How are Hemp Seeds Feminized?
Feminized Hemp seeds got an unjustifiably bad rap the first year of legal hemp production. Expensive to purchase, poor germination, underperforming plants, and the most aggravating of all — male plants. Bad experiences with poorly feminized hemp seeds (or in some cases, just outright scams) left many growers wondering when it comes to feminized seed why bother? Well, you should. Even though there have been some outrageously poor examples on the market, the advantage of properly feminized hemp seeds still stands. Growers will save time (and money) when they plant quality, well-grown, and properly feminized hemp seeds.
Bottom line, sourcing reliably feminized hemp seeds for your hemp farm comes down to one factor — how were the hemp seeds feminized?
Why Plant Feminized Hemp Seeds?
The hemp plant is dioecious. Meaning it produces separate female and male plants. Most plants are monecious (making both male and female parts), with a few notable exceptions, like spinach. Being dioecious is a good thing for producing CBD or any of the other cannabinoids. Because the highest percentage of cannabinoids are concentrated in unpollinated, “virgin” female flower buds.
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When a hemp flower bud is pollinated, it immediately starts putting its energy toward producing hemp seeds. It has been estimated that pollination reduces cannabinoid yield by as much as 56 percent. Hemp plants will also continue making more and bigger hemp flower buds until pollination occurs.
If seeded, hemp biomass can still be sent to extraction for oils, but the value of your crop for high-grade smokable hemp will be diminished. If not outright ruined. So, with so much riding on a profitable harvest, this is why feminized hemp seeds are such a valuable tool for growers. Assuming they are produced correctly!
Start with Quality Hemp Genetics
It doesn’t matter if you have a hemp field without a single male plant. If the female plants you did grow are low in cannabinoids, go hot or non-uniform. That’s why the first step in the feminization process is always making sure you have a high-quality, stable genetic pool.
The varietal should have been grown out for at least five generations, reliably producing the desired phenotype (observable characteristics) the hemp breeder was aiming for. And the hemp breeder should be keeping data on each generation to record visual characteristics. Don’t purchase seed that doesn’t have the time and data behind it, even if it is feminized.
Start with a Hemp Seed Run
Once a careful hemp breeder has assured they have a homogenous, stable gene pool to work with, they grow out a large number of seeds for the express purpose of creating a “seed run.” They plant these seeds and grow them out in a controlled greenhouse environment. As soon as male plants start developing, all the males are removed and discarded.
Then, the remaining female plants are divided into two rooms. One room is encouraged to grow in optimum conditions. The other room of female hemp plants is stressed, typically by spraying with colloidal silver.
Using Hemp Hermaphrodites to Your Advantage
Hemp’s strong will to reproduce the next generation of seeds is what makes feminizing possible. When stressed, female hemp plants can turn into hermaphrodites, producing female buds and male pollen on the same plant.
This trait is key for making feminized seeds. Those female flowers that were purposefully stressed will become hermaphrodites, or “reversed” and start producing male seed sacs. But the pollen they produce only carries the “Y” (female) chromosome. They cannot pass on the male “X” chromosome because the pollen comes from biologically-female plants.
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Once the sacs begin flowering, these plants are moved back into the room with the healthy female plants and set on tables at a slightly higher level. A fan gently blows the pollen around, and as the pollen sacs split open, they will pollinate the female plants and produce “Y”-only seeds.
In the Hemp Field
One complaint growers have had with feminized seeds is that hermaphrodites can pop up in the field. This can make it seem like the feminized seeds’ cost wasn’t worth it since it only takes a few hermaphrodites to pollinate a large area. But, the solution goes back to that first step — make sure your hemp breeder started with stable, proven genetics. Remember, hermaphrodites happen when hemp flowers are stressed. So, the genetics you plant must be stable and well-adapted to resist stress.
To weigh the odds in your favor, choose varietals known to do well in your climate. Chose the best-adapted plants for your climate conditions and avoid, as much as possible, providing undue stress on your plants. That said, no system is perfect, so roguing (removing male plants) will still need to be part of your management plan. However, if you start with properly produced feminized seeds, it should be a relatively straightforward process with very few problem “hermies” to cause more workload.
Colorado Breeder’s Depot is an experienced breeder of the premiere, high cannabinoid hemp seeds. We sell proven seed to growers around the country. We also can help teach you how to feminize your own seed! Check out our website for our latest premiere varietals available or give us a call and we can talk services. www.coloradobreedersdepot.com