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Becoming a Breeder
By the Joint Doctor
– In this article, I will briefly discuss my approach to breeding Cannabis, I might have some useful advice to share with you. I’ll also address some of the common myths surrounding plant breeding – Sasha
Are you thinking of growing your own seeds? Or maybe you decided to try and create a new weed strain, all your own? If so, you may be on your way to becoming a plant breeder – and I may be able to help you. To get started, it’s not as hard as you might think.
MYTH: Plant breeding can only be carried out by plant geneticists in an advanced hydroponics research facility
This is very far from the truth. First off, what is breeding exactly? Breeding happens when a grower (you) purposefully select and multiply certain plants, with a specific goal in mind.
Breeding can be highly complex, for example, if you plan to create new feminized autoflowering hybrids, over several generations of work. But at the most basic level, breeding just means selecting two or more plants – usually a male and a female – and producing seeds for the next season.
Of course, the real magic happens with repetition, when you continue to do that over several generations. Because over time, you can tailor the plants’ traits to your unique desires and needs, and end up with something of your own that is completely different or new.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Cannabis is relatively easy to breed, compared to many other plants. It has a high degree of adaptability and can be shaped and modified to suit your needs. Seed-saving farmers have been doing it for thousands of years. Of course, today we have many fancy high-tech tools to help speed up the process, including indoor growing and laboratory analysis; but at its core, the goal remains the same: to reproduce a plant, in order to preserve, improve, and/or modify a plant’s characteristics, through purposeful manipulation.
Hopefully, after this, you will be better able to decide if that’s something you’d like to pursue. It’s not too difficult; it does take time, dedication, and a proper space to grow, but breeding is worth the effort, as it can be extremely rewarding. I will not get too technical here; if you are interested in learning more about it, I strongly suggest you pick up a good manual like MarijuanaBotany by Robert Connell Clarke – it’s very well written and illustrated, and although it was published several decades ago, it remains a great place to start your research. What I CAN do is share some principles I have learned over the years that you will probably not find in any book!
IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE!
Einstein said this, and it really applies to breeding plants. Let me explain. Knowing a little about genetics certainly helps. I encourage anyone with interest to study as much as you can. But it’s not necessary to know everything about plant genetics to get started in plant breeding. If you are passionate, you will learn as you go along, there is so much to discover. Even more important is to know what you want to get out of it. What are your goals? Do you dream of preserving a favorite local strain, for example? In my case, one of my main goals was to develop compact, fast-growing plants, but that didn’t happen overnight. Lowryder took many years to develop, and there were lots of mistakes along the way – but I learned from them. Also, sometimes your goals will change over time – that’s OK – only dummies never change their minds.
PASSION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN RESOURCES!
I know that I’m no Einstein, but I’m trying to make a point here. It’s important to have a good location to grow your plants, you know that already. Some of us have a super high-tech indoor growing facility, with specialized growing zones and computerized environment controls. But most of us don’t, and that’s OK – nobody starts there. If you’re like me, you started growing in your secret garden, your closet, your basement. It’s better to start small, learn as you go along, and grow in a more organic way. In fact, I have seen many Cannabis enterprises fail by going too big, too fast!
MYTH: You can’t breed Cannabis outdoors
This is very wrong. Most of the food, herbs, and plants that we use today, including Cannabis, were created by farmers who collected and saved seeds over many generations. Most Cannabis has been reproduced outdoors, historically – it’s only recently that seed production has moved into greenhouses and indoor facilities.
Now, if you are breeding plants for indoor growing exclusively, then forget about breeding them outdoors – that’s not a great idea. However, if you are looking to create a variety well suited for outdoor growing, then you probably should breed it outdoors. See how that works? So it all depends on what your goals are.
Historically, most of the useful innovations in plant breeding were carried out by simple farmers who had limited resources. But what they did have was time on their hands, and a specific vision or understanding of their needs, coupled with hard work and the patience to see their project through. Little things done over a long span of time, little improvements over many generations, lead to great things.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING!
You might be growing some really good strains, but if you don’t plan things in advance, your timing could be wrong. For example, you want to make a cross (hybrid) of two different strains. But if they do not flower at similar times, it won’t work. When a female is receptive, and your male plants are not ready, for example, pollination won’t be successful. However, if your male plants flower earlier than the female candidates, you can still collect the pollen to use at a later time. This is only one of the factors to consider. The point is, you really have to use a calendar to plan your breeding project realistically, especially if you are working with two or more varieties that are vastly different.
Take pictures and clear notes for everything you do. Also, keep your seeds in a safe location, and consider keeping a back-up or sample of everything you do. You’ll be glad you did later on, however you do it, whether it’s digital or a good ol’ paper agenda. You never know what detail might be important in the future. It is difficult to remember everything, whether you are a weed smoker or not. So documentation is crucial! This is science, guys!
Stay tuned for new articles in the same series. In the next chapter, I will talk about the vocabulary of breeding, and what the terminology means. And also about some of the differences in breeding photoperiod and autoflowering plants. Until next time, thanks for listening, and happy breeding!