There are currently as many as 1,500 known cultivated varieties of cannabis, with some reports suggesting that figure is closer to 10,000. And who knows how many more there are to discover, particularly among the ruderalis that grows native to parts of Asia, Central Europe and Russia? Too many to dig through for the home grower, that’s for sure. This depth of variety makes it a rather daunting task to select the three to four plants at a time you may be able to accommodate in a small-scale operation, factoring in state compliance limits.
Some cultivators home grown cannabis for specific medical conditions, which means they require tight margins of terpenes and active cannabinoids for optimal efficacy. Others may be growing simply for the thrill of the chase of breeding something new and different. While people grow for a large variety of reasons beyond this, both these types of growers are helping us drill down the broad selection of known cannabis strains in an effort to begin to categorize them, taking into account chemical makeup, yield and grow specs.
Popular Demand For Certain Cannabis Varietals
Even a small-scale home grower who grows solely for friends and family should aim to please their clientele. Having a surplus of in-demand strains means the home grower can participate in the genetic experimentation that will likely become part of future cannabis lore. Buyers can also offer a wealth of intel on the strains they’re grabbing up, which is valuable information for even the novice cultivator.
Jesse Henry, general manager at San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Dispensary in San Francisco, tells Big Buds what his staff looks for when procuring wholesale cannabis.
“We don’t specifically look for certain strains. We are more concerned with carrying the best quality. The demands of the market change so often that by the time a requested strain becomes available, it’s not in demand anymore. We always strive to carry the best indica, the best hybrid and the best sativa. But as far as which strains we carry, our decisions are more dependent on the best quality on the market at the time.”
Megan Martin, a buyer at Grass Roots dispensary, also based in San Francisco, notes the huge innovations and developments in the cultivars on offer since changes to California state compliance laws came into effect.
“For the first time in a long time, we haven’t been able to be as picky as we would like [when choosing cultivars], because you need to have products on the shelves.”
She continues, “For the time being, it seems to me that there is a lot less selection as far as boutique strains go, because every batch test costs money and growers seem to be growing more of a few strains, rather than a lot more strain diversity being available.”
If you’re a medical marijuana patient or grow purely to top up your own personal supply of recreational weed, you’re at an advantage, seeing as cannabis retailers are largely limited by a laundry list of criteria that restricts their purchasing decisions. Having the freedom to choose in a personal way the cultivars you grow is a blessing that large-scale licensed producers can never enjoy.
Growing the best cannabis possible should be every cultivator’s goal, no matter the variety or initial purpose. Tahoe Hydroponics Company CEO Ray Schiavone grows some impressive strains that have won awards and a legion of fans in California and Nevada. Similarly to Barbary Coast’s Henry, Schiavone shares a focus on quality versus trends that customers flock to, and so believes that it’s cultivators who dictate customer trends.
“We definitely take [customer] feedback into consideration — however, by the time it gets to them, it is too late. That cultivar has already gone through six months of testing and research before it makes it to the consumer. The farmer/cultivator really needs to make those assumptions for the consumer prior to it hitting the retail market.”
The Hardiness Of The Cannabis Cultivar Remains Important
Independent farmer Ruca Rossi leads the farming collective Black Fir Farms in NorCal’s Humboldt County, and works primarily with sun-grown and greenhouse offerings. Rossi explains that when it comes to choosing varietals, growers must first take into consideration flowering time, which will determine when you plant, especially if growing outdoors.
“When selecting what to grow, there’s time of the year to consider. Pay attention to whether it will be hot or cold out when everything is maturing — that will influence purples and whether or not you see the hues of the plant develop fully.”
Growing indoor requires less on-the-fly knowledge, claims Rossi, who also suggests noting feedback in hard-copy form.
“Indoor growing may allow you the flexibility of start and end times, but outdoor cannabis growing means you’ll have to have your game down pat. If you’re choosing for cannabinoids or tackling terps, you can decide what information is valuable while you’re in the picking process. And keep track of your feedback on previous harvests to really fine-tune your preferences deeper than you may be able to analyze from [using only your] distant memories.”
While choosing strains that suit your ability won’t necessarily hinder the end result, it may help you to pick varietals based on your grow environment and skill level. This will give you the best chance to keep your harvest thriving, long after a trickier strain may have kicked the bucket. Schiavone selects strains that suit the conditions in which he grows at Tahoe Hydroponics Company, while also taking into consideration in the cultivar’s known sturdiness.
“We definitely factor in plant health and conditions when selecting cultivars,” he explains. “What may thrive in our environment may not work in another. Some plants are mold prone, while others are 100-percent mold resistant. Some like multiple feedings of water, and some do not like much [water] at all. It is rather interesting to see the type of variance from one cultivar to another. Even phenotypes can have tremendous variance.”
Surpassing The Indica Vs. Sativa Binary
For some growers, hybrids will always scratch their itch better than otherwise heavy indica or sativa-leaning strains. Rossi rejects this binary selection process and urges home-grow cultivators to delve into the vast hybrid spectrum.
“The binary is our go-to in society. I think we’ve gotten to this whole binary situation with indica and sativa and people aren’t diving deeper into the nuances of a hybrid as the strains evolve and we mix up the genetics. We’re losing that binary system that is still a defining feature of how we choose.
“Understanding hybrids means being able to read the labels and understand how these percentages affect your body,” Rossi continues. “I think this will be the next big question — how hybrid is comprised, understanding the lineage, understanding your body, and understanding these muddled crosses.”
A cannabis harvest can take as long as 11 weeks, so get your research on lockdown well before you purchase any seeds or clones. Professional growers and those who buy their output from a third-party source know better than anyone that quality is key, and often more important than potency, which is always a good starting point and where you should focus your efforts before trying to master growing those more complex strains.