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What Are Cannabis Nurseries?

Explore how cannabis nurseries across Canada produce seeds and clones, from their genetic selection processes to how they set up for optimal results.

The right starting materials are crucial to the success of any cannabis grow, which is where nurseries come in. Cannabis nurseries provide starting genetics in the form of seeds or clones, usually to Licensed Producers, but some companies produce seeds for home growers as well. These seeds and clones significantly influence what consumers see on cannabis store shelves.

What are cannabis nurseries?

In the legal cannabis market, nurseries are licensed to supply their genetic library to other commercial growers or to use it in their own licensed production facilities.

A nursery licence is similar to a cultivation licence: Nurseries can grow flower, but they can’t sell it. The buds must be destroyed after the seeds are harvested. Consumers aren’t missing out, though, since seeded flower doesn’t make for an enjoyable product.

Nurseries specialize in pheno-hunting and cloning. Pheno-hunting is when the most desirable characteristics in a strain are discovered, refined, and then grown as seeds for commercial production. The plants are grown to the flower stage but with a focus on maximum seed production.

Cloning takes a cutting (usually a branch) from a female plant — known as the mother — to create a new plant. This mother plant is kept in an immature, or vegetative, state and never grows to the flowering stage. This process eliminates the risk of growing non-flowering, male plants. Cloning is also an efficient and consistent way to produce hardier plants since they have already passed the fragile germination stage.

To find out more about how cannabis nurseries operate, we chatted with three nurseries about their genetic selection processes, how they set up for optimal results, and what the future could look like.

Pure Sunfarms

Known for their classic strain selection and affordable options, Pure Sunfarms currently has two nurseries in Delta, B.C., which house their 2,800 mother plants. Each mother is hand-selected based on her health and ability to thrive in the greenhouse. This means ensuring healthy roots that are free of any pests or pathogens.

Photo courtesy of Pure Sunfarms

Rob Baldwin, Vice President of Cultivation and Greenhouse operations at Pure Sunfarms explains the rest of their set-up, “The rooms are kept in a perpetual state of spring/summer, which means the mothers are getting 18 hours of sunlight and six hours of darkness every day. These environmental conditions discourage reproduction, also known as flowering, which is what allows us to continue cloning our mother plants time and time again, to give our consumers that consistent, flavourful bud they know and love.”

“Our nursery is not only a special place in our greenhouse but also an essential part of our growing process, [...] directly supplying and supporting our large-scale production.”

Rob Baldwin, VP of Cultivation and Greenhouse Operations at Pure Sunfarms

From there, Pure Sunfarms takes their clone cuttings from a mother plant that they believe will be able to maintain the consistency and potency their customers rely on. These cuttings are rooted, hand-planted, then moved to their rooting room, which keeps humidity levels at a balmy 90%. The team’s meticulous process goes further to include nourishing each plant with filtered rainwater and house-made plant food. To prepare the cuttings for one of their 16 flowering rooms, the team discusses how and when to appropriately space the plants so they can gently acclimatize to the new environmental conditions. Of course, each cultivar has its unique needs, so every step is individually tailored to help each strain grow to its potential.

Mother Labs

Located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Mother Labs is a cannabis nursery and genetics development company. Their 35,000-square-foot facility is the only one of its kind in Canada, and it's there that over 150 active production cultivars are cared for by a dedicated team. Some of their favourite cultivars include JMO, First Class Funk, Donny Burger, Grape Galena, Ice Cream Cake and Black Cherry Punch #2.

Photo courtesy of Mother Labs

For Brian Bain, CEO and Co-Founder, Mother Labs is more than just a nursery — “We are genetics specialists, breeders, cultivators and scientists dedicated to providing premium quality and unique cannabis.”

With nearly 20 years of experience in cannabis cultivation, Bain describes himself as “an avid cannabis consumer and a picky one at that,” which has helped him build the strong team he has today, as well as influence his company and product strategy.

“With their high-tech tissue culture lab of over 1,000 genetic varieties, they’re able to offer heavily vetted and exclusive cultivars.”

– Brian Bain, CEO and Co-Founder of Mother Labs

When it comes to selecting and breeding new genetics, Mother Labs first uses future profile targets and market projections. From there, the team goes through a discovery process that Bain says, “involves a systematic grading process that evaluates genetics from the earliest stages of growth, tracking traits such as germination rates, rooting times and feeding habits.”

They also evaluate how the plant will thrive in both vegetation and flowering, noting hardiness and sensitivities that are added to detailed datasets. Two rounds of rigorous testing are done for each cultivar, to identify any further pathogens or viruses as well as to determine its potency and to analyze its terpenes. Finally, Mother Labs runs outdoor testing every summer to ensure the plant’s vitality for outdoor producers.

Photo courtesy of Mother Labs

Mother Labs hopes to continue to be a major industry problem-solver. With their high-tech tissue culture lab of over 1,000 genetic varieties, they’re able to offer heavily vetted and exclusive cultivars. “One major challenge for cultivators is finding top-tier genetics that perform well in their specific environment and/or with their inputs,” Bain explains. “When a cultivator specifies a new listing as ‘exclusive from Mother,’ [they] know that the cultivator has a unique genetic that has been bred in-house at Mother Labs and has only been offered to a single producer in Canada. We only choose the best cultivars and work hard to bring unique experiences to consumers.”

Rubicon Organics

The in-house nursery is the foundation of Rubicon’s operation. It’s where they set the plants up for a healthy and successful future for their brands Simply Bare and 1964, and this crucial young age is where they do some of their most important crop work. “We select healthy shoots and encourage the plant to take on the shape and develop a branch structure that will provide the highest quality flower when the plants are fully grown,” says Marvuglia.

Photo courtesy of Rubicon Organics

“This is done by selectively cutting vegetation lower down on the stem, to optimize growth in the top regions of the plants. We also tailor our crop work to what we know about the genetics and behaviour of each cultivar. [This includes] using high humidity, moderate light levels and a very stable temperature to encourage root growth.”

“The nursery is also where we house our genetic library. All our moms and clones are kept safe and warm while we undergo genetic trials and testing...”

– Antonio Marvuglia, Greenhouse Manager at Rubicon Organics

Each brand has a different vision and therefore needs its own genetic selection process. For Simply Bare, the focus is on selecting rare and unique cultivars. They gravitate towards whatever is new to the legal market, particularly seeking out “diversified aromas and flavours.” 1964, on the other hand, is all about “finding those legacy cultivars people remember smoking back in the day,” says Marvuglia. The nostalgia they create through their cultivar selection is why they feel the brand resonates so well with consumers.

Photo courtesy of Rubicon Organics

Once genetics are selected for each brand, the trials begin. This step is crucial in the sourcing process, as it will reveal how a plant thrives (or struggles) in their hybrid greenhouse facility. A cultivar is subjected to about three to four trial runs before the team can decide whether to move forward with it. With each of these trial runs, a new set of data is collected, and by the end of the trial period, the team has a solid understanding of how to scale it for commercial production.

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