There is a revolution happening in Spain.

 

Indeed, all throughout Europe, a debate has ensued that spans the entire longitude of the EU. Particularly in the south of Europe, in areas like Spain, Portugal and parts of Italy, cannabis growers share some distinct differences not only from their North American counterparts, but also from Dutch and other northern European growers.

 

Large outdoor, commercial-style grow operations are less prevalent here than one might expect, given the mild Mediterranean climate. With small indoor grow ops on the rise for both medicinal and recreational use, growers in Spain have increasingly turned to seeds instead of clones as their preferred method of propagation. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, cannabis seeds happen to be legal in Spain; for another, obtaining and transporting genetics in seed form (versus, say, a rooted plant cutting) is always a much easier task.

           

It is often said in Spain that seeds better match the lifestyle of the Spanish grower. With a more laidback atmosphere prevailing in many Spanish cities, the need to rush into a garden is nowhere to be found. Whereas obtaining a clone means that the grower is now on a set timetable, using seeds allows growers to begin at their leisure. And in the south of Europe, leisure is always an attractive idea.

           

Of course, we all know that in Holland, massive commercial set-ups dominate a market that has legal cannabis purveyors on nearly every corner. In their growrooms and fields, Dutch farmers utilize large-scale industrial techniques such as “sea of green” (SOG), where clones are the only way to go. A major benefit of this (aside from a shorter grow cycle) is that cloning requires no guesswork in sexing the plants, as clones will always be a female replica of their mother. Still, southern Europe has quietly latched onto a new market in feminized seeds that helps eliminate this problem as well. And, in turn, the rise in the popularity of feminized seeds has boosted a market for breeders not only in Spain, but throughout the rest of the EU.

 

 
The Feminized Seed Craze

Once the seed fad was resurrected in southern Europe, a natural byproduct was the rise in demand for feminized seeds. Feminized seeds are seeds that have been manipulated to ensure that they germinate only female plants. Obviously, for growers who aren’t concerned with breeding, feminized seeds are a very alluring option. Although these seeds are usually more expensive, they make figuring out the sex of a plant a non-issue, eliminating any chance of missing an early male plant that might pollinate (and thus seed) an entire garden.

           

The Dutch Passion seed company created the first feminized seeds in Amsterdam circa 1999. Ever since then, there’s been a growing demand for these seeds, forcing the other big seed companies to follow suit in order to keep their clientele happy. Unfortunately, the process by which breeders must alter the genetic components of plants to obtain feminized seeds often requires the use of chemical additives, which turns some seed companies off. Recently, though, even the few breeders left in Amsterdam who had refused to go this route—preferring to keep their seeds as close to organic as possible—have given in to popular demand (and the need to keep up with competitors) by releasing their own lines of feminized seeds.

           
 
How’s It Made?

So how is it done? Well, the process of creating feminized seeds has to be done without using a male to pollinate. In some instances, there isn’t even a same-strain male available to make regular seeds, and using a different strain’s male would result in a hybrid strain (i.e., a mix of two different types of cannabis).

 

So what breeders must do is stress out a female plant to the point where she turns hermaphrodite. They do this by using a combination of chemicals and harsh conditioning. The most commonly used compound is silver nitrate (AgNO3) carefully diluted with water. Spraying this solution onto a female plant early in the flowering cycle forces the female to start producing small male flowers within the premature buds. The male flowers in turn pollinate the female buds, and the plant begins forming seeds.

           

However, the seeds from forced females aren’t the most ideal candidates for germination, as they have come from an abused parent. Rather, breeders take the pollen from the male flowers on these plants and use it to pollinate other, healthy female plants that have been chosen as strong mothers and that have not come into contact with any chemical solutions.

           

Once a room of flowering mothers is pollinated, a seed crop will begin to grow. The seeds from these plants will be 99% female when germinated. Some problems have been known to arise, though: Feminized seeds will sometimes produce hermaphrodite plants or females with less vigor than usual. This is why it’s usually a good idea to buy the larger packs of feminized seeds.

 
Auto-Flowering Strains

Another trend in southern Europe that varies significantly from other major grow centers is the marketability of auto-flowering strains. These are strains that require no “trigger” for flowering: They simply flower automatically whenever the plant senses that the time is right. This can be for a variety of reasons, including plant height, root-ball size or temperature change.

           

Again, the reason these strains appeal to certain growers is because they fit in well with a low-maintenance lifestyle choice. Simply letting plants grow on their own with little worry as to when or how to switch light cycles is just one more attractive option for carefree growers. But like anything else that is easy, there are drawbacks.

           

Auto-flowering strains come from a species of cannabis that most of us have never even heard about. While we’re all familiar with sativas and indicas, there’s a third, lesser-known type called ruderalis, a hardy, hempy variety that is usually found only in the wild. When farmers cultivate ruderalis, it’s usually for its strong fiber, which can be used industrially to make rope, paper, clothes and other products. Marijuana growers generally stay away from ruderalis because of its very low THC content, and the fact that its auto-flowering properties prevent them from being able to grow plants to a desired height. This results in smaller yields of less potent buds.

           

Breeders, however, have used ruderalis in their projects because these genetics can produce the shorter, squatter hybrids more suitable for indoor growing. And since ruderalis is a hardy wild variety, it is more resistant to molds, diseases and pests. In short, once breeders were able to add potency to these strains via hybridization, some growers found them to be a suitable and attractive enough option for ganja growing.

 
 
Seeds vs. Clones Comparison
 
SEEDS
Pros:

• Genetics can be easily stored and transported due to the small size of seeds.

• Seeds properly stored in a cool, dry, dark place can remain viable for several years, allowing growers to set their own timetable for propagation.

• Feminized seeds can take the guesswork out of sexing a garden.

 
Cons:

• Germinating seeds and/or waiting for seedlings to gain vigor can increase the time of a grow cycle.

• Seeds may produce unwanted males in the garden and require careful attention when sexing plants in the early flowering stage.

• Some seeds may never germinate, and expensive feminized seeds may produce hermaphroditic plants.

 
CLONES
Pros:

• Guaranteed females plants, as clones are the exact genetic replica of their mother.

• No fear of mutant phenotypes or unstable genetics; growers know exactly what they’re getting and will have uniform plants throughout their garden.

• The possibility for a shorter grow cycle exists: Cuttings generally root in 10 days and can be sent into flowering within a week of that if the grower desires.

 
Cons:

• Once a cutting is taken, the grower is on a set timetable – better have your room ready!

• After multiple generations of cloning, certain strains may start to lose vigor.

• Any genetic flaw (i.e., susceptibility to pests or diseases) will be passed on from generation to generation. 

 

 

 
The Reign in Spain

Southern Europe is home to a long list of distinguished growers, including HIGH TIMES’ very own cultivation guru, Jorge Cervantes, who lives in Spain. Among the network of expert growers in Spain, you’ll find an extensive base of knowledge, passion and camaraderie between people. Some of the best Spanish growers opened up their grow ops to give us a small glimpse of what’s happening along the Mediterranean, on the edge of the EU.

           

These growrooms all showed a certain affinity for classic strains from around the globe. Among some of the rarities we found were Critical Mass, Oaxacan Gold and an old-school Yumboldt. The Spanish growers, although simple in their approach, are able to use their green thumbs to produce new and very different varieties from what might be seen in North America. One Spanish seed company, Barcelona Seeds, took the flavor of the original California Yumboldt and crossed it with the omnipotent G-13 to create an enterprising new strain named Plutonyum. A little further south, in the areas surrounding Valencia and Malaga, growers were producing small outdoor crops of Edelweiss, a popular local brand. All throughout Spain, there are patches of farmers who have kept such strains alive for years—another advantage to the art of cloning.

 

But don’t think that Spanish gardeners are greedy growers who hoard their prized genetics. In fact, it’s just the opposite, with many making efforts to spread their knowledge and genetics beyond the borders of Europe. Many helping hands have been extended to farmers located even farther south than Spain, to cultivators in Africa. Countries in northern Africa such as Morocco and Tunisia have been the beneficiaries of a genetic dissemination of sorts. Because these countries are heavily involved in the hash trade, it makes sense that the better genetics they have, the better hash they’ll be able to make.

 

A lot of Spanish growers would love to boast that the marijuana fields being grown to make fine Moroccan hash are populated with their very own strains. Many breeders – including Elite Seeds from Spain, Next Generation Seeds from Canada and Green House Seeds from Amsterdam – have brought their genetics to African countries for this very reason. But when you’re dealing with massive outdoor crops, you need seeds that number in the tens of thousands. This is one situation where using clones would be a much more tedious process. And, of course, with the advent of feminized seeds, the need for taking cuttings by the thousands really makes even less sense.

 

In the end, however, all the growers agree on one thing: It doesn’t matter so much how a crop is started; what matters most is how it finishes. In Europe, the final product defines a grower – and in that regard, when you find something that works well for you, don’t mess with success!

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE AUGUST 2009 ISSUE OF HIGH TIMES MAGAZINE: