One of my favourite things about growing cannabis is pheno hunting. It is amazing to me how there are so many variations just waiting to be found.
Every strain that you start from seed will show slight differences resembling their parents. Just like you and your brother/sister are similar but not exactly the same. We are constantly looking for the next best flavor and it isn’t easy finding something new. Some people never even realized they had something special because they didn’t know what they were looking for.
Every strain has something unique to offer, whether it be the terpene profile, the resin content or the medicinal properties it carries. You have to really know what you are looking for and it takes a lot of experience to find a true keeper. Over the years we have grown hundreds of different strains and have seen thousands of pheno variations.
One of the first things we do before pheno hunting is figure out a game plan of what we are looking for exactly. Do we want the highest terpene pheno? The biggest yielding plant? Or, are we looking for a hash producing strain? All of these variables come into play with the genetic make-up of a certain plant. Some strains have very high terpene levels but do not produce the type of trichome needed for hash making.
While other strains can be completely covered in resin and great for washing, but it hardly has any terpenes. This is what makes pheno hunting fun because you get to find your favorite variation of a strain and keep what works for you. There is no wrong choice when pheno hunting because everyone has their own preference so it comes down to what you like. When we are looking for a new flavor we germinate anywhere between 10 to 100 seeds of one strain.
We begin taking notes on growth patterns from the very first days of veg. We are looking for vigorous growing plants with great structure. Because we are mainly outdoor growers we like working with plants that can thrive in the natural elements. Another technique we like to use is the stem rub. Even before plants show their sex you can start getting a smell from rubbing the main stalk of the plant.
This can be very useful when searching for male plants. This technique doesn’t work with every strain but you can sometimes express the terpene characteristics by simply rubbing the stem. As the plants continue growing we keep an eye on indica and sativa dominance.
Depending on what strain you are working with, you need to think about what will work best in your climate. If you are in a location that tends to become more humid you might want to look for a sativa-dominant pheno to avoid problems with molding. If you are growing in a dry climate you can get away with some of the thicker indica-style plants without worrying about mildew.
As these seeds begin to grow into full sized plants we can really start to see their growth formation. We are not just looking for the biggest growing plant. We want to find the perfect plant. Leaf to bud ratio, plant strength, and flower time all need to be considered when making your pick.
As they begin their transition into flower this is when pheno hunting starts to get more complicated. If you are on the search for explosive terpenes and extreme flavor you should be able to narrow down the search pretty easy. Keep in mind these aromas can change after picking and some flavors you thought would carry over might not pack the punch you expected.
This is why when you are pheno hunting you should always take clones of not only your top pick, but maybe even your top five just to be safe. Some flavors can shine a lot more once the flower is dried and it could have snuck right by you when it was growing.
Testing is when you can really dial in what you have. Just by the looks and smell you will never be able to know what kind of medicinal properties a strain has. With testing you can find out exactly what each pheno has to offer. Total active cannabinoids and types of terpenes all work differently depending on how they are combined.
This is how you can really dial in on your pheno hunt and find unique strains that can be very beneficial for patients. Cannabis plants not only grow and smell differently, but each strain produces unique resin glands. It takes a highly experienced grower to see the variations of trichome production. When using a microscope, you can see the difference between resin formation and begin to notice what separates them.
You can also touch these resin glands and get a feel for the different textures each pheno has. Gently slide your finger on the underside of a bud and rub it on your thumb. Do your fingers stick together? Are they slick and slimy? Depending on what you are looking for this is another key factor when choosing a pheno.
Resin that tends to be very slick usually does not make the best hash but can produce high terpenes. When your fingers stick together and the resin feels strong and sandy that is what we look for when we want a hash producing strain.
One of the final traits we search for in a new strain is its ability to fight off problems. Some plants are prone to attract bugs so we look for strong phenos that can fight off unwanted predators and also stay mold resistant through rainy weather. Throughout our years of growing we have been very lucky in finding special strains with unique traits.
I remember talking with Frenchy Cannoli one day and he said to us, “You guys aren’t finding these phenos, they are finding you”. We were all laughing about it because it was so true. We have so much love for this plant and we respect it so much. We like to think the ganja gods bless us with these special phenos.
Speaking with growers like Mark from Greenshock Farms, Tony Mendo and Green R Fieldz from Terp Hogz we have soaked up a lot of game about unique genetics. Strains like Tropical Sleigh Ride and Zkittlez have been in the works for many years and it took a lot of work to bring them to life. Pheno hunting has been one of the most important things when creating the best cannabis. Random strains are not just thrown together to breed with, it takes the best of both worlds to make something that is the next level.
That is why growers have spent years pheno hunting unique males for special breeding projects. Just like female plants, male plants also have different characteristics and traits. Finding special male phenos can be even harder due to the fact that you will never see a beautiful resin-covered flower, you’re making your choice based on structure, smell and pollen production.
As the cannabis culture evolves and we are learning more about this plant, pheno hunting is becoming bigger and bigger. Back in the day we never thought about keeping a plant alive, if it was something special we were just happy to smoke it and try to make it last. Let’s just say we lost some very special keepers along the way. Pheno hunting is very important in making your farm stand out from the rest. You can give 10 farmers the same genetic in seed form and they will all have something slightly different.
However, if you give them all the same clones then everyone has the same weed. We all enjoy varieties and that is what makes growing from seed fun. Unique one-of-a-kind pheno types have been found in certain strains and they have been some of the most sought-after flowers. One of our good friends OG Steve is an example of having great success when pheno hunting. OG Steve was able to find one of the best phenos of Purple Tangie anyone has ever seen and he has won countless competitions with this unique find.
Many people searched but nobody could find one that was better. Another important reason for pheno hunting is the ability to preserve a strain. Many breeders only release a limited amount of seeds and they will never be created again so finding a special pheno from that batch is key to keeping its name alive. Here are 5 tips for pheno hunting.
Step 1: Plant structure. Look for something that grows strong and good in your environment.
Step 2: Terpene profile.
Try to find something that has a distinct or unique smell and taste.
Step 3: Mold/bug resistant. You want to make sure this strain does not easily mold or attract un-wanted pests.
Step 4: Overall looks. If it is truly a winner then it should look like one.
Step 5: Testing. How the flower smokes and what are the affects. I definitely recommend sending in a sample to gather test results for THC and CBD as well as what terpenes are present. This is how you find out if your pheno hunt was truly worth it.
Every strain has something special, but it is up to the growers to find those hidden gems. We are constantly raising the bar when it comes to boutique cannabis and that is done by finding the best pheno any one strain has to offer. Now that breeders have access to so many great genetics and have learned over the years what really works well together, they are introducing entirely new lines for connoisseur growers to pheno hunt.
Now high terpene strains are being crossed with hash strains so we are able to enjoy that amazing flavor in a concentrate form. Whether you are growing for personal or commercial use is it important to have your own unique flavor. There is a pheno out there for everyone, but it is up to you to find which one you like the most.
Written and Published By Mendo Dope In Weed World Magazine Issue 144