A Chat With Ben Lind: From Soil to Science

We interview Ben Lind from Humboldt Seed Company, who recounts his journey from being an inquisitive teenager experimenting with cannabis to spearheading genetic innovation as their chief science officer. He unveils the challenges and triumphs of creating unique strains and the exciting synergy forged with Sensi Seeds in our exclusive Breeding Grounds collaboration.

At 9 AM at Humboldt Seed Company’s facility in Northern California, Ben Lind prepares for his daily crop-checking walk. He starts by lighting up a delightful joint of the sativa Hella Jella to help him stay focused and energised. As he goes about his work, he carefully inspects each plant, examining its well-being and looking for any signs of disease or distress.

He continued his inspection of the cannabis plants, taking in the sweet aromas and vibrant colours of the different strains. We chatted about his remarkable progression within the cannabis community, the many challenges faced, the lessons learned, and the successes along the way. His passion for the plant is evident throughout our conversation. 

Reflecting on a pivotal moment from his youth, Ben Lind recalls the day he read Jack Herer’s ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes.’ He realised then that cannabis was not just a plant, but a life’s calling. It was this epiphany that shaped his journey, turning a young enthusiast into a luminary of the cannabis industry.

After growing up in Pennsylvania, Ben spent most of his life in Northern California. He has been a dedicated member of the cannabis community there for over a decade. These days, he divides his time between Humboldt Seed Company’s two facilities; one in Grass Valley, Nevada County and the other in Eureka, Humboldt County.

Ben has always been around the cannabis plant. His interest bloomed when he began experimenting with some of his grandparents’ heirloom varieties before becoming a part of Humboldt Seed Company, the largest and most renowned seedbank from Northern California. This company has earned outstanding respect within the community for their top-shelf genetics, and in March 2023, Humboldt Seed Company proudly announced their official collaboration with Sensi Seeds. 

Discovering the world of cannabis breeding

Ben explains reminisces about his first experience growing cannabis, when he was around 12-13 years old during his seventh-grade science project. He explained that while working on the project, his aunt gave him some bud that contained a few seeds. Out of curiosity, he planted one alongside eight kidney beans. Unfortunately, his mother identified the cannabis plant and made him dispose of it. So, Ben replanted it in the woods behind his house.

When he was 16, Ben had one of his most memorable growing experiences. He ambitiously planted 60 cannabis plants behind a friend’s house, only removing the male plants, thinking that was all it took. Unexpectedly, deer ravaged most of his garden. Still, he managed to get a good harvest, and with a novice’s enthusiasm, he even tried drying some buds in the microwave. 

Ben began experimenting with seed breeding in his late teens or early twenties, initiating his venture into genetics by setting up a modest indoor grow area with three lights he purchased online. During this period, he crossed the original California Orange, yielding a super fruity strain with striking purple hues – a rarity in cannabis at that time. This breakthrough sparked Ben’s realisation of the potential of manipulating the cannabis genome.

During his time at the University of Pennsylvania, Ben’s interest in conserving ancient landrace genetics was kindled after studying paleoecology in Mongolia with the Smithsonian. He studied ancient burial customs in Siberia, which led him to discover more about the cultivation, preservation, and cultural importance of cannabis in early societies. This newfound knowledge sparked Ben’s passion for preserving indigenous cannabis landraces and developing new varieties.

The origins of the Humboldt Seed Company

Humboldt Seed Company was founded in the early 2000s when Ben met Nathaniel Pennington, his business partner. Both shared an unusual family history of cultivating cannabis seeds, and they set out to transform Humboldt Seed Company into a legitimate industry leader. Initially, they sold seeds to a limited audience, but as their business grew, Humboldt Seed Company began supplying their products to regional dispensaries.

As a co-founder and Chief Science Officer, Ben spearheads scientific research and oversees international expansion efforts. During our conversation, Ben mentioned that Ben Dronkers’ philosophy of prioritising proximity to the plant inspired the Humboldt Seed Company’s philosophy. Ben Lind believes that being involved in every step of the growing cycle is crucial, allowing him to monitor each plant’s growth and development closely. 

Their cultivation facilities cover an area of 12 acres (5 hectares), located in the mountainous regions of California, surrounded by rural landscapes. Among these farms, two acres are dedicated to seed production, with nearly 100 distinct breeding chambers housed within sealed greenhouses. Around 50% of the newly developed strains pass the rigorous release criteria, whereas the others are utilised for research, development, and preservation.

Humboldt Seed Company’s genetic contributions

Ben emphasises the company’s focus on pheno-hunts. This process involves searching for unique and desirable plant characteristics. These include plant structure, exceptional terpene profiles, cannabinoid levels, and resilience. Once identified, they selectively breed these cultivars to produce the desired traits on a larger scale. According to Ben, Hella Jelly, Blueberry Pancakes, and California Octane have been the most successful cultivars from the Humboldt Seed Company’s catalogue.

Hella Jelly was developed by crossing Hella Jelly BX3, Notorious THC, and Very Cherry. Ben explained that it was initially selected from Humboldt Seed Company’s 2019 Phenotype Mega-Hunt due to its exquisite terpene profile and cannabinoid content. According to Ben, for those with a sweet tooth, the tantalising terpene profile features vibrant notes of blue cotton candy, strawberries, and grapes. 

Blueberry Pancakes has quickly become a beloved addition to the Humboldt Seed Company’s collection, thanks to its signature sweet aroma that resembles freshly made pancakes and its ability to provide a calming, relaxing experience. Ben explains that this strain resulted from a meticulous pheno-hunt conducted at Wave Rider Nursery, a cultivation facility in Northern California. It was released after undergoing three generations of precise selection and backcrossing.

Due to the increased precipitation and high humidity towards the end of the summer months, Ben faces a significant challenge growing long-flowering strains at their facility in Eureka. This facility focuses on short-flowering plants such as Blueberry Pancakes and Hella Jelly. Ben emphasises the company’s commitment to organic sustainability, and their Eureka facility is a testament to this commitment.

As our conversation continued, we learned more about their second facility in Grass Valley. Thanks to the drier climate, they can breed cultivars that can flower well into January if desired. Ben says their primary focus is on long-flowering strains such as Sour Diesel and Stupid Fruits, known for their vibrant terpene profiles and cannabinoid content. In addition to their research and development of THC-V strains, they are also working on several breeding programs associated with triploid cannabis.

Ben Lind’s cannabis ethics: The science behind breeding

Usually, cannabis strains are diploid, which means they contain two sets of chromosomes. However, there are also triploid strains that carry three sets of chromosomes. According to Ben, these chromosomes contain genetic material that determines the characteristics of an organism. By adding extra chromosomes to the mix, not only can the cannabinoid content be enhanced, but it can also allow for an increase in the number of phenotypes present.

In partnership with UC Davis, a prestigious college in California, they‘re working to launch the world’s first triploid cannabis line. Ben firmly believes that these hybrids will make a unique and exciting addition to the cannabis market, thanks to their enhanced aroma and potency compared to diploid cannabis plants. This development is significant as it enables cultivators to experiment with phenotypes that contain irresistible terpene profiles and captivating characteristics previously unattainable.

Humboldt Seed Company’s dedicated breeders are also dedicated to improving the stability of their genetics by identifying genetic factors and assessing the level of homozygosity. This involves examining whether the strains inherited the same traits from both biological parents, and this rigorous approach ensures consistency and uniformity throughout the cultivation process. Crucial in large-scale farming in California. 

The company takes pride in accepting challenges and believes that every task they undertake helps to enhance their understanding of the plant. or Ben, ensuring consistent quality and viability is paramount, and he is deeply committed to accomplishing this with excellence. He explains that they have explored countless genetic variations across different regions and see themselves as genetic explorers, keeping only the strains with exceptional characteristics.

Exploring the preservation of cannabis genetics with Ben Lind

Their nursery is teeming with exclusive and diverse strains, giving it a wild appearance. As you step inside, the air is filled with a pungent aroma, and you can hardly contain your excitement as you take in the lush foliage surrounding you. The multitude of colours and textures is a feast for the eyes, and you cannot help but feel rejuvenated by the lively atmosphere.

In this context, the aim is to preserve every genetic variation possible, ensuring that every potential treasure is retained, and although some strains may not be visually appealing, they hold significant inherent value. Ben continues to explain that determining the true worth of a new strain requires years of hard work, and only a few cannabis varieties make it to the point of being marketable.

He is actively working closely with groups in Germany, Jamaica, and Colombia to promote the importance of preserving cultural heritage and appreciating the value of cannabis landraces. By studying strains like Punto Roja from Colombia and Lamb’s Bread from Jamaica, he believes there is an opportunity to increase scientific knowledge, preserve biodiversity, and maintain their unique characteristics.

Ben stresses the importance of not only developing popular strains such as Cookies and Gelato, but also safeguarding the unique genetics that have been passed down through generations. He believes achieving this goal requires continuous efforts, but seeing more people acknowledge the importance of preserving our heritage is encouraging. These actions can create a sustainable cannabis industry for generations, and Ben remarks: It may seem like an endless task, but it is essential.”

The influence of Sensi Seeds

The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) is Europe’s longest-running B2B event for the cannabis industry, providing excellent opportunities for learning and networking. During the 2017 Berlin edition, Ben Lind had the chance to meet Ben Dronkers for the first time, where they bonded over their love and admiration for the plant. 

Having a great admiration for the genetic research and preservation that Sensi Seeds carried out, Ben Lind was thrilled to have a conversation with the founder, Ben Dronkers. As they conversed, they realised that they both shared a philosophy of prioritizing the well-being of plants and discovered that their intentions aligned perfectly. 

Ben Lind’s first encounter with Sensi Seeds is still fresh in his memory, and fondly reminisces about sneaking into his uncle’s trailer when he was young. There, he stumbled upon a High Times magazine and was captivated by the pictures of weed. He recalls seeing a Sensi Seeds advertisement and was amazed they sold seeds through the mail! For Ben, this was his first introduction to the concept of a seed bank, which he previously associated with his grandparents’ collection of heirloom genetics.

Ben explains that back in the early 2000s, browsing a cannabis seed catalogue with friends was done discreetly. Many were worried about the legal consequences, particularly when authorities were prosecuting individuals like Tommy Chong for cannabis-related offences. Despite the challenges, Ben said it deepened his love and respect for the plant. 

In his younger years, he only had access to homegrown and compressed brick weed. He vividly recalls his introduction to the Northern Lights strain from California, which left him awestruck by its frosty and purple appearance. Although Ben speculates that the cold temperatures might have played a role in the purple hues, he is confident that it was one of the most beautiful strains he had ever seen.

When Black Domina, a four-way indica powerhouse crossing of Northern Lights, Ortega, Hash Plant, and Afghani #1, became available in California, it gained immense popularity. Seeing how the market shifted that year was fascinating, remarked Ben. Black Domina changed the game for many farmers, and Ben’s objective has always been to create something with an equally significant impact. This passion ultimately led to collaboration with Europe’s largest and oldest seed bank, Sensi Seeds.

The evolution of Sensi Seeds Breeding Grounds

Ed Rosenthal is credited with initiating the Breeding Grounds project. According to Ben, during their visit to Barcelona for Spannabis, Ed introduced him to Ravi, and they had a pleasant conversation while enjoying a few joints and beers. Their discussion led to the idea of launching a collaboration, and before they knew it, Breeding Grounds was in motion. Ben expresses his enthusiasm for the project and is thrilled to combine old-school genetics with the latest and greatest from California!

It is well known that terroir and environmental factors can affect cannabis cultivation, impacting the plant’s growth, development, and cannabinoid content. As a result, cannabis grown in Europe can have very different terpene profiles than those grown in California. Ben expresses that crossbreeding their diverse range of cultivars with our award-winning strains has resulted in remarkable genetics, and he thoroughly believes it opens up a new world of genetic varieties.

We recall with Ben how the Sensi Seeds’ breeders joined hands with Humboldt Seed Company’s geneticists to create the four unique strains launched as part of Breeding Grounds. Ben explained the breeding process in detail, describing how the two teams worked to create two feminized and two autoflowering varieties. It was an impressive collaboration, and we could sense Ben’s passion and excitement as he recalled the experience.

Dense and super frost-covered purple hues make The Bird one of the most visually appealing strains Ben has ever encountered. Due to this, it has been making waves on social media, and enthusiasts worldwide are excited! He suggests that those searching for a multifaceted terpene profile and potent effects will find it an excellent choice. He also recommends it for connoisseurs who value visually striking, high-quality genetics.

Working closely with our dedicated breeders, Purple Berry Muffinz was developed to unite the robustness and density of Purple Bud with the delectable terpenes found in Blueberry Muffin and the lively zest of Zkittlez, resulting in a lovely combination of European and North American genetics. The buds of Purple Berry Muffinz are known for their tightly packed, dense structure, and although they take an average flowering period to mature, the wait is well worth it!

Well accustomed to the heavy rainfall in the coastal areas of Humboldt County, and with this experience in mind, the Breeding Grounds collaboration has developed two autoflowering strains: Pineapple Kush Cake and Amnesia Jelly. Both are developed using the sturdy and enduring strains of Sensi Seeds, amplified with the potent touch of Humboldt Seed Company’s genetics. Ben says these easy-to-grow hybrids are ideal for Northern Europe, with shorter summers and higher precipitation levels. 

Ravi Spaarenberg, Sensi Seeds’ Director of Research and Development, has expressed great enthusiasm towards the Breeding Grounds project with the Humboldt Seed Company. Like Ben Lind, he believes that this partnership is a testament to the exceptional quality of genetics produced. 

After 2023’s success, Sensi Seeds was excited to continue working with Humboldt Seed Company to provide innovative, top-notch products for the global cannabis community. That led to 2024’s addition: California Haze. This strain emerges from a stellar lineage, combining Haze with Sensi Amnesia and Trainwreck, to produce a plant that flourishes in sunny climates and offers an uplifting cerebral high alongside a sweetly subtle terpene profile.

Breeding Grounds – It is all about the community 

As we finish our conversation, Ben Lind says there is much more to look forward too. In his opinion, the most crucial thing is to prioritise the plant itself and encourage everyone to support the cannabis community that seed businesses like Sensi Seeds and Humboldt Seed Company have helped create. He emphasises that listening to others and exchanging knowledge and love for cannabis is crucial in bringing people together, as the plant has many different aspects to appreciate.

Ben, an experienced cannabis industry professional, understands the importance of education and believes there is always something new to learn. As part of the Breeding Grounds program with Sensi Seeds, he is committed to pushing the boundaries of what we know about cannabis and releasing the best genetics globally. Ben feels that the collaboration with Sensi Seeds is exceptional, and he is delighted to be a part of it.

In our ongoing commitment to pioneering advancements in cannabis genetics, Sensi Seeds will continue to work closely with esteemed breeders to introduce high-quality strains to the market.

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  • Author_profile-Sensi-Mark-Smith

    Mark Smith

    Mark Smith is an English cannabis advocate based in The Netherlands. He’s worked across the world in the cannabis industry for over ten years, from Canada, to Spain, and to Californian cannabis farms. He’s followed his passion for cannabis across nearly every continent, and is currently dedicated to spreading the word as a writer at Sensi Seeds in Amsterdam.
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