Seeds Vs Clones: Two Master Growers Debate

In the end, what difference does the difference make?

Indica vs sativa. Pipe vs papers. Edibles vs smokables. For as long as we've possessed a thinking mind, pot smoking humans have disagreed on pretty much every important topic of the day. Any number of factors influence our opinions—demographics, community, friends. And our loyalty almost never sways...even after being presented with new thought and scientific evidence dismantling it.

Seeds vs clones is one dispute marijuana cultivators tend to pick sides on. Should you use seeds, which means a slower grow and higher yield, but risks growing male plants? Or choose a faster-growing clone proven to be female but susceptible to disease and pests? Some farmers reach their verdict through years of experiments and research. Others just learned one way from their mentors and stick with what works.

To get to the bottom of the debate about advantages and flaws of each technique, The KIND drew a line in the sand. On one side, we have Swerve. The self-proclaimed "Johnny Appleseed of Weed" from Cali Connection, Swerve favors the seed for sale and for producing. Across from him is The Dankery's Kris Fowlkes, a Colorado Springs dispensary owner with allegiance to the clone. 

Different means to similar ends. Let's see who makes a better argument for their art.

The KIND: First off: Experience. How Long have you guys been in the weed-growing game?

Swerve: 14 years professionally, 17 years total.

Kris Fowlkes: 16 years.

"I grew my first cannabis plant at 15 years old after three years of trimming and tending to plants with my grandfather."

The KIND: What method did you cut your THC teeth with? What made you choose to either stick with it or switch teams?

Swerve: I started the clone craze in 2004 with what was dubbed "Swerve's Cuts," but I wasn't able to keep up with demand. More people wanted popular genetics than I was able to keep up with; so around 2008, I decided the best way to supply the growing demand was to bring these strains into seed form. That way, I was able to generate thousands of seeds from one plant, which I felt was the best way to produce the largest quantity product in the shortest amount of time.

Kris Fowlkes: I grew my first cannabis plant at 15 years old after three years of trimming and tending to plants with my grandfather. We cultivated with seeds, since we were growing outside, but we did not have a facility to preserve mother plants over the winter in Colorado. Also, with the abundance of exotic genetics that have been developed locally in Colorado over the past few decades, it would have been impossible to replicate them using seeds.

Cannabis seeds via Flickr

The KIND: What goes into creating a special seed or clone?

Swerve: We take a male plant and flower him just like a female plant and use his pollen to pollinate target females to create regular seeds. Then, for feminized seeds, we reverse a pollen donor female and use that pollen to create feminized seeds. You grow the plant like you normally would; the only difference is that during the flowering stage you use a male plant to pollinate the female plant.

Kris Fowlkes: Our cloning process is rudimentary and uncomplicated. We focus on mother maintenance more than anything else. Five days prior to our mother plant being cloned, we feed her a potassium heavy nutrient mixture (a mild flowering nutrient mix is perfect). The higher levels of potassium in the mother plant passes into the tips of the plant that will be cloned, increasing the stability and rooting time of the cutting. We will take clones from all parts of the plant. Contrary to the popular belief that lower cuttings perform better than tops of the plant, we have never experienced a difference in the performance. When the mother is ready to be cloned, we prepare a tray of inert cloning plugs by soaking them in a willow water solution at a PH of 5.8. Once the plugs are thoroughly soaked we begin taking our cuttings from the mother. We have the most success taking 4" to 5" cuttings and stripping all nodes from cutting except for the top three. Once the cuttings have soaked in the willow water solution for about five minutes, we insert the cutting in the clone plugs. The plugs take an average of 6 to 10 days, depending on the strain, to develop enough roots to be transplanted into a new medium.

"I also believe clones have led to an explosion in the average quality of marijuana in the past three decades"

The KIND: What are some advantages to your style?

Swerve: The advantage of seeds to clones is the reduction of stress and illness. From seeds you will have no inherited issues like mildew and bugs that you do with clones. Also, outdoor growers prefer seeds. They feel you get a hardier plant. Some farmers also like to breed and cross their own stains. We give people that opportunity by offering regular seeds. Regular seeds are both male and female seeds. Many people also like to pheno hunt. With seeds you get that ability. Also, you can get a seed and not have to grow it right away. With a clone, you have to be ready to go. You can get a pack of seeds and wait a year or two to use them. This allows people to create a large seed library.

Kris Fowlkes: When we grew with seeds, we always experienced slight phenotype variations among the crop even in heavily stabilized crosses. Personally, these phenotype differences appeal to me, but in the dispensary we learned that patients wanted/needed a consistent flower that could help in the same fashion every time they used it. This spurred us to begin selecting our best phenotype from the strains we grew from and maintain that one expression of the strain so that our patients knew exactly what to expect every time they saw that strain. I also believe clones have led to an explosion in the average quality of marijuana in the past three decades; being able to trade and breed the best specimens without the hassle of propagating hundreds of seeds sped up the process substantially.

The KIND: And the disadvantages?

Swerve: The patience and learning from the beginning, and having to sex the plant. The amount of time it takes to grow from seed easily adds an extra four to sex weeks of growing time. Also, it's not as easy as just doing a clone. You have to take care of the seedlings a little bit more. It's delicate work to make sure a germinate seed is properly planted into a cube (or preferred growing medium). So if you have a seed, you have the ability to use that whenever you want.

Kris Fowlkes: The weaknesses of clones versus seeds are longer grows, a possible genetic drift, and no phenotype variation.

Tahoe OG via The Nug

The KIND: What's one of the top strains you make?

Swerve: If I had to choose, I would have to say our Purple Chem strain that's won two Cannabis Cups this year. Another is our CBD OG which is a 2:1 cbd/thc ratio and testing at about 22 to 24 percent CBD and 11 to 12 percent THC. Our popular hybrids are Tahoe OG, Larry OG, and Deadhead OG. People love these for their potency and yield. Blackwater is another favorite; I've seen outdoor plants that can birth 10 to15 pounds a plant.

Kris Fowlkes: Strawberry Cough is one of my all-time favorite strains from Colorado to grow. Nightmare OG—a proprietary cross of Blue Dream and Venom OG—is the most popular strain for our patients who buy clones from our store to grow their own medication. It is easy to grow with a bountiful yield and strong effect.

The KIND: Do you ever feel like you're "playing God"?

Swerve: Yes, since technically we are trying to control and manipulate mother nature. It's no easy task.

Kris Fowlkes: I have never felt like cloning a plant is "playing God." Instead, I feel as though I am facilitating a natural talent being displayed by a plant. The plant is intelligent enough to create roots to ensure its own survival. Without me cutting the clone, that talent may not get a chance to show itself.

TGA Genetics Chernobyl Medical Cannabis Sativa via Flickr

The KIND: What does the future hold for your both your style of cannabis cultivation and the industry in general?

Swerve: We will be seeing more DNA testing and tracking in the future. We will also see new seed strains as people keep breeding for desired genetics. The "white unicorn" right now is a super high CBD super low THC strain. The market will get larger as more states/countries legalize marijuana, and we will be there to fill that demand. For the general grower, both clone and seed options are needed. Seeds, though, are stable and can be transported over long distances without any major issues. Clones need to be treated with care. If they aren't watered enough, they will die.

Kris Fowlkes: Tissue culture might be argued as the future of cloning. At this point, it would be an irrelevant additional step instead of traditional cloning methods. I believe in the very near future that feminized seeds with surpass even clones in regards to commercial cultivation usage.

The KIND: Last question: As authorities on weed cultivation, are you able to recognize whether a bud comes from a clone or a seed?

Swerve: No. Similar to how you cannot tell by looking at a plant if it birthed from clones, seeds, or even tissue culture, there's no way to tell.

Kris Fowlkes: I have never been able to tell if a bud is from seed or clone, unless the phenotype of the strain is not the "normal" phenotype of that strain.