Autoflower Hemp Seeds: An Agricultural Wonder?

Published: February 23, 2022

Autoflowers, with their many appealing features, might just be the key to revolutionizing large-scale hemp cultivation.

The variety of strains on the hemp market has increased considerably over time. In order to consistently meet demands with supply, hemp experts have had to shift their focus to other seed types. As they progress even further, certain species of hemp have proven to be more than just a trend. 

PHOTOPERIOD VS. NON-PHOTOPERIOD PLANTS

It’s not just hype. Non-photoperiodic seeds (or day-neutral seeds) are the next big thing in the hemp industry. With a myriad of agro-benefits, they hold an edge over regular photoperiod plants.

Traditionally, all Cannabis sativa plants are photo-periodic plant species. Out in nature, they often start to bloom when the days get shorter towards the end of summer. However, some other cannabis forms stand out as non-photoperiodic types, blooming regardless of light conditions; hence the name, “autoflowers.”

WHAT ARE AUTOFLOWERING HEMP SEEDS

Autoflowering cannabis strains are a subspecies of C. ruderalis. Native to Central Asia, East Europe, and Russia, this species had to modify its genetics for survival in these colder regions.

Around the seventies and eighties , growers began experimenting with C. ruderalis crosses. It was not all that easy. They faced tremendous difficulties trying to create a stable and reliable cross. 

When they eventually broke through, the results were underwhelming. The product was substandard, aromas were lacking, and yields were low.

 Thanks to newer experiments with C. ruderalis, early concerns with its breeds have been addressed. Today, there is a blossoming market of autoflowering varieties for growers with specific needs.

CULTIVATING AUTOFLOWERING SEEDS

Autoflowering seeds are even more popular with inexperienced farmers and growers. Since they are easy to cultivate and provide favorable, distinctive features, they are the preferred choice of many new growers.

Growing Cycle

Autoflower hemp seeds are speed demons. Unlike regular hemp that takes up to 100 days (3 months) for maturation, these non-photoperiod flowers often surge to harvest in as little as 8-10 weeks. 

Light Schedule 

Their main USP is their relative non-dependence on light hours for their growth. These seeds do not rely on a change in the light cycle to enter or maintain their flowering stage. However, lots of nurturing light is needed to help them grow optimally . 

Most growers elect to follow the 18/6 light schedule (18 hours on and 6 hours off) during the entire growing cycle, while others prefer a 24-h light schedule. 

pH

Like other flowers, autoflowering hemp prefers a specific pH range for proper growth and nutrient absorption. This pH lies between 6.2 to 6.5 for outdoor soil and 5.5 to 6.1 for hydroponics. If these conditions are unmet, nutrient lockout will set in, and deficiencies will occur. 

Temperature 

Despite its ability to withstand colder climates, autoflower hemp does best in moderately warm temperatures of between 59°F to 77°F

  • At the seedling stage, optimal temperatures are between 68°F – 77°F and 65-70% humidity.
  • At the vegetative stage, optimal temperatures are between 71.6°F – 77°F and 40-70% humidity. 
  • At the flowering stage, optimal temperatures are between 64.4°F – 71.6°F and 40-50% humidity. 

Best Planting Time

One of the best perks of autoflowers is that they can grow almost all year round. So long as they are not exposed to excess frost or rain, these plants are good to grow. Although, by the rule of thumb, these seed types prefer long, dry, sunny days, like spring and late summer.    

Field Spacing 

Due to their relatively small size, autoflowering hemp takes up much less space than regular hemp flowers. The flowers, which range from 7 to 20 inches, do not spread out much either; so, about 15.7 inches between plants works best . 

Proper plant spacing prevents growth cycle problems like poor light penetration, plant shadowing, and lack of airflow.

Transplantation

Autoflowering hemp generally has a short life cycle, using all of its power to develop and mature buds as fast as possible. As a result, it does not do well with any stress/stressor (like transplantation) that might stall or stunt its growth. 

However, some growers transplant their flowers and still get a decent yield, but experiments have shown a transplanted flower would certainly look smaller and yield less than an untroubled one.

Nevertheless, if you are still considering transplanting, here are a few tips: 

  • Transplanting is best done before dark (periods without light exposure).
  • Ensure the soil is dry before taking out the plant.
  • Use the same soil/soilless medium and make sure to pre-soak the medium before transplanting.

These steps limit the stress on your plants and boost their chances of recovering and growing at full potential. 

Feeding Recipe 

With full-term plants, once flowering begins, the grower is advised to switch from vegetative, nitrogen-rich fertilizer to flowering, phosphorus-rich bloom formulas. 

With autos, vegetative and nitrogen-rich recipes are best continued until week 6-7, well after they have begun their flowering phase. This helps to maximize canopy growth as they put on flowering sites and bulk up. 

Starting a bloom diet helps to maximize flower yield and cannabinoid potential. All in all, it is crucial to always keep in mind that these flowers complete their entire cycle in 70-80 days, so using slow-release nutrients might not be appropriate. 

Note: Planting autoflowers next to full-term plants will not cause the full-terms to flower early. The difference in the flowering mechanisms of these two species lies in their genetic compositions.

IS CLONING AN OPTION?

It is highly possible to clone autoflowering hemp, but the effort is not always worth it. While the process is quite easy, yields from clones are always underwhelming. However, cloning is done by simply taking a small branch from the mother plant and letting it sprout under a 24-h light cycle. 

Can Autoflower Hemp be Feminized?

Most certainly. Just like photoperiod breeds, autoflowers can be feminized

PROS OF AUTO-FLOWERING SEEDS

There are many benefits to cultivating these seed types. In an increasingly competitive industry where efficiency is proportional to profitability, autoflowering hemp seeds can give the required edge to stay above the market. Some of its unique features include:

Speedy Growing Cycle: Autoflowering varieties are F1 crops. With a brief vegetative phase and a fast flowering stage, growers seeking prompt gratification and a year-long revenue stream can take advantage. Plus, as soon as harvest nears, growers can initiate another planting season. 

High Resilience: With origins from the ruderalis species, autoflower varieties boast strong, sturdy, and resilient genetics. Most autoflowers can fend for themselves and are well-forgiving with beginner errors. They are highly suitable for novice growers and have comparatively low nutritional requirements. 

Resistance to Pests: Pests and Insects are a farmer’s worst enemies. With autoflowers, these miscreants have no time to do much harm. Some varieties of these flowers are even known to show strong resistance against mold and pests. Nevertheless, going organic with insecticidal soaps and neem oil is a good bet against insect infestations. 

Optimized Water Usage: With autoflowers being much smaller than regular flowers, they have a much smaller root system and so take up less water than the larger photoperiodic plants. This flower type also enjoys much lighter soil for better aeration and drainage. Moreover, a lighter water schedule will reduce the risk of mold growth. 

CONS OF AUTOFLOWERING SEEDS

Despite all its impressive qualities, autoflowering hemp has a few inescapable flaws. Some of which include:

Lower Yield: The original autoflowering hemp plants had lower quality and quantity yield. Some believed this was because they were just being grown for  stealth and speed. However, thanks to modern breeding techniques, genetic modifications have helped to improve the breed and autohemp can produce flowers with prominently high yields and quality. since they produce smaller flowers, they would not yield as much as standard hemp plants with bigger flowers. 

No Time for Recovery: The short life span of autoflowering hemp makes them less forgiving of stressors. With regular hemp, growth stalls help manage high stress levels. However, day-neutral hemp does not have this luxury and will bloom regardless. This is one of the main reasons that it’s advisable to plant autos in their permanent spots to avoid transplant shocks.

BIG QUESTION: WHAT POTENTIAL DO AUTOS HAVE IN CANNABINOID PRODUCTION

The quantities of CBD will primarily depend on the auto flowers’ variety. Initial autoflowers had lower cannabinoid content than regular flowers, but that has changed now. Today, auto flowers are ranking high on the cannabinoid production chart. 

For CBD-seeking growers, here is some welcome news –  there are auto hemp varieties  hitting 30:1 CBD to THC ratio while remaining compliant. Still, it is pertinent to know and understand your flowers/varieties to optimize each harvest. 

Author: Deborah Agboola, Content Editor at Mariposa Technology

About Mariposa Technology

Putting Power & Profits Into The Farmer’s Hands

At Mariposa Technology, we are developing a revolutionary protocol for rapid, in-field testing of industrial and pharmacological hemp. By utilizing a handheld Raman Spectroscopy device, paired with our proprietary database, we will provide affordable, accurate and immediate test results. Our technology will bring the power of self-testing to farmers at a fraction of the price of traditional laboratory testing while also guaranteeing their digital farming experience optimizes their profits. Moreover, our technology will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the hemp industry at large.

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