california wildfires

Legendary seed breeder Subcool talks surviving the California wildfires and rising from the ashes

On Octorber 15th, we talked to Subcool, the legendary seed breeder from Northern California and creator of the fabled Pinot Noir strain, about escaping the California wildfires, how the cannabis community will rise from the ashes, how he names his strains, and more. 

How have the California wildfires affected you?

The wildfires are still going on, literally in my town, and I’ve evacuated to an area where I can breathe better. I have a progressive, fatal disease called Alpha 1 (Antitrypsin Deficiency) where my lungs are compromised, and smoke is definitely not on the prescription.

Having said that, we had about 10 min to evacuate. MzJill went out on the deck and saw flames, she yelled and said we had to evacuate, but I didn’t take it seriously until I saw 300 ft flames.

california wildfire
A wall of fire.

Were you able to grab anything before you evacuated?

I should have grabbed so many things. I have a drive for my computer with every photo that I’ve ever taken of my wife that sits in my pocket- and I just didn’t fucking grab it. But I’d been making hash, essentially for the last few days because it was harvest year, and I grabbed two trays of that.

It’s a funny story, but it’s also stupid. I grabbed what was in front of me that was valuable, but in the end it wasn’t valuable at all.

My house burned down completely and so did the entire town. 40 people are dead where I live. And the fire rages on.

We lost a whole bunch of genetics in the house- millions of dollars worth of seeds and genetics.

But there’s a good part to this story- the cannabis community has rallied behind me. Every one of my fans, the Weednerds, have contacted me, and the genetics that I have distributed to close friends over the years have all been promised back to me.

Even the Pinot Noir, my most famous strain to come out of Northern California- I lost it but we have it secured!

california wildfires
All of Subcool’s possessions in a box.

So you’re rebuilding and growing the seeds?

We’re in the middle of rebuilding. After the fire damage has been assessed, I’ll be on my way to Arizona to set up a 7700 sq. ft. greenhouse to start breeding again called “The Dank”. It’s going to be grown and packaged specifically and when you open it, it’s going to be as good as anything I could have done in the best growing cycle

But here’s my favorite part of this whole thing. When I was cleaning out my truck the other night, which right now has pretty much everything I own, I found a package with 490 seeds in it that I was supposed to take to another location.

I’m not going to reveal what these seeds are because they’re very special, but they’re the only seeds that made it out of the fire, and I’m doing two things with these seeds- half of them are going towards creating a new strain called “The Phoenix”.

We auctioned off the other half of the seeds last night for $3500 to raise money for the fire victims. Also, with my friends the Crazy Dago and Growtube Roundtable, we raised $15,000 over two nights and the money goes directly to Patrick the Soil King who’s still out there on the ground.

You can go to Pat and say “I need a generator!” and he’ll go to Wal Mart and get you a generator. Even if your dog needs food, Pat will go get you some dog food!

Those seeds that we gave someone has been challenged to create a legacy. I created TGA Genetics with two packs of seeds. Certainly not over 200.

So are you moving to Arizona?

I’m not moving to Arizona, I’m heading to Arizona to start a business- I don’t know where I’m going to live. I can’t live where I live right now because it’s on fire.

I’m thinking about Santa Cruz, but my health limits me when it comes to weather and stuff but you can quote me on this – one of the reasons I’m thinking of Santa Cruz is because she didn’t burn the fuck up. I don’t want to live anywhere where you can burn – I have PTSD, my dog has PTSD – so yeah, no fire. Santa Cruz has a beach, and I don’t know if that’s my landing spot but today, it sounds good.

So whereabouts in Northern California were you?

The fire started in Sonoma County, and it burned Mendocino and Napa County- Napa County is still raging right now. The town I’m from is called Santa Rosa, and it’s destroyed. If you look me up on Instagram @theweednerd420 it will make you cry. 1800 homes in one neighborhood are leveled and gone- in one night!

I get upset talking about it and I wonder why you’d want to live there now and be constantly reminded of how everything burned down. Maybe in 10 years but not anytime soon.

california fires
Views of the fire right by Subcool’s house

How do you think the wildfires will impact California’s cannabis supply with legalization scheduled for January 2018?

The good news is that California this year is on track to produce the most cannabis in history. It still has not rained here, and we’ve had some of the best weather ever- and Humboldt County is not on fire. So thousands and thousands and thousands of tons of cannabis are going to be produced.

When you see where the fire hit, it’s terrifying and goes all over the state, but it didn’t get Humboldt.

One of the things that really hurts is even though we harvested most of our crops for hashish and extracts, the prettiest plants wouldn’t have been harvested yet, and as Patrick the Soil King said “What sucks about this is the clouds are full of smoke and they’re affecting the plants but we’re also expecting the best weather of all our years growing cannabis!”

It’s 85 F and 12% humidity!

So the people that weren’t affected are going to flood the market an enormous amount of flowers and the prices are still dropping. I went into the market at $1400/pound USD and it’s down to about $1000/pound and it will continue to plummet.

For the people who have heard about it in the news, how can they help the growers, breeders, and everyone else affected by the fires?

If they directly want to help, they can follow me on social media, and while I’m not there right now, I’m in the middle of it. I’m in contact with people there on a daily basis to get them food, money, and water.

We’ve got several GoFundMe accounts, and every time I stream my Weednerd Live Shows on Saturday nights or the Growtube Roundtable with Crazy Dago on Friday nights- we’re raising money.

We’re selling seeds, we’re selling posters and we’re ready to move. There’s not a lot to do other than that because the place is on fire.

There are people who don’t have food, people have lost everything.

Is the Emerald Cup still going on in December?

Yup, they moved it to a secure location. It’s more important than ever because now it’s not about the cup or the competition- it’s going to be about us coming together to heal.

We consider ourselves family, and we will come together to mourn and celebrate cannabis.

I wanted to ask you something that’s not so much related to the fires- how do you come up with the names of your strains?

Well every one of them is named different. Some of them are named funny and it worked out.

Here’s one example where I was working with the genetics and I was working with Apollo, while also creating a purple strain, and in between I wanted to know if the male I was breeding with would lend color to the strain.

So I picked a strain that was non-colored and I crossed her and grew it out. I wasn’t really taking it seriously, so I called it “The Void”, because it was the space between one project and another. It was a stupid name for cannabis and it wouldn’t sell for shit!

One of my favorite strain names is Chernobyl, and really how simple it was. I was thinking Trainwreck- what’s worse than a trainwreck? A nuclear meltdown. So hey! Chernobyl. It took 20 seconds and two bowls of hash and it was a great name.

Other strains get really stupid names like Qush. I mean, could I have been more creative? It’s Querkle times Bubba Kush= Qush. It’s a stupid name! But with 49 strains you got to make a name for everything.

Locomotion, one of the strains lost when Subcool's house burned down.
Locomotion, one of the strains lost when Subcool’s house burned down.

Why are male cannabis plants so overlooked and underrated by some growers?

Because people don’t understand them. Male cannabis plants don’t display visible characteristics of many traits. People have historically misrepresented the truth in marketing, or maybe they don’t know, but when you look in the big magazines and you see them talking about, “We took the most vigorous, strongest male”- well, that’s hemp.

I have learned to choose the males that would never make it- the ones you’d scrape off your shoe- because he’s the one that has the traits.

I will tell you as a breeder doing this for 35 years that I only have 5 males. It’s not easy to find males. It takes a long process, and generally what you do once you’ve found that male you want to sub-cross it with other strains and grow them out and that’s just more work than people want to do.

The typical cannabis breeder nowadays is someone who takes something jazzy and something else jazzy and makes an F1, puts a name on it, and sells it.

That’s not really what we’ve done throughout our careers. I’m not saying we don’t take one strain and cross it with another, because we do, but before that strain is released to the public, thousands of growers grow it and give us their input.

So all of these growers, do they act as quality control?

Absolutely. It’s the Weednerd network. You send a thousand seeds out and you’ve got hydrogrowers, organic growers, and growers from all across the board.

What I’m looking for is a pattern. Do they love it? If you’ve got 10 quality growers and 10 crappy growers, but they all love the strain, you can count it as a field test. But then the last thing we do is grow it ourselves, if we haven’t all ready.

That’s kind of the process, and we had over a hundred strains ready for testing when the house went down, and we lost all of them.

We were making some medicinal plants with high CBD, CBN, and high CBG, where the THC was not overly potent, coming in at 14-19%,. A lot of the stuff in America comes in at THC content of 25-26%, which is not really medicinal because if you give it to grandma she’ll start freaking out.

Did you have any last thoughts or anything exciting planned for the future that you’d like to tell us about?

I’ve reached a point where I can make a phone call and have a plant grow- I don’t have to do it myself so for the first time, I’m free. I’m sitting here with a buddy, Crazy Dago, and we’re going to a hydroshop, and I have to tell you, being Subcool is one of the best goddamn things in the world when you’re in the cannabis community.

I got a “Fuck” hat on and a pot shirt and I usually have a pipe in my hand. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a “free bird” moment for me. 

So I literally have no home in a place I’ve never been before, and it’s not that depressing- it’s exciting! I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight but I’ll figure it out.

It’s kinda like Jack Kerouac- I’m on the road again baby!