On the origins of Blueberry
The place for breeding to begin is with choosing the parent plants, called the P1 generation. For best breeding results you use true-breeding stabilized strains as your P1's. Different breeders have different standards as to what qualifies as a P1. I have very high standards for my P1 generation. For me, the P1 must be either a fully acclimated, region-of-origin land-race variety, or no more than one generation removed, and crossed with itself or another highly similar, region-of-origin land-race variety.
I used three P1 strains to breed Blueberry, Flo and others. They were the Highland Thai (also called Juicy Fruit Thai, a first-generation Thai seed grown in the Pacific Northwest); a cross called Purple Thai which was a first generation land-race Chocolate Thai crossed once with a first generation land-race Highland Oaxaca Gold; and an Afghani Indica which came to me one generation removed from Afghanistan via the California/Southern Oregon growing community.
The Highland Thai was a joy to grow and behold, despite its hermaphroditism. This plant grew fast, filling in any empty spaces with lush, green growth. It was a very slow finisher, 12 to 16 weeks and beyond in the bud period for most. It had the longest and skinniest leaves out of all the plants I have worked with. Thick side-branching is another characteristic of this variety.
The plant only periodically produced any kind of "tight" bud structure. Most of the buds were very loose, with some sporting long, slender shoots of widely-spaced single female flowers in a row (especially when grown hydroponically under halide lights.)
This bud structure is known as "spindly". Many of these spindles resemble threads protruding from a semi-formed bud. Each single thread averaged anywhere from five to ten inches long, some even longer, and consisted of a row of evenly-spaced female flowers and their corresponding bract leaves, anywhere from a quarter inch to one inch apart, alternating bract and flower in single file.
The entirety of the "thread" and bud structure was coated with sweet/fruity aromatic resin glands.
The overall plant color was dark, while the bud structures matured a lighter shade of green, sometimes green/yellow.
I was never able to get a Juicy Fruit Highland Thai to "over mature". I took one to almost twenty weeks into its flower cycle and she just kept pumping it out. Outdoors, one was taken in early-mid December from a greenhouse. The only difference was that the later harvest was a more stony, body high.
The finished product from the Highland Thai was an all-around champion herb. Though difficult to trim and cure, the outcome was fully worth the effort. It was a powerful, long-lasting and exquisitely flavoured herb with little or no ceiling. The high could last up to seven hours! The flavour, aroma and taste were a totally sweet tropical punch ? tutti-fruity all the way.
The Purple Thai was the other sativa in my repertoire. This was a first generation cross between the Highland Oaxaca Gold and the Chocolate Thai. This cross grew medium/tall and was very symmetric in structure. The side branches were shorter and, if left alone (untopped) the main stalk (meristem) remained the dominant shoot.
The entire plant of the Purple Thai was very dark-coloured and would express a deep royal purple colour at the slightest exposure to cold. It did not exhibit any of the spindly bud syndrome of the Juicy Fruit Thai, and the finished buds were a medium and compact sativa type. The finished product was equally as fruity and strong as the Juicy Fruit, also without ceiling.
For whatever aesthetic reason, I preferred the Purple Thai to the Juicy Fruit Highland Thai. I believe that the Purple Thai was emotionally kinder or gentler than the Juicy Fruit. At larger doses the Juicy Fruit could evoke quite a terror, especially when combined with psychedelics. Though no less potent, the Purple Thai seemed easier to handle, including when tripping. The Purple Thai was one of the first to show resin gland production in the early bud cycle, at roughly three to four weeks into the cycle. It also matured at 10 to 12 weeks indoor, and early to mid November outdoors.
The Afghani Indica plant is short with large, wide leaves, stout and thick-stemmed. It has early to very early maturation, producing large, dense buds that smell earthen to skunk, with a strong smoke that is generally sedative or "down" in effect. Though consistent in its growth and overall effect, its appeal is somewhat limited in my opinion. I believe more indicas should be made into hashish, which is where the finer qualities of the indica appear.
The sinsemilla Afghani Indica first showed up on the market in 1979. They were huge, green, stinky, sticky, dense buds of potent, pungent herb that smelled like a skunk and produced a narcotic-knockout stone that was tremendously novel, when compared to all the sativas that had come before. This was right after sinsemilla herb hit the market with big appeal.
The triad of sinsemilla, indica, and the advent of high powered halide and HPS lights, all wreaked havoc on the breeding programs of most pot-entrepeneurs. Few people maintained their sativa lines, and the strains virtually disappeared from the commercial markets. The short, dense, early-maturing and body-powerful indica has dominated the scene since 1983 ? a matter of disjointed economics.
Such were the three main P1's I used for my breeding lines.
The f1 cross
The f1 cross is the first cross between two distinctly different P1 parents. The "f" stands for filial (child). I cannot overstress the importance of the two P1 parents being as genetically different as is possible. It is this initial genetic diversity that leads to the most possibilities in succeeding lines.
If the P1's are sufficiently diverse, then the f1 will be a true hybrid, expressing a near total uniformity and great vigor. It is in the crosses beyond the initial f1 (especially the f1xf1=f2 cross) that specific traits are sought. There will be a tremendous amount of variance in the f2 crosses of f1's obtained from a female pure sativa and a male pure indica.
The Blueberry (among others) was discovered and stabilized from an f1 cross between the P1 parents of a female Juicy Fruit Thai or a female Purple Thai and a male Afghani Indica. Thus there were two possible routes to essentially the same finished product. Blue Velvet and Flo seem more accessible via the Purple Thai route, while Blue Moonshine seems more accessible through the Juicy Fruit lineage. That is, there is a higher probability of occurence of the specific traits which I'm seeking, and so they're easier to "find".
Oddly enough, the opposite cross (female Afghani indica crossed with pollen from male Thai sativa) was not nearly as interesting. The f1's from this cross were more leafy and less desirable. They were also more hermaphroditic and subsequent breeding revealed them to be less desirable. It has been my observation that in a successful cross, the (usually female) sativa contributes the type of aroma and flavour, while the (usually male) indica contributes the amount of aroma and flavour to the prodigy. So far this observation has proven fruitful.
So the Thai female is pollinated with the Afghani male and an abundance of seed is produced. The seed is uniformly sized and shaped; small, ellipsoid and mottled with dark stripes upon a grayish brown shell. A single female is capable of producing thousands of seed, leaving plenty for experimentation. This is the f1 generation, which I called simply "The Cross".
The plants of The Cross grew uniform, medium-tall "spear" structures of many competing side-branches around one main (meristem) stalk. Large, long buds formed along the branches. There was a wide palate of colours, especially among the Purple Thai cross. The buds were lighter, almost yellow to the centres, wile the outer leaf, bract and calyx tips showed red, purple and blue hues. The maturation rates were uniform as well, with a wide window of harvest being between weeks eight to eleven in the bud cycle, indoors. The finished bud had a very strong "astringent" chemical/terpene aroma that bordered between pine, gin, licorice and paint. Only a very few of The Cross expressed hermaphroditism, about 1 out of every 25 females.
The f2 cross
The f2 is the second filial generation, simply a cross between any two of the f1 stock. With my f2 crosses the outcome was extreme, with almost every characteristic of the cannabis plant being expressed in some of the plants. The diversity was spectacular, both in structure and aesthetics. From sativa to indica, short to tall, dark to light, early to late maturation, wide to narrow leaves, along with an extensive array of flavours, aromas, tastes and highs. The f2 seeds collected were equally diverse, ranging from large to small, plump to slender, striped to solid, round to oval.
A grand amount of time, energy and money was spent from this point to isolate and stabilize the desired traits. There is a tremendous amount of work between the f2's and the f4's and f5's. Trial and error is the rule; certain paths prove futile while others bear further examination. On average, there are about nine errors to each success. Coupled with the difficult clandestine aspects of the trade through the 80's and 90's, it was a difficult task to accomplish. Many sacrifices were endured by my family and friends.
It was however, a fun and worthwhile occupation to sample all the research material. It was hard work and dedication to record the findings and attempt to create useful categories and find patterns and traits to specific characteristics. Then there's the wait for the cured sample. If the sample passed "the test" then the plant was kept for further consideration. The most desirable samples were used for further breeding to f3, f4 and f5. The harvested plants, cut above the lowest few nodes, were placed under a vegetative light cycle to stimulate new growth for cloning.
I like to do one backcross somewhere between the f3 and f5 generation. Exactly when, where and how that is done remains a trade secret for now. Another trade secret is the art of selecting the best males for breeding. These topics and others will be covered in future articles.
Select the best, reject all others
Mendelian procedures are fine for sweet peas, but when it comes to herb I much prefer Luther Burbank's philosophy: "Select the best and reject all others!" This simple phrase is worth much consideration. Mendel's work is useful, especially concerning P1 and f1 crosses. But beyond the f2 and f3 cross, Mendel's theories add copius complexity to the equation.
Your friend the freezer
A benevolent tool in our trade is the refrigerator and freezer. The fridge is extremely useful in extending the longevity of seed and pollen. The trick to successful freezing is to freeze deep (-10 to -40?F/-20 to -35?C) and then keep the seed undisturbed. Hard frozen objects are very fragile. The slightest shock may shatter crucial, delicate cell structures within the seed. Double wrap the seed in paper; little manilla envelopes work great.
I like to do small amounts, in one-time-use packets, to keep waste to a minimum. Then place the wrap into a plastic freezer bag, then place the freezer bag into a plastic tub or tupperware container. Now the seed is ready for the deep-freeze. In the fridge, storing seed in airtight, brown glass jars with a little rice or other non-toxic desiccant seems to work best.
I have had pollen last for years in a deep freeze. It must be frozen immediately after fresh collection from the plant, in as low a humidity as possible (preferably 0%). I like to shake the productive male flowers over a flat and clean piece of glass. The pollen pile is sifted to rid the unwanted plant material from the pure powder.
It is also useful to cut pollen with flour to stretch the amount. A pollen-to-flour ratio of 1:10 or even 1:100 works best. The cut pollen may then be separated into small, one-time-use amounts, stored in a flap of paper and frozen the same way as the seed. The frozen pollen must be applied to the live female flower immediately after thawing to increase viability.
The sweet sativa room
I recommend the creation of a special "sativa room" for indoor breeding of such strains. This room needs to consider and satisfy the unique needs of the sativa variety. The goal is to replicate the equatorial conditions of the world?s various "sweet spots". Some of these conditions include: a different light cycle than the standard 18/6 vegetative 12/12 bud cycles, a higher angle of light (using a straight track shuttle instead of a circular one), humidity control set on low for the highland and high for the lowland, and variations in soil composition and depth.
Light cycle is one of the key considerations for those wishing to breed truly fine quality cannabis indoors under lights. The 18/6 veggie and 12/12 bud cycles are perhaps the main influence towards the indica dominant strains and generic blandness of the indoor commercial product. A true equatorial sativa will require closer to a 13/11 vegetative and a long (four to six month) 11/13 flower cycle. Different variations may be tried, such as 15/9 veggie and 10/14 flowering cycle. Be prepared for much fine tuning.
Equatorial strains also experience a higher arch of sunlight than those grown beyond 38? north or south ? with a sunrise almost due east and sunset nearly due west. Therefore the sativa room will edintense overhead lighting with a straight track mover. Keeping the plant in a stationary position, especially through the bud cycle, may positively influence the outcome of the finished product.
As jungle (lowland) herb requires only a thin layer of nutrient soil, perhaps a four-to-eight inch layer of soil over clay or concrete (with some form of drain system) would encourage lateral root growth, stationary plants, and a more lowland sativa-friendly environment.
If successful, the sativa-friendly room can be used to acclimate an indoor sativa variety, which expands the possibilities of your breeding operation.