In this episode Ben Holmes of Centennial Seeds helps us understand the importance of cannabis and hemp seeds and where we are in terms of having a good seed stock. Ben also talks about why it is often preferable to grow cannabis from seed instead of growing clones from a mother plant.
[1:28] – Benefits of cloning
[3:17] – How to get better seed
[4:30] – Why taking too many cuttings from a mother plant causes issues
[6:56] – Ben explains what he grows from
[8:07] – Ben talks about exciting things going on in the seed industry
[9:54] – Ben talks about the hemp industry
[12:34] – What is autoflowering
[13:36] – Contact details for Centennial Seeds
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Ben Holmes is the owner of Centennial Seeds and is a s subject matter expert on cannabis and hemp in particular when it comes to seeds. Before talking with Ben I was caught up on the efficiency of growing only from clones for a lot of reasons, but as you’ll see growing from seed is something we should all know more about. Welcome to CannaInsider Ben.
Ben: Hi, thanks for having me.
Matthew: Ben to give listeners a sense of geography, can you tell us where you are today?
Ben: I’m in Lafayette, Colorado which is in East Boulder County.
Matthew: Now a lot of listeners out there don’t think much about seeds. Most cultivators today get a prize train of cannabis then have a mother plant. From that mother they then cut off little sections of that plant to create a whole new plant. Can you tell us first the benefits of cloning and then why it might be optimal to grow from seeds at time?
Ben: Well it all boils back to where the state of the cannabis seed industry at this point and over the last few decades and that is that there are sort of people operating, you know, I don’t want to say, slightly above the hobby level. You know, somewhere in a professional capacity they make seed, and they sell them into the market via the internet or what have you. A lot of those seeds are made quickly. They’re single generation crosses. It’s two parents that are unrelated that they find interesting. They make the cross. They write some ad copy, and then they release the seed.
So when it gets to the end buyer that person will germinate a dozen seeds, and you’ll get, you know, eight different types. You know it will be sort of short ones and tall ones and heavy yielders and scraggly plants. The point is that no one’s gone to the trouble of stabilizing those varieties or those seed types so that it forces the grower, the end user to rely on special plants. You get one good plant out of the packet, you save that plant and then you propagate. You cut it and cut it and cut it and clone it until it collapses, until it no longer is clonable. That’s kind of why people rely on clones.
Matthew: Okay. And what in your mind is a better way of doing it?
Ben: Well if the market would produce a stable seed that breeds true for a particular type and particular traits, those seeds can be reliable and a grower can expect when they put them in the ground for them all to product, you know, desirable plant types versus the variation we’re getting now.
Matthew: Okay so if someone’s looking to buy seed, is there any kind of diligence they can do to ensure they’re getting something better than most?
Ben: The industry is so immature there really isn’t… there’s not much to pick from. I mean you have to know your breeder, and you have to kind of ask the questions is this stable. Not just for things like gender where plants can switch from female to male in the middle of a grow, and that’s terrible for a seedless gardener, you know, that creates seeds. Stability just in a sense that you get uniformity across the individuals from seed.
Growing from seed versus growing from a cutting, the plant will always be more vigorous, all things being equal. And then that’s because you’ve brought a seed from, you know, this is billions of years of evolutions that’s created these things. They’re near perfect. I mean you take seeds that are completed on the plant, they pretty much all germinate and pretty much all turn into a plant. Nature’s really incredible that way. But we lack that uniformity and that reliability, and we really even lack metrics, you know, by which to compare these things. It’s sort of a fragmented market. There are hundreds of seed producers and really no dominant players, you know.
Matthew: Now can a mother plant become fatigued or injured over time if too many cuttings are taken?
Ben: Yes, and that’s another…it’s a function of the industry being very immature. And this is not, you know, this came out of dirt. This came out of nothing. This industry was out of the crawl spaces in the basements. So to learn aseptic technique where you clean your tools and you work on a clean surface, you clean the plant before you cut it. You clean the tool after you cut, before you cut another plant and everything is handled in gloves. It gives those plants a longer life span, the mother plants, because like you said every time you cut them, you introduce some biological insult be it a virus or a mold spore or a bacterium. You’re infecting the plant a little bit at a time. And over time the plant doesn’t have the normal resources in healthy outdoor soil that would allow it to build defenses for those, those disease, and eventually they just succumb and they die, yeah.
Matthew: Okay so a mother plant can start to look droopy or even diseased after a while. You mentioned the gloves and cleaning the scissors, but is there anything else we can do to ensure that you not introduce any kind of bacteria or foreign bodies to the mother plant?
Ben: The grow space has to be kept clean. You know a lot of these places are run, you know, they’re pretty messy. There’s a lot of opportunity for infection and cross infection of material. You can avoid clones from the community. You don’t want to take clones that come out of grow operating for instance because when they sell you their clones they’re really selling you their culls. They’re not selling you the best looking clones. They’re taking the last 12 that they really don’t think are going to do very well, and they take them out to the store and they sell them. It’s not geared to give you the best plant that they can produce. It’s not in their best interest.
And second a lot of those places have contantly overturned, perpetual, harvest-type grow rooms. Those rooms develop colonies of bugs that become super resistant to whatever measures are available to you through the retail channels in terms of pest control. So you’re really introducing bugs into your room and into your situation when you bring clones from other people’s gardens that you’re not in direct control of. It’s just a risk.
Matthew: Do you pretty much only grow from seed done yourself personally or do you also sometimes grow from a cutting?
Ben: Once in a while something comes along where there’s no opportunity to grow it from seed. A good example would be the Harlequin CBD line which is a high CBD, low THC cultivar that’s grown for a CBD extraction. It’s a clone only. It’s never been released in seed form that I know of, and I wanted to at least have the opportunity to outcross some of my material to it. So somebody gave me a clone, and I set it in a room by itself, put up some sticky traps and watered it really heavily to see if I could drive any bugs out of the soil, any fungus gnats. And then you take leaves and you go under the scope and make sure that they’re clean, that there’s no mites or any kind of thrippy looking bug, eggs. And you know you have to sort of quarantine these plants when you bring them in. Once they’re inside your room and they’re clean and you’re using aseptic technique and you’re making clean cuttings, it’s you know, then it’s inside your system and you can deal with it. But it’s just bringing that material in for the first time I think is risky.
Matthew: What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in the world of seeds right now?
Ben: I would have to say the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative out of the University of Colorado at Boulder. That’s being administered and investigated by the Kane Laboratory. It’s Nolan Kane and Daniela Vergara. And that bit of science, most people roll their eyes. So if they don’t do it outwardly, at least, you know, sort they shy away from it because it really isn’t something that people understand, but I can tell you that the tools and the resources that are developed as a result of mapping the genome of cannabis are going to be commonwealth technologies that any company or any innovator can utilize to make better stuff, better pest control, better pest resistance, better yields. All of the things that we want, all of the characteristics that we want are traits that can be identified and screened for. And we’re not talking about genomic engineering or GMO work.
We’re talking about just very very precise technology assisted selections just like using an instrument to measure THC. You can look at their genes and decide whether or not they have more or less of the gene for expression of THC synthase. They may have a very large amount of that and it’s visible in a assay that can be done at a very young stage, maybe from the seedling stage. So the technology is so far beyond where we are right now, but it yields so many benefits to us. I would urge anybody out there to find it and support the heck out of it.
Matthew: Now switching gears to hemp, you’re really involved in a young but growing hemp industry here in Colorado. What do you see is the biggest problems and opportunities surrounding hemp right now?
Ben: Well the regulatory environment is the best in the country. I’ve read the programs from the other states and Kentucky and Tennessee and so on and so forth, even Florida has some CBD-ish kind of hemp-ish type law. And the platform is very simple. The rules are very reasonable. We have light bright lines in terms of what we can and can’t do, and it really revolves around concentration of tetrahydra delta-9 THC in the plant material. And as long as you work around that bright line it’s really, it’s a wonderful platform to watch be developed. But what’s missing right now is reliable seed. It’s the same as on the drug resin side. It’s just a lack of a reliable seed supply.
You know, this has been held under water for more than 75 years. In 1937 it went prohibited. And just now are we allowed to begin to play with it and study it and work with it, innovate with it. The seed supply has just been completely abolished. It’s gone. Whatever the USDA held in their sessions in lost to time, poorly stored, what have you, it’s seed. The biggest problem we face is without a doubt seed. Having said that, it’s also for me the biggest opportunity. It’s what I see that I can do to contribute. So I see it as both a hindrance and an opportunity.
Matthew: Now you test hemp in your lab. Does anything surprise you in your findings of samples that are sent to you?
Ben: Not really. I’m probably testing a dozen different varieties in a week’s time. You know people bring me samples of things they are growing, and I see a lot of the same material, and that’s just because of the limited amount of seed. In some ways that limited amount of seed you know that it went to people who are going to utilize it, you know, it’s put to use because they paid big premiums for it in most cases and some people went to great lengths to smuggle it or whatever they had to do to get it here. I don’t judge. But it’s clear that people are putting that seed down, and they’re trying to make more seeds. So we’ll see after this season how people do and how people are able to work around the embargo on seed and maybe bring in more material to the state. This novel material is really what we need. It’s not that we need a supplier in Ukraine or Canada to ship us seed. That’s not what we want to be is reliant. We want to be self-sufficient in terms of the industry and make our own.
Matthew: Now for people that are not familiar with the term autoflowering, you see that term thrown around a lot when it comes to seed, can you describe what that means?
Ben: Yeah. It’s a short day crop which means it will flower when the days reach a certain length. Going down from the longest day on June 21st, the day length will shorten all the way down to September 21st when the days are equal and it will lose about two or three minutes a day let’s say. So at some point around the first week of August in our latitude that’s the trigger length of day and the plants will begin to flower. So autoflowers come from material that was bred up in the Arctic Circle way up there, you know, Finland, really really high latitudes where the days are super long in the summer so they would never get that signal of a short day to begin flowering. So it does flower regardless of the day you put them down and then 45 days later you harvest them regardless of the time of year. Obviously you can’t grow in the winter, but it’s irrespective of the length of the day, it will flower.
Matthew: What an amazing adaptation that is.
Matthew: Great. Well Ben in closing how can listeners learn more about Centennial Seeds?
Ben: Oh you can go to my website. It’s www.centennialseeds.com. I maintain a blog. I write a lot of tech pieces and just sort of help pieces. And you know I encourage people to just check it out and see what it is that we do.
Matthew: Cool, well Ben thanks for being on CannaInsider today.
Ben: All right thanks for having me.
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