Back in the 1980s, the landscape of cannabis growing was inevitably changed by the discovery of how to make feminized seeds. As every cannabis grower knows, only female cannabis plants produce flowers, while male plants are just used to make the pollen necessary for female plants to produce flowers with seeds. This groundbreaking discovery meant that every grower was sure that every seed they were planting, would produce consumable flowers. Even though this aspect surely advanced cannabis cultivation as a whole, its application to large-scale growing can be particularly tricky.
“There is an old saying that goes: it seemed a good idea at the time,” Jason Talmage explains. “I learnt the hard way the pros and cons of feminized seeds. With all due respect, growers who promote them just don’t have enough experience with feminized seeds.”
Instability of feminized seeds
Jason further explains that feminized seeds do not offer stable genetics, which eventually means that they may develop hermaphroditism. “Feminized seeds are just unstable,” he says. “Therefore, if they get stressed and develop hermaphroditism, they might ruin the whole crop. This is an incredible danger for large scale operations. If a whole crop is made from feminized seeds and just one plant becomes a hermaphrodite, then you might have to throw away everything, resulting in an enormous loss, not only with regards to that specific crop, but also with regards to the logistics of the entire operation. Indeed, without proper cleaning after a seeded crop, it may take anywhere from weeks to months before it is safe to grow in again. To fix this, one could use fresh water to clean the room as it deactivates the pollen. On the other hand, another method would be to utilize a pH-balanced freshwater foliar spray every five days on plants themselves which would help to mitigate the problem if a crop goes to seed and the company cannot just start over a new planting.”
The importance of data collection
According to Jason, the only way to prevent this from happening is to have an R&D department that can develop stable genetics and then carry out tissue culture. “The other thing with feminized seeds is that you are never sure if the plant will be stable,” he says. “They are not like clones that are all the same, but each seed is an individual plant with specific characteristics. If you take a bunch of feminized seeds and do some stress tests, it might be that you never get a hermaphrodite. But, in the moment you plant them and maybe there is some light leaks in the greenhouse, for instance, then one plant might develop hermaphroditism. These sorts of issues might happen in greenhouses, especially with those infrastructures that are not properly sealed. For example, the blackout necessary to induce the flowering to cannabis plants can be very expensive, so some people just use plastic to cover the facility. Needless to say, the chance of getting light leaks that could stress the plants is incredibly high.”
At the same time, not only light leaks can cause stress to plants. “It can be everything, such as root aphids, heat stresses, nutrient deficiencies, pH fluctuations, overdefoliation or overwatering or underwatering. The problem is that signs (symptoms) don't manifest for some of these issues until days or weeks after the original stressor which by then it is too late to prevent the plant stress. When symptoms manifest on the plants, growers will often look for something that went wrong in the previous couple of days as opposed to analyzing long term data to find the original stressor leading to inaccurate diagnoses. This also shines a spotlight on why intense and comprehensive data collection is critically important in all phases of the process."
Better go for another route
“Thus, Jason concludes that it doesn’t make much sense for large cannabis companies to opt for feminized seeds. “Feminized seeds run the risk of catastrophic failure,” he says. “I have seen hermaphrodite crops that were still sellable too, but then you have to spend more time and money to inspect each and every single plant to see which one meets the quality standards. If a large company wants to be sure about the outcome of its cannabis crop, then it has to invest in an R&D department that can ensure stable genetics. Many companies nowadays are going for this, as the competitiveness of the market and the razor-thin profit margins do not allow growers to make mistakes.”
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