Story and photos by Subcool
The following note sets are from renowned cannabis breeder and medical grower Subcool and include background and descriptions on some of the world’s top strains, including Apollo 13 (BX), Vortex and Black Russian (which has disappeared). Vortex took home first place in the Sativa category at the HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup in San Francisco this past June.
The story of Apollo 13 begins with the Brothers Grimm, cannabis breeders who were only around a short time but had a huge impact on my cannabis collection and genetics stock. One of their pre-eminent strain creations was the fabled Apollo 13, and it is without a doubt one of my all-time favorites. Never mind the fact that she produced some of the best red-colored bubble hash ever made, or that her buds have amazing potency – her best quality may very well be the genetics locked inside, which produce extraordinary hybrids when used in breeding projects!
I have written extensively on the history of Apollo 13, but just in case you’re unfamiliar with the strain, allow me to cover some basic facts. Apollo 13 is a cross between Genius and P-75, two strains created by the Brothers Grimm. I grew Genius about eight years ago, at the same time I was growing Apollo 13, and I actually let that cutting go because of her small yields. Back then, I was much more concerned with yield over quality, but I regret that now, as Genius (an Apollo 11 phenotype) was my second-favorite smoke – and considering that Apollo is still one of my favorites to this day, I’m sure that Genius would have been as well.
Only 500 Apollo 13 seeds were ever produced, so it was rare to begin with – and then, out that small gene pool, only three cuttings that I’m aware of survive to this day from the original stock. We were lucky enough to have saved not only two packs of seeds, but also to acquire one of the prized female cuttings from someone close to the source. It’s very hard to describe Apollo 13, as she is unique among cannabis plants (excluding her hybrids). She has a very strong aroma that is a mix of sour fruit and black pepper, as well as an underlying citrus scent that mixes with the general skunkiness. Here’s what the Brothers Grimm had to say:
Apollo 13: This skunky girl will make your eyes water with her pungent perfume. The delicate balance of indica/sativa makes Apollo 13 perfect for growers limited to a single strain. The long, fat colas and sparkling, sticky side branches really weigh in at harvest time. This is the type of smoke you can’t hold down; it expands and “blasts off” from the lungs. The high is clear and cerebral, without a hint of paranoia. Her citrus flavor and happy high make Apollo 13 very popular at parties! Two hits and you can leave your own footprints on the moon. Flowering: 45-55 days. Height: 120-150 cm. Yield: 400 gm/m2.
So for years I grew this girl out, writing stories about her exploits and making some great hash along the way. Finally, when I got into breeding cannabis, I used her to create one of my award-winning strains, combining Apollo 13 with Space Queen to create an instant winner in Vortex – easily one of the best hybrids I’ve ever done. Supporters of my work (both at home and online) urged me to continue my work with the Apollo 13 and backcross the mother plant in order to produce what we in the breeding game call a BX (B = back and X = cross). This process is the method of using a plant’s sibling male to pollinate the mother plant (hence the “backcross”) in order to produce a hybrid with additional (or stronger) traits from that mother plant.
In theory, each time a backcross is performed, the resulting seeds produce plants more and more like the mother plant (though this isn’t always the case, as different phenotypes may be expressed in the offspring). Usually, though, each time the step is repeated (i.e., over numerous backcrossings), the desirable traits of the mother plant are increased. However, I should also note that if a grower continues the process, there is not – or so I have found – a great benefit as far as stability goes. One proper backcross of the correct plants, however, can yield an amazingly close replica of the mother plant in high numbers.
Once I was finally talked into this project by lovers of the Apollo 13, I started by germinating 20 Vortex seeds in order to find 10 suitable males to select for a breeding program. As luck would have it, I got 19 female plants – and even though the one male in the bunch was a good one, we decided to scrap that project for the time being. Later that year, I had another legal grower start 40 seeds for me, and over time we worked our way down to four nice males that we put through our selection process until we found the one male that performed as we wanted.
This process is very intricate and time-consuming, since the only way to check the traits of a male is to breed it with a known female; the resulting seeds are then grown out, and the hybrid that most resembles the mom is noted and the male plant that produced this effect is saved. This is how we created the Apollo 13 BX, but I did have one timesaving trick: As a contributor to many medical groups, I can donate these crosses to medical growers and then collect their information and apply it to my research. This saves a great deal of time, and I think it works better than having one person trying to track hundreds of plants over time.
By compiling this information in 2009, we were ready to do a test release of our Apollo 13 BX to some medical growers and then kick back to watch the findings come in. At the same time, I had some people close to me start a few packs so we could observe how the hybrid compared to the Apollo 13 mother plant. I knew we had a winner early on, but kept quiet as I saw plants in early growth just covered in resin. By week three of budding, I could start to smell traits I was already very familiar with in the BX. We released the strain privately late in 2009 and again sat back and waited as the gardens bloomed and the results came in. Once we were sufficiently impressed, the strain went live to the public in 2010 and quickly sold out in the first few weeks, leaving us scrambling to make more.
In the end, the Apollo 13 BX turned out to be the spitting image of her mother, and I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference when looking at my own pictures of the two. What’s even more impressive is the collection of pictures I have from growers of the Apollo 13 BX, which look like I gave them my mother clone instead of seeds to start. I am completely satisfied with the results, and I can’t wait to get a sample lab-tested for potency, as I suspect it will be off the charts. Much like her mom, the Apollo 13 BX’s high is inspirational and motivating – as long as you don’t overdo your consumption. It’s a slight “creeper” high, but you still feel it quickly, and it just keeps on building. It is possible to take a few too many hits and immobilize yourself physically while your mind is running wild with way too many ideas to actually get anything done, so let the smoker beware!
The Black Russian is one of the most amazing-looking strains ever to be photographed – and she’s one of the main reasons I started writing. Allow me to explain: I’ve been growing cannabis and photographing the plant for a little less than 10 years. I love documenting as many strains as I possibly can. To me, seeds are like a box of Cracker Jacks, and I can’t wait to see the surprise I get each time I grow a new strain from seed.
I had never really submitted any work to a magazine before, choosing instead the immediate feedback of the Internet and various sites like Overgrow. Then, one day, someone I know sent photographs of a Black Russian clone of mine over to the folks at HIGH TIMES, and they were immediately published! I decided then that if a plant I was growing was going to be in a magazine, why not do it myself? I owe Black Russian a lot, since I now contribute regularly to HIGH TIMES and have even published my own book on strains, entitled Dank. (Check it out!)
Black Russian went on to become extremely famous, and to this day breeders offer crosses made using these hybrids that we created using the Solid Purple female and the Dark Magenta male (which is the same one we used to create the F2 that we also released). These days, however, I don’t like the Black Russian very much, and we currently offer no hybrids of the parents, nor does anyone in our circle of medical growers still grow it.
I thought it would be cool to share the behind-the-scenes story and shed some light on why I don’t smoke – or even grow – one of the most sought-after cannabis crosses to surface in a long time. So here goes ….
At first, like everyone else, I was blown away by the looks of the Black Russian female we found using seeds from Nebu. My partner Mz. Jill had met him once, and Nebu had given her a few packs of his seeds – and when I landed out west, I saw pictures of Nebu’s work and figured I had to give it a shot. We shared those seeds with friends up north, and I ended up with a few females and a few males, after which I narrowed it down to one female and one male based on things I’ve learned to look for over the years. I actually asked Nebu if this was okay, and his response was to have at it.
Everyone but me was gaga over that Black Russian’s purple buds, but I thought it had a weird taste of musk and pepper that overpowered the nice grape smell and flavor lurking underneath. Meanwhile, everyone was screaming, “Give us some Black Russian F2s!” So I did, and they were released to the growing public. About 75 percent of the females grown from seed turned an amazing color, but I still caught hell from every grower that didn’t get a purple phenotype. (Damn Black Russian.)
I thought I could improve the strain’s potency and taste, possibly by crossing it with one of my favorite mother plants, the Apollo 13. So I used the Black Russian male to pollinate an Apollo 13 female, thus creating the strain we called Sputnik. I grew out the new sibling cross, and we found a nice ratio of deep pink females to ones that only exhibited solid white pistils and green coloring. The surprising thing to me, however, was that the buds from the latter were so much better tasting and more severely potent than the buds from the deep pink females.
By this point, I had become convinced that potency and purple pot were not necessarily related. I stopped being so impressed with purple weed and started preaching that purple was just a color and not an indication of quality in any form other than looks. I passed the mother and father plants on to a medical grower and asked him to keep them alive (which he didn’t). It was around this time that everyone that was able to get a pack of my Black Russian F2s started showing them off online – and then things really got crazy. But I had no more seeds to give out, and the few distributors still holding packs were getting prices never before heard of for cannabis seeds. The last pack went for $1,000 (and I should make clear that none of that money went into my pocket, as I feel that’s taking advantage of people).
Meanwhile, once I moved out west, I was also able to sample some of the Kushes that people liked so much: OG Kush, Bubba Kush and Chemdog. And I realized then that I dislike the flavor of Kush! No matter which strain it is or how well it’s grown, I just don’t like the hot taste of Kush indicas. But I now understand why so many people loved the Black Russian, the Sputnik and the other hybrids spun off from this work: It wasn’t a bad strain, just one I didn’t enjoy the taste of.
I think of it this way: Some people love blue-cheese salad dressing, while the mere thought of it makes others cringe. And the same can be said for cannabis flavors – except I discovered this too late. The whole experience did teach me that there are many, many different pot palettes (and palates), so I no longer rush to judgment based on my own personal tastes. After all, the Black Russian always got me really high – I just rarely got past the taste of the first bowl.
After our relocation out west, I was able to find an amazing-tasting Urkel female that also turns an amazing color, though nothing like the neon purple of the Black Russian. The Urkel was, however, much better pot, and the strain we created with it, Querkle, is an amazing indica with purple traits and a great grape flavor. So I don’t hate purple anymore either – and that’s a very good thing. In fact, a new hybrid we created using Querkle, this one called Qleaner, has become one of my favorite strains of all time! It tastes like grape soda but has the added potency of Jack’s Cleaner.
So that’s it: the story of a strain you may have seen or heard about, and why it’s now more of an urban legend than it is a seed that growers can actually acquire. Several breeders still do offer hybrids they created using our past seeds, though, and that is one hell of an honor.
Subcool is the author of Dank and the owner of TGA Seeds. Visit TGA Seeds at www.tgagenetics.com, or via seed banks like The Attitude (http://www.cannabis-seeds-bank.co.uk/) and Hemp Depot (www.hempdepot.ca).