thai you cross them together and you have an F1 (first filial generation) cross. You take your two favorite F1's and cross them together and you have your F2 generation. You select your best F2's and cross them together and you have your F3, F3xF3=F4 and so on down the line. This is what is commonly referred to as line breeding, and is a typical old school breeding strategy. Most of the traits that are fixed through line breeding are dominant and eventually you end up with a pure IBL like northern lights. The old school mentality lent it's self to creation of stabilized hybrids that became true-breeding strains. These true breeding strains eventually began to suffer from inbreeding depression so they were then bread with other hybrids which in turn created poly-hybrids, strains with more than one set of progenitors. Some of the 4 way strains were quite good, the original skunk strains from "Sam the Skunk Man" and other breeders from Rob Clark's day, were made of 4 way crosses like Lemon Thai/Afghani x Oaxacan/Nepalese. Eventually the names were shortened to "4 way Skunk" or "Skunk" and the old school landrace strains started to disappear. These 4 way hybrids were crossed and stabilized into strains like The Original Haze, Big Bud, Northern Lights 5, and Skunk 1, California Orange and some of the other first name brand strains that were emerging in the early 80's that didn't carry the name of their landrace of origin. It wasn't long before the names like Black Afghani, Panama Red, Columbian Gold, Gurerro Green, Purple Burmese, and High Mountain Michoucan were only in stories told by the uncles and fathers of my generation and the name brands of unknown origin's were the new sought after commodity.
Pure Truth by Emerald Mountain
If you have a strain you like and you are currently growing it from clone, one thing you can do is try to track it down online and see if any seed companies offer it in seed form. Always be careful to try to determine that the seeds are male/female (non-feminized) and not sterilized. Believe it or not it seems that more than one company out there has taken on the Monsanto attitude and is releasing seed that have been altered in some fashion to sterilize the male pollen. I want to set the record straight, this kind of greed driven bullshit has no place in the cannabis world. It is one thing for a breeder or grower to want to protect his or her hard work and keep back private stock from the public market, but intentionally releasing seed into the public domain that have been genetically tampered with to create some kind of terminator gene is just plain wrong and all I can hope is that these seed companies will be driven out of business by other companies of higher integrity. All of the seeds that I produce are grown using biodynamic and organic standards and all of the seeds are from non-feminized and non-GMO lines. I have been very careful to only acquire germplasm from reputable sources to ensure that I don't end up breeding unwanted traits into my lines that I can't get out. It is my intention for the seeds to be grown and reproduced by the grower for generations to come. Each grower will find the traits that they like, and eventually they will have a stable cultivar that is acclimatized to their microclimate and bioregion. If you have a strain you like and you can't find seeds or you know that it only exists in clone form then you need to come up with a strategy to breed with that clone until you get a population of seeds that adequately expresses the desired traits of the strain so that you feel comfortable letting the clone go and just growing the strain from seed. Until you have stabilized your seed line, be careful to always keep a healthy mom and remember that from generation to generation certain traits will become fixed and certain traits will become lost. Good notes and proper labeling are a seed savers best friend. The first thing you need to think about is picking a male. It is very important to pick a strain of similar parentage so that you get the linkage that will cause desired traits to stabilize. If you are starting with an Indica dominant strain you should be looking for a strain that is also Indica dominant for your male. Similarities in the taxonomy are what are most important. The male is going to lend some of its traits to the offspring, so finding a male with the most similar progenitors as well as the most similar traits to the mother is important. The size, shape and serration of the leaf are some of the best indicators of genetic compatibility. I was taught to count the serrations on a leaf and compare number from one leaf to another. If you find a male with similar size shape and number of serrations per leaf blade to the mother they will probably breed well together no matter what the name brand is. A good thing to remember is that all of the hybrids in today's market come from indigenous landrace strains and those indigenous landraces are all related. When you start combining hybrids with one another you can end up with expressions that were not apparent in either of the parent plants. It is important to grow a small population of the seed out to make sure that the parents were genetically compatible and you got the linkage for the traits you were looking for. If you cross two strains together and most of the traits you desire don't carry over in the next generation then you ought to consider a different male. If you have tried crossing several different males to a female clone strain and still aren't getting the desired expressions, it may be that the female has too many recessive traits that are easily overpowered by some of the common IBL's in the commercial market. Sometimes you have to breed to a dissimilar male and then back breed to the mother to get the linkage and expressions you desire. One of the most important things to remember along the way is that "variety is the spice of life" and really your end goal in any breeding project shouldn't be to re-create a strain that already exists, it should be to create a strain that you like better than any you have grown before. So we have touched in on cubing as well as line breeding, both are simple strategies and will work to fix dominant traits, eventually both will suffer from inbreeding depression, even though all of the seeds grow out the same and the strain is really "stable" it may not be as good as it used to be. For some uniformity is more important than pristine quality. Some people want their plants to all be the same and those people are happy with good enough herb that all harvests at the same time and smells the same looks the same and gets you medicated in the same way. Even more than personal opinion the commercial market dictates that you have a uniform product or it is harder to market. Again we have to look at our breeding strategy and what our desired outcome is, what is it that we are trying to accomplish? When we start to see variation in a population, what are we selecting for? Often breeders who are commercially oriented have selected select for higher yield, heavy feeding, early ripening, mold resistance, easy to trim, believe it or not some breeders have even selected for low odor?? The last thing I want is pot that doesn't smell, I want herb that one little bud double bagged zipped up in my coat pocket stinks up the whole room the moment I walk in. I select for plants that the herb smells so strong that when you crack a jar open to roll a joint people come from the other room to see what is going on. One of the biggest problems that has occurred with the herb in the in the past 20 years is the idea that "bigger is better" has been promoted throughout the industry, many varieties have been bread for these commercial qualities and a lot of potency, flavor, pungency, and diversity of cannabinoids and terpenes have been lost. Now I would like to complicate the situation and add some concepts that go beyond basic cubing or line breeding. I am going to describe the technique and strategy that I am using on the Royal Kush breeding project. I have been working on the Royal Kush for a little over 5 years now and I am going to do my best to describe what I've done and where I am going with it from here. Many breeders aren't open to discussing their progenitors or their techniques. Personally I want other growers and breeders to use my genetics and techniques. I want people to grow and reproduce my strains and get them out there to the world. All of the seed that I have let into the market is for growing and breeding. The more people understand about the strategies and techniques I used the better they will be able to surpass me and produce a product superior to mine, hopefully they are open and honest about what they did and how they did it and we as a race can keep pushing up the bar as far as the industry standard for heady herb is concerned. So I started out with a Sour Diesel clone of reputable stock. I was looking for a good male to cross it with, I wanted something early, hearty and with better structure but still potent and frosty. I started asking around and came upon a seed line from an older grower I know. He said it was called the Salmon Creek Rock Bud. I asked if it was pure or "true breeding". He said it had been pure bread in Southern Humboldt since 1979 and that it was a Pre-Soviet Highland Afghani and was as pure as it comes. We talked about the strain's characteristics for a while and I said that it sounded just right. He went into the greenhouse and came back out with a plant in a 2-gallon pot and said, "Here you go, this is the male you want." I thanked him and took plant and put it in the truck and drove home. The next day I took my best Sour Diesel plant and the Afghani male and put them together in a 20 gallon pot and my partner and I lifted it up into the crook of an oak tree far enough away from our sinsemellia patch and let nature take it's course. That fall we split up the crop and split up the seeds and called it a season. As soon as the seeds were dry I fired up my indoor scene and cracked a couple hundred of them, I was eager to see what they would express, I wondered if the skunky petrol flavor of the Diesel would carry over in the F1 generation or would it be overpowered by the fruity spicy Afghani. Almost all of the seeds germinated (90 percent or better) and when I sexed the plants at about 2ft I ended up with about half males and half females. At that point I was really more interested in the males than I was in the females I put all of the females in a room to flower and I looked over each and every male with a keen eye and a keen nose. What I look for in a male is hard to describe, it has to have good structure, it needs to be vigorous, it has to have a resinous stem and pungent stem smell, it needs to have leaves that look like the mother I am breeding to or other female plants I have grown in the past that I liked, It isn't one specific thing that I am looking for but a combination of many traits that make a good pick. The most important thing to me is the smell; it has to lend itself to the flavor I am trying to create. In this case I picked 40 males out of around a hundred specimens. "Why so many?" you may ask. Well lets say that I wasn't trying to isolate or in-breed, but do the opposite, I was trying to create as many different phenotypes to choose from as possible, I was practicing what is called a "crux" or "shotgun" strategy. I took 40 Diesel/Afghani males all of which had a dank diesely smell and characteristics that resembled the Sour Diesel and I put them together in a room with all of my favorite clone strains at the time. I had Purple Kush, Purple Erkle, Granddady Purps, The Biggest Darkest Purple, LA Kush (aka Headband), Sour Diesel, SuperDawg (Amhurst Super Skunk/Chem Dawg), and The South Jetty Trainwreck. At the time these were the best and most coveted clones in Humboldt, the OG craze hadn't made it's way up to the triangle yet and these cuts were hands down the best game in town. So I flipped back the lights (6x600w) and let nature run it's course and in a couple months I had more seeds than I knew what to do with. So I started planting them a couple hundred of each strain at a time and looking for pre-floral traits that I liked. I have a background in organic farming and I have read a lot of Luther Burbank and other plant breeders like Carol Deppe, and John Jeavons work and what all of the information I have gleaned over the years has lead me to believe is, that it is ideal to start with large populations of plants and select the best plants for your trials, increasing your odds of finding "the one". So for the next couple years, several of my partners and I spent a lot of time trialing different phenos, looking for "the one". Can you imagine room after room after room of dissimilar plants? We were running the Diesel Afghani crosses, Maui Super Dawg crosses and LA Kush x Mazari Sharif/Purple Hawaiian Thai. Talk about genetic incompatibility, the Kush Mazari or KMZ as it was labeled was a disaster. I got the Mazari/Hawaiian seed from an old-timer outdoor grower who told me they were killer. He gave me some of the hash and it knocked my socks off. I took two hits of the Purple Mazari hash and I was stoned to the bone for a solid 24hrs, and I was a heavy smoker at the time. I took the seeds and grew them out and it was the most indica dominant plant I had ever seen. I picked my two favorite males and crossed them into the LA Kush ( Headband), I don't know what went wrong, something between the Purple Thai in the Mazari and some latent Thai genetics in the LA Kush (Headband), but the plants went bananas, literally. They would flower for four weeks looking killer and then grow straight male branches out of the side of the forming buds, neither of the parent plants hermed out at all, but when crossed… It was ugly. It took us a month or two to make sure that we had killed off all of the clones and moms of the notorious KMZ. After 18 months we had whittled down from a massive population of plants to about 100 moms and now were only trialing the phenos we liked. We liked the DDA (Diesel/Diesel Afi) a lot, so many phenos and diesel-like flavors, with hints of licorice, lemon and spice. So many slight variations, however none were hitting all the characteristics of the Sour Diesel. The KDA (La Kush/Diesel Afi) had at least 7 distinct expressions that were world class a couple that were super chronic and straight yielders, the KDA#33 I would like back, if any one out there has it. The MSD (Maui/Super Dawg) had a bunch that were good but only two that were phenomenal, and the PKDA (Purple Kush/Diesel Afi) had a lot of variation some good, and some not so good. There was this one cut that was just epic, the PKDA#8. By the end of year two we were down to ten moms from some ridiculous number of plants that I don't even want to mention. Our collective was running 10-20k in veg and up to 50k in flower at any given point devoted to the breeding endeavors. And after it was all said and done there were two clones that were unique and different and worthy of introducing into the Northern California medical market, the PKDA#8 and the MSD#12 and they ended up being dubbed The Royal Kush and The Truth. We started circulating clones of both The Royal and The Truth amongst our collective members. There was a strict policy at first, "tight homies only" I didn't want my genetics in the hands of some new school carpet sogger. The last thing I wanted was product going into the market bearing our name that wasn't grown to our standards and didn't have our seal of approval. Everyone who was given the clones loved them both, it was so nice to have some new flavors that were on the same level as the rest of the upper echelon strains. The Royal is still to this day the favorite smoke of some of heaviest puffers I know in the tri-county area, and The Truth clone is still the staple of more than one medical garden in the emerald triangle. Back Breeding The Truth was simple. I grew out a couple hundred seeds picked out the three best males and backcrossed to the clone. I grew out a couple hundred of the F1 backcross and the first generation showed all of the traits I liked to be true breeding. Again I picked my three favorite males and backed them to the mom, and again a high percentage showed all of the traits that I was looking for. The mother plant was showing dominance and the males were showing good linkage of traits and a simple cubing strategy was working. I cubed to the mom two more times each time with three males and then released the seed to the public. I feel that the F4 backcross is fairly stable yet there is still enough variation to select for traits desirable to each individual grower. I found that the characteristics of the Maui had started to dominate the characteristics of the Super Dawg and it was time to stop inbreeding and start hybridizing again so I crossed it into The Pure Kush, The OG Kush, The Headband, and The Diesel Afghani. So far I have been really happy with the results, the Super Dawg in the Truth seems to link really well with all of the Chem family of genetics. Breeding The Royal was not so simple. I took the PKDA#8 clone that we had given the name Royal Kush and I went into my seed bank and got a few hundred of the original PKDA F1 seeds and cracked them looking for a few potential fathers. There was really a lot of variance in the F1 generation where some hybrids have very little variance in the F1 population. I would attribute this variance to the fact that it is a poly-hybrid of a poly-hybrid, even though the Highland Afghani and The Purple Kush were true breeding stable IBL's, the Sour Diesel is not only poly-hybridized but there is also some speculation that there was some polyploidy induced in the progenitors. This could be a part of why it is so hard to stabilize, a mentor of mine, who was a part of the original New York Diesel crew believes that it has more sets of chromosomes than most other strains and that is why some of the traits get lost, they aren't able to link to anything. He says that they were using colchicine on some of the progenitors, which he claims were Big Bud, Northern Lights, and Skunk. I sifted through the phenos and I eventually found 7 males that I thought might link well. I used seven different males because I knew if I only picked one and I didn't get the linkage I was looking for then I had to start over at the F1 again. I grew out the seven males with a room full of Royal clones and open pollinated the whole room. When I was selecting for traits in the males the main traits I was looking for were similar stem smell, similar plant structure, similar leaf structure, and vigor. Like I said before, the key to picking a good male isn't based of one trait or another it is the sum of all the parts. I have to like everything about the plant and it has to remind me of the mother in every way, especially the stem smell. When I rub the stem of the male and smell it and then I rub the stem of the female and smell it I want them to be as close to identical as possible.
Royal Kush 7 by Emerald Mountain
The next step was to grow out a couple hundred of the F1 and a few hundred of the F2 seeds. I start selecting before I see the first set of true leaves; the Indica dominance of the highland afghani is prevalent and distinctly different than that of the Royal Kush. The Royal favors the leaf structure of the Purple Kush and is long bladed with jagged serrations. The Highland Afghani looks more like the Diesel but slightly more broad, your classic five-finger Indica leaf. In growing through the F1 generation of females I found that the broad leaf phenos leaned toward the spice of the Afghani and the slender jagged leaves leaned toward the Kush. The first thing I do is start pulling all of the plants that I know aren't what I am looking for. If they look more like strawberry leaves than ganja leaves then I know they are not what I want. I can eliminate 25-50% of my population before the first set of true leaves (five fingers) emerges. I have learned that you can tell a lot about a plant by the spike leaves (the first leaflet to emerge after the cotyledon leaves). You can count the serrations and learn to judge the shape and structure of the leaf within a week of germination. I do a lot of my selection when the seedlings are small and easy to deal with. I get rid of any week or warbled sprouts and I am fairly heavy handed in my discernment. I want to go from a population of 500 to a population of 100 or less before the third set of true leaves appear. Now I want to take the ninety or so unsexed seedlings that are the best picks and pot them up and watch them grow, I usually go up to 2 gallon or 5 gallon containers at this time. I make sure that all the plants are getting even light and even watering and spaced well. I want to see the truest expression of the genotype possible; I don't want the environment to alter the expressions. Once the plants are about 2ft high and they start to show sex I start separating males and females and as strange as it may sound I start chopping females. Sometimes I will throw them in a flower room or breeding room if they seem promising, but really what I am after is the perfect group of males. At this point in the game I am looking closely at all of the taxonomical expressions and checking all the different stem smells and taking mental notes of the variety of smells and leaf structures and how they correspond to one another. My goal is to select down to the ten top males out of a population of five hundred or more plants. Once I have found the ten males from both the F1 and F2 generation I go back to the breeding room and fill it with the chosen males and the Royal Kush clones, Flip them to 12/12 and let them go. Because my interest is in producing breeding stock and not commercial seed stock for distribution I open pollinate once for several weeks, and I put the males and the females into flower at the same time. My biggest concern is that the primor meridia (the first pistils to emerge at each node along the apical and lateral meristems) get pollinated by the first pollen that drops, don't ask me why, it is just an ancient Chinese secret passed on to me by the dancing wu li masters. When I want to maximize seed production I pollinate twice, once in the third week and once in the sixth week of flower production and I flower two sets of males each ahead of the point of pollinat