Mr. José / [email protected]
The fact that selling clones is legal in Austria is old news. The market is legal thanks to the law that allows growing cannabis until the point when it starts flowering. In the last decade the clone market has expanded and changed a lot. So, I went on a trip to Austria to see how clones are grown on a large scale today.
I went straight to Brunn am Gebirge. This little town is very close to Vienna. Here, I had arranged a meeting with Alex, the owner of Flowery Field, which is the biggest cannabis clone producer in Austria. I have been here once several years ago and I was excited to find out about the developments in production since then. I was most intrigued by cloning based on the technique of tissue culturing. Thanks to this method producers can get hundreds of clones from a single mother plant and then grow them in very limited spaces. And there’s more. I’ll let Alex himself introduce the other advantages of tissue culturing.
Could you introduce your company Flowery Field to our readers?
Flowery Field is a clone producing company. We started out in 2004 with a small shop in Vienna. Today, we have six shops all over Austria; three of those are in Vienna, and then there’s one in Upper Austria, one in Lower Austria, and one in Carinthia. So we have grown quite a bit over the years. At the moment we employ about 45 people and produce around 25,000 clones a week.
And how many mother plants do you have?
I can’t quite recall the exact number. I can tell you it’s in the thousands, though. We plant around 9 mother plants on a square metre, and we have roughly 300 square metres at our disposal.
How many strains do you have in your selection?
Around one hundred. The number changes regularly. Each year we add new strains to our selection, while removing some old ones. Another our advantage is that some of our strains only exist as clones and you can’t buy their seeds to grow them yourself.
And I assume you grow your mother plants from seeds?
Yes. Well, most of them; mother plants for strains that exist exclusively as clones must naturally be grown from clones as well. But we prefer growing mothers from seeds. The issue here is the quality of the clones we are given or buy. The differences in quality between individual clones are huge. Some clones are infested with pests, others carry various viruses or suffer from other inadequacies which we simply can’t afford to have spreading among our plants. Whenever we bring in new clones from other producers or friends, we place them in a special room where they’re kept for six months at least. During that time we’re able to get rid of all potential pests or diseases. After these six months, we regularly come to decision that the plant simply isn’t good enough.
While the plants are in quarantine we also have enough time to develop an ideal growing medium for their tissue culturing. You see, each strain is different and requires different composition of the agar medium. During these six months we can create an optimal substance.
Do you use feminized seeds to grow mother plants? Personally, my experience with this method isn’t great and I prefer growing mothers from regular seeds.
What’s your take?
We only use regular seeds. Feminized seeds aren’t used to grow mother plants here. To be honest, this attitude puts us in a difficult situation. It’s not easy to obtain certain top quality strainsy. Then there are other issues. For example, we had this supplier from the US who produced fantastic seeds. But he found himself in the DEA’s crosshair and had to quit. Or, sometimes the seeds we buy give us really weird plants. Like recently – we had this plant kind of growing out of another plant’s stem. Leaf shapes can also be incredibly strange. Or, one batch of seeds can give us several completely different types of plants… I could go on. Simply put, we have to get high quality seeds to grow mother plants and that can be quite a challenge. Recently, though, we managed to grow an exquisite mother of Cookies and Cream with some 25 % THC and only 0.1 % CBD. It has a greater number of smaller buds and bigger internodal spaces. It’s a great plant. We also try to keep older, stable strains. We have, among others, classic seeds from Shantibaba and other skilled cultivators.
I know it can actually be quite challenging to get classic regular seeds. I only know a handful of seed banks that offer them…
Yes, it is a big problem. In most cases, you need to know people in the seedbanks personally to get your hands on classic regular seeds.
Do you also grow clones or seedlings of autoflowering strains? I know they are available on the market.
We do not grow them or sell them. Selling seedlings grown from seeds is very popular. However, it’s only legal to grow cannabis in Austria up until the point when it starts producing flowers. With the classic strains I can guarantee that, as long as the customer keeps the light cycle prescribed for the phase of growth, the plant will never flower. With autoflowering strains, there is no such guarantee, so we do not have them on offer.
What about CBD strains?
We do sell a few CBD strains, but it’s not really our thing. CBD strains are problematic now, too. Some Austrian growshops and headshops started selling flowers of CBD strains with less than 0.2% THC content. Still, there is some THC, and authorities do not like that. Once this product appeared in the shops, authorities became suspicious, and we had police calling at the door three times a week. The thing is, after ingesting CBD strains, the THC content in one’s urine may go over 25 nanograms per millilitre. If you were to drive with this THC level, it would be considered an offence in this country, since Austria practices zero tolerance. The police would take your driver’s licence away and you would have to pay a fine € 1,000. If they fine 20–30 people a day, it’s good money for the state. The Austrian cannabis industry is developing too fast. The state decided it’s out of control and they want to prohibit it.
You mean regulate, right?
Wrong. If they wanted to regulate it, that would be good. But they basically want to destroy it. It’s possible that, in a few months, clone and seed sales will be prohibited.
Let’s go back to growing. How do you keep mother plants vital? How long does it take, in your opinion, before a mother must be replaced?
There are several factors affecting plant’s vitality. If you cut clones off a mother each two weeks, the plant won’t last more than a year. Its productivity declines substantially with time. If you replant it on regular basis, though, each time into a bigger flowerpot, you can prevent decline in productivity. Root vitality is the key here. You can enhance that through the replanting. But here’s the problem – the bigger the plant, the more difficult it becomes to cut clones off it. The plant needs more space, you need a ladder to cut the clones, etc. The way we did it before was we took the nicest clones from one mother plant and grew a new one from them. Today we multiply mothers in our tissue culturing lab, where we grow truly healthy and strong mother plants from meristems with no pathogens whatsoever. This renewal process takes six to eight months to complete.
What are the biggest advantages of tissue culturing for you as a producer? And what is the advantage for me as a grower, when I buy your lab clones instead of the regular ones?
For a producer, the advantage lies in the fact that we need less room for the clones. For example, we can have 50,000 plants on mere 30 square metres. In regular cloning, you need much more room. This further means that we can save energy as well as money on both rent and manpower. It is fair to say that tissue culturing is at the core of every big plant production today – and I mean in all branches of growing. The necessary equipment is very expensive, of course. I spent a fortune on the lab and creating sterile environment in the cultivation chamber.
For growers, there are many advantages, too. The growth is quicker, the plants are more vital, have denser structure, and therefore provide better harvests. It’s just like growing plants from seeds, only it doesn’t take so long. Another advantage is that the plants are completely healthy and clean, with no pathogens or viruses, and they are more vital and grow faster. As long as you grow them in clean environment, you don’t need pesticides. Tissue culturing is also widely used for growing medical cannabis. And the demand increases among everyday growers, too. Thanks to the energy and space savings, tissue culturing enables producers to lower the prices of clones. We are currently setting up a production facility in Italy, where our total savings should ensure notably lower prices. I imagine the final price for the end customer could be as low as € 1 per clone. I think this is great news for growers.
What lights do you use when growing mother plants?
We use plasma lamps for their enhanced UV-A and UV-B rays, which pretty much eradicates the risk of fungal diseases. The best thing to do is to combine plasma and ceramic halogen lamps. It’s really expensive, though. Plus, there is a problem with plasma lights that the body with the discharge inside does not last very long. This makes the production process much more expensive than it should be.
What we talked about next was not really about growing, so I will end the transcript here. But before I say goodbye, I want to briefly describe tissue culturing, which I think could be of interest not only to home growers. It all comes down to utilizing the removal of meristem from a plant. Meristem can be found in the stems of side branches, plant tops, etc. This part of the plant is then disinfected and cut into bits in sterile environment. The cuts range from one to couple millimetres in size. They are then transplanted into a special growing medium, also sterile, which looks like gel. A brand new plant is then grown from the meristem. The freshly grown plant is completely free of any pathogens and has identical characteristics as the meristem source plant. To put it bluntly: a small branch is removed from the mother plant, pre-selected sections of it are cut into small bits, and, finally, these cuttings are planted into the aforementioned growing medium. Unfortunately for home growers, it is very difficult to achieve the necessary sterility at home. If any pathogens were to make into the medium, e.g. a mould spore, it would quickly start spreading through the medium and probably attack or devour the plant.
And that’s all. See you next time right here on the pages of Soft Secrets.