January 04, 2018 | NORTHWEST LEAF
This year’s ‘Strains and Genetics Issue’ features profiles of important figures in the Northwest.
In a quiet corner of House of Cultivar’s massive tier 3 grow facility in an industrial area of Seattle sits a sealed laboratory changing the world of Cannabis genetics.
As the Cannabis industry transitions into the mainstream world of agriculture, new technology is both disrupting and enhancing the marketplace as research and science take control from basement technology and classic growing methods. Tissue culture could be the biggest game changer of the next ten years, and it isn’t even on the radar of big Cannabis.
Tissue culturing is the art of plant stem cells, giving a lab the ability to revert strains to the most basic genetic form, and fit 10,000 of them into a cryogenic freezer the size of a decent mini-fridge. The future of strains and genetic preservation intersect in a Petri dish full of weed cells and a new world of technology, and the roots are being laid in the Northwest.
Path to the lab
For Mike Hydro, the company’s lead lab technician and strain aficionado who provided the basis for the process, the project began as a work of passion.
A medical grower for the last decade, he started experimenting with tissue culturing in his personal garden after reading about the technique in traditional agriculture. But like any new startup industry, there was almost no information in the beginning.
“For me to start, there was nothing to look up,” Hydro said. “There were a few articles on orchid and bamboo propagation, but for specifically what I was trying to attempt, I threw darts at the wall until something stuck.”
Through trial and error, Hydro was able to develop methods that worked. He began culturing his own strains in a homemade environment. The failure rate was high, as the chances of contamination run rampant outside a professional lab environment. Around that same time period, he started working with the House of Cultivar team, who built out a shipping container as an initial lab.
When the success and implications of that became readily apparent, the step toward a full-size lab was taken. At a cost of more than $350,000 it was a serious investment, one that paid off for the team, and is soon to help the greater industry.
In a world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. That’s been the story of Cannabis genetics for the last several decades. Breeding was underground and risky, and those who bred were rightfully careful about sharing strains. A select group of people globally represented the majority of the cutting-edge strains. For breeding to be successful, the key issues are protecting strains from leaking and becoming diluted while simultaneously protecting genetic lineage and keeping strains alive. The concept of a seed vault meets the House of Cultivar project.
Most people have heard of the “doomsday” seed vault in the Arctic, meant to hold humanity’s seeds safe in event of calamity. Ironically, it flooded after less than a decade in existence, a product of global warming. The point is simple—there was previously no way to create a living vault of Cannabis genetics.
The cost to maintain a sample in a cryogenic freezer is minimal, meaning strain banks can and will become a new part of the Cannabis breeding world.
It’s that passion that led Matt Gaboury, co-owner of House of Cultivar to fund the project. Gaboury has been growing for ten years and around Cannabis his entire life, always building grows and helping expand upon his formal education in architecture. His main contribution to House of Cultivar was designing and managing permits and construction of the facility, which took more than two years and $4 million.
“We spent the last year running our 60+ strains through the system, to where our entire mother stock was generated from tissue culture, which has proven our viability. Now I’m passionate about opening this up to other people and starting a true bank,” Gaboury said.
“Once we begin the bank we will be able to help save heirloom strains, and discover the phenotypes of future.”
In 2018 the team hopes to begin accepting storage samples for companies that want to protect strains or phenotypes that they can’t keep in the garden, and helping companies reset genetics with the tissue culture process.
Eventually, House of Cultivar hopes to build a database of strains that will be unlike anything else in the world.
“We have the ability to hold 10,000-plus strains in one lab, with plant cuttings and cells stored indefinitely, in the truest form of a genetic bank. We want to fill the whole lab with strains, to collect and store and preserve,” Gaboury said.
“We’re pioneers of this industry.”
Tissue Culture Explained
To understand the process of tissue culturing, it’s best to start with a basic understanding of the Cannabis plant, and the simple way people have been spreading genetics since pot became modern.
Traditional growing takes a cutting of a mother plant that’s been kept in a vegetative state perpetually, producing baby clones of a specific strain. Over time, the mother will pass generations of new cuttings, until she reaches a point when the cuttings are no longer producing value. A clone becomes a new mother as the process continues. The upside to this process is it’s simple, and it works, but the downside can be massive. From passing bugs or pesticides to genetic drift, when the strain loses the properties over the passing of generations. Cloning is an imperfect art that doesn’t always produce desired results.
Tissue culture enters the scene as a technology that allows sterile, lab-grade plant growth to create unlimited generations of new plants, all with the exact same traits and features.
The process for making a tissue culture starts by taking a genetic sample of a plant, which can be any piece of leaf or stem, but is best taken from the center stem: a piece about one centimeter large.
This plant matter is then placed into a sterile test tube with an agar gel that becomes the plant’s new home. The gel tricks the plant cells into believing they are still attached to a plant, and causes the plantlet to grow callus cells — the stem cells of the plant world. These cells are genetic gold, the essence of the plant on a cellular level, free of all pesticides or chemicals and ready to transform into new plant matter.
The cells are grown out into small plantlets that resemble seedlings, and can then become grown out into full plants. While it might seem like a lot of work to end up back with a clone, the benefits are tremendous. Stripping the plant down to the most basic level preserves the genetic code and refreshes it, stripping away any pests, disease or environmental stressors that change the plant. The new growth is vigorous and fresh, with the original traits of the plant, and represents the full genetic potential of a specific strain.
Greater Implications for the Cannabis Industry
As the Cannabis industry continues to grow, hard questions are being asked about every aspect of cultivation, from pesticides and chemicals to the energy footprint it takes to grow.
While nothing can solve all the industry’s myriad of problems, tissue culture offers a solution for a couple of them. Tissue culturing removes all pesticides from the plants workup, even systemic ones that linger for years such as Eagle 20, a banned chemical that caused gardens to fail pesticide tests. It also eliminates the space, energy and resources needed to keep mothers alive.
“Energy wasted just to keep a mother alive or a cut alive, what’s the footprint of a cut like that, the amount of effort put into that, from any standpoint—money, ecological, labor—a strain vault is inevitably where we need to go,” Hydro said. “It doesn’t have to be rational then, people have attachments to plants that aren’t viable, but you don’t want to lose the cut. Put it in a freezer, stop the genetic degradation, and hold onto the essence of the cut for years.”
Breeding of Cannabis is another area that will change with tissue culture. When a plant is first popped from seed, there are thousands of potential phenotypes. When true breeders develop and search for a strain, they pop thousands of seeds.
Currently accepted methodology requires a clone for every plant flowered, with tracking and data, so that at the end of the breeding run the plant that performs best can be traced back to a clone.
This means keeping double the plants alive and healthy, labeled and tracked, all to select a handful out of thousands. With tissue culture, a small piece of each plant could be harvested and labeled, and at the end of the test the chosen cuts can be picked out of a shoebox sized freezer instead of a vegetation room with thousands of clones.
“It’s not magic, it’s just a large sample population of cuttings, where taking full-size clones takes space and biological risk,” Hydro said.
“What we can do is take large samples, isolate the cleanest, and then populate large lots from those clean samples indefinitely. The risk and effort of breeding is essentially cut in half with tissue culture.”
By making breeding easier, and storing the genetics that make the strains we love, the potential to save our legacy is solidified, and the ability to spread Cannabis worldwide becomes exponentially easier. Science intersects with agriculture, and centers on a plant that’s gone from illegal to one of the world’s largest commodity crops.
“We came from basements and garages to commercial industrial, and it’s amazing that we have this opportunity,” Gaboury said. “It’s tremendous and definitely surreal sometimes, as we are shaping the future of Cannabis one tissue culture at a time.”
When did Cannabis come into your life and how did you get the name James Bean?
I was slinging herb before I was smoking it. I played high school football so I didn’t smoke until I was 17, but I was selling joints as a sophomore, stealing my mom’s shake. I liked smoking as it became a community thing with friends, a camaraderie thing. I earned the name James Bean in Boise, Idaho, when I dropped five units of the seediest brick I’d ever seen. People would call and beg hoping I had something else to sell, and I went from James Dean to James Bean.
How did you start selling seeds intentionally?
I met Alpha Chronic around 2010 and get a lot of knowledge from him, and helped him sell his 28-strain line. At that time, I didn’t to take on more breeders, because I’d have to give each half. But after three years I ran him down to four strains, and I had to start adding selection. At that time, there were 1,000 cuts of ACDC floating around, and I hated that and wanted to put that out of business. I met with LaPlata (a breeder), he had a Harlequin and Cannatonic cross, Harlechronic, with 25,000 seeds. He was my first new vendor as I started selling CBD strains, and in 2013, I bought all 50 states’ seedbank.com, WAseedbank.com was the very first. That was when I knew it could be bigger than just Washington, and at the time it was rent money or domain money, and I chose the websites.
What’s the story behind the name, Seeds Here Now?
The weekend of the first CannaCon and Hempfest we had booths at the same time, and it was the first time I had teams in two places. And sitting at CannaCon, people kept asking “You got seeds? You got seeds here, now?” Finally, that became my opening pitch, we have seeds here, now, 100 different strains, and I wrote it on a whiteboard at CannaCon and put it in the corner. The next day I took it to Hempfest, and Darcy drove by and said “This is Hempfest, not felony-fest,” and pointed at my sign.
So, I thought about it, and put .com next to the name, and the next time she drove by I said it’s all brooches and marketing info and I’m only promoting a website, and she said that’s fine! We bought the website that day, and the rest is history.
How many breeders are represented on the site and how do you choose them?
We have 42 United States breeders, and only work with people from the states. In my mind that’s there the best breeders are, in the 80s and 90s a lot of U.S. guys sent gear to Amsterdam, but the quality development was always done here.
Your model is different than a lot of other seed banks so how do you spread genetic preservation?
We don’t do shipping, but we do have couriers in every state, couriers that take care of orders, all 50 states. I’m a broker, I don’t make seeds, I’m a middle man. I tell my breeders the day I start making seeds is the day you should pack up and leave. When I think about seedbanks that make or grow seeds I get upset, I think it’s a definite conflict of interest. It’s shady, and it’s too close to the actual game.
Do you see problems with the seed game in general?
The seed industry has been shady in the past, and continues to be. Anyone can sell you bag seeds, and you’d never know the difference. We have all sent money to Amsterdam, waited months for our $150 pack, and popped seeds only to have two viable starts and they both end up males. It sucks, and if you call them and complain you get nothing. Having been on the losing end, I thought how can I fix that. Shit can happen though, which is why we have our guarantee.
You’re known for having a satisfaction guarantee. Was that challenging in a business as unstable as seeds & genetics?
I’ve said since day one if I can’t guarantee it I won’t sell it. I have 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, it’s not a germination guarantee like some seed banks, its satisfaction guaranteed. If you aren’t happy I’m going to give you a new pack. Because I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to give you a free 5-pack and say have a nice day, try it again.
But you don’t sell seeds directly, so what do you sell?
We sell genetic preservation kits, they’re for novelty use only. Do not get them wet or dirty, they will explode! The information about the strain is the real value, we cover lineage and flowering time and other info, and of course the connection to the breeder. It’s very humbling to work with the breeders I get to, it’s my pleasure.
How do you choose your breeders?
My first question is always “How long have you been in the business,” because you need to have started before me to work with you. I want to work with the guys that paved the road I now drive on, the original guys taking the chances when they didn’t need to, putting their freedom at risk to breed strains and work genetics, illegally and without the technology we have today. The guys I work with are chosen, if you made the strain, you built it, I work with you. If you’re a “chucker,” you cross other people’s work, I can’t work with that.
What’s a “pollen chucker” to you?
A pollen chucker is someone who takes a 10-pack of Crocket’s Tangie and crosses it with someone’s gear and calls it Tangie Cream, so I ask, what did you go for, what traits, when you bred, other than the name. It’s like Brad Pitt and Angelina, you’re going have pretty kids, you can take two popular things and cross them, but it doesn’t mean you did something special or should be awarded for. Guys like that take money out of breeders’ pockets, and spread bad genetics to unsuspecting people, which is wrong all the way around.
Why are some strains more valuable than others and how much of it is hype?
First off, if a rapper raps about your strain, it’s worth so much money! You have to always factor the rapper equation. But really, a lot of it is hype, but about 75 percent of the time the hype matches the breeder. There are breeders out there with up to $800 for a 10-pack, but they’re only putting out 100 packs, and those will all sell out instantly. Put that in a safe and in five to ten years that’s doubled or tripled in value.
How much should people spend on their genetics?
How much do people invest in their gardens? How much do you spend on a bulb? One hundred fifty bucks just for a bulb, but people will complain about $150 for a pack. You’re talking about the genetics that will build the future of your company, a proprietary money tree, and nobody has that copy of that seed you have. You want the same thing as everyone else, go transplant a clone.
What is the future for Seeds Here Now?
My second play is licensing breeds. I work with every breeder personally, and we’re coming up on a time where strains will begin to be trademarked and licensed. I keep the breeders’ interests in mind, and the breeders deserve to protect their rights and their strains. California will be the first to start enforcing and accepting Cannabis trademarks, which is huge. We can’t federally trademark because of the Controlled Substances Act, but someday strains will be extremely valuable.
When did you start growing?
Matt: I started officially growing for medical patients in 2007 with 36 plants, and expanded the following year to 96 plants, the biggest garden in Takilma and the greater area for that matter, at the time. My dad, Matthew Chalon Miller, went to prison for 18 months in 1999 for growing Cannabis. That was in impressionable experience for myself as the eldest of eight that drove to Coos Bay every other Sunday to see him. He died from a heart attack in 2015, while doing his pack-test for wild land firefighting.
Rhea: We are both second-generation growers, learning mostly from our fathers. And what’s super cool is since the industry has become legal, we’ve been able to teach them a thing or two!
I understand your late father was around for the legendary creation of Jager. How did Jager come to be?
Rhea: Jager was born in 2009 in Takilma, Oregon. Takilma is a small, hippy community outside of Cave Junction, known since the 70s for some of the highest grade Cannabis in the nation.
Matt: I got Hindu Kush seeds from the Farmacy in California. I was getting into cross-pollination and exploring genetics at the time, while trying to find a strain that would set me aside from everybody else. But most of all, the high and the terpene profile I was chasing was gas and purps terps, like Purple Urkle. Sour Diesel was my favorite strain of all time and I wanted something semi-sour like that too.
I needed a strain that would stand out in a competitive market. I popped 30 different strains, with five up-to 30 seeds of each strain. Once I began, I was really surprised with how much irregularity there was in the phenos once the seeds popped. I planted all of my Hindu Kush seeds I had in the pack. I liked the variance because it’s like a mystery that never stops giving. It’s a true hunt to find the perfect pheno. It’s a real adrenaline rush!
It’s like gold-panning with plants. I wanted to see what the best was for myself.
I was, and still am, very passionate about discovering the best phenos in strains. After I cracked all of my Hindu seeds, I crossed the specific pheno that I felt was the one back onto itself, which gave us the Jager.
Was there any push back from the Cannabis community or the company Jägermeister?
Matt: I’ve been drinking Jägermeister for some time, and I was passionate about drinking my Jäger. I was doing a lot of Jäger bombs back when we were in cross-pollination during the creation of the strain. My brother and I were wrestling on the porch, and things got heated. Once we calmed down after the fight, we decided to roll one up to keep the peace.
We all picked our own smoke, and I rolled up what was to be the strain we dubbed Jägermeister. I told my brother, “It’s like Jäger in a bottle, and Jäger in a spliff!” and that’s how we named it.
It was all medical back then, so this was before legalization and branding. We called it Jägermeister in the early medical days, but a dispensary in southern Oregon got a cease-and-desist from the Jägermeister company. We personally have never been contacted by the company—ever. But to protect ourselves, we changed the strain name from “Jägermeister” to “Jager” to prevent legal action.
Rhea: Back in the medical days, there was pushback from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) community because we named Cannabis after an alcohol. But the complaints were pretty minor. To this day, especially after going legal, we don’t hear as much, if any, opposition anymore.
Why do you think people conflate your strain Jager with the strain Purple Hindu Kush? Can you set the record straight on the subject?
Rhea: Purple Hindu Kush and Jager are not the same thing. I’m not sure why people think it’s the same genetic. Both Jager and Purple Hindu Kush come from the same origins, but they are completely different phenos. Think of it like this: similar to Girl Scout Cookies Forum cut versus Girl Scout Cookies Thin Mint. Both strains are from cookie genetics, but they’re two totally different phenotypic expressions. It’s like siblings.
They have the same parents, but are two totally different people. The two probably get mixed up because they are from the same lineage, but they are different genetics. Jager is a specific, stabilized phenotype not to be confused with Purple Hindu Kush.
What got you interested in working with, cultivating and eventually breeding Cannabis? Specific strains?
My interest in cultivating Cannabis began in the summer between 11th and 12th grade. This would be the first of several failed attempts to grow a small number of plants from bag to seed outdoors. A couple of years later, during my sophomore year of college, I had my first successful crop. It was a small closet grow under a 250-watt HPS. At the time, the Virginia Beach Afghani cut was very popular amongst many of my friends. Although I never had the honor to cultivate her, her dominance in our market inspired me to explore the potential of various seeds I had collected over the years.
To be honest, nothing too exciting evolved from this but my passion to explore continued to evolve. I was introduced to Four Way in 1996. For several years this strain became the standard by which all others were judged. She was a perfect balance between sour and skunky and she was LOUD. This was the same Four Way that is referred to as the Fairfax Four Way today. This is the strain that really inspired me to start breeding. I moved to the West Coast in 1999. My first breeding efforts were to meet or beat the Four Way. It took a few attempts but eventually I got there. If I remember correctly, it was a Northern Lights, Big Bud, Haze cross that finally met the mark. From that moment, I knew the path with Cannabis that I was intended to follow. Moving to Portland enabled me to access amazing genetics to breed with.
Can you provide some insight on the selection process?
Many growers buy seeds to “pheno hunt” for the best flower expression. Not me. I am constantly looking at new crosses to see how they might integrate into my own breeding program. I ask myself, “What can this cross do to enhance another? Can it add depth in flavor? Will it help to stabilize? Is this a new foundation that I can build off of?” If I don’t check the “yes” boxes for any of these questions, then I generally pass on those seeds. During the selection process, I am looking for complex flavor expressions. There has to be the right combination of different inhale-exhale experiences coupled with evolving layers that linger on the pallet after the exhale. No one-trick ponies allowed. Potency is also of significant interest to me. I want to produce chemovars that are rich in secondary metabolites. I believe these are the best resources for medicine.
What advice do you have for recreational growers?
Don’t lose sight of quality as you pursue higher yields in order to meet your bottom line. Focus on creating a balance between the two.
What about for patients and consumers?
Do your best to be an educated consumer. Whether you’re a medical or recreational user, product awareness is crucial.
What is your favorite strain to grow and what is your favorite strain to smoke?
For the last few years my favorite strains to grow are DogWalker OG and her sister The Bizz. The Bizz has only been released to a few, but be on the lookout for her and her offspring in 2018. In addition, I really enjoy my Scooby Snacks (DogWalker OG x GSC Forum Cut) and most recently Black Lime Reserve. At this year’s Emerald Cup, I was gifted some pure Land Race Thai from Bodhi. This is amazing smoke! The flower was seeded. I can’t wait to see how these seeds might integrate into future breeding projects.
Hopes for Cannabis breeding ten years from now?
Hopefully ten years from now we, the breeding community, will have stood together long enough to protect our genetics from falling into the hands of greedy corporate Cannabis pirates. We must do everything we can to prevent these giants from claiming ownership of our genetics that we have spent decades trying to create. There are several entities out there who are currently pursuing utility patents and genetic modification of Cannabis for self-serving interests. Scotts Miracle Gro and Phytec are two of these companies. Stand together, we must.
What are you currently smoking on?
There are about ten strains in the head-stash at the moment: Kali Snaffle, Ms. Universe, Cherry Vanilla Cookies, Pineapple/C99, Super Silver Haze F4, Bubba Kush and a few more, but I’ve mainly been smoking on the Sour Peach Cobbler.
What originally sparked your interest in breeding Cannabis genetics?
When I first started growing back in 1996, it was from seed. I made my first batch of seeds to become self-sufficient. I made seeds for years before I ever grew from a clone. Seed reproduction evolved into a strict selection process, which eventually became Dynasty Genetics.
What strains are most effective for your medicinal needs?
Pineapple Fields has been amazing for me personally. Its functionality allows me to keep up with my busy schedule but also subsides pain.
When working on new crosses, what traits do you look for?
It really depends on the goal for the breeding project, but ultimately testing the offspring will determine if the male is suitable for use. When I chose the Blue Heron #111 male for the Blue Magoo Bx2, I tested two “finalist” males for a side by side grow of the offspring. The male that looked identical to the Blue Magoo actually did not pass on the recessive-dominant traits I was looking for, but it was actually the taller one that passed on the dominant Blue Magoo traits to all offspring. This is also one of the reasons I test the offspring before committing to a particular parent plant.
Are there any strains or projects that we can expect a release of soon?
The Sour Peach Cobbler is one of the new upcoming releases in extract, bud and seed form.
What’s your opinion on testing out crosses? It seems many breeders select an elite male and cross them with elite females without growing out the offspring.
Testing is a necessary part of the process in my opinion. If we are not testing offspring, we are not doing a big part of our job.
What does “breeding with intention” mean to you and why do you feel it’s important?
Building a stable foundation is one of the most important factors that are determined when I begin a project. I believe breeding with intention is part of what differentiates “breeders” from “pollen chuckers.” I am conscious of setting goals when beginning a project due to the amount of work I already have cued up, this helps keep things organized and efficient.
How was Archive formed and when?
Archive was formed around 2011 by Fletcher Watson in the great Pacific Northwest. The first seed packs were released around this time using the Albert Walker crossed with Manic 32 male. The idea was to create a male as close to the infamous Albert Walker to be crossed to many other cultural classics that have been collected for well over a decade.
What strains were involved at the beginning, and how were they chosen?
The first strains used in breeding after the Manic crossed with Albert Walker line was the Face Off OG line. Face Off OG female was old bag seed found from OG from SoCal in the early 90s. The Face Off was back crossed to find a number of tested males that made the cut.
These males were used to make the first Face Off line, which consisted of many heirloom genetics including Purple Urkle (Grimace OG), San Diego Catpiss (Code Blue), Pacific Northwest Dog Shit (Poochie Love), Skunk crossed with Chem 91 (Hazmat OG), Irene Kush (RudeBoi OG), as well as some more current hype Cultivars like Forum Girl Scout Cookies (Samoas), OG Kush Breath (Dosidos), Ghost OG (Casper OG), Sour Diesel (Sour Face) to name a few.
The goal in all these crosses is to use the finest heirloom genetics and best new age genetics to create a line that offers the best of both worlds and helps preserve the classics. We have always been about the flavor and effects and we’re always looking for unique profiles and high THC strains. The goal is to open the door to new varieties and flavors instead of remaking things already in existence.
How does the selection process work at Archive?
The selection process comes with a lot of smoking of female cultivars used, rigorous stress testing and flowering of the males. Once the desired attributes are found, then the crosses are made and tested before release.
The Face Off males tend to help stabilize some of the more unique and unstable varieties along with adding some of the desired growth traits for commercial operations.
How do you see the breeding world changing with Cannabis legalization?
We see seeds as the future of Cannabis. Breeding for consistent varieties that can be grown from seed. The vigor and sterile start of a seed plant is hard to compete with on a commercial level. We will continue to push the bar to create unique cultivars looking for every flavor and smell imaginable.
Why is DosiDos the favorite inhouse strain?
The DosiDos is a plant that has it all. Looks, smell, flavor and potency. It is a homerun and we have heard from many people that it has effects that are unmatched in its potency and ability to not have a tolerance build-up to its specific profile. The new line of DosiDos crosses is an amazing chance to once again take old classics with varying viability and turn up the modern day bag appeal, potency, flavor and commercial viability.