Participatory plant breeding by amateurs

Fruitful apple project

Together with my late wife Virpi Virolainen, we conducted a northern apple survey for a couple of decades. We were looking for old apple trees in northern Finland that had survived the harsh frosts of both the war and the 1980s. Those frosts destroyed most of the apple trees and those that survived were the most climatically resilient.

During this mapping exercise, we made an interesting observation. People in the north had extensively propagated apple trees from seed, and most of the best apple trees we found were actually from those seedings, and not of any known landrace variety. In effect, therefore, plant breeding had taken place where both climatic conditions and the people themselves had made a choice.

The work has resulted in the world’s northernmost in situ gene bank for northern apple trees. The plant genome is not stored in freezers, but maintained in people’s gardens.

Watch a video of the mapping work:

Hemp is making a comeback

Around the same time as the apple project, I started a variety hobby with hemp. I wanted to develop a strain of medicinal hemp that would thrive outdoors and would help with the kamos depression that had plagued me so severely.

I sought help from a network of Finnish hemp enthusiasts, and a friend of mine launched some seeds I had developed through the website. Even then we called the project Northern sun.

A few years later, I received a strain of hemp from the Russian Vavilov Institute in Hankasalmi, which was shortly afterwards registered by J. Callaway in the EU Register of Varieties under the name Finola. I tried the strain and found that this one from the Kirov region was not adapted to the continental climate and the crop only ripened in our area during the autumn rains. We set out to develop a faster version.

In 2019, I set up my own company for plant breeding and called it Northern Sun Ltd. The company took over the greenhouses and land of a former agricultural college in Ilomants and we started growing hemp in the greenhouses. I fought a legal battle over the legality of hemp plant breeding and the court ruled in my favour. Growing hemp for plant breeding is neither a drug offence nor a medical offence.

Hemp plant breeding work continues and to support the project we have launched a Hemp Harvesting Competition (link to page) where participants will receive a small amount of cbd hemp seeds. Growing hemp for ornamental use is allowed under current drug laws.

We are opening many other experimental cultivation projects including northern nuts, sea buckthorn, oak and various medicinal plants.
Read more:

The work for sustainable northern genetics continues.
Welcome to join us.

Ilomantsi 20.4.2022

Hannu Hyvönen

Watch a video of the mapping work.

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