Natural History doesn’t grow easy weed. Instead, the Alberta-based producer is focused on the remarkable. They select impactful and unique cultivars, and meticulously tend their cannabis throughout its lifecycle. From seed through to the moment it's packaged up for consumption. We’re pumped to have their products on Kiaro store shelves.
This week, Natural History’s Master Grower Chris Alessandrini walks us through his journey with cannabis and answers our questions on what sets Natural History cannabis apart from the rest.
Name: Chris Alessandrini
Title: Master Grower
Company: Atlas Growers/Natural History
Favourite strain: Currently—Cactus Breath by ThugPug Genetics
Most fascinating part of growing cannabis?
Definitely pheno hunting and plant selection. I’m always trying to pop new seeds/genetics and endeavouring to find the next great and or interesting thing. Being able to see, smell and experience the boundless array of variability that can be found in this amazing plant positively fascinates me.
What brought you to the world of botany and cannabis?
I’ve always had a fascination with plants and the natural world in general—my grandfather was a big gardener and I collected cacti, succulents and other plants when I was a kid as a hobby. When I graduated high school, that hobby turned into cannabis plants. After my first stint in post secondary, pursuing an arts degree, left something to be desired, I realized if I was going to successfully go back to school, it had to be for something that I truly had an interest in. I went back and received my diploma in Horticulture. Growing cannabis seemed to be the logical extension of those interests and hobbies that I deeply enjoyed and I happily managed to turn into a career.
What inspires you?
Seeing all the amazing breeding work being done in North America. The rapidity with which the elevation of the genetics has ramped up in the last few years with breeders increasing potency, creating new flavours, terpene profiles and bringing new cannabinoids online at a mind-blowing pace compared to most industrialized agriculture’s slower amble towards modernity. And all this is happening while the plant remains highly illegal in some of these areas.
When coupled with advancements in growing methodology and technology, I feel like the cannabis industry is developing at breakneck speed. Cannabis will be an evermore important industry, as well as an expanding medicine, for people as time goes on. I’m thankful to be a part of that.
The Natural History roster has an interesting mix of genetics. Why was this important? And how do you choose which cultivars to grow?
Variety is the spice of life! More specifically, we strive to grow cultivars that are highly differentiated from each other. For example our Crescendo is a myrcene-dominant plant, the LA Kush Cake is farnesene dominant, the Zour Apples is terpinolene dominant. When we release cultivars we want to deliver strains that are not only potent and beautiful, but uncommon. Each offers a different end-experience to the user, as well as the potential to have differentiated effects depending on the foundation of each plant's chemical profile.
We strive to do this by utilizing the assistance of analytical equipment when we pheno hunt, specifically an HPLC and a GCMS. This helps ensure each variety has a unique chemical make up from anything else we are growing. Potency and terpene content play vital roles in variety selection but the plant’s structure, vigour, bag appeal and flowering time—amongst other things—are necessary to factor in at the commercial scope. What might be viable for a basement home grow is often not going to work at the commercial scale, so we look for cuts to be as “domesticated” as possible whenever possible.
How do you give each cultivar the specific care it needs to thrive?
Each variety we move into commercial production will have been tested multiple times. These tests include optimal lighting levels, appropriate defoliation schedule, number of toppings and ideal length of veg time to name a few. We try to run plants that make good bedfellows—similar nutritional requirements, vigour, size and flowering time—together in the same rooms. Our grow rooms are set up in such a fashion that each room has ten rolling benches. Each bench has an individual solenoid valve that can be controlled from our irrigation software and thus, can be sent individual feed strengths, combinations and durations. This can be fine tuned depending on what variety of plants are on the bench. Sometimes if the plant has very specific needs, we run only that one variety by itself in a flower room. The rooms also feature programmable lighting intensities, supplemental CO2 and a litany of other tunable environmental considerations one might have for growing cannabis, which allow us to dial in the environment for each variety regardless of its origins.
What challenges/obstacles do you face in the recreational cannabis space?
Government over-taxation and regulation—the way the system is currently set up disincentivizes innovation and makes it ineffective cost-wise to try to bring new products and varieties to market, or even to run more than two or three cultivars period. Additionally, the industry's unhealthy obsession with high-THC potency numbers means a lot of great varieties don’t get to see the light of day and discrepancies in testing from lab to lab, as it’s non-standardized by Health Canada, has been a major detriment to the industry as a whole in my opinion.
As a grower, what would you like consumers to know about where their products come from?
We spend a lot of time and energy trying to do things properly like full plant hang drying and hand trimming, as well as making sure to bring cuts to the market that are potent, unique and exciting. When we want to test new cultivars, we aren’t popping 10 seeds of one variety at a time, we are usually popping 30-200 seeds of one variety, and looking for that Michael Jordan level expression of the strain. It takes a strong unit to make an operation like this function properly and everyone here on the NH team is more than just enthusiasts—we’re utterly obsessed with cannabis. Finding killer phenotypes, growing top tier flower that checks all the boxes at scale over and over, and not missing any steps along the way is not easy. We pride ourselves on not taking any shortcuts.
What exciting things can consumers expect from Natural History in 2021?
We are currently in the midst of a 660-seed pheno hunt featuring a multitude of top tier North American breeders. Think Compound Genetics, Oni Seeds, Exotic Genetix, In-house and ThugPug—to name a few—and there are some really insane cuts emerging as potential winners. Also, keep an eye out for some exotic cannabinoid-dominant varieties coming down the line, as well as the release of our killer topicals and high-end extracts.