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by DJ Short (25 Nov, 2002) How to bring out the Sativa and breed the ultimate buds.
To understand the principles behind the breeding of cannabis you first need to be familiar with some basic terms related to genetics. "Genotype" is the genetic and chromosomal make-up of any given individual – it is the genetic code. "Phenotype" is the expression of body type, structure, and appearance of individuals; it results from the interaction between genotype and environment.
Specific environmental conditions are often required for certain phenotypic expressions from a given genotype. If the available nutrients, hours of sunlight, or other conditions are not available then the development of the plant or animal will be altered. These conditions are referred to as "environmental triggers."
Two individuals with the same genotype can have greatly different phenotypes if grown in different environments.
Indoor vs outdoor
In terms of growing and breeding cannabis, there is a distinct difference between indoor and outdoor grow environments. No matter where on the planet one is, the indoor environment is usually far more limited when compared to the spectrum of conditions existing outdoors.
When compared to the wide variety of conditions available outdoors, the indoor environment may be seen as relatively bland and generic. The greenhouse environment, especially when fortified with electric light, is perhaps the closest thing available to a happy marriage
It is useful to agree, at least in theory, that there are three separate subspecies of the genus Cannabis – Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis.
Cannabis Sativa is the equatorial variety found primarily around 30 degrees latitude North or South. Sativa generally grow tall, from seven to thirty feet, have many long branches, narrower leaflets, and mature slowly.
Cannabis Indica varieties generally inhabit the areas between 30-50 degrees North or South latitude. Indica are generally much shorter than Sativa, only about three to five feet tall. They have fewer and shorter branches than Sativa, the longer of which are lower on the plant, with much wider leaflets. They also mature earlier and more rapidly than Sativa.
Cannabis Ruderalis grow naturally primarily past 50 degrees north latitude (the Siberian steppes). Ruderalis are the shortest, least bushy, and fastest maturing of the three.
The end of the sweet spots
Prior to the late 1970's, virtually all commercially available cannabis products came from the great outdoors. Many of these varieties had been grown in their particular region since antiquity – not since the advent of sailing had a greater diversification and distribution of the herb occurred.
Most cannabis available was also very well acclimated to its particular region of origin. Certain places tended to produce very unique and desirable types of herb that were renowned to each region. I like to refer to these high-quality cannabis producing areas as "sweet spots." The products coming out of these sweet spots during this era were among the finest herbs ever available.
A series of phenomena occurred in the late 1970's and early 80's that has since revolutionized the cannabis industry. This series included the triad of sinsemilla, High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting, and the introduction of Indica genetics, coupled with draconian herb laws that drove the industry far underground. Never before in human history was so much genetic diversity of cannabis grown in such generic, indoor conditions. The results of this phenomenon have wreaked havoc on the cannabis gene pool.
The road to blandness
As Indica, sinsemilla and HID lighting became predominant, it became apparent that Sativa varieties were very difficult to coax commercial amounts of sinsemilla herb from indoors. The fast maturing, dense bud structure of the easy-to-grow Indica soon dominated the indoor grow scene.
Another factor contributing to the desirability of the indoor Indica was its truebreeding "dioecious" nature, meaning that individual plants tend to be male or female only, but not both. In contrast, many Sativa strains show hermaphroditic tendencies indoors, with male and female flowers on the same plant. (It is my opinion that wild Sativa strains of cannabis are primarily truebreeding hermaphroditic varieties.)
As outdoor production diminished due to intolerant laws and the drug war, indoor production of Indica phenotypes became the staple of the commercial indoor grower. The road to generic blandness had begun.
Although some Sativa/Indica crosses matched some of the Sativa flavor and head high with the Indica bud structure, this desirability would only last for a few generations of breeding. Unless a person is breeding for a very specific trait, crosses seven generations and beyond the original P1 Indica/Sativa cross lose much of their original charm and desirability. Cloning, however, helps to extend a given plant's potential.
Ruderalis: myth and misnomer
As indoor growers attempted to improve their genetic lines via breeding, another interesting phenomenon occurred: Ruderalis. Although there is a wild variety identified as Ruderalis in Russia ("Ruderalis" is supposedly Russian for "by the side of the road") that grows very short and matures very fast, I seriously doubt the rumor that someone actually went to Russia to collect of this variety sometime in the past. Or, if someone actually did go all the way to Russia to find, collect and smuggle "rudy", I do feel sorry for their waste of time. They could have gotten the same worthless thing from Minnesota, Saskatchewan or Manitoba with much less hassle.
The North American Ruderalis probably originated as follows: After the Indica varieties arrived in the US and became incorporated into the gene pool, many breeders began to cross the earliest maturing individuals with each other in hopes of shortening the maturation cycle.
It would only take a few generations for the ugly Rudy phenotypes to begin expressing themselves. By ugly, I am referring to a strong lack of potency and/or desirability. I know, I was once guilty of the practice myself. It did not take me long to realize that this was a huge mistake in regard to the quality and potency of the future generations' finished product, and all subsequent breeding along this line was ceased.
Many of these manipulated rudies were released on the open market between 1981 and 1986. It was shortly after this period that the grow journals of the era (Sinsemilla Tips and High Times) ran articles about the possibility of a new wonder variety for indoor grows: fast blooming Ruderalis. Rumor had spread to myth and misnomer. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to say that the Ruderalis phenotype was coaxed from Indica genetics, via the indoor breeding environment.
The same applies to many of the Indica dominant varieties available today. Breeders selecting for early, fast flowering or fast growth often miss out on some of the finer and more subtle characteristics available from crossing certain genotypes. My advice to breeders is to wait until the finished product is suitably tested before coming to any conclusions regarding desirable candidates for future breeding consideration.
The malleability of phenotypic expression among the Sativa/Indica crosses must also be noted. The variability of phenotypic expression among the f2 generation of a truly polar (pure Sativa/pure Indica) P1 cross is quite phenomenal. The second generation f2 crosses will exhibit the full spectrum of possibilities between the original parents – extreme Indica, extreme Sativa, and everything in between.
However, regardless of any particular phenotype selected from among this given f2 cross, future generations may drift radically. Depending on the presence (or lack) of a number of environmental triggers, an f2 Indica phenotype may be coaxed more toward Sativa traits, or an f2 Sativa phenotype may be coaxed more toward Indica expression. The key is environmental conditions.
This is what distinguishes the truebreeding, ancient acclimated, region of origin varieties – especially the tropical and equatorial Sativa – from the crosses that have happened since. The ancient specimens have a much narrower genotype range, and therefore a more specific phenotype than their contemporary crosses despite environmental conditions. It is up to future adventurers to provide the best possible environmental considerations, along with the best possible genetic considerations, in order to resurrect the legendary happy flowers of yore.
After many years of first-hand experience breeding herb indoors as well as outdoors, I am of the opinion that the two most influential factors involving phenotypic variation and expression among current indoor herb breeding projects are the photoperiod (hours of light per day) and the angle of light in relationship to the growing plant.
Specifically, I find the single most powerful influence to the Indica dominant phenotype is the traditional 18/6 veggie cycle and 12/12 flowering cycle. The 18/6 veggie and 12/12 flower cycle is an attempt, however poor, to mimic the Indica-producing photoperiod. It is my belief that this light cycle strongly influences for Indica phenotypic expression.
Sativa phenotype characteristics will manifest under a more equatorial photoperiod, closer to a 13/11 veggie cycle and an 11/13 flower cycle. This is the light timing range to use to elicit more Sativa dominant expression from your plants.
As for the exact photoperiod formula that I incorporate into my growing/breeding regime, this will presently remain a trade secret. My advice is to experiment with different photoperiods, keep good notes and pay attention. Avoid the 18/6 and 12/12 photoperiods, while tweaking the times a bit differently with each breeding cycle until more desirable results in the finished product and their offspring are noted. Here's a hint: work in half-hour increments or a little less, and good luck!
Angle of Light
Angle of light simply refers to the physical angle of light source the plant is dependent upon for growth. Perhaps the greatest difference between indoor and outdoor environments has to do with the angle of light received by the plant. This is also one of the greatest seasonal differences between the Sativa and Indica producing regions.
Outdoors, the main light source is the Sun, with minor influence coming from nearby reflective surfaces. As a plant grows taller and broader outdoors, that angle of light from the sun changes very little in relationship to the growing plant.
Seasonal changes in angle of light increase the further away from the equator one gets. At the equator there is the least amount of seasonal change in angle of light, only about 20°, whereas at the 45th parallel that change is as great as 45°. At the 45th latitude, the Summer Sun is high in the sky while during early Spring and late Fall the sunlight comes from much lower in the sky. The farther one goes from the equator, the greater the difference in seasonal changes regarding angle of light.
Indoors, the lights typically range from a few inches to several feet from the plant. As the plant grows taller, its physical relationship to the bulb's angle of light changes considerably. Most indoor grow rooms have relatively low ceilings, therefore, raising the bulbs may maintain a similar angle of light early on, but eventually the angle changes. The same differences may be noted among plants directly below the bulb and the plants off to the side of the room farther away from the bulb.
Circular light shuttles tend to emulate the arctic summer and create a confusing signal completely unknown to the equatorial Sativa. Straight-track overhead light shuttles are more conducive to inducing the Sativa phenotype.
Aromatics and flavors
Many indoor growers try to get their budding plants as close to the light source as possible. Though this may increase bulk production of both bud and trichome, I find that this practice tends to destroy many of the finer aromatic qualities of the herb.
Buds too close to the light tend to express nothing beyond the lower lemon/lime aromas of the fruity spectrum. Sometimes the aroma is no better than a strong chemical/astringent odor and flavor, especially those under High Pressure Sodium light systems. The finer berry flavors tend to favor more distance from the bulb, and will manifest more strongly under High Ultraviolet Metal Halide light systems, especially during the latter stages of flowering.
Something akin to a gymnasium building with high ceilings and super 5000W lights hung far from the growing plants, set at a Sativa-tweaked photoperiod, would be the ultimate indoor grow-op to coax Sativa phenotypes.
Sweet spot fantasy
Nothing will ever rival the great outdoor sweet spots for quality cannabis production. Hopefully, someday, somewhere, someone will be daring and lucky enough to get away with re-establishing some of the great genetic lines in their specific region of origin sweet spots.
Equatorial Sativa varieties are of interest for quality herb production (Thailand, Oaxaca, Colombia, Central Africa, etc.) as the Indica zones are more renowned for hashish production. Parts of Nepal tend to produce both excellent hashish and fine Sativa buds, with some plants reportedly living longer than two years!
"......early flowering males are BAD because they carry dominant male genetic traits like hermaphroditism and fibre production.
If you want a faster maturing strain then selectively breed towards that goal using progressively earlier finishing females, NOT males.
1)Males that autoflower regardless of daylight hours are culled to insure against hermaphroditism or unwanted male traits.
2) Males that show sex first, flower too quickly or too tall are also eliminated because they put too much energy into fibre production..
3) Males that have a large hollow main stem rather than more pith filled stems are better THC producers.
4) Males that produce tight,compact floral clusters rather than sparse airy ones are also usually better to breed with.
5) If you rub your fingers up and down the stem of a young male and get strong aromas (terpines) then you would be advised to use these as trichome production and flavour are directly related to plants that produce odours early on.
There are a couple more traits to look for like early trich production in veg but these are quite advanced and need microscope help which is not really relevant for a hobby breeder."
What is combining ability?
Certain inbred lines will display hybrid vigour when crossed. These vigorous lines are said to have favorable combining ability.
Certain inbreds have the ability to combine well with testers--these have general combining ability (GCA). When the inbred combines well only in certain crosses, it has specific combining ability (SCA). The only way to select for combining ability is to grow and examine the progeny. An astute breeder can recognize the potentital for hybrid vigour by identifying the dominant traits of the parents and deducing which lines may combine favorably.
Predicting the combining ability of recessive traits can only be determined through progeny testing.
The breeder is interested in single crosses (also known as F1 generations) that outperform other single crosses. If the breeder has multiple IBLs to work with, she could select first for GCA, then for SCA among the lines with GCA, then identify the best parental gene donors. In most cases with Cannabis you can go directly to selecting for specific combining ability between your IBL and your testers.
What is hybrid vigour?
When two inbred lines from diferent origins are crossed and the resultant progeny produce a better yield or quality due to a better balance of genes, that is hybrid vigour (heterosis). Not all crosses are an improvement on the parents. Random crosses among random lines will give you random results. Hybrid vigour results when the parents used express favorable specific combining ability.
How do I select for combining ability?
The ONLY way to select for combining ability is to test for it.
Even though there is a positive relation between overall vigour of an inbred and the yield of its crosses, the combining ability is more important. The breeding value of a certain hybrid is determined by studying it's progeny.
Making an inbred-to-varietal cross is one way. Cross the various lines to a stable variety (Skunk no.1, Northern Lights, etc.) and the progeny that produces the best crosses is selected. Repeating the test in different locations will eliminate any possible influences the environment might produce, and repeating the test with different testers would ensure that the results were accurate.
Does it matter which line is used for the male?
No. Some growers swear that certain plants do better as one parent or the other, but it really doesn't matter as yield and quality are due to that particular cross and remain the same whenever that cross is repeated. Genetically the siblings in an IBL are the same no matter which gender is used.
What should I look for in an IBL?
First define your goals. Are you growing for yourself or for commercial production? Indoors or out? Mostly sativa or mostly indica? Keep only the plants that have the qualities you want, and mercilessly kill the rest.
Select plants that don't fall over; if you have to prop them up with toothpicks, you might as well cull them. Keep the ones that are free from abnormalities and hermaphroditism. Hopefully you've got enough many be ruthless. Keep the ones that show better resistance to disease and pests. Even though the progeny performance is more important than the individual, there is a positive relationship between the overall vigour of an IBL and the yield of its hybrids. If they produce vigourous plants they are more likely to pass these traits on.
What is recurrent selection?
Recurrent selection refers to selecting for certain traits generation after generation.
With the interbreeding of reselected plants, the breeder can access favorable as well as stabilize traits within the genepool. Select your in each IBL, but don't be totally reliant on the phenotype because its not always indicative of the actual genotype. Make yield and quality trials with test crosses and select the best ten lines. Intercross and repeat.
After recurrent selection is done, select new individuals to be the new parents of IBLs. These are then recurrently selected for four or five generations. After recurrent selection has been done in two seperate programs, an F1 single cross of the two lines (A X B) is then produced.
In reciprocal recurrent selection (RRS), pollen of multiple A males is used to pollinate ideal B females and pollen of B used to pollinate ideal plants of A. Thus A is used as a tester to select for the of B plants, and B is a tester for A. At the same time,inbred seedlots(A X A) and (B X B) are made,using mixed male pollen and the best females of each population. Store the resulting seed-- the seedlines with the best combining ability will be used as parents of the next RRS cycle.
The (A X B) hybrid progeny are simply used as visual indicators of the combining ability that lies in the saved these specific inbred parental lines are kept in reserve until the of the different (A X B) hybrids has shown which has better and will make the better hybrids. Since this is such a complicated strategy, good note taking and organization are definitely required.
My Cataloguing System
c. 2004 DJ Short
Perhaps one of the most useful devices used in a quality cannabis breeding project is that of catalogue techniques. This refers to the method used to categorize various traits for future reference, or how to best label traits from a given population. It is also a means to track who came from where (generational references).
First and foremost, I cannot begin to describe the level of complexity involved with a breeding project that extends from the f-2 to the f-5 range. It took me over a decade and a half of trial and much error to fully comprehend and develop a system that actually works to this level and beyond. It starts out simple enough, until the f-2's, then the complexity expands exponentially with each generation.
The P-1's are simple enough, they are the original breed-stock and labeled for what they are, i.e. Highland, Purple or Chocolate Thai, Oaxacan or Santa Marta Gold, Pure Afghan, etc. The f-1's were equally simple as they were of uniform expressions and I simply chose to label them “The Cross”. The f-2 generation was equally easy to identify with the label “Double Cross”, or the progeny of the f-1 cross. However, when the f-2's were grown out, extreme diversity ruled the making of the f-3's (or the descriptions of the f-2's selected to breed further with) a tougher call to make.
It is at this level (and beyond) that some form of labeling system becomes necessary to catalogue all of the different variations found. Beginning with the plants grown out from the f-2 seeds I chose to utilize an alphabetized system with each letter corresponding to a specific trait. For example, the letter “B” came to signify the “Berry” characteristic, “F” stands for “Fruity” (sometimes “Floral“), “G” is for Grape, “C” for Citrus, “O” for orange, “L” for lemon or lime, “K” equaled “Kush”, “S” for “Sativa” “P” for Purple, “X” for extreme glandular trichome production, etc.
I must confess that it took much trial and error to finally get it right. Therefore, if one were to look at my early notes many exceptions to what developed as “the rule” can be found. I left these early “mistakes” as they were so as not to over-complicate what came next. It is also very important to note that most of these observations were relatively subjective and that no more than two traits, or characteristics were ever assigned to any one plant. Therefore, the label “BK” came to stand for “Berry Kush”, or a Kush dominant plant with outstanding berry attributes. It is also important to note that only the most outstanding plant of any given attribute was selected for future work. So the plant that ended up with the “BK” label was the most Berry-Kush of the lot.
So, my f-3 stock became labeled with a two-letter code indicating what the most outstanding characteristics of it’s parent (primarily mother) were, and only those with the strongest expressions earned their label. When the f-3's were grown out and crossed to make the f-4 generation, these labels were coupled to indicate the parents of the f-4 progeny, i.e. BK/FS would be a cross between an f-3 Berry-Kush mother (I always list the female first, male second with a back-slash in between) and an f-3 Fruity Sativa father.
F-4's and Beyond
Consider the label number: 4/5 3 96-2. This is the type of numbering symbol I use to label F-4 and beyond plants. Before we dissect this number I need to point out a few rules that I follow in a breeding project beyond the F-4 generation.
First, I only grow out no more than six varieties at any single time. The reason is to avoid too much confusion. Six is about the maximum number of varieties an individual can realistically keep track of. These six (or five, or four etc.) varieties are then labeled as “1" through “6" (or the number of varieties used). Let’s say the 6 f-3's I use are: 1. “FK/FK”, 2. “BK/PK”, 3. “FK/FL”, 4. “GK/GK”, 5. “PK/FP” and 6. “XP/FK”. Notes are made to record this fact and the seeds are then sprouted and grown using these simple, single digit identification numbers (1 through 6 in this example).
Second, I select only one male from any single breeding project. Again, this simplifies things and avoids mistakes enormously. That male is generally selected at about the third week in the flowering cycle, unless it is a clone from another project. After the single male is selected the other males are removed and the remaining females are numbered according to their variety category (i.e. if there are seven #1. females, five #2 females, etc. they are labeled #1–1 through 7, #2–1 through 5, etc.) The male simply retains the number from its variety label, in our above example the number “5" (in the 4/5), or the “PK/FP” male.
Now we may examine the above example: 4/5 3 96-2. The first two numbers, “4/5" are the variety number of the female first and male second. So in this case that would be: a “GK/GK” female crossed with the “PK/FP” male. The third number in our example, “3" means female #3 from the #4 (“GK/GK”) batch. The next number in the example, “96" is merely the year and the final number is the crop number for that year. So, translated, the number 4/5 3 96-2 is the third “GK/GK” (or #4) female crossed with the “PK/FP” (or #5) male grown from the second crop of 1996.
Please note that the “/5” male-used indicator will be /5 for all of the seeds labeled from this batch as the #5 (“PK/FP”) male is the only one used. If a male clone from a past crop is used it may be indicated by using the #7 in the initial notes (if six varieties are sprouted) and described as the male-clone-used in the #7 description. Likewise, if any of the six varieties tested are from a past clone (female), they may be selected as one of the #1 through #6 varieties, labeled and described accordingly.
It seems complex at first, but I assure you that it works great. The same system is used for the F-5 generation, and beyond. The system merely requires that dated notes be kept and catalogued. That way, any crosses may be backtracked and referenced via one’s notes and a simple, six or seven digit code is all that is needed to label and catalogue one’s plants.
Finally, this system works best for forward crosses mainly. Backcrosses will need another connotation to note their use . The “clone-used” labeling described prior works well for backcrosses involving clones.
This system is good for only one grow out at a time. If multiple grows, or facilities are used then they will need to be noted as well, perhaps with a lettered “A”, “B”, “C” etc. appended onto the catalogue number. Also, detailed notes of each individual plant are necessary to fully utilize any cataloguing system and are obviously required for success. Other than that, I have found this to be a relatively simple and foolproof system for cataloguing one’s breeding projects beyond the f-3 generation.
A Word About Anomalies
Anomalies, individuals that are markedly different from the general phenotypic expression of a given variety, are rare, but occur with a near predictable ratio. Beyond the f-3 generation (and from my personal seed-stock) anomalies present themselves at the ratio of approximately 1:100. Because there are both positive (desirable) and negative (non-desirable) anomalies, the overall ratio of positive (desirable) anomalies is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of approx. 1:200. Desirable anomalies are very valuable to cannabis breeding providing that they are viable. So always keep an eye out for desirable anomalies and put sufficient energy into their reproduction. More often than not however, anomalies can be very finicky and therefore difficult to work with