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No Seed Limit

Halle Pennington, Senior Product Executive at HSC.

No Seed Limit

Mighty trees grow from the superior genetics cultivated by Nathaniel  Pennington at Humboldt Seed Company.

In 2001, Nathaniel Pennington drove down to the Humboldt County (CA) courthouse to get a business license. He recalls walking inside scared, because at this time it was “really, really early to be branding cannabis.” After discovering the name Humboldt Seed Company was available, Pennington was asked what he did for work. His response? “I make all different kinds of seeds.”

The name Humboldt Seed Company (HSC) is directly inspired by Humboldt County, which has historically been viewed as the mecca for the best cannabis on Earth, Pennington says. “When I grew up on the East Coast, everyone knew the best weed in the world came from Humboldt County. I went to high school in Philadelphia and New York, and I was very aware of this place all the way on the other side of the country called Humboldt.”

At 18, Pennington relocated to California and immediately fell head over heels for Humboldt County. While it was a foregone conclusion that he’d most likely end up growing some weed, back then, cannabis wasn’t a full-time job option. “If I had gone and yelled it from the rooftop, I would’ve been arrested,” he says. 

In addition to breeding cannabis as a hobby, Pennington worked on the biggest river restoration projects in world history. To that end, HSC values are rooted in environmental and social justice, which directly aligns with Pennington’s background as a salmon biologist. “I’ve always been very interested in both things to be honest,” he says. “Salmon science taught me so much that I’ve applied to the breeding strategies. One of the last grants I wrote was a genomic study; we received $100,000 to find the difference between spring salmon and fall salmon. We found the difference, and spring salmon were added to the endangered species list—cool stuff.” 

generation rap: “If you’re working with farms, or if you yourself are a farm, you want to have uniform plants,” Nathaniel Pennington says, here with daughter Halle Pennington at Humboldt Seed Company.

A year after Pennington’s move, California voted yes on Proposition 215—the medical marijuana Initiative known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The crazy part, Pennington says, is that even back in those early days he was already known as the guy people would go to every year for seeds. “People would call me in December, January and February asking, “Hey, can I compensate? What do you want for these?” 

With an unwavering passion for growing, Pennington didn’t want any money. He says he’d simply answer, “Bring me a six pack and we’ll kick it.” Eventually, his girlfriend at the time pointed out he didn’t need any more beer, and he began taking those payment offers. But his initial goal was never to profit or create a huge business. 

While Pennington humbly says he was in the right place at the right time, he also saw careless breeding and knew he wanted to make a difference. For starters, the demand for the seed was immediately evident from the beginning; it’s common knowledge that at one point, the vast majority of domestic weed in the country came from Humboldt County. 

Humboldt Seed Company founders  Nate Pennington and Ben Lind
applied science: “Our goal is to make seeds that are super uniform if that’s what farms want,” says Pennington, here on the HSC campus with Benjamin Lind, Humboldt Seed Company’s Chief Science Officer and Co-Owner (right). PHOTO Zak Powers

Pennington recognized that people wanted uniformity and consistency with their genetics. “People were starting to say, ‘We want seeds that always turn out the same,’” he says. “When it comes to breeding cannabis seeds, a lot of folks do it in their garages. And there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s how we’ve created our culture. This process is called poly-hybrid crosses, and there’s no uniformity when seeds are made like that. The grower ends up having different looking plants, which is OK if you’re just doing it in your closet. But if you’re working with farms, or if you yourself are a farm, you want to have uniform plants.”

Then, in 2005, OG Kush burst onto the scene and took over the whole industry. 

“It started as ‘We want ten pounds of OG Kush,’” Pennington says. “A year later, they’re coming back saying they want 20 pounds. A couple of years later, they were asking for boxes, which is a hundred pounds. Now it’s packs, which is a thousand pounds.” 

HSC stands as the largest licensed cannabis seed provider in California, serving their community for more than two decades while vowing to uphold quality as their No.1 priority. The seeds are bred by veteran experts in the field, with a guarantee that the plants will produce at their highest potential.

PHOTO Rachel Weill

“Being able to provide a service to the Humboldt County industry for 25 years is something I’m pretty proud of,” Pennington says. “It’s an achievement.” HSC has grown from one employee to 70 who are all significantly involved in the company. “We’re completely self-funded, which is really rare,” Pennington says. “We bootstrapped the entire thing and are entirely self-capitalized. I’ve never taken investments; I’ve never even had to take out any significant loans. Our growth has been truly organic. We built a brand for genetics that became well-known across the country.”

Humboldt Seed Company sells millions of seeds a year within California’s license system. Out of those is one of Pennington’s favorite strains, the iconic Blueberry Muffin. First created in 2009 and officially released in 2010, the strain has become one of the more popular ones around the globe and one that Pennington says is “very easy to grow.”

In addition to providing seeds to many of California’s larger grow ops, HSC seeds can be found in Spain, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, Colombia, France, Portugal, Greece, the United Kingdom, Malta and, most recently, Thailand.

HSC was also chosen to provide the genetics for Ocean Grown Extracts’ Evidence brand, which was co-founded by Damian Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley and set in a former prison in Coalinga, CA. Pennington says it was “an honor” to be chosen to work on the project. And it’s a significant partnership. “We brought 80,000 plants down there last year,” he says.

Humboldt Seed Company Ocean Grown Extracts California
jailhouse stock: Humboldt Seed Company was chosen to provide the genetics for Ocean Grown Extracts’ Evidence brand, which was co-founded by Damian Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley, and located at a former prison in Coalinga, CA.

Pennington and his team pioneered large-scale phenotype hunting in the US in 2018 with a 10,000-plant phenohunt that’s become an annual event. He says it’s about getting out there in the fields with a diverse group of people all looking for unique plants. “Our goal is to make seeds that are super uniform if that’s what farms want. But the way to create and discover new cannabis varieties is by looking at diversity,” he says. “We keep cuttings of every single plant, so every plant out there has a reference cutting, a genetically identical clone.” 

Humboldt Seed Company has established itself as a reliable source for top-tier cannabis seeds for discerning cultivators—both home growers and commercial operations.

The amount of love and care that’s put into the seeds shines through each time. And, yes, the quality speaks for itself.

The Strains

Humboldt Seed Company Blueberry Muffin
PHOTO Erik Christiansen

Blueberry Muffin

Breeder: Humboldt Seed Company

Type: Indica Hybrid

Genetics: Razzleberry and Purple Panty Dropper

Smell: Sweet, fruity and earthy

Taste: Fresh baked muffins and sweet blueberry terps

Appearance: Frosty colas with purple coloring

Effects: Happy, relaxed, creative

Flowering: 45 days (when grown indoors)

Humboldt Seed Company Poddy Mouth

Poddy Mouth

Breeder: Humboldt Seed Company

Type: Hybrid

Genetics: Bling x Mac1 x Humboldt Pound Cake x Mountaintop Mint 

Smell: Fuel-like nose with a sugary finish

Taste: Gassy, earthy, sweet

Appearance: High trichome production, massive bracts

Affects: Euphoric and relaxing high

Flowering: 8 weeks

Humboldt Seed Company Blueberry Pancakes

Blueberry Pancakes

Breeder: Humboldt Seed Company

Type: Sativa Hybrid

Genetics: Blueberry Pancakes x PPD x Slurricane

Smell: Very sweet syrup

Taste: Blueberry

Appearance: Vibrant green with purple accents 

Effects: Comforting, uplifting, joyful high

Flowering: 8 weeks

Humboldt Seed Company California Octane

California Octane

Breeder: Humboldt Seed Company

Type: Indica hybrid

Genetics: Dream Queen x Papaya x I-369

Smell: Blend of gassy skunk and fruity funk

Taste: Gassy overripe guava

Appearance: Extremely resinous with dense buds, purple flaking and light tan hairs

Effects: Strong head high, but uplifting body high. Good all-day smoke

Flowering: 8 weeks

Humboldt Seed Company Royal Highness

Royal Highness

Breeder: Humboldt Seed Company

Type: Hybrid

Genetics: Royal Kush x Cali Dream x Trainwreck

Smell: Blend of gassy skunk and fruity funk

Taste: Skunk, pine, orange

Appearance: Purple and frosty

Effects: Potent yet uplifting

Flowering: 8 weeks

This story was originally published in issue 49 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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