Organic cannabis is becoming more popular among consumers who appreciate the complex flavor and effect of naturally grown herb. But what makes organic cannabis different from conventional cannabis, and how can growers achieve the best results with this method? The answer lies in the soil, or more specifically, the living soil.
What is Living Soil and Why is it Important for Organic Cannabis?
Living soil is a term that refers to soil that is rich in organic matter and microbial life. These microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, worms, and insects, form a complex network of interactions that benefit the plants and the environment. They help break down organic matter, recycle nutrients, improve soil structure, suppress diseases, and enhance plant growth and resilience.
Organic cannabis growers use living soil to mimic the natural conditions that cannabis plants have evolved with for millions of years. By providing a diverse and balanced diet of nutrients and probiotics, living soil fuels the biosynthesis of complex compounds like terpenes and flavonoids that contribute to cannabis quality. Living soil also reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and water, making organic cannabis more sustainable and eco-friendly.
How to Create and Maintain Living Soil for Organic Cannabis?
Creating and maintaining living soil for organic cannabis involves a three-step process: building a base, amending the soil, and “cooking” the soil.
- Building a base: The base of living soil is composed of three main ingredients: peat moss, compost, and aeration. Peat moss provides water retention and acidity, compost provides organic matter and microbes, and aeration provides oxygen and drainage. A common ratio for these ingredients is 1:1:1 by volume.
- Amending the soil: The soil amendments are added to the base to provide additional nutrients and minerals for the plants and the microbes. Some of the common amendments are kelp meal, alfalfa meal, fish meal, bone meal, rock dust, gypsum, lime, and worm castings. The amount and type of amendments depend on the specific needs of the plants and the soil.
- Cooking the soil: The final step is to let the soil “cook” for at least a month before planting. This allows the microbes to multiply and decompose the organic matter, releasing nutrients and creating humus. The soil should be kept moist and aerated during this process, and occasionally turned and mixed.
How to Grow Organic Cannabis in Living Soil?
Growing organic cannabis in living soil is similar to growing in any other medium, with some differences. Here are some tips for growing organic cannabis in living soil:
- Choose the right container: The size and shape of the container affect the root development and water retention of the plants. A larger container allows for more root growth and less frequent watering, while a smaller container requires more attention and care. A fabric pot or a smart pot is a good option for living soil, as it allows for better aeration and drainage, and prevents root circling.
- Water wisely: Watering is one of the most important aspects of growing organic cannabis in living soil. Overwatering can cause root rot, nutrient lockout, and fungal infections, while underwatering can cause wilting, nutrient deficiency, and reduced yield. The best way to water living soil is to use the “lift test”: lift the pot and feel its weight. If it feels light, it needs water. If it feels heavy, it doesn’t. Water slowly and evenly until some runoff comes out of the bottom of the pot. Use clean water with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, and avoid using chlorinated or fluoridated water, as it can harm the microbes.
- Feed sparingly: One of the advantages of growing organic cannabis in living soil is that it reduces the need for additional feeding, as the soil provides most of the nutrients and minerals the plants need. However, some growers may choose to supplement their soil with organic teas, extracts, or top dressings, especially during the flowering stage, when the plants demand more phosphorus and potassium. These supplements should be used sparingly and carefully, as they can affect the balance and diversity of the soil food web. Always follow the instructions and recommendations of the product, and observe the plants’ response.
- Monitor and adjust: Growing organic cannabis in living soil requires constant monitoring and adjustment, as the soil is a dynamic and living system that changes over time. Some of the factors to monitor and adjust are the soil pH, the soil temperature, the soil moisture, the soil structure, and the soil organic matter. These factors affect the availability and mobility of nutrients, the activity and diversity of microbes, and the health and performance of the plants. A good way to monitor and adjust the soil is to use a soil test kit, a soil thermometer, a moisture meter, a compost thermometer, and a magnifying glass.
What are the Benefits and Challenges of Growing Organic Cannabis in Living Soil?
Growing organic cannabis in living soil has many benefits and challenges, both for the growers and the consumers. Some of the benefits are:
- Higher quality: Organic cannabis grown in living soil has a higher quality than conventional cannabis grown in synthetic mediums, as it has a more complex and diverse profile of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, which affect the flavor, aroma, and effect of the herb. Organic cannabis also has fewer contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and residues, which can harm the health and safety of the consumers.
- Lower cost: Organic cannabis grown in living soil has a lower cost than conventional cannabis grown in synthetic mediums, as it requires less inputs, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and water, which can be expensive and harmful to the environment. Living soil can also be reused and recycled, reducing the waste and the need for new soil.
- Higher sustainability: Organic cannabis grown in living soil has a higher sustainability than conventional cannabis grown in synthetic mediums, as it has a lower environmental impact and a higher social responsibility. Living soil helps conserve water, reduce pollution, sequester carbon, and support biodiversity, which are essential for the health and balance of the ecosystem. Living soil also helps promote organic farming, ethical consumption, and social justice, which are important for the well-being and dignity of the people and the planet.
Some of the challenges are:
- Higher learning curve: Organic cannabis grown in living soil has a higher learning curve than conventional cannabis grown in synthetic mediums, as it requires more knowledge, skill, and experience to master. Living soil is a complex and dynamic system that involves many variables and interactions, which can be hard to understand and control. Growers need to learn the basics of soil science, microbiology, plant nutrition, and organic gardening, and apply them to their specific situation and goals.
- Higher risk: Organic cannabis grown in living soil has a higher risk than conventional cannabis grown in synthetic mediums, as it is more prone to problems and uncertainties. Living soil can be affected by many factors, such as weather, pests, diseases, pH, temperature, moisture, and competition, which can cause stress, damage, or loss to the plants. Growers need to be vigilant and prepared to deal with these issues, and accept the possibility of failure.