The evolution of autoflowering genetics

Soft Secrets
10 May 2016

One of the biggest stories in recent cannabis evolution has been the arrival of the latest high performance autoflowering cannabis varieties. The best auto genetics from the premium breeders now routinely out-yield photoperiod varieties grown over the same timescales. And potency of the best autos has been the same as photoperiod varieties for several years. The evolution and progress of autos to the top table of the cannabis world has been nothing short of dramatic. And what makes it a bigger surprise is the fact that very few people thought that autos would ever make it. So how did all this come about? And where are autos eventually heading in the long term?

1st generation autos. Proof of concept, but more work to do..

The first autos were brought to the mainstream by the Joint Doctor following his work in the 80’s and 90’s stabilising the genetics which would allow cannabis to bloom regardless of the light cycle.  Many refer to these pre-2005 genetics as the 1st generation autos. The Joint Doctor managed to bypass the fundamental rules of cannabis which stated that a plant would only bloom when daily light hours were reduced to around 12 hours. By allowing the auto cannabis plant to bloom under 20+ hours of daily light the plant would have a new photosynthetic advantage over photoperiod varieties. Biomass and bud production under 20 hours of daily light was of course much higher than that which would be possible under just 12 hours of daily light. But that was the theory. The only problem was that the first generation of autoflowering cannabis varieties lacked potency and yield, plants were often dwarf-like. For the short sighted breeders in the cannabis community that was proof positive that autos were incapable of mainstream success. But the rest of us saw something much more interesting, and work continued.

2nd generation autos. Almost there, but not quite. The 1st generation of autos showed a glimpse of the auto dream - blooming under 20 hours of daily light. It was a fantasy of most serious breeders.  One of the great ironies of cannabis breeding is that the light energy has to be cut dramatically in order to initiate bloom. Just when you want to be able to supply maximum energy to your plants, instead you have to reduce daily light to 12 hours.  But thanks to modern autoflowering genetics, cannabis can bloom in constant light. Now that the photo-gene had been bypassed the home grower could bathe their blooms in an extra 8+ hours of light per day. More light means more biomass, and continued refinements to the auto gene pool saw larger plants with improved potency and yield. Here is where some of the really hard work began as autos began to be crossed and back crossed to improve the overall genetic composition. There were varying levels of success, some of the seed banks were able to move the genetics along faster than the others. During this time different breeders experimented with different breeding techniques and tricks to push potency and yield. In Dutch Passion we refer to these as the 2nd generation autos which were mainly seen in the years from 2005 to 2010. Results were improved, the early adopters liked what they saw, but wanted more.

3rd generation autos. The wait was worth it.

The 3rd generation autos are those that we see from the premium seed banks today. The best auto home-growers routinely harvest 100-200g+ from their autos, and simply can’t distinguish between the potency of their autos and photoperiod varieties. An additional benefit of the best 3rd generation autos is that they can be grown under 24 hour light, at least that is true of the better seed banks. But a word of caution, there is still a large gap between the best seed banks (who offer genuine 3rd generation auto genetics) and the rest of the seed banks, many of whom are still struggling with inconsistencies in yield and potency. There are some great auto genetics out there, but that is only half the story, you also need the experience, know-how and techniques to be able to produce the seeds consistently.

Auto genetics for the home grower. Simply being able to match the potency of the best photoperiod varieties wouldn’t be enough to guarantee the acceptance of autos. It was the convenience and simplicity of autos which would be the real appeal to the average home grower. Many auto growers have forgotten the old concept of a bloom-phase and veg-phase of their home grows. There is no need for separate veg and bloom tents, many people just set their auto tent on a perpetual light cycle of 20 hours (or even 24 hours) of daily light.  You can pop a new auto seed into the tent every week or two and harvest a mature female from the same tent as they mature. It allows a constant stream of plants from just 1 grow room. The staggered harvesting possibilities gives you fresh cannabis on a regular basis with just a single tent, as well as minimising the numbers of mature plants. And all this extra convenience with heavier harvests and no loss of quality - its an attractive and simple way of growing which is gathering more and more fans.

Autos for outdoor growing.

Outdoor growers choose autos for an earlier harvest than is possible with photoperiod varieties.   Indoors, most autos grow from seed to harvest in 10-11 weeks. Outdoors, autos often take an extra couple of weeks if the temperatures (especially night temperatures) are cool. Many outdoor growers like to plant a crop of autos after the last frost, around the start of summer. Auto plants tend to stay around a metre tall outdoors, this makes them easier to hide than some of the 3 metre tall photoperiod monster varieties. And autos are the only real way to get a mid-summer cannabis harvest. Growers in mediterranean climates can grow 2 or 3 successive auto crops in Spring, Summer and Autumn. Its a great way of organising your home growing in a way that minimises plant numbers and provides cannabis harvests at various stages in the year.

What next for autos?

You can expect more initiatives and surprises from the breeders, though they may not want to talk too publicly about their plans. You can expect to see more CBD-rich auto varieties for medical growers. There will be autos that grow with unrecognisable leaf shapes that can be grown without anyone realising its cannabis. One dream is for an ‘ever-green’ auto, which would grow under 24-hour light and keep producing blooms for you to harvest almost indefinitely. Some of these ideas may be a few years away yet, but one thing we have learned is never under-estimate the ingenuity of the determined cannabis breeder. After all, as every cannabis grower already knows, rules are there to be broken.

Soft Secrets