Marijuana Tissue Culture - Is it worth it?
With the entry of big money into the marijuana industry, methods and priorities are changing. The traditional setup of warehouse-turned-grow-op is evolving into large-scale super professional cultivation buildings which spare no expense in creating the most productive and high-tech facilities imaginable.
Marijuana propagation has traditionally been done through a method technically known as vegetative propagation- a process by which branches are taken off of good quality female "mother" plants and placed in conditions that support the emergence of new roots. This is a fairly straight forward process that can multiply the number of available marijuana plants exponentially.
Tissue culture, on the other hand, is more difficult. This is mainly due to the necessity of a sterile environment. Proponents rightly claim some advantages to this method. For one, you can do it with a small piece of leaf matter, which is admittedly very cool. Another major advantage is that the culturing process removes all bacterial and viral illnesses that might have existed previously in the plant. Third, the genetic condition of the strain is 100% retained, whereas vegetative propagation possibly allows for tiny amounts of mutation over time, although the changes are not often significant. Last, tissue cultured cannabis, once you are set up for it, can be done with less space and energy.
You might notice from some casual web searches on marijuana tissue culture that hardly anyone is really doing it, and very few people can prove that they have succeeded with it. Except for the retention of genetic lines, few people would be motivated to set up a tissue culture environment when it's not necessary since vegetative propagation is a much simpler and more guaranteed method, and it's also highly productive in a small amount of space.
Again, the necessity of sterility is the key factor here. Even a microscopic amount of bacteria or fungus in the air can infect and ruin your culture, which is the most likely fate for home hobbyists. If some of your specimens do manage to avoid infection, then it can take a few weeks to turn them into plants, which is another turn-off for traditional propagators, who are accustomed to waiting only 6-10 days for new plants.
Given the challenges involved with cannabis tissue culturing, it is a method that is most likely best left to well financed cannabis companies who are focused on genetics and strain libraries more so than wholesale and retail marijuana plant distribution.
Some people get lucky with their clone endeavors and have just the right circumstances to get good roots on the first try. The same thing can happen with flowering- everything goes well a couple times, and I must be an expert, right? Hey, if you've got a system that works, that's great! It's even more great if you know why it works. Otherwise, an accidental change in your setup will throw you for a loop that might be hard to recover from.
When cloning marijuana plants, it's important to have a very controlled environment, which means good air conditioning, thermostats, heat mats, and measuring instruments. Then, you can maintain your settings within a certain range at all times. If, for example, your clone room temperature had a range of more than 10 degrees from day to night or season to season, you'd probably run into some consistency problems with your rooting and cannabis clone health.
For small-scale operations, you don't need to be great at cloning to have success- you just have to cut a lot more clones than you need. Some will root and some won't, but you'll get enough. Also, with small-scale setups, clone machines can be used. These are essentially little enclosed hydroponic units that maintain good consistency of humidity, oxygen, and moisture in the medium during the incubation process.
For large-scale operations, any loss or slow down in production means less company income, and that needs to get fixed. Many possible little tweaks can be made to the system in order to improve it. Even something as minute as using a level to balance your incubating clone trays, so water doesn't move downhill and distribute itself unevenly, can make a difference.
Start by getting your ambient room temperature set for the smallest 24-hour range possible. Then, do the same with your heat mat thermostats. After that, it's all about water balance, including the humidity inside the propagation dome and the moisture of the medium that holds the cuttings. All of these properties are the most critical for success.
You can learn how to clone cannabis by paying attention to and controlling these things, plus doing experiments of your own, and over time, your success rate will keep getting higher. Just stay with it, and measure as many things as possible.
And you need any help, just ask ;)
Jennifer Martin is a pioneer in American cannabis cloning. Having supplied Bay Area marijuana dispensaries since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996, she helped bring over 2 million marijuana plants into the world. She also won the 1998 San Francisco Bay Area Cannabis Cup with the strain Bubbleberry, by a 32-point spread on a scale of 200. Jennifer lived in Amsterdam in the mid 90's and learned all about the industry and world-class cannabis products.