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How to breed autoflowering cannabis seeds

How to produce cannabis seeds

When it comes to cannabis plants, feminized seeds are the most known ones. But do you know what auto and regular means?

1. Photoperiodic Cannabis

Photoperiodism isn’t unique to cannabis plants, many flowering plants sense changes in the length of night and day and use those changes as signals for when to flower. Photoperiodic cannabis plants are just like that, they basically respond to changes in the light cycle. As the night becomes longer at the beginning of autumn (in nature) or when you flip to 12/12 in a grow tent, the plant receives more darkness. This causes the plant to realize that its life cycle is coming to an end and they will start to flower (females) or produce pollen (males) in order to reproduce before winter.

Regular Photoperiodic Cannabis

Regular cannabis is photoperiodic cannabis that produces both male and female plants. They are called regular because they are produced the “natural way”: the pollen from the male plant pollinates the female, resulting in seeds. Back in the day, the only way to grow cannabis was with regular seeds, this way you would get half male and half females plants. There is a big difference between male and female plants, while female grows buds, male plants will only grow pollen sacs.

In nature male cannabis’ pollen sacs will open to release pollen which will pollinate the female flowers, this way producing seeds. But most growers that grow cannabis commercially or for their own consumption only want buds, allowing males to pollinate buds would ruin their harvest because pollination diminishes yield, so they’re mainly looking for female plants.

Feminized Photoperiodic Cannabis

To completely avoid accidental pollination and other problems related to male plants, feminized seeds were created. Feminized seeds come from the cross of two female plants, one of them is stressed so it starts producing pollen sacs, which will fertilize the other female. When you cultivate feminized seeds, the offspring will be only female plants. This takes out a lot of the unnecessary work that you can have when growing males and them not being able to use them. Ever since the boom of feminized seeds back in 1998, growers have stopped buying regular seeds for quite a bit. Nowadays most seed banks don’t even sell regular seeds anymore. With so much focus on feminized seeds, we can’t forget that regular seeds are vital for the creation of new strains.

2. Automatic Flowering Cannabis

You must already know that the characteristic that makes autoflowers an auto is they don’t need a different light cycle to enter the flowering stage. Like their name says, autoflowers start flowering automatically depending on age, and unlike regular and feminized cannabis that needs a change in the light cycle to start flowering. Autos don’t need anything else other than time to start producing buds.

But that trait didn’t come out of anywhere, it appeared as an adaptation to the environment. You’ve probably heard of Cannabis Indica and Sativa…well, the autoflowering gene comes from Cannabis Ruderalis. The Ruderalis species adapted to the extremely cold and harsh climates of Asia, Europe, and Russia. These regions have shorter warm seasons and colder temperatures. Because of this, Ruderalis started mutating from a photoperiodic plant to an autoflowering plant, to guarantee its reproduction before the temperatures reached freezing levels. Thanks to that adaptation, now we have autoflowers that take considerably less time from seed to harvest.

3. How To Make Your Own Seeds

Producing your own seeds is relatively easy if you have what it’s needed but that doesn’t mean the result will be a perfect strain. The good strains or “IBLs” that most seed banks sell are strains that have been developed for years and are far into the third or fourth generation. IBL or stabilized strain means the offspring will have certain characteristics locked down. When you cross two strains for the first time the offspring can have infinite phenotypes and this is not good for commercializing.

Photoperiodic Regular Seeds

When we talk about cannabis, it’s easy to forget about male plants. Everybody nowadays is used to the beautiful flowers we all love, but it’s important to remember that male cannabis plants are just as important as females. Male cannabis plants produce pollen and are an essential element in the production of new cannabis plants. This pollen is super important in breeding cannabis as it allows breeders to create crosses with genetics from different plants and create their own seeds. For producing seeds all you need is pollen and buds. Cannabis pollen is no different from regular pollen produced by other plants. It’s a fine powder that usually has a golden yellow color and is excreted from the pollen sac on male plants.

Collecting pollen is simple. You’ll know when its ready to be collected when the pollen sacks are open and you see pollen floating in the air and on the leaves near them. When this happens, you can gently remove the sacs and store them in a ziplock bag, once you are ready to pollinate just release the pollen onto the buds. Another way is to simply agitate your male plants near the female plants, the pollen will stick to the buds. Pollen is used in order to pollinate female plants and create seeds. In nature, female plants get pollinated by the wind which carries the male pollen. Cannabis seeds develop in the buds about 4-6 weeks after pollination, you will see the calyxes start to round up from the seeds being inside them.

Pollinated buds look quite different from regular buds. They usually don’t have as many trichomes and are usually smaller and a lot more swollen. 4 weeks after pollination, you can start checking the buds to see if the seeds are ready for harvest by picking a couple of seeds from the bud. Mature seeds will have a hard shell and be a dark brown color, they might also have some stripes on the outer shell.

Photoperiodic Feminized Seeds

Normally, a male cannabis plant has to pollinate a female plant to produce seeds. The resulting regular seeds will contain about half male and half female seeds. The way feminized seeds are produced is the same but instead of collecting the pollen from a male, breeders will stress or spray flowers with colloidal silver, for example. This process forces the female plants to become a hermaphrodite and starts producing pollen sacs. Hermaphrodite plants are females that are halfway turned into males, this means she has both male (pollen sacs) and female (buds) parts.

By picking out the pollen sacs and using a reverted plant’s pollen to pollinate a female plant, you will have only female genes as there is no “father”, this way you get feminized seeds, meaning the offspring will be 100% female plants.

Feminized and Regular Autoflowering Seeds

Regular Autoflowering Seeds

Usually, you can find regular and feminized seeds, and this applies to autoflowering seeds also. This means you can find male and female autoflowers, depending on the type of seed you buy (regular = 50% male and 50% female, feminized = 100% female). Unfortunately the high increase in the production of feminized seeds affected automatic seeds also. Although it’s not common to find regular auto seeds nowadays, they do exist. For producing regular autoflowering seeds all you need is male pollen and female buds, just like for regular photoperiodic cannabis. The process is basically the same, collect the pollen from the male and spread it on the buds, this will result in regular autoflowering seeds.

Feminized Autoflowering Seeds

The process of producing feminized autoflowering seeds is almost the same, the only difference is you will need two female autos instead of one male and one female. You will have to make one of your female autos produce pollen, either by stressing her out or spraying with colloidal silver and pollinating the other female. This will result in a 100% female automatic offspring.

4. Pollen Collection and Storage, and Proper Pollination Techniques

The process of collecting pollen from either a male or a hermaphrodite cannabis plant is a piece of cake, but you do have to be very careful if you have female plants nearby. One male or hermie plant can pollinate a whole crop if you are not alert and aware of the stage the pollen sacks are at, so always try to keep any pollen-producing plants well quarantined from any females that you want to keep seed free. The best way to harvest the pollen is to carefully remove the whole pollen sac flower head, let it dry for a couple of days to a week and then transfer the whole shebang to a sealable container or zip-lock bag. Once in the bag or container, you can give the whole thing a bit of a shake and the pollen should fall right out In terms of pollen storage, there are a few factors to take into consideration. Temperature and moisture levels are the most important things to control. Our tried and true method for at-home storage of cannabis pollen is:

  • Collect the pollen and place it in a sealed container or zip lock bag.
  • Add regular baking flour – about double the weight of pollen. This doesn’t need to be super exact, but it helps greatly with moisture absorption and spreads your pollen out much further.
  • Place the whole thing into the freezer where it can be stored for up to a year.
  • Pollen hates temp fluctuations, so leave it be until you are sure you are ready to use it

When you are ready to pollinate your plant the process is again nothing more than child’s play, but you have to be very careful not to spread the pollen to plants that you want to remain seedless. This can be a little difficult if the plants are rooted into the ground, but if they are in pots then the job is much safer.

Just move whichever female plant you want to produce seeds to an area well away from the rest of the crop. There are a few ways to pollinate your plant, but our favorite method is this:

  • Wait until the female plant is in her 2nd or 3rd week of the flowering cycle. At this point, you should see pistils forming fully (the small white hair-like growths)
  • Grab your pre-collected pollen from the freezer and let it come to room temp over a few hours
  • Dip a small, fine paintbrush or Q-tip into the pollen and apply it to the pistils of the budding sites that you want to produce seeds
  • We recommend focusing on the budding sites on the lower branches – the popcorn bud producing areas. These buds are usually the lowest quality in terms of smokeability and trichome production, so use these ones for seeds instead!
  • Seeds usually take around 4 – 5 weeks to mature fully. A mature cannabis seed is brown in color with tiger-like stripes and a hard outer shell.

A common question asked is – how many seeds a single budding site will produce? This is an impossible question to answer, as it varies widely between strains and the size of the budding site. But a fully pollinated plant can produce A LOT of seeds.

5. In Conclusion

Even though it is fairly easy to produce seeds, we recommend having a bit of experience before trying it. We recommend easy-to-grow strains like Zkittlez Auto to start acquiring experience before going into breeding.

Just an easy to grow, solid packed buds. A heavy feeder and can be a bit prone to light burn at the end but otherwise perfection!

A breeding operation needs a lot of caution, even the smallest amount of pollen may ruin your entire harvest. Remember you should always buy seeds from a reputable seed bank. If you buy bad genetics, your plants can become a hermaphrodite easily and what was initially cheap can end up being surprisingly expensive.

Breeding with Autoflowering Cannabis

When it comes to breeding cannabis, autoflowering is one of the most basic types of genetic traits of the plant, as it follows the laws of simple recessiveness and dominance. Specifically, it is a recessive trait. A brief review of high school biology reveals how it all works.

Cannabis normally requires long dark periods to trigger flowering, but there are varieties that will flower regardless of the lighting conditions. These are known as autoflowering varieties. Not all cannabis traits are as simple to explain, which is part of what makes autoflowering a good example for beginning breeders to start with.

For the purposes of this article, a few exceptions and special cases have been omitted for clarity, since even at the most basic level, it is a complicated enough topic that to some may seem confusing at first.

Gregor Mendel, a friar who conducted experiments with pea plants in the mid-1800s, tracked traits such as seed shape and flower color, and developed basic rules for understanding genetic inheritance such as the concept of dominant and recessive traits.

What is Autoflowering Cannabis?

Autoflowering seeds are available from seed retailers. Although some traits are complicated and require more than one gene to express, autoflowering is one of the most basic types of genetic traits and follows the laws of simple recessiveness and dominance. Specifically, it is a recessive trait.

Of importance to breeders, both experienced and aspiring, autoflowering is an easily observable simple Mendelian recessive trait. It is generally quick and easy to determine if a given adolescent plant is autoflowering or standard just by keeping it in short (or non-existent) dark periods for a few weeks. If the plant stays in growth, it is standard. If it flowers it is autoflowering.

Cannabis plants are dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. | Source: Brandon Crawford/Shutterstock

Chromosomes From the Male Cannabis Plant

Cannabis is a diploid, in other words, it gets one chromosome from the pollen of the father, and one from the ovum of the mother. This means it will have two genes (one from each chromosome strand), each of which can be one of two alleles, either autoflowering or not.

If we refer to the photodependant (standard) allele as P (upper case P), and the non-photodependant allele as p (lower case p), then the child plant will receive two—one from each parent. If the father is true breeding (homozygous) for photodependancy, it will have the allele P on both genes—the same is true for the mother.

Seeds made from such pairings will result in offspring that is also true breeding for photodependancy. The father will contribute either a P or a P (because he has two big Ps, and will pass on one or the other). The mother will contribute either a P or a P (because she has two, and will pass on one or the other).

While technically there are four combinations possible, effectively it doesn’t make much difference because all of the combinations result in PP (true breeding for photodependancy). This is why breeding a standard cannabis plant with another standard cannabis plant will result in standard cannabis offspring. The same is true of autoflowering.

True Breeding Marijuana Plant Parents

If both parents are true breeding for autoflowering, they will each have pp, and their offspring will autoflower (since they will receive a p from each parent). However, if one parent is PP (standard) and the other is autoflowering (pp), then all of the seeds will be Pp, since they will get one of the two P from the first parent, and one of the two p from the second parent. Having both the allele P and the allele p (heterogeneous for autoflowering) makes them a hybrid.

Since they have the alleles for both photodependancy and autoflowering, their phenotype (physical expression) will depend on dominance. Dominance determines which one breaks the ties in these instances.

In this case, photodependancy is dominant, so the resulting Pp seeds will all be photodependant. This is why the first generation after crossing a true breeding standard plant with a autoflowering plant will create seeds that are photodependant and will not autoflower.

A pollinated female cannabis plant produces seeds. | Source: TRADOL/Shutterstock

Autoflowering Traits in Hybrid Cannabis Seeds

However, the hybrid seeds aren’t useless. If the heterogeneous seeds from the above are crossed together, then the autoflowering trait will reappear:

  • The hybrid father will contribute either his P or p.
  • The hybrid mother will contribute either her P or p.
  • The resulting combinations are either PP, Pp, pP or pp.
  • The PP will be true breeding for photodependancy, and will show photodependancy.
  • The Pp and pP will be heterogeneous for photodependancy but will still show photodependancy because of dominance.
  • The pp will be true breeding for autoflowering, and will show autoflowering.

It is important to note that because of dominance there is no way to visually tell the difference between PP, pP and Pp. They will all be photodependant—only the recessive pp from this generation can be easily identified as true breeding.

A practical experiment can illustrate the above:

Step 1: Take a standard cannabis plant and cross it with an autoflowering variety. It doesn’t matter which supplies the pollen as long as one is male and the other female.

Step 2: Grow out the resulting seeds. They should act as if they were standard seeds. Select the best male and at least one female and cross them together.

Step 3: Grow out those seeds under growth (no long dark period) lighting. Due to the reasons explained above, there should be about 75% that don’t autoflower and 25% that do. The more seeds planted, the closer the results should be to the 75%-25% ratio.

One benefit to breeding for a recessive trait is that all of those that autoflower would have been true bred for autoflowering and can be bred together to make more autoflowering seeds.

Even if a breeder isn’t fond of autoflowering varieties, the process and learning experience of working with them can help expand their understanding of how genetic traits work in a way that is easy to see and will give tangible results and feedback.

Applying Mendelian genetics to simple traits in the real world can not only help cement an understanding of the basic principles of genetics, but can impress onlookers when predictions are proven accurate, or at least reasonably close.