You may have heard such terms as Beasters or beasty buds once or twice before, phrases referring to the thick, heavy sinsemilla grown in western Canada, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, or BC (hence the name). Over the years, the reputation of Beasters has climbed steadily as new varieties have been produced by BC breeders—strains that compete every year in the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and whose seeds are now popular in seed banks in Canada and all over the world.
Not surprisingly, most of these strains are developed in, and well-suited to, outdoor climates. But you may be taken aback just a bit by precisely where and how some of these seed companies are doing it. As the New York City slickers from the HIGH TIMES cultivation department navigated our way from city to island, it quickly became evident that there was going to be a lot more here than we had previously expected.
To begin with, growing in BC is done in an overly beastly climate that comprises the moist, mountainous rain forests of northern Vancouver Island. Shocked as we were, it’s true – Vancouver Island is, in fact, the northern-most rainforest (technically called a temperate rainforest biome) in the world. And rain it does.
Unfortunately, for bud growers, this can cause problems in the flowering stages and shorten the grow season by a few weeks, severely affecting yields. The good news, however, is that the climate – when all is going according to schedule – can create the perfect breeding grounds for seed production and strain stabilization.
Forget the fact that, when trekking through the forests to the isolated grow patches, you’ll enjoy some unbelievable scenery with thrilling opportunities to spy on bears or lick Jurassic-sized slugs (turns out this gives better visuals than licking frogs). And forget the fact that you can make the two-hour drive over a winding dirt road – traversing both cliffs and rivers – and never cross paths with another living soul. Forget these nice things, that is, because at the end of the day, this is about hard work in even harder terrain.
The grow sites afforded here are only accessible at certain times and simply cannot receive all the attention that these breeders would like to give their crops. Then again, this is outdoor growing in BC, where the question from season to season is: Do we grow for bud, or do we grow for seed? The answer depends not only on the long-term weather forecasts, but also on the current marijuana markets.
For breeders in BC, there’s certainly a higher passion involved. Up here, more emotion goes into a farm than it would some skeleton house with a blown-out hydro operation. As Mr. Danko and I set out with our hosts and tour guides from a couple of local seed companies, I sensed immediately that these were my kind of people. I looked on, watching families load into the trucks, talking harvest talk and hyping up hopes for the various strains of fungi that we might also encounter on our journey through the dense forests. Despite the rain, it was beginning to look like a beautiful day….
Gaps in genetics occur from time to time, and they’re an inevitable part of any lineage. Sometimes strains die off and disappear; other times, they become clone-only strains, closely guarded by those who wish to preserve their character traits for the rest of time. And then, sadly enough, there are those times – especially in scarcely populated regions – where the knowledge and history becomes convoluted and slips away, erased by endless hybrids and the failed stabilization of those sacred genotypes.
The story in BC, however, is more encouraging. And the generation gaps we encountered there had nothing to do with genetics and existed only in terms of age. For my own part, I found myself in my usual situation of being the resident young whippersnapper. I’m always the perpetual new guy, the youngblood, the guy who thinks he knows a lot, but compared to those around him – well, suffice it to say that I’m always the guy at the bottom of the totem pole. Perhaps it’s because I look about 17 years old, or perhaps it’s because I generally am the new guy in some zany situation – but whatever the case, I didn’t mind it here. And it wasn’t just because these guys were genuine, down-to-earth people, but also because here I saw a different kind of generation gap.
This was the gap between the old ganja master and the new kid on the block. The bridge over this gap was decades long, yet so solid that anyone would be proud to cross over it, to hang in their company and fight on the same side.
G., a founder of Vancouver Island Seed Company (VISC) along with his wife, K., had perhaps 20 years on Jay Generation, a newer sparkplug in the world of cannabis breeding and the founder of Next Generation Seed Company (NGSC). Yet the two had a rapport that transcended any sort of competitiveness that might exist in the small world of breeding. These two obviously knew what was important, and pettiness had no place in their big picture.
Instead, Jay Generation imparted to me that he and G. had a special relationship, the most important arrangement for any marijuana grower to cultivate. In street talk, G. and Jay Generation had each other’s backs… and then some.
With a quick phone call and a simple code word, either breeder could count on the other to take care of business in an emergency. It’s a deal that many smarter growers make, but one they hope never has to be fulfilled. The deal is simple and pretty standard: When the call is placed and that dreadful phrase is uttered, the man on the receiving end digs out your keys and heads over to your place with the single objective of eliminating all incriminating evidence. Talk about trust.
And one day not too long ago, Jay Generation received that call from G.…
Some of the best strains in the world have come from seeds of unknown origin, pulled luckily from a pound of weed that was worked on a Dead tour or from a dime bag scored while traveling through India. Cannabis cultivation, much like life, can be a mixed bag for sure.
But once in a blue moon, you come across a bud god, a ganja guru, a breeder with a capital B. These are the people who create our beloved strains, seemingly out of thin air, perhaps crossing an old Indian landrace with a newer, more rigorous hybrid, thus finding that rare and miraculous phenotype that sets the weed world on its ear. In the case of G., this dude has been growing marijuana since 1975, honing his skills with study, research and cultivation throughout the ’80s. Then, in 1993, he founded Vancouver Island Seed Company and became part of a movement that saw marijuana cultivation spread across the globe.
I, for all of my naivete, knew enough to take advantage of the good company I was in and began to churn up the dirt. My first question went well, but my followup was a total flop. Asking a breeder his favorite strain is one thing, but asking for the lineage – well, that’s something breeders don’t usually give up.
“Favorite strain?” G. repeated. “That’s easy – GSPOT!” But for the rest of the response, he only added: “A secret family recipe combining sativa and indica genetics in perfect harmony.” Gee whiz, thanks, mister… I’d been hoping for a bit more information there, as this bud was fantastic.
Luckily, the rest of the time I spent nagging at these two breeders yielded better. For instance, on the topic of selection, G. broke it down succinctly. For us non-breeders, selection is simply the process of choosing parents – one male, one female – for breeding. People often ask about selection methods and quantities: What characteristics should you look for in parents, and how many plants do you typically select from when choosing?
As it turns out, there are three desired outcomes that guide breeders:
Stabilization of the current breed. Here you’re looking for characteristics that have remained the same over several generations. This proves that those genetics have stabilized and are easier to pass on to offspring.
Breeding toward or aiming for certain characteristics. In this case, a breeder has certain traits or phenotypes that he or she desires for the offspring. These phenotypes might include shorter height, a specific leaf or bud color or perhaps a distinct smell.
Breeding for the unknown. As G. puts it, this is the search for the next great “Super Weed,” which is what leads breeders to try new combinations of genetics. Here, there is no right or wrong, so the grower selects those plants that appeal to him or her for whatever reason. Because a random cross or genetic mutation may turn out to be the next “Super Weed,” there is no reason to stick to only the usual desirable traits.
The trickiest part for newbie breeders can be selecting the right males, because today’s growers aren’t used to dealing with male plants. It’s easy to know and select the best phenotypes in female plants, but what do you look for in males? Height is one prominent characteristic that breeders look for, but there are other important considerations as well, such as how quickly the male flowers mature and the plant’s resistance to bugs and fungus.
In terms of the quantity of plants used in selective breeding, true breeders will grow out 50 to 100 seeds (and sometimes more) depending on the available space. Once suitable females are found, they are grown into mothers, which will then supply the cuttings that are raised to breed with the male plant that has been selected. Once the male and female plants are chosen, they are cloned, and the clones are kept as genetic back-ups – exact replicas of the original parents.
When it comes time for breeding, the offspring (cuttings) taken from the selected mother plants are grown out to the desired maturity in preparation for pollination by the males. When all plants are mature enough to breed, the flowering cycle is induced. Most breeders, including G., will start the female plants seven to 10 days ahead of the males to make sure they’re ready to catch their pollen when it comes. With the females slightly ahead in the bud cycle, breeders then watch carefully and note the day that the males begin to open their flowers and let loose pollen. Some two weeks later, the males are removed from the room. This short pollination time helps a majority of the seeds ripen at the same time on each plant. Six to seven weeks later, the plants are harvested, the seeds are extracted, and breeding is complete.
… By the time I heard the end of the phone call story, the narrative had been handed off from Jay Generation to G., who, in a low and humble voice, confided the rest of the personal tale, which came with an unexpected twist.
You see, when that fretful call was made, G. and K. were in the midst of a hair-raising encounter with some of Canada’s finest, and the possibility existed that G. and K.’s offices – where they had earned the livelihood that supported their family – would be raided by law enforcement. And so the call to Jay Generation was made, and it was up to him to “clean house.”
When G. arrived back at his offices later that night, the sad reality of what had happened slowly began to set in. A lot of work had been lost – and for a breeder as passionate as G., those losses were devastating, to say the least. The latest advances in his breeding programs, his newest hybrids, his genetic maps – all of it was gone. Just like that, in a flash, it was back to square one.
G. called Jay Generation to thank him, but Jay Generation could tell that he was badly shaken, so he invited G. and his family over for dinner. When G. arrived, he was still visibly upset, so Jay Generation took him to a back nursery where they could quietly have a smoke away from their families and talk about what had happened.
And that’s when Jay Generation made good on his promise – a sincere thank-you for years of mentoring and true friendship, both in the weed business and in life.
“I walked in, expecting some nice hash and maybe to look at some of Jay Generation’s new work,” G. recalled. But instead, as the door swung open, the first thing he noticed was how crowded the nursery had become. “I began to look around and realized that some of these plants looked a lot like my trees.”
In fact, they all were his trees. Every mother, every strain, even the babies tucked into every corner of the nursery room – they were all there, alive and well. Jay Generation had boxed each plant and run them back to his farm by the truckload, finding room for them wherever he could among his own nursery rooms and greenhouses. G.’s trees, his life’s work – an entire business on which he and K. had made a life and raised a family – was safe and sound.
It was one more bridge connecting the generations, in every sense.
Upon arriving at the drop spot, we bundled up and unloaded the gear: clippers, trimmers, machetes, a ton of sealable buckets and a few loaves of bread and bottles of water. The vehicles were stashed up the road, and the forage through the mountainsides began. Just across the second river, the aromas of Timewarp and Blue Dynamite permeated the air. Small patches popped up slowly here and there, a Candyland maze of pot gardens.
Clippers and gloves were handed out and a brief tutorial given. We weren’t chopping entire plants down; rather, this was a rescue mission for buds on the verge of mold, disease and botrytis. Trimming was minimal; only the larger fan leaves were pulled, and the large, resinous colas were then placed upright in buckets to prevent the resin glands from rupturing. We were asked to leave most of the plants’ lower extremities intact, even if they had nice popcorn buds on them, so that these could either be rejuvenated or pollinated at a later time for seed.
Most of what Danko and I plucked that afternoon were from fields planted by Next Generation Seed Company. We harvested bucket after bucket of seedless varieties from NGSC, including Romulan, Island Sweet Skunk and one of Jay Generation’s favorites – Bonkers.
Bonkers has a reputation for being one of the stickiest, most highly resinous buds to grow outdoors – an impressive quality for plants that must battle nature’s elements. According to Jay Generation, the Bonkers strain also finishes before the others, sometime in mid-September, and has huge cola tops. Intrigued, I tried my hand again at asking about the genetic lineage of such a hardy plant. The answer was astounding: a creative combination of Burmese, Grapefruit, Purple Indica and a ruderalis strain.
As Jay Generation spewed his story, Danko and I trimmed and tagged, beaming like a couple of kids at Disneyland. Despite the quick pace and the unfortunate circumstance of having to harvest early due to heavy rains, the congenial family atmosphere made for a truly unique experience. Later, Danny and I agreed that it was one of the best harvests we’ve ever had.
It is amazing how seeds grow, how thoughts plant seeds and seeds plant thoughts. I had a lot of thoughts as we climbed into those harvest trucks, and after one look toward Danny and a brief reciprocal nod, I knew we were on the same page. Both of us have been around long enough to know when we’re in the company of very good marijuana growers, and both us have had a bit of experience with the communal and even familial interaction in cultivation situations. This may sound weird, but when you’re around entire families who do this stuff for a living, you get a very different view than you would looking at someone’s closet system. Out here, for these folks, it’s a way of life, as it is in so many parts of the world that are not New York City.
That two-hour ride out into the deep Canadian wilderness afforded us time to talk with our hosts and really get to know one another. Soon enough, I began to realize something about the climate in BC and just how suitable it was for breeding. G. and K. spoke adoringly about their family – Jay Generation and his wife were just starting theirs – and it got me to thinking all over again about generations….
I thought about the many friends I’ve had who have traded in their grow lives for family life, or who have had their families torn apart by their wanton ways. I thought about the few family units I know of that have managed to hang together, to stay the course – and how tough it’s been for them to deal with family and friends as their lives take vastly different directions. Then I thought about how lucky Jay Generation and his wife were to have like-minded friends – an extended family that they could trust, and who could show them by example that they could do this and all would still be good and right with the world. After all, we should all be afforded the right to breed how we choose.
When that last day came to a close, we loaded up one of the two trucks with loads of fine cannabis. The other truck – the less expendable of the two, complete with leather interior, seat warmers and DVD player – was to be packed with wives, friends and family… and, of course, the guests from HIGH TIMES. But when I looked back and saw G. climb aboard the rickety old reefer truck by himself, I told the group that I’d go back and ride with him.
“What are you, a thrill seeker?” G. asked as I strapped in for the ride.
A hundred responses rushed to my mind. Maybe I should tell him about driving through Manhattan, where arrest by the NYPD or even death from crazy cab drivers looms large. Or maybe I should quip that I was there to protect him… or to rob him. But these were the classic jerk-butt reactions that have probably kept me this long at the bottom of that totem pole.
Instead, I looked at him and said honestly, “No, this is just what I do.” I wasn’t even sure why I said it, but I did know that it was a genuine sentiment, and one that was never going to change – not for either of us. And for both of us, this was a very comforting moment. For G., perhaps because he realized that the new generation would, in fact, grow strong. And for me, perhaps because I realized that for all the science in the world, it was ultimately because of people like these – not the weather or the stabilizing of genetics – that the cannabis kingdom is proliferating.
VISC and NGSC are currently working on some great early outdoor lines as a joint venture between the two companies. The idea is not just to promote Canadian breeds but also to show the world what can be accomplished with the right strains outdoors. We’ll keep you posted on these developments in future issues of HIGH TIMES.
In the meantime, it is highly recommended that you check out the Fucking Incredible and GSPOT strains from VISC as well as the great work done by maestro Jay Generation of NGSC, particularly the Northern Flame and Island Sweet Skunk lines.
All of these strains are available through vancouverseed.com.