Strains Limited— Strains, for short — is situated about an hour north of Toronto. It may look like any other farm in the area, but as you approach, you may detect a pungent, earthy waft of cannabis in the air.
Unassuming from the outside, this state-of-the-art facility is a high-tech operation. The water, temperature, humidity and lighting are all meticulously monitored to dial in the ideal growing conditions for flavourful, terpene-rich flowers.
Strains began as a passion project. Master grower Andrew Maharaj joined the team early on — one of the founders, Kun Kar, was a childhood friend.
In its first days, Strains focused on processing hash and other concentrates, building a reputation in the legacy market for interesting cultivars and valuing quality over quantity. While its methods today may be more sophisticated, its core values remain unchanged.
As you might expect from a cannabis brand called Strains, unique genetics are a point of pride. Their in-house pheno-hunting ensures they deliver only exceptional products. “We select our cultivars first on taste and [sensation]. From there, we run them again multiple times to find the best environment for them to grow and express their full potential,” explains Maharaj.
After watching how well the plants grow throughout their life cycle, Maharaj decides which strains will make the final cut. “What sets us apart is that, if a strain grows finicky, doesn’t yield well or doesn’t have the highest potency, we still see value in it [if consuming it is a] great experience. That’s really what makes it high-grade.”
Two of Strains’ most popular offerings are Varnish Vapor and Runtz. The two strains are in production full-time to keep up with demand, though Maharaj notes they are only two cultivars in a genetic library of more than 100 exclusive varietals from the largest breeders in the world, with a few other strains on standby, waiting to be swapped in.
The limited space of Strains’ facility forces them to be selective about which cultivars to grow at a time. Having recently acquired a research and development license, they’re looking to try out some new strains soon, and to expand the operation. “We’re working with other growers, seeing if they can grow some of our genetics,” says Maharaj.
Terpenes and taste > THC
Cleanliness and a consistent climate are important for all growers, especially when you care about terpenes and taste as much as Maharaj does. “A lot of terpenes evaporate quickly,” he explains. Maharaj uses a dry-curing process, keeping the growing climate cool but not too dry so the taste of each strain is preserved. “We found that this helps us have the cleanest taste and burn possible.”
In the growing room, plants are kept at the same height to ensure they have equal access to light. Different microclimates emerge at different heights and that can affect the flavour. Because Strains doesn’t use pesticides, it focuses on prevention, protecting the plants with beneficial insects, like pirate bugs and predatory mites (Orius insidiosus, Neoseiulus californicus and Amblyseius swirskii) that naturally control potential threats.
It's a decidedly advanced operation for the former legacy grower, who has expanded his knowledge and expertise since legalization. “Honestly, I came from a world of watering cans and backyard hoses,” says Maharaj.
“When I first walked in here, it was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to use the computer or any of the equipment,” he says. Unlike in the legacy market, where it was always a bit of a mystery how his plants would be doing each morning, Maharaj can now remotely control the temperature and humidity of any room so it’s consistent from corner to corner. “I can do all this from home,” he says, looking over a monitor, “but I like to come in because there are still some things we do by hand, like watering the mother plants.”
It’s this hands-on approach and commitment to terpenes over THC that defines Strains. “I care more about having an enjoyable smoke,” Maharaj says. “It’s not just about the THC.”
His interest in cannabis is long-standing, sparked by a 1990s David Suzuki documentary about the medical potential of cannabis. in the 90s and recalls this as a pivotal moment for his future. Maharaj speaks about his love for the industry saying: “I love being a part of growing a living thing especially when I see how that living thing can help people.”