By Chris Bayley
Hunting down the right strain to fit your particular environment can be challenging, and even downright daunting. With everybody scrambling to grow the most popular strains, keeping up with the Joneses has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s easy to forget that the majority of Washington producers have yet to face the infamous 15-day first acquisition window. Therefore, producers should be thinking well in advance of getting their license about the strains they want to be growing.
To get the most out of your strains, you really have to know their lineage. Without this knowledge, you’ll have to use trial and error to dial them in. The two most important considerations for producers are figuring out the strain’s environmental desires and growing the healthiest plant possible. Let’s dive a little deeper into understanding why this is so important.
Super Health Your Plants
Before we get into strain game, let’s talk about how important the overall health of the plant is for resisting environmental stressors. For any plant, and this includes cannabis, the ability to fight off pests and pathogens comes down to the overall health of the plant.
Using humans as an analogy, how healthy do you think a professional athlete is when using steroids, human growth hormones, blood doping and eating a healthy, but synthetic diet? These athletes, for the most part, look physically impressive on the outside, but think about how compromised their physiological systems have become. Unnatural synthetic use in humans could lead to a plethora of problems, including wild hormonal swings, vascular pressure irregularities, and nutritional input that is incomplete and full of environmental toxins, therefore affecting their immune systems. Athletes who dope may look stellar on the outside, but their internal systems are often out of whack, leading to long-term dysfunction and poor health, sometimes even death.
Superimpose those last sentiments onto plants. Synthetic inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides, hormones, industrial nutrient salts, coupled with abnormally high levels of CO2 could produce a monstrous “Frankenplant.”
Does that mean the plant is healthy? No! The sum of these unnatural inputs degrade a plant’s ability to express its full genetic potential. It should also be noted, that the synthetic inputs not only interfere with the plant’s internal functionality, but also hinder or mask the complete profiles of cannabinoids and terpenes. What does this health tutorial have to do with picking strains you want for your production facility? Being that cannabis is the commodity at hand, and that there are strict adulterant regulations, having the healthiest plants possible should be a great concern for producers. Then, strain selection really comes down to fitting the genes to your climate, indoors or out, and personal taste.
Deciphering the Species
Understanding the cannabis species will give you a strong platform to base your decision on what strain to grow. People generally refer to three species of cannabis: sativa, indica and ruderalis (although there is a debate among scientists about whether the three varieties are truly different species). Out of the three, this story will concentrate on the more common indicas and sativas. At the heart of every strain is a genetic blueprint that determines the type of climate and nutritional requirements a plant desires (geographic nutrient adaptability). These genetic set points were developed over thousands of years and further enhanced by human manipulation. Research needs to go into your strain selection so as to best match your growing environment to your selected genetics.
Keep in mind that if all growers had to select strains from landrace genetics as opposed to hybrids (which is 90% of all available strains out there), then the decision would be much simpler. Not knowing the genetics of a particular hybrid makes it difficult when determining the outcome of a finished plant, especially outdoors.
As an example, in the Okanogan Valley of North-Central Washington, this past fall season was unusually long, warm and frost free (along the valley floor) until the second week of November. A vast majority of the strains selected by producers were in the form of hybrids that were developed for an indoor growing environment. Even with these near-perfect conditions, only about 80% of these hybrids finished up in time. Had it been three years ago when a record cold snap hit, destroying a significant portion of the apple harvest in the first week of October, nothing shy of a climate-controlled greenhouse would have brought a crop in. For those of you that are truly bent on growing under the sun, then finding strains that finish by the end of September is a must or greenhouses will be needed to ensure a successful harvest.