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Picasso and the Art of Cannabis Pollination

Victoria Rouland - breeding

Hey there, homegrowers! You might know me on Instagram as QueenVmedz, Victoriousmedz, and the Weed Nerd, but you can call me Victoria. Most people know me through the work I did with my late best friend, Subcool (RIP).

He created strains like Jack the Ripper, Querkle, Chernobyl, Vortex, Jesus OG, and Cheesequake. He was a great teacher as well as a great friend and inspiration. 

Like Subcool, I want to share the things I’ve learned in my career with as many people as possible. I want to turn tokers into growers and growers into breeders. I want you all to dive as deep as you can into this wonderful plant, and I want you to share the joy I feel when growing, drying, and toking. 

Those new to breeding might be wondering at the title I chose for this piece… what does Picasso have to do with cannabis pollination? Cannabis breeding, just like painting, sculpting, writing music, or drawing, is an art in itself. There’s creativity, experimentation, failures, and the occasional success. 

I’ve never received a standing ovation for my plants, but I’ve had a lot of thank-yous and good vibes.As breeders, we don’t actually compare ourselves to Picasso, but manual weed pollination requires a steady, delicate hand – I’ll explain more later.

I want to open with a quick introduction to cannabis breeding, where it all started, and how it’s developed. How we’ve taken wild, low-yielding, low-THC strains (we’ll call them cultivars from now on) and bred them into the fat, fruitful, potent plants you all know and love today. 

Next, I’ll talk about how I got into breeding and why regular cannabis seeds are vital to any breeding program. Then I’ll tell you how to collect and store pollen and Picasso your female plants. Finally, learn how to avoid the accidental pollination that can ruin female-only crops. 

I’ll keep it light, I’ll keep it jargon-free, and I’ll hopefully inspire any potential breeders out there to give cannabis breeding a try.

A quick introduction to cannabis breeding and cannabis pollination

Cannabis breeding is so exciting for me. The opportunity to create something new gets me all tingly.

Consider this. Your favorite cultivar has a sweet taste when you toke on it, it flowers really quickly, but the plants love to attract pests. Then take your second favorite. It has a citrus taste and flowers a little slowly, but it’s really resistant to bugs. What if you combined them?

You’d have a sweet, citrusy taste that flowers quickly and is pest-resistant. Creating this cultivar is possible. Enter cannabis breeding.

Cannabis plants come in three sexes, male, female, and hermaphrodite (both). The male flower contains a pollen sac, and the female flower has an ovule. The hermie has both, but that’s a whole other article, so I’m not going to focus on that one today.

Pollinated cannabis plants produce seeds. The male plant pollinates the female plant, and a new hybrid is born; we call this crossing. Sure it sounds simple enough, but getting the right pollen to the correct female can be the challenge. You could let nature take its course, but you could end up with accidental cannabis pollination (more on that a little later).

I love manual weed pollination, what I call Picasso-ing! And that’s the focus of my article, but let’s look a bit closer at how it all started and why we want to do this.

Pollinated cannabis plant

Where it all started

Back before all this breeding of cannabis plants began, we had what we call landrace cultivars. They were indigenous to their location and were either pure sativa or indica, and there were no hybrids. You’ve no doubt heard of these:

  • Afghan
  • Thai
  • Hindu Kush
  • Durban Poison
  • Acapulco Gold
  • Maui Wowie

There are more, but these are the most commonly known. Without modern breeding techniques, they wouldn’t exactly meet the needs of today’s consumers in terms of THC, flavor, and yield.

I still appreciate landraces, but I love using them to create new and exciting cultivars.

How it all developed

Seasoned smokers will remember when the potency of cannabis changed. In the 1970s, breeders figured out that selecting cannabis plants for high THC content involved non-pollinated female plants. 

Knowing this, they grew these non-pollinated female cannabis plants and selectively crossed them with the pollen of male plants for more potent cannabis. This is the cannabis we know and love today. 

Today’s cultivars are mostly hybrids and come in diverse flavors, aromas, THC and CBD levels, and effects. It’s rare to find pure sativa or indicas anymore. Instead, they may be one or the other heavy, bringing the best of both worlds to one plant.

Let’s take a quick look at why I just love breeding cannabis. 

Why I got into breeding cannabis

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Insta know my story. My battle with the bottle messed me up, and cannabis helped me get my life under control, and my kids got their mum back. 

You know it’s not just alcohol that’s dangerous. It breaks my heart to hear stories from my hometown, where people I grew up with are getting hooked on heroin. This is such a dangerous drug; it destroys lives and families and leaves kids as orphans. 

Cannabis for medical use is my passion, and I want everyone to have access to this plant. For me, the best way is to grow it yourself. Sure, you could go and buy it at a dispensary, but why would you when you could do it yourself? 

My husband and I worked closely with Subcool to develop cultivars to provide relief from: 

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Nerve pain
  • Anxiety
  • Social disorders

I love creating new cultivars; it’s like being a parent all over again. But this way, you get to pick and choose the best genetics from multiple sources and create that one perfect cultivar. How awesome is that?

Breeding cannabis isn’t rocket science, and almost anyone can do it. I encourage everyone to give it a go. Be gentle, take your time, practice patience, and forgive yourself if it doesn’t go to plan at first.

Next up, let me tell you all about the beauty of the male plant, and then I’ll get into the cannabis pollination process.

how to pollinate cannabis
Pollen sacs

The power behind regular seeds

I hear many people criticize regular seeds and talk about the males ruining their crop of females. But without the males, we wouldn’t be able to breed all these exciting new cultivars

Look, if you only want to grow cannabis to cultivate the flowers and nugs for consumption, then feminized seeds are for you. For those of you who, like me, want to breed, regular seeds are your best friend. Why? Because there’s an equal chance of getting male and female plants, all with those wonderful genes, ready for breeding.

I’m going to get into how pollinating cannabis works. But first, you need to know how to identify the plants and when to separate them before it’s too late.

On average, the plants look the same for the first six weeks of their life. However, some of them start to change from week three, so it’s better to inspect them early.

Identifying the male plant from the female

Check out the stalk; males generally have a thicker, sturdier one, primarily as they grow taller and need that support. They also have fewer leaves. Next, look at where the smaller branches connect to the stalk. 

Both sexes have little balls on the joints. For the male plants, these are what store the pollen and are waiting to burst. The females, though, also have long translucent hairs on them, known as pistils, which grab the pollen.

Separate them without delay

As soon as you’ve identified a male plant, you need to get it away from the females. Remember, we’re doing selective breeding here. So unless you want the males to fertilize the females of the same cultivar, separate them now.

What you want to do is remove the male plants from the females before they start to produce pollen. If you’re growing cannabis for consumption, if any of it gets onto the pistils of the females, they’ll switch their focus from creating beautiful trichomes to making seeds. 

Of course, seeds are what we want when breeding. But if we’re being selective, keeping the males and females together will only ever create seeds of that exact cultivar, and we want to be more experimental than that.

Move them to a separate area, and be careful not to break any pollen balls along the way. Any pollen left in the grow area could reach the pistils of the females with even a slight breeze.

Are you ready to learn how to Picasso a cannabis plant? You’ll get why I call it that as soon as you read it.

pollinated cannabis
Pollinated cannabis

How to pollinate cannabis or how to Picasso your cannabis plants

Here’s what you came here for, the art of cannabis pollination. I love this process so much. It’s delicate and takes a bit of practice to get it right, but it’s so worth it.

First up, you’re going to need some pollen from the male plant. 

Collecting and storing pollen

Hopefully, you’ve followed my instructions above and have the male plants in their own location. Take a look at the balls. When they open, they’ll have tiny banana-shaped stamens, and this is where the pollen comes from. It looks like a creamy white or yellow powder, and it’s quite fine, so it spreads rapidly. 

By far, the easiest way to collect it is to remove the entire flower and place it in a paper bag. Seal it tightly and let it dry for a few days. Shaking the bag is enough to open the balls and let the pollen gather. Be sure you’re doing this action far away from the females you plan to pollinate later.

Place the pollen in a sealed container like a jar. If you don’t plan to use it immediately, you should freeze it. Pollen can last up to three years when frozen.

Manual pollination Picasso style

Think about what you want to achieve. Do you want an entire plant producing as many seeds as possible from one male? Or are you going to try to get different seeds from one female by pollinating it with many males?  

You can be more carefree with the cannabis pollination process if it’s the former. If you’re experienced and want to generate multiple seeds, you’ll need to be precise and gentle.

Unfreeze the pollen when you need it. Remember, once pollen is unfrozen, you cannot refreeze it. You’ll only need a quarter teaspoon of pollen for about 4-5 plants. 

Are you ready to learn how to pollinate cannabis?

First up, ensure there’s no airflow in the room; fans, air conditioners, or even the slightest breeze can mess with this process. 

Take a small paintbrush, put some pollen on the tip, and gently tap it over the buds of the female plant. If you’re going to use different pollen and try to get a variety of seeds, cover the pollinated buds with plastic before moving to the next one.

And that’s all there is to it. Take your time, though, be sure you’ve painted enough pollen over the buds so the pistils can absorb it all.  Look at that. You’ve become a cannabis pollination artist! 

How to tell if the females have been pollinated

If you’ve performed the process successfully, you only need to wait a couple of days to see the results. What you’re looking for are pollinated buds with seeds, and you’ll find them on the cola. Beneath the tiny leaves of the cola, you can spot some tear-shared nodules.

Take a pair of tweezers, lift a nodule, and if there’s a seed inside, you have a pollinated cannabis plant! It’ll be a couple of weeks before the seeds are ready to be taken from the plant, so a little more patience is needed here. 

How to avoid accidental cannabis pollination

Remember earlier when I said you need to separate your male plants from the females? If you don’t, nature will do its thing, and you’ll risk accidentally pollinating an entire female crop. Which is great if you only want to breed new hybrids. It’s a disaster, though, if they were supposed to be providing you with flowers and buds to smoke.

I prefer to do my Picasso-ing indoors. Outside you’re dealing with mother nature. Pollen can travel a distance of 3 to 7.5 miles, and it is reported that it could even travel 30 miles under certain conditions. 

If you live in a windy area, you’re risking cannabis pollination from male plants that aren’t even yours. While the excitement of a randomly pollinated female may be a thrill for some, that’s not how I like to breed cannabis.

pollinate cannabis

Be like Picasso and get painting

There you have it. You, too, can breed your own cannabis hybrids. It’s going to take some time to get expert at it, and you may have a few failures on your hands. I had plenty when I first started, but I never lost hope, and even today, I still love the process.

Are you ready to give it a try yourself? It’s so easy. Start off with regular seeds purchased from Homegrown Cannabis Co. Three to six weeks in; it’s time to identify your male plants, separate them from the females and collect the pollen

Then when the females are ready, get creative and use the art of Picasso to brush your cannabis plants. Wait a few days, then inspect your handiwork for a pollinated bud. You’ll be a cannabis breeder in no time.

Who knows, you might just become the next Picasso of cannabis!

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