Herbology: Know your cannabis seeds | Home & Garden

Growing cannabis, an activity which may have landed you in the slammer just a year ago, is now fully legal for home cultivation in Virginia.

If you’re 21 or older, you can grow up to four plants. For further details on the new law, visit cannabis.virginia.gov. These law changes were enacted July 1. I have since fallen in love with cultivating cannabis and I cannot believe that we had to stand by with our freedom to grow withheld for this long. I am no botanist or master gardener, but I have taken some college courses in horticulture and I have studied cannabis, recreationally, for about 20 years.

In my opinion, the new law still has flaws. However, I’m overjoyed to be able to share the same freedom to grow that folks in states like Colorado, Oregon and Alaska have been enjoying for years. Have you found yourself thinking you would like to try to grow? Have you already tried and failed? Maybe you just need a few tips to get going! My goal is to use this and future columns as a place to explain some basic cannabis knowledge, as well as more intricate details of growing this plant.

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So, you are looking to obtain your first seeds. There are many terms you will see that differentiate marijuana seeds: photoperiod or autoflowering; indica, sativa or hybrid; feminized or regular. This could sound like another language if you are new to this scene. Let’s demystify those terms.

First let’s distinguish “autos” from “photos.” So here is a little lesson in marijuana botany: Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica is the genus and species of marijuana as you probably have always thought of it. There is a third species you don’t hear of as often: Cannabis ruderalis.

Ruderalis is a variety of cannabis that was native to Eastern Europe and Russia, where growing conditions are not particularly ideal. This low-THC variety evolved to flower a couple weeks or so after germination, rather than flowering based on shortening length of day like its sativa/indica cousins do.

Some breeders thought it would be cool to breed those fast-flowering genes into the other varieties known for their more intoxicating effects. The result is what are known as “autoflowers.” Autoflowering cannabis, or “autos” as you may know them, can be useful for home growers as they allow multiple smaller harvests per year rather than a single large harvest in the late fall.

So, autos are not day-length sensitive. They can grow and flower in really short or really long daylight periods, although you will see better yields with more light.

“Photos” are photoperiod or day-length sensitive plants. For outdoor growers, your plants will start to flower around Aug. 15 at Virginia’s latitude. For indoor growers, your plants will begin flowering whenever you shorten your light cycle. Most folks do 12 hours light and 12 hours darkness.

Just know that when you read the description of most seeds, whether autos or photos, you will usually see a description such as 50-50 sativa/indica or 70-30 sativa/indica. That’s a good indicator of how long the plant should flower, how big to expect the plant and what type of buzz to expect. Indica is known for being a smaller, denser plant that flowers quickly and offers a relaxing buzz. Sativa is known for lanky plants that take longer to flower and give a creative, uplifting buzz. You will never see a listed ratio of ruderalis in an autoflower, even though it is a part of the genetic makeup of the seed.

This explanation of what makes a plant indica or sativa dominant is complicated, so take breeder claims with a grain of salt. Think of it this way: I could breed a pure-bred beagle and a pure-bred Labrador; the litter would be dogs which are 50% of each parent genetically. However, one puppy may have floppy ears and a strong nose like a beagle, while another may look like a lab and have a never-ending desire to fetch. It is difficult to look at each puppy and label what percentage of what parent it mimics.

These days, no cannabis breeder is breeding pure indica or sativa. Ninety-nine percent of seeds you will find today are poly-hybrids. This means labeling a plant “60/40 sativa/indica” is a difficult thing to do. However, if a reputable breeder says 90-10 sativa/indica hybrid, know that you probably do not want to grow that variety as a sleep aid.

If you are trying to decide for the first time and don’t know which you prefer, pick a 50/50 or maybe two varieties that are opposite so you can figure out which strain you like. Since I had never had any option other than the black market, I never knew which type of cannabis I preferred. Now that I have grown, I know sativa dominant breeds are my choice herb.

Here’s hoping you have a better understanding of the terminology you need to pick your seeds. Now there is one last, critical detail to identify: feminized or regular? In case you are brand new to cannabis and did not know, we growers are after flower, specifically unpollinated female flower. Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning there are male plants and female plants. Males are needed to make more seeds but unless you are a breeder, you do not want seeds in your flower. They diminish the quality of flower that you have grown for consumption.

If you are new to learning about this plant, I strongly encourage you to begin with feminized seeds, especially if you are growing outdoors. Regular seeds may be cheaper or easier to get, but if you fail to determine the sex of your plants in time, you risk seeding your (or your neighbor’s) crop. If you plan to try to breed cannabis, please keep your male plants indoors. Good luck picking your first seeds!

Next month: The differences between growing indoors and out.

Nick Clifton is an amateur grower who lives in Roanoke.

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