Sit down with a group of master growers and the topic of conversation will undoubtedly include genetics. With thousands of strains already on the market, and more being added every day, it’s easy to get swept up in the hype and nomenclature.
In the January issue of Marijuana Venture, we started the conversation about finding the perfect strains for your environment. This month, we’ll dive more into the differences between sativas and indicas and why those differences matter, particularly to those growing outdoors.
Sativas growing in nature can take anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks to flower. In order finish a pure sativa in the Northwest, a greenhouse with the use of light deprivation techniques will be needed. Geographically speaking, a sativa’s natural habitat ranges between 30 degrees north and south of the equator. The photoperiod inside this latitudinal range weaves in and out of a five-hour time differential throughout the course of the seasons in a year. At the equator, that time differential is two hours. This knowledge is important because if you’re trying to emulate the characteristics of a savvy sativa from Thailand, you need to duplicate the environment from where the plant originated.
To duplicate these natural conditions outdoors in Washington State would be impossible without light deprivation techniques within a climate-controlled greenhouse. For those who wish to grow pure sativas, consider only growing one crop. Although you can manipulate photoperiods, it is thought that in order to get a sativa to express all of her subtleties, following a more natural photoperiod will accomplish this and using a light deprivation system will make it possible.
A light deprivation system can be used to follow through the four-month flowering period at any time during the summer months. Use it to coincide with the natural light cycle outdoors. Assuming you live in the Northwest and want to time your harvest to the naturally occurring outdoor light schedule, you’ll want to time the crop to finish in mid-October. This means the crop should be induced around mid-June. Depending on the genotype, you’ll want to grow the plants no longer than a month to keep them in check or utilize plant manipulation techniques to keep them corralled. A longer growing period would result in unruly plants — remember, pure sativas can reach heights of 25 feet. When computing the shortened photoperiod for a sativa’s internal clock, keep in mind that at the equator the change in day length occurs at a minute a day, as compared to around three minutes a day in Washington.
For those in the northern latitudes, indicas are a more appropriate choice for those producers growing outdoors. This species is not only more acclimated to our area, but also has naturally occurring flowering times that are especially suited to the region. Pure indicas rarely reach more than eight feet in height, regardless of the vegetative period, so the sooner they can be planted, the greater the yield. Indicas are the original “hash plants,” and in fact, are what is responsible for most of today’s strains expressing such a high G.S.I. (glands per square inch). For those of you wanting to make hash, using pure indica or indica-dominant hybrids will yield the best results.
The majority of popular strains being circulated today are hybrid crosses, meaning they are the offspring of sativas and indicas (and sometimes ruderalis). Hybrid crosses, especially if they are from pure landrace strains (Thai and Pakistani, for example), really open the doors of breeding potential. First off, when you cross strains that are at the far end of the family spectrum, such as an indica and sativa, the resulting offspring have greater odds of displaying what is known as hybrid-vigor. The more pure-bred and fit the genotypes used in the crosses, the greater the strength and health (vigor) will be. Vigorousness displayed in offspring should always be the baseline in plant selection.
Other exciting possibilities that exist when making hybrids are the ability to tweak maturation times, cannabinoid profiles and terpene expressions. Picture all the traits that make a sativa attractive: exotic tastes and floating cerebral type effects, bred into an indica, resulting in a heavier yield that matures in late September. Bingo!
When you add up more than 85 different cannabinoids and 120 terpenes in the cannabis family, the possibilities in hybrid crosses are limitless. For those producers hoping to grow early maturing plants with sativa characteristics, hybrid crosses should be sought out. There are literally thousands of hybrids, and it’s just a matter of testing them out to see which ones will work in your environmental conditions. Over the last decade and a half, a class of hybrids has been developed that are known as auto-flowering strains. These hybrids flower regardless of light cycle just like conventional annual plants. Auto-flowering strains were thought to be developed using the cannabis species ruderalis. In its natural setting, the ruderalis species will go from germination to fruition in as little as 10 weeks.
Also on the market are a class of hybrids called auto-fems, a term that refers to auto-flowering strains that have been feminized. If you plan on breeding with these types of hybrids, do so with auto-flowering varieties as opposed to auto-fems. If you breed with auto-fems, there is a greater chance of passing along hermaphroditic traits in successive generations. Otherwise, auto-flowering and auto-fem strains provide a great advantage to finishing plants outdoors in temperate climates.
Head of High
The effect cannabis has on a person is perhaps the single most important aspect to consider for producers. The potency and effect from certain cannabinoid profiles are two separate things to take into consideration when selecting a particular phenotype.
Yes, potency is important, especially for people with medical conditions. However, there’s a certain percentage of the population who view modern cannabis cultivars as a hard drug. This is partly because of propaganda that circulates about marijuana, and the fact that growers are chasing the potency curve. A good thing to keep in mind for producers is that the cannabis market will eventually have to parallel the consumer demand, which will require different grades of potency. As the percentage of users climbs, we will see the need for strains that are testing between 8% and 12% THC, as well as those that are 20% and beyond. For the time being, the prices retailers are paying for cannabis seem to be based solely on THC levels, as opposed to the effect, taste or burnability. It may be tempting to continuously search out the most potent weed to grow. However, in the long run, demand will require different levels of cannabis potency to have places on retailers’ shelves. For those of you that do not have enough experience with cannabis, a really unique high in the 8% to 12% range can translate into a fantastic experience that casual users will appreciate.
In the end, remember this: Any strain can be grown anywhere. You just have to match the strain to its optimal growing environment. The closer you can dial in that environment, the greater the return you’ll get from your plants.
Exciting and uncharted, we are now free to really explore and unlock cannabis’ long-held mysteries. Over the last decade, it has really become accepted that it’s the interaction of terpenes and cannabinoids together, which are responsible for the endless experiences when using cannabis. The cannabis plant is a living potpourri of therapeutic essential oils rivaled by none in the plant world. These terpenes and cannabinoids coalesce into what all users are searching for — the experience, or head of high.
Chris Bayley owns and operates a consulting company called Hortistructure, Inc. that services all of Eastern Washington.