Sex in the Garden
Part One: Breeding Cannabis for Beginners
By: Paul Josephs
In this series we’ll explain the basics of Cannabis breeding by going through the simple steps of creating a second generation hybrid. It’s remarkably easy. Every amazing strain you’ve ever seen is the result of someone’s breeding program and with today’s incredible genetics available to work with it is easier than ever for you to achieve fantastic results.
No fancy terms, please
It’s common to be immediately overwhelmed or bored by most genetics books or articles. All those long words, scientific concepts and diagrams and make it out to be a very complex and daunting prospect. What happens on the genetic level is indeed very complex but let’s leave that for the plants to sort out and instead focus on the steps for growing a second generation hybrid from seed.
Start with a plan
The first step to any successful breeding program is to define an end goal which will guide all of the future steps. Whatever your goal might be the process is the same. Breeding is really one simple sentence put into action: Growing a number of plants and selecting the ones that best represent your goal and crossing them together. Continuing your breeding program is simply growing plants from the previous cross, evaluating the resulting plants and again selecting the ones that best represent your goal and crossing them. Simple.
Our goal is a compact and potent plant featuring resinous buds with a unique taste. Purple coloration would be a bonus.
Choosing a starting point
After establishing a goal you must choose two strains with the genetic potential to make it a reality. For our purposes, we will select two hypothetical strains we think will work and describe our hypothetical situation to outline the steps breeders must go through. Having read the descriptions found in a seed catalog, seeing pictures and getting a sense of what the breeder has in mind we settle on two strains to cross – Mystery Magic and King’s Conquest. Neither are feminized. That’s critical as we don’t want all females, we need males to allow us to produce seeds and mix genes.
What we are working with
Mystery Magic is described as a very compact mostly indica with frosty buds which at times produces purple coloration. King’s Conquest has South African and Kush parentage, described as a vigorous and potent strain with an exotic taste.
We plant five seeds of each parent, nurture them and, when the time is right, induce flower to see how many male and female plants there will be to work with. We end up with five female Mystery Magic plants and two male and three female King’s Conquest plants.
Selection – the male parent
We need to select the plant that most represents what we want for our goal. Since both males are King’s Conquest strain, we need to select the one to use as the pollen parent. One male is pretty leggy with Cannabis sativa type narrow leaves. The other is shorter with Cannabis indica type leaves. Since we want a compact plant as part of our ideal, this shorter one looks promising.
We also want an exotic, unique taste and a potent high. Being male plants there’s not an obvious way to determine those traits but we can get clues from them. Potency is often linked to hollow stems while taste is linked to smell.
The taller plant has a firm solid stem and a somewhat grassy scent. The shorter plant has a resilient stem and a strong lemon and licorice-tinged scent. We select this King’s Conquest male as it is compact and hints at it’s potency and taste qualities. We discard the taller male immediately, or better yet, compost it. Adios amigo, we can’t take the chance of your pollen contaminating our project.
Selection – the female parent
We need to apply the same process to the Mystery Magic females. They all have quite a lot of healthy pistils or ‘hairs’ so they are all ready to be fertilized. All five are compact with upright branches. They all have wide indica type leaves. Two have purple tinged pistils, which looks cool and indicates pigmentation. Of those two, one is more fragrant than the other and is already showing good resin production. This will be our Mystery Magic female parent as it best represents what we want for our goal – a compact and potent plant featuring resinous buds with a unique taste which even has purple coloration as a bonus.
Seal the deal
Time for Cannabis sex. We need seeds to continue our project but also want to see the mother plant’s potential so we don’t need to pollinate the entire plant. To do that we move the selected King’s Conquest male plant out of the room. As the male flowers start releasing pollen we can collect it in a folded piece of clean paper. By dipping a thin natural bristle paintbrush like might be used for calligraphy into the pollen and transfer it gently onto some lower flowers of the Mystery Magic mother we can allow the main cola to remain unpollinated so we can see the mother’s full flowering potential. After three to five weeks the seeds will be mature, often splitting the calyxes to show part of their brown covering. The flowers may not be fully ripe yet, so we’ll harvest when it’s time. We collect the seeds from the pollinated flowers after they have cured. The seeds from this cross are the first hybrid generation of our project. Let’s name our new hybrid King’s Magic.
Now its time to grow some of these first generation seeds into mature plants. These King’s Magic plants carry traits from both parents but may not all be seen in this generation. We won’t concern ourselves about why that is for now – but we do have another round of selections to make. We simply look over the male and female choices and select the plants that most represent what we want for our goal the same way we did before. Then its time to cross those two selected parents and wait for the second generation seeds to be produced.
It’s time to see the fruit of our labor. We’ll grow out as many of the second generation King’s Magic seeds as we can. If we have friends who want to grow some, excellent! Share the love, as the more seeds that are grown out the better sense we will have of our hybrid’s potential. Lo and behold, there should be some that come close to our goal. There could be unexpected results as well; maybe even some that exceed our goal in one area or another. We might want to clone our favorites from this batch, or continue on with our program. We are not beginners now, so we might want to look into advanced breeding techniques. It’s been fun and we learned a lot. Enjoy your breeding projects and share the results with your friends.
Next month we will see what our results are and move forward with our project, learning more about genetics and breeding concepts as we go.
Want to learn more?
Check out these two books with a great deal of genetics and breeding information:
Marijuana Botany by Robert Connell Clarke
The Cannabis Breeder’s Bible by Greg Green