Getting seedy

ALL ABOUT CANNABIS SEEDS

Many cannabis growers these days use cuttings (or ‘clones’), where one grower gives a cutting to another. As they are a part of the original ‘Mother’ plant, cuttings have the exact same genetics – but what if you want something new? MR FANTASTICO investigates.

There are a myriad of cannabis strains from all over the world, and ultimately it is the seeds of these plants that determine what is grown, smoked, consumed and shared. Getting new seeds means growers can select new plants to breed, cross with old favourites, or select new mother plants.

Seeds are sometimes found in bags of weed, or swapped between growers, but in both cases the recipient is unlikely to know for sure the heritage of the seeds. If growers want to be certain, the only way is by heading offshore to places of enlightened tolerance where seeds are legal and sold openly, like Holland, the UK or Canada.

Cannabis seeds are, however, completely illegal in New Zealand, and tucked away downunder in the far-flung corner of the globe, you might think it would be hard to get new cannabis genetics here. But like prohibition in general, authorities have proven ineffective at keeping cannabis seeds out of Aotearoa. After all, they are rather small, shipped by regular mail, and it is easy to order online from home, or an internet cafe across town.

Buying seeds

Cannabis seeds are a Class C controlled drug and being caught importing them could be serious. There are also plenty of stories online about dodgy seed merchants who sell any old seed labeled as the big names, or who don’t take care to package steathily, or who just take your money and send nothing. I’ve talked with many people over the years who have ordered seeds online, and they often tell me it’s better to go with seed company names they know and trust, like Sensi Seeds, Kiwiseeds, THSeeds, DNA Genetics, Serious Seeds, Dutch Passion, or their authorised distributors such as Nirvana, the Vancouver Seed Bank, and so on.

To reduce risk they often order from an internet cafe and pay using a pressie card or blank money order. They never order using their own name and never have it sent to where they are growing. One seed buyer told me about getting a friendly visit from Customs but he denied all knowledge of the seeds, and since it wasn’t his name there was nothing they could do. Other regular seed buyers told me Customs tend to find about 25% of their orders, but all they usually get is a letter (addressed to the fake name) saying not to do it again. Another said to think about mail volumes and how Customs works.

“There isn’t a lot of mail going between NZ and Holland,” she said, “but there is between NZ and the UK, and seeds are completely legal in the UK, so there are plenty of companies over there. There is also a fair amount of mail from Canada that tends to come straight to NZ or doesn’t go through a dozen countries on the way. My advice is to order from UK or Canadian companies, just make sure they sell in original packaging.”

What you get

Cannabis seeds are usually sold in branded packs of 5, 10 or 15 seeds of a particular variety. Cannabis has both male and female plants, and seeds could grow into either sex. Usually, growers only want female plants as these are higher in THC. However males are of interest to breeders or growers who want to produce seed for future crops.

When you order seeds of a strain called ‘X’, usually only the mother will have been ‘X’ and the father will be something different – often a Haze or G13. This is because if the seed company sold you female ‘X’ crossed with male ‘X’, your seeds would be 100% ‘X’ genetics, and this would mean not only would you have no reason to ever go back to them, you could also go into seed production in competition with the seed company who sold them to you. They actually cross the female you are buying with another male, so in a pack of seeds you will get some variation. Some seeds will have more of the mother’s genetics, some will have more of the father’s genetics, and some will be in between. This difference in displayed characteristics is known as the phenotype. Usually you will notice one or two main phenotypes, with possibly several more. However there is also a good side: hydrid vigour.

Seeds produced by a cross of different plants will grow faster and stronger than clones or seed produced from parents that are genetically identical. The exception to this is strains labelled ‘true breeding stock’. These will usually be classic old strains like Northern Lights, Mexican Sativa or Blueberry.

Storing seeds
Cannabis seeds should be kept in a dry, cool, dark place. The lower the humidity, the longer seeds will remain viable. Ensure seeds are kept in an airtight container. Film canisters are great – just put some silica gel in there to remove moisture.

Feminised seeds

For the past decade seed companies have been selling so-called “feminised” seeds, which contain only female genetics so only produce female plants. For growers who don’t want to breed they are a tempting option as they eliminate the risk of missing a male which could seed their entire crop.

The first company to develop and market feminised seeds was Dutch Passion, in 1998. Since then the steadily increasing demand has forced almost every other company to follow suit.

Feminised seeds are the result of marijuana’s remarkable survival mechanism – stress the plant enough and it will pollinate itself rather than die. Breeders stress out a female plant to the point where it turns hermaphrodite, using harsh conditions and most commonly a diluted solution of Silver Nitrate (AgNO3) or alternatively a hormone spray called Stamen-It. This is sprayed on the female plant early in the growing cycle, forcing it to start growing male flowers within the female buds. The pollen from those (genetically female) male flowers is then used to pollinate another healthy female plant, that has not been adulterated by the chemicals. The seeds from that plant will then be feminised.

Most customers get 100% female plants, but sometimes a few seeds do grow into hermies. This is because environmental factors have such a huge influence, that in stressful circumstances even feminised seeds may not grow into female plants.

Some breeders take it a step further, by growing out their first round of feminised seed under harsh conditions, then selecting plants that resist the tendency to turn hermaphrodite, then using those to produce seed, and repeat the cycle again as necessary.

So what’s the big deal? Feminised seeds are great for outdoor growers who don’t want to produce seed. They are also good for mother plant selection – buy a pack of seeds, knowing all will be female, and pick one or two to keep as mothers.

Feminised seeds are NOT intended for breeding, and it seems no one is quite sure what will happen when people do. Seed company owners I have spoken to were quietly worried about what they had unleashed on the world, but said the market demanded it, and if they didn’t they would lose market share to other companies that do. I got the impression they were worried a tendency for hermaphrodism could be put out into the wild where it could pop up in people’s outdoor drops, or float into indoor rooms through the air intake. So there is a responsibility that comes with planting feminised seed: grow it, consume it, but do not breed with it!

Feminised packs are marked with the female logo, and can be more than twice the price of regular seeds.

The other big innovation of recent years has been auto-flowering strains, and this year has seen the release of – you guessed it! – feminised anto-flowering strains.

Auto-Flowering seeds

Auto-flowering strains start flowering shortly after germination, regardless of the light cycle. Even under lights on 18 hours a day, they completely mature from seed to bud in only 60 days. Outdoors, yields will be low but the plant will flower automatically after a certain number of weeks, not just at the end of Autumn. Auto-flowerers are a new option for growers plagued by bud rot and mould caused by humid Autumn weather. Everyone has heard of sativa and indica being the two sub-species of cannabis, but there is also a third type called ruderalis. It is thought to predate the others, and evolved to reproduce year round, regardless of the daylight hours. These days cannabis ruderalis survives in Russia and East Europe, but early attempts at marketing it produced stunted, weak plants with varying potency. Some could barely be called drug varieties. Now breeders from Holland and Canada have crossed ruderalis with potent indicas and sativas, and using huge breeding programmes have managed to eliminate the weak genetics while keeping the auto-flowering trait.

The first true auto-flowerer to hit the market was Lowryder from the Joint Doctor, but this year has seen several new potent auto-flowering strains released, including Taiga and Tundra by Dutch Passion, Smurfberry from Sagamartha, and Roadrunner from Spain’s Dinafem Seeds.

Germinating seeds

Seeds need water, a little heat, and air to germinate (not light – it’s dark underground!). Some growers sew directly into the soil where they are planning to grow.

To increase the rate of germination, cannabis seeds can be first soaked overnight in a cup of water (rain or distilled water is best – some growers add 1% bleach to the water so they know it is sterile). Don’t soak seeds for more than 24 hours or they may rot.

Soaked seeds are placed between damp paper towels, or put directly into a rockwool cube, or a pot of fine, soilless mix.

Some growers use a plastic baggie or glad wrap to construct a ‘tent’ over their seeds, which keeps the humidity and temperature elevated. The cover is removed as soon as the first sprout appears.

Seeds usually germinate in 2-7 days, at temperatures around 20 deg C (higher temperatures can inhibit germination). When the seed germinates a white tap root is visible.

The tender sprouts are planted with the root facing down, under 1cm of fine soilless mix or seed raising medium. The planting medium is kept evenly moist, and watered with a dilute fertiliser solution.

Experiments have shown these factors can increase the ratio of female plants:

  • higher nitrogen in the seed bed and lower potassium levels
  • lower temperatures
  • higher humidity
  • more blue light in the spectrum
  • fewer daylight hours (eg 14 hours on, rather than 18)

Males are increased if the grow medium is not moist, as any environmental stress tends to produce more males.

Seed companies in Holland say Spain is up to 90% of their sales, so what they want has a huge influence on what is made available – and the Big Thing at the moment is feminised auto-flowering strains. Cannabis seeds are legal in Spain, and they have the good climate and tolerant laws to be able to grow openly outdoors. In towns and cities plants on terraces or balconies are a common sight. Now with the autoflowering feminised strains they can plant anywhere, any time of the year. They only have to mark their calendar and come back at that time, knowing the plant is female and is genetically programmed to flower at a certain time, regardless of daylight hours. Hola!

Auto-flowering feminised seeds will revolutionise growing for the smalltime personal grower, making guerilla ganja gardening even easier. They are particularly suited to people who just want a couple of easy plants on the deck, or growers who want to go into the bush or countryside, chuck some seeds into the ground, and just come back a certain time later. It should not be overlooked that the ability to plant year-round could put a massive spanner in the works of our constabulary’s annual helicopter recovery programme.

Auto-flowering strains are also good for indoor growers who want to have plants at different stages of growth under the same lamp. Normally mothers are kept under 24 hours lighting, vegetative plants might be under 18 hours light, and budding plants will be under 12 hours light, but an auto-flowerering plant could be matured in the same room as a regular mother receiving 24hr light.

However auto-flowering strains are not suited for growers seeking mother plants to take cuttings. They won’t get a stable mother, because the plant will start to bud regardless of what light cycle it is kept in. In balance, they are probably not much good for indoor growers at all. The whole point about growing indoors is they can control everything about the environment. A key part of this is using the light cycle to induce flowering at the time of their choice. A strain that flowers automatically takes away that choice.

Also, unless they keep mother plants, people who buy feminised strains will need to go back to the seed company for new seeds every time – which gives you some idea why many of the seed companies love them!

Ultimately whether people choose to use auto-flowering and/or feminised seeds will depend to a large extent on what value they place on being easy compared to having more control. I tend to think a couple of auto-flowerers in the back yard will probably fit a lot of people’s lifestyles and we’ll probably see more of them around New Zealand in the not too distant future.

Note: Although legal in many countries, the acquisition, purchase or possession of cannabis seeds is illegal in New Zealand. It is also illegal to cultivate cannabis here and in much of the world. Consult your local laws.

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009 under the pseudonym “Mr Fantastico”]

Leave a Reply