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The Art of Selection and Breeding Fine Quality Cannabis

The Art of Selection and Breeding Fine Quality Cannabis

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Published by Jason Box

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Jason Box on Jan 04, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/30/2011

 
The Art of Selection and Breeding Fine Quality Cannabisby DJ Short (07 Mar, 2003) How to create amazing new strains with a discerning palate, carefulselection and some hard work.Perhaps the most important aspect to consider in the breeding of fine quality cannabis is that of selection. Selective breeding is where all of today's varieties evolved from.In the past, this chore was made easier by the fact that most of the commercially available herbwas seeded and imported from outdoor plantations, usually near-equatorial in origin. These "land-race" Sativa varieties were the building blocks of the burgeoning domestic productions of thetimes.The Indica (Afghan, Kush, Skunk, etc.) genetics were specially imported by West Coast interestsand available to the general public around 1978. It was shortly after this time that the variance of domestic cannabis increased exponentially, as people began experimenting with crossing thesetwo different types of pot.Beginning breedingThe typical way to begin a breeding program is to carefully select P1 parents of pure Sativa andpure Indica, crossing them to produce an f1 hybrid that is uniform in its phenotypic growthpatterns. The next step is the crossing of the f1 type with itself, which produces a very widevariation witnessed in the f2 growth patterns and expressions.It is in this f2 second-generational cross and beyond that the art of selection really comes intoplay. There are a number of factors to consider at this point, such as what the male and femalewill each contribute; and most of all, what will the overall quality of the finished product be like?Defining a goal and constructing a plan to accomplish it is called "top-down" programming, andthis "top-down" approach applies well to cannabis breeding. It helps considerably to have aspecific goal in mind when attempting to selectively breed a variety of ganja. This simple fact Icannot emphasize enough.One must at least have an idea of what one is aiming for before beginning. For me this has littleto do with plant structure and much to do with the quality of the finished product, no matter whatform it is in. Having an experienced and educated palate (both mentally aesthetic and physicallydiscernable) is key in the art of breeding fine quality cannabis.The "goal" at the center of most of my breeding targets would be to replicate, as near as possible,the experiences produced by the great land-race varieties of old: Highland Oaxacan or Thai,Santa Marta or Acapulco Gold, Guerrero Green, Panama Red or Hawaiian Sativa… or the hashfrom regions such as Lebanon, Afghanistan or Nepal.The indoor grow environment is too generic to fully replicate the great old legends. Therefore, itwas necessary to settle for the next best thing: happy Sativa/Indica crosses that would performwell indoors. (It is interesting to note here that most of the fine land-race Sativa werehermaphroditic, though sometimes only minimally.)Selection processObviously, you seek the parents that will produce the desired progeny. Paradoxically, this processrequires selecting the best after they've been harvested. The solution is to keep samples fromeach plant of a test crop. This can be done via rooted clones from earlier cuttings, or re-greenedmothers and fathers kept in a vegetative state and a high-nitrogen diet. Once you have chosenamong the harvested plants, you can use the rooted cuttings for future consideration and possible
 
breeding.Pollen may also be gathered and immediately stored via vacuum sealing and deep-freezing. It iscrucial to vacuum seal and freeze pollen immediately after it is collected and to use stored pollenimmediately after it thaws. Dry seeds also store well over indefinite periods of time in anundisturbed deep-freeze, with some desiccant.This process of post-harvest selection works fine for selecting desired female plants. But whatabout males? What is the best and most simple way to select males for breeding? Due to the factthat it is the female plants that we are ultimately familiar with, selecting males is a bit moreinvolved.The process is basically the same as it is with female plants, except with males the numbers arefirst limited down via a process of elimination, and selections made by comparing the remainder.Selecting males also takes a little more time initially as the quality of the male is not fullydetermined until after the seeds it produces are grown out and tested. As one becomes morefamiliar with a particular strain, the specific characteristics of the desirable males becomeapparent.Ideally, the more seeds one starts with the better. This is, after all, a numbers game. I will assumethat any basic breeding project starts with at least 20 different plants, from 20 viable seeds of highquality, professionally stabilized varieties. This would give a minimum of 10 male and 10 femaleplants hopefully sexed by two weeks into a flowering light cycle (short day/long night).Once sexed, the process of elimination may begin. All of the females are kept and regularlyexamined to prevent unwanted hermaphroditism. Unwanted males and all hermaphrodites mustbe eliminated before they begin to shed pollen – usually by the third week in the flowering cycle.The female plants need to be checked for hermaphroditism until harvest.(A quick word on "backward" hermaphrodites – declared males that eventually sport femaleflowers – as opposed to the usual female-to-male hermaphrodites. These are semi-rareoccurrences, usually sterile but sometimes viable, that I have found at times to be valuable intheir genetic contributions. Some of the most resinous and desirable males I have encounteredexhibited this trait. This trait almost seems to guarantee against unwanted hermaphroditism insubsequent generations as it also increases the female to male ratio in its progeny.)Recessive combinationA word needs to be said about the not-too-common probabilities of what I generally refer to as arecessive combination phenomenon. Sometimes, though not often, two parents that appear toexpress a common desirable trait – let's say a sweet/fruity bouquet – are crossed and theprogeny do not express the desirable trait.This usually means that one or both parents possessed some sort of recessive alleles in their genotype for this characteristic. But it could also mean that the progeny had a differentenvironment that the parents.If environment can be ruled out then it is likely that some sort of a genetic recessive combinationis the cause. If none of the progeny express the desired characteristic one may want to cross theprogeny with itself and see what the outcome is.If a common "Punnet ratio" such as 25% of a progeny express the desirable trait, then the trait ismore than likely recessive and the trait may be stabilized via crossing any two of the 25% (or whatever common ratio) that show the desired trait with each other. This process is timeconsuming and is generally followed only if no other alternatives exist.
 
Selecting malesI prefer to remove all of the males from the grow-room to a separate, isolated space shortly after they declare their sex and well before they begin to shed pollen. A small space lit with simplefluorescent light will suffice for the males for the next few weeks. During this time the female budswill fatten with more flowers while your collection of males is selected down.I generally employ a simple process of elimination while selecting males. First, any auto-floweringor very early-declared males are eliminated. (Auto-flowering means that male flowers formregardlecs of light cycle timing.) This is mainly to insure against hermaphroditism or unwantedflowering traits, but also as a means to insure quality. The very early declared males have atendency to be less desirable in terms of their contributions to the quality of the finished product.(If you are trying to specifically create an early-flowering strain, then your priorities may bedifferent.)Next, any male plant that grows too tall or too fast is usually eliminated. The reason for this is thatmost plants which dedicate so much energy to fiber production generally are best for makingfiber. The exception to this rule is when an over-productive plant also exhibits a number of thedesirable characteristics mentioned later.The next criteria for elimination is borrowed from Michael Starks' book, Marijuana Potency, andinvolves stem structure. Large, hollow main stems are sought while pith-filled stems areeliminated. Backed by years of observation, I agree that hollow stems do seem to facilitate THCproduction.Another consideration is the type of floral clusters that develop. Even on males, clusters whichare tight, compact and yet very productive are desired over an airy, loose structure. Theseobservations are most notable in the indoor environment. Outdoors, the differences in stem andfloral structures are more difficult to discern.The next and perhaps most important characteristic to examine is that of odor, flavor andtrichome development. Again, the females will prove themselves by their finished product, but themales are a bit trickier.I usually begin with a Sativa female and an Indica male. It has been my observation that thefemales primarily contribute the type of flavor and aroma and the males contribute the amount of flavor and odor. The "Sativa/Indica" aspects of this formula are mainly apparent in the P1 or veryearly filial crosses (to about f3). Beyond the f3 generation the apparent "Sativa/Indica" ratio in agiven individual is less important than the odor/flavor and trichome development aspects itexhibits. Therefore, one of the main aspects to consider when selecting a male is the depth of itsaroma and flavor. (If you are seeking to develop a low-odor indoor strain you might wish to beginwith a low-odor Sativa male and an Indica female.)With the remaining males I usually employ an odor/flavor test. Using males at least two or threeweeks into the flowering cycle (and preferably beyond if a separate, isolated space is beingused), a sort of "scratch-and-sniff" technique is first employed. With clean, odor-free fingers,gently rub one plant at a time, on the stem where it is well developed and pliable, above thewoody part and below the developing top (approximately at the spot where a clone would be cut).The newer leaves at their halfway point of development may also be rubbed and sniffed.These are the places that the earliest chemical signatures of a developing plant presentthemselves, and it is our intent to gently disturb these chemicals and inspire an odor/flavor reaction on the fingers and on the plant. By examining these various aromas in this way one maybe able to determine certain desirable (and also undesirable) characteristics. After clearing one'spalate and refreshing one's fingers, another plant may be tested.

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