Plant breeding is a basic process of growing cannabis. Breeding is highly technical and typically done on a commercial scale, but with legalization increasing, breeding is becoming more popular. You can do even do it yourself.
Home growers that have acquired high-level cultivation skills and mastered the essential techniques can easily transition from grower to breeder. Creating F1 seeds and hybrids is very doable. Most of the cannabis strains that have become legends were created by home growers. On occasion even by accident.
Cannabis breeders typically breed to purify and strengthen strains, combine strain traits, or enhance specific characteristics.
Why Breed Cannabis at Home?
There is a constant desire to improve the THC and CBD content of marijuana strains depending on whether the cannabis is being developed for recreational or medicinal purposes. The high the content of these cannabinoids, the more potent and effective the cannabis is in the purpose for which it has been developed. Bringing together strains that increase the production of these sought after cannabinoids is a strong factor as to why hybrid strains are created.
Breeding cannabis affords a home grower access to new hybrid genetics while also acting as a conservation mechanism to preserve (and even strengthen) desired genetics for future use. If you have distinct strains and want to create hybrids, breeding on this scale is both easy and effective.
The need to achieve a certain appearance, color, flavor, and aroma of the marijuana strain may also be another reason why hybrid strains are created.
On the other hand, those who wish to carry seed stock through to the next season will find breeding to be a sustainable alternative to keep those genetics around. Not every grower can afford to go back to the nursery or seed company and purchase new genetics between every season.
Hybrid cannabis seeds have been created for some or all the reasons above. Here is how one can go about creating their own cannabis hybrid strain and the things to look out for when doing so.
How to Breed Cannabis Plants
Cannabis consumers are mainly concerned with female plants, because only females produce the sticky buds that we all know and love. But male cannabis plants are important for the breeding process, as they are needed to pollinate the bud-producing females.
What You’ll Need:
- One mature male cannabis plant, between 2-3 weeks into bloom phase (or collected male pollen)
- One mature female cannabis plant, between 2-3 weeks into bloom phase
- Isolated propagation chamber – a sealed grow tent
- Small paint brush
- Plastic baggies and ties
The very first step is choosing the strains that will become the “parent” plants for one’s hybrid strain. This involves careful deliberation regarding the kind of strain ones wants to build and finding the parent strains that have the genetic potential to develop the kind of hybrid one wants. The qualities of the hybrid will come from the qualities of the parent plants and therefore, the right choice of strains to breed is of great importance in the creation of a hybrid strain.
Separate Males & Females
Any grower who’s accidentally grown a male and pollinated a crop will know that one male can easy pollinate hundreds of females, filling your whole crop with seeds. No matter what, make sure males are separated from females as soon as male pre-flowers (small pollen sacs) appear. Make sure that no pollen from the male makes it to the females without you doing it yourself, or you will end up with seedy buds of unknown genetics.
Male cannabis plants will begin to show their pollen sacs within the first week or two into their bloom phase. Shortly after, these sacs will open and pollen will become abundantly available. Once a desirable male plant has been identified, remove it from any female plants and isolate it immediately. The goal is to collect the staminate pollen without accidentally open-pollinating any other female plant.
Keep the desired male plant in isolation throughout the pollen collection process, then terminate the male to be safe. By using a small paintbrush, you can carefully collect pollen into a plastic bag or glass jar.
Pollen can be stored in a freezer for up to a month before it loses its viability but it is best that the pollen collected is used soon after collection and while it is still fresh.
As soon as female plants show the first signs of white pistils, they are ready to be pollinated. A grower should isolate the plants they want to pollinate so that they ensure the right plants receive the right pollen. To effectively deliver the pollen to the female buds, switch off any fans in the room and close any windows so that the pollen isn’t blown away.
Prepare by collecting the baggie containing your male pollen, a paintbrush, and gloves. Gently collect a small amount of pollen from the collection baggie with your brush (a little goes a very, very long way). Run the brush gently across desired female flowers, making sure to only run the bristles across the tops of each stigma. Once a cola has been pollinated, you may seal the cola by covering it with a clean plastic baggie and tying it off to form an airtight seal (this will prevent cross-contamination). Note: this step is not necessary if (a) you intend to pollinate the entire plant in isolation, or (b) you do not have any issues with potentially finding a few seeds throughout the rest of your pollinated plant. To prevent any further contamination, keep your isolation chamber sealed throughout the maturation process.
Maintaining the right conditions for the growth of the pollinated plants is important just like it is when one is growing their plants regularly. The plants need to have good nutrition, water, and air circulation to encourage them to grow to their full potential and produce the optimum amount of seeds.
Seeds should start forming a few weeks after pollination, and will be busting out of their heavy calyxes several weeks after that. If you need to keep the seeds for a while, save them in a cool dark place.
Planting the Seeds
Once the plants produce seeds, there is only one way to find out if the hybrid seeds have been developed successfully and that is through planting them and letting them grow. Once the plants are grown and harvested successfully, it can then be seen whether or not the breeding of a cannabis hybrid has been done to the desired effect.
Records may be the most important part of the breeding of a cannabis hybrid. Without records, there is no way of knowing which plants have contributed to the hybrid that would have come about.
Write down which plants were bred together and how their offspring turned out. This lets you keep track of traits that show up in the parents and offspring. This will also help you create new strains because you’ll be able to know what traits to expect when breeding certain plants.
“Making stable hybrids relies on the ability to test-grow as many offspring as possible in each new generation, in order to assess how desired qualities are passed on and decide whether a strain is ready or needs more fine-tuning.”~Sensi Seeds
Phenotypes and Backcrossing
The process breeding your own cannabis strain does not end after the seeds have been grown and harvested. The breeder will have to identify the phenotypes which they like the best and which they want to refine going forward. Hybrid strains available in dispensaries are a result of repeated breeding processes and choosing the desired phenotypes at each stage.
Have you ever purchased the same cannabis strain multiple times and noticed that it looked completely different each time? Maybe it even tasted slightly more sweet or sour than before. Or maybe you’ve grown the same strain repeatedly and realised how different one plant looked from the next? These differences within the same strain are referred to as genetic variability. Even though plants share the same lineage, their unique genetic expression, or phenotype, is a result of how their genetics respond to the environment.
Just as you and your sibling might have different physical attributes from your parents, each seed created from a round of cross-pollination will have different attributes from its parent strains. Maybe you have your father’s eyes and your mother’s hair, but your sister has your mother’s eyes and hair. Each cannabis seed is unique and will express different traits, and different combinations of traits, from one or both of the parent strains. These seeds with various expressions are called phenotypes.
Homozygosity ensures that a plant will consistently produce the same seeds with the same genetic makeup over and over again.
A plant that produces a set of phenotypes that have a lot of variety are said to be heterozygous. With cannabis, you typically want seeds that are homozygous—ones that have the same set of genes. Homozygosity ensures that a plant will consistently produce the same seeds with the same genetic makeup over and over again, ensuring that buyers and consumers will get the same plant or seed time and again.
After a strain is crossed, a breeder will then have to select which phenotype of the new strain they like best.
Backcrossing is the process of cross-pollinating a plant with its siblings or parent in a bid to strengthen certain qualities and traits whilst sidelining undesirable ones. By continuously breeding plants with similar genetic qualities which are wanted, the hybrid eventually created is homozygous and the good genes are passed down from one generation to the next.
Breeding your own cannabis strain takes some diligent observation of strains, traits and other desired qualities. The process to breed the required strain involves taking some separation and repeating the breeding of chosen phenotypes and their siblings or parents. This strengthens the desired genetic composition and ultimately, one can have great hybrid cannabis seeds.
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