The Low Down on Dirt by Ras Truth

The nitty gritty on what the hydroponics industry doesn’t want you to know about organic soil grown high grade. I guarantee the stoniest, most medicinal, best tasting, smoothest smoking; cleanest burning herb you have ever smoked was organically grown in soil. If you haven’t ever had the opportunity to smoke organic soil grown kind bud, now is your chance.

In an industry dominated by sales reps, greed mongers, and propaganda pushing profiteers it can be hard to figure out which medium to grow in and what nutrients or products to use. Many of the products on the market today are designed with fancy labels and special formulas or recipes targeting novice or hobby growers. Often many of the products are overpriced, diluted and have little or no effect on the plants you are growing. Many of the products manufactured for the hydroponics industry in North America and Europe are more than 90% water.

For years the hydroponics companies have been the main sponsors of all of the publication of cannabis cultivation guides, each year since the late 80’s the “newest” literature on cultivating cannabis has become more and more inundated with propaganda from what I would like to call “Big Hydro”. “Big Hydro” is the combination of all the major nutrient companies who, in order to sell more products; have taken control of the cannabis related media stream. What better way for a nutrient company owner to make a bunch of money than to pay his buddy to recommend his product line in his grow “Bible”.

I am not completely opposed hydroponics or aeroponics, they definitely have there time and place. A properly run hydroponic scene can be clean, neat, efficient, and productive. My biggest issue with hydroponics is pollution, can you imagine how many gallons per year are fed to waste right into our municipal sewer systems. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of solution filled with nitrates and phosphates flushed into our lakes, rivers, and oceans each year. What this does to our ecosystem is much worse than many people realize. As we become more conscious of our impact on the world around us, it is good to learn more sustainable practices in all aspects of our lives.

The beauty of organic soil grown cannabis is that the only waste created is plant matter which can be composted, (stems, shade leaves etc.), soil that can be reused, recycled into flower or vegetable gardens, or donated to local community garden projects, and the packaging that the amendments, soils, and substrates come in. The more we are able to source our soils, substrates and amendments in bulk the more we are able to reduce our “plastic footprint” and grow more sustainable ganja. Think about the amount of plastic nutrient bottles that get thrown away each year. Imagine if you were able to substantially decrease your ecological impact while substantially increasing the medicinal quality of your cannabis. This is the goal.

Another point worth considering is the amount of water that you use per year on your ganja. Water is the most precious natural resource that we the people of the world share. Many people in the world don’t have enough clean water to live, however in North America and Europe we are fortunate to have abundant supplies of clean water. This does not mean that we should squander this precious resource unnecessarily. As we suffer from more and more nitrate and phosphate pollution, clean ground water becomes more and more scarce. The more wells we drill and the more pumps that we pump the more the underground aquifers that feed our fresh water springs and rivers are depleted. The more these aquifers are depleted the more likely it is that, in time, our wells will produce less and less water. Eventually the biggest challenge we could face as a people could be drought. Remember the words of Peter Tosh “Tell me, tell me, tell me, watcha gonna do when your well runs dry?” It is better to think ahead. Organic soil grown herb uses a considerable amount less water than herb grown in bulk substrates or “soil-less” media. When positively applied techniques are used, similar yields of superior quality herb can be produced with less environmental impact and for less cost with healthy live organic soil than with bulk substrates, hydroponic mediums, or soil-less mixes.

Many growers don’t understand the difference between soil, substrate, aggregate, soil-less mix, and hydroponic medium. This is where I am going to start. When I was growing up on the west coast, learning to grow from the old timers, we weren’t concerned with nutrient formulas we focused on soil recipes. A good soil recipe and the only thing you need to add is water, and maybe a little soluble seaweed, molasses and some guano during flower. I may sound a bit archaic but people have been growing cannabis organically in soil for longer than the English language has been spoken. It is the natural choice and works well when you understand what the plant needs and how to give it what it wants.

So the difference between soil and substrates, aggregates, soil-less mixes, and hydroponic mediums is quite simple. Soil is a living community of microbial organisms and organic matter. Substrates, aggregates, soil-less mixes and hydroponic media are inert, sterile, and not living. Soil contains nutrients made available to the plants by the beneficial microorganisms that live in the soil; where substrates, aggregates, soil-less mixes and hydroponic media require fertility to be added in solution (e.g. hydroponics). The difference is simple and distinct and yet it is more complicated than it seems. Many bagged “potting soils” are actually bulk substrates and have little or no compost or humic matter in them. Sphagnum peat, hypnum peat, sedge peat, coco chips, coco pith, and redwood pith are all substrates that make up a large majority of “potting soils” although they have good texture and water retaining capacity they have little or no nutritive value. These substrates are often blended with bulk aggregates such as perlite, vermiculite, pumice stone, and lava rock to increase their aeration and porosity (drainage). Often amendments are added to the potting soil to change its ph or texture or to increase its nutrient content, rice hulls, bird and bat guanos, worm castings, oyster shell flour, dolomite lime, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, fish meal, crab shell powder, granite dust, glacial rock dust, greensand, rock phosphate, colliodial phosphate, leonardite, and gypsum to name a few. A lot of growers believe that if they are using an amended bulk substrate then the herb is soil grown. I beg to differ, soil isn’t soil without a substantial amount of humic mater or compost in the mix. Amended coco fiber blended with perlite, red lava, rice hulls and worm castings is still a soil-less mix. To achieve good organic “soil” you will need to have a minimum of 25% organic compost in your soil mixture.

There are many different ways to obtain compost and humic soils. Composted sawdust and wood chips are often sold as “forest compost” in most nurseries and they work well as long as they are thoroughly composted, preferably 20 years or more. Forest compost is often “mined” from old mill sights. There are mountains of sawdust from the timber industry that eventually turn into dank dark compost when left to sit long enough. It is important that all of the carbonic matter is adequately decomposed or it will rob your soil of nitrogen. Alaskan Humic Soil can be purchased through most good nurseries and grow stores as well, it is mined similarly to peat but is much richer and gives a lot of rich organic humic matter to the soil mixture. I do not recommend using more than 10 to 15% humic soil in any soil mix. Another form of compost that can be acquired through any decent nursery is worm compost. Different from worm castings, worm compost consists of the bedding material that the worms are raised in, you can try to contact your local worm farmer and see what they have to offer. Mushroom farms can also be a good resource. Mushroom compost has been used for its rich fertile properties in many a grower’s soil recipe. It is important that you only source your mushroom compost from smaller organic farms. Commercial mushroom farms often treat their compost with specific fungicides to inhibit the growth of other mushrooms that compete with their commercial crop. Unfortunately the use of these fungicides renders the compost useless to farmers and gardeners for reuse because the chemical fungicides inhibit the growth of the healthy fungi necessary for healthy soil biology, always be extremely careful to do adequate research on the origin of your compost. One form of compost that I never recommend is green waste compost. A lot of municipalities are composting their green waste, stay away from any compost containing any green waste, the last thing any medicinal cannabis patient needs is the residue from the miracle grow or round-up that someone was spraying on their lawn or ornamental yard plants ending up in their ganja garden.

Whether you are making your own compost, buying it in bags or in bulk, the most important thing you can understand is that the compost is the backbone of soil. The higher the quality of the compost, the healthier the soil, the healthier the soil, the healthier the plant, the healthier the plant, the danker the herb, period point blank. Learning about what makes good compost is the key to understanding how to grow truly superior quality ganja. Compost should be high in humus and low in un-composted organic matter. “All humus is organic matter but not all organic matter is humus. Raw organic matter consists of the waste products or remains of organisms that have not yet decomposed. Humus is one form of organic matter that has undergone some degree of decomposition. There is no hard and fast dividing line, but a continuum, with fresh undecomposed organic materials-manure, saw dust, corn stubble, kitchen wastes, or insect bodies-at one end and stable humus, which may resist decomposition for hundreds of years at the other.”

“Humus is dark brown, porous, spongy and somewhat gummy, and has a pleasant earthy fragrance. Chemically, it is a mixture of complex compounds, some of which are plant residues that don’t readily decompose, such as waxes and lignins. The rest are gums and starches synthesized by soil organisms, primarily bacteria and fungi, as they consume organic debris. Humus is highly variable in its composition, depending on the nature of the original material and the conditions of its decomposition.

“Humus” is actually more a generic term than a precise one. Its qualities will reflect different origins and composition. Just as wine can vary widely in quality, so can humus. And, just as different wines are suitable for different culinary purposes, the varieties of humus serve varying soil functions.”

Understanding soil tilth and learning how to create soil with the perfect richness and texture is not something that you learn overnight. It can take time to learn how to blend a soil that has adequate drainage and appropriate water retention, that is rich enough to feed the plants but won’t burn younger plants. Balancing the amendments in such a fashion as to make all of the necessary nutrients available in the right proportions without under or overcompensating. I am going to start off with a simple soil recipe and then expand on it conceptually so you can start to develop soil recipes of your own.

1 Part Coco Pith

1 Part Coco Chips

1 Part Coarse Perlite

1 Part Alaskan Humic Soil

2 Parts Worm Castings

2 Parts Parboiled Rice Hulls

2 Parts 5/16 Lava or Pumice Stone

2 Parts Hypnum Peat

3 Parts Dank Humic Compost

This blend is what I am using now for both my indoor and all the nursery work that I am doing in the greenhouse. It has both adequate drainage and appropriate water retention and is rich enough to promote healthy growth and won’t burn small clones or seedlings. It is very important that you use a “triple rinsed” coco with a guaranteed low EC. Salty coco can block potassium uptake and can cause serious problems for your plants as they mature. I use both coco and peat in my recipe. You can substitute sphagnum peat for coco if you don’t have a ready supply of clean coco. The sum of the total parts of my soil blend is15, I use a one-gallon bucket to measure each part. I find it is hard to hand/tarp mix more than15 gallons of soil at a time. I measure my amendments in proportion to the 15 gallons of soil mix, to each batch of soil I add the following amendments:

2 Cups Kelp Meal

2 Cups Alfalfa Meal

2 Cups Dolomite Lime

2 Cups Glacial Rock Dust

2 Cups Oyster Shell Flour

2 Cups Greensand

2 Cups Prilled Rock Phosphate

1 Cup Trace Mineral Additive

½ Cup Gypsum

½ Cup Colliodial (Soft) Phosphate

Sometimes I will also add varying amounts of guanos to my amended mix, it depends on my intention, if I am potting up young seedlings or clones (5 ½ inch to 1 gallon pots) I will leave out the guanos. If I am potting up into 3, 5, 7, or 10 gallon pots I will add a few cups of guano to each 15 gallons of soil, I like 1 cup Mocha Bat, 1 cup Indonesian Bat, and 1 cup High Phosphorus Sea Bird Guano for plants that will be flowered in less than 10 gallon containers. I will add 1 cup Nitro Bat and 1 cup High Nitrogen Sea Bird Guano to soil for Plants that I am planning on planting up for outdoor and for extended vegetive growth, such as mother plants. I never exceed 3 cups of guano per 15 gallons of soil mix.

Because I live in “The Emerald Triangle” all of the above components are readily available. You will have to look to your local nursery and garden supply or go online to find certain products. All of the organic amendments I use have been available commercially from regular nursery supply and garden stores since before hydro stores ever existed. Anywhere people grow roses, tomatoes, melons, corn, beans, or squash organically you should have no trouble finding or ordering all of the bulk amendments I use in my mix, however oftentimes they are sold in 50 pound increments. Although not very expensive, having 10-50lb bags of amendments lying around can be a little cumbersome. Sometimes you can find these amendments in 5lb boxes or in bulk, so that you can purchase the amendments you need in the amount that you want at any given point. Perlite, coco chips and coco pith are available at most grow-stores as are worm castings, Alaskan humic soil, and forest compost. Rice hulls, lava, and pumice stone are used in nurseries worldwide, and should be readily found at garden or farm supply stores. The hypnum peat is something I have been turned on to recently and we are working on bringing to market nationally and internationally. So far as I can tell, hypnum peat is the best medium for growing the beneficial bacteria and fungi necessary for healthy soil that the horticultural world has encountered yet. Better even than sedge peat!

The most important thing to remember about soil is that it is alive, and healthy soil needs all of the necessary organic components to support abundant and diverse life. When you add salt-based synthetic fertilizers to soil or soil-less mediums they toxify the ecosystem of the rhizosphere (the region of soil in the vicinity of plant roots in which the chemistry and microbiology is influenced by their growth, respiration, and nutrient exchange.) and are detrimental to the sensitive ecology of a healthy soil. When we grow organically in soil, we are focused on creating a healthy rhizosphere, where the biology is the dominant force in the uptake of nutrients to the plant, rather than a chemically dominant feeding program where the plants are forced to uptake salt-based nutrients to live. By feeding the biology of the soil we get better uptake of the necessary nutrients for healthy and vigorous plant growth. There is a symbiosis between the beneficial bacteria and fungi and the roots of your plant.

“Plant roots themselves play an important role in soil ecology. The largest numbers and kinds of organisms are found in the upper-most layers of the soil, closer to fresh sources of air, water, and food. True, some biological activity happens even at fairly deep levels, especially where earthworms and other animals burrow, and where deep-rooted plants grow. However, in the area immediately surrounding plant roots, known as the rhizosphere, there are concentrations of ten to as many as one hundred times more organisms than can be found elsewhere in the soil. A soil such as that found under permanent grass sod, totally permeated by fibrous masses of roots, will inevitably have a healthier, more robust microbial population than one with cleanly cultivated row crops.

Most of the important soil biological transformations take place in the rhizosphere, especially nitrogen fixation and mycorrhizal associations. The outer coating of the growing root tip, called the mucigel, is a fascinating substance, a product of both the root and the microcommunity around it. A gelatinous substance secreted by the root, the mucigel is a rich mass of microbes and chemical nutrients that connects the plant directly to the life of the soil.”

In my soil mix the Alaskan humic soil and the dank humic compost make up 1/4th  (25%) of the total composition of the soil, another 1/4th of the mix comes from the hypnum peat and the worm castings, thus ½  (50%) of the soil mix consists of dank, earthy, biologically rich, humic laden, organic matter, 7/16th  (43.75%) of the soil mix consists of inert substrates and aggregates (coco chips, coco fiber, perlite, rice hulls and pumice stone) that help to condition the soils’ porosity and texture, 1/16th  (6.25%) of the soil is dry powdered bulk amendments. The amount of rich humic compost, hypnum peat, and worm castings are in good proportion to the amount of coco, perlite, rice hulls and pumice stone. This gives the soil perfect texture and adequate drainage. The amendments are in the right proportions to one another so that all of the secondary and tertiary micronutrients are available in the necessary amounts; this is what makes the soil a complete soil. The Macronutrients can be adjusted by adding guanos with different N, P, and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium) ratios to suit the specific needs of each phase of growth. Guanos can also be “top dressed” (added to the top of the soil) and watered in, during all phases of growth to increase desired levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Some growers use blood meal, bone meal, feather meal and fish meal as top-dresses as they are high in varying levels of N, P, K, while other growers are opposed to using any animal products at all. There is an emerging popularity in what has been dubbed “veganics”, that is, using no animal products what so ever. Growers who want to grow plants without using any animal products use mineral and plant based nutrients. These consist of; enzyme hydrolyzed soy, rock phosphate (mined), potassium sulfate, potassium-magnesium sulfate, copper sulfate, iron sulfate, manganese sulfate, molybdic oxide, zinc sulfate, yucca sapponia, and humic derivatives, as well as many others, all of these aforementioned products are certified-organic and can be used in the place of animal products to increase levels of macro and micro nutrients. I am a big fan of soluble seaweed powders (Ascophyllum nodosum) especially the 1-1-17, as well as soluble humic derivatives from Leonardite.

The recipe I have given you in this article is a complete “stand alone” potting soil and using it you can grow a healthy plant through its entire lifecycle. It doesn’t matter if you intend to grow the plant for 6 weeks or 6 months, this soil mixture has all of the necessary biology and micronutrients and, with the right addition of guanos, will have a sufficient amount of macronutrients for healthy organic growth. You can feed this soil mix nothing but pure water and you will achieve killer kind organic soil grown buds. Now, as anything else in life there is always room for improvement. I want to stress the concept that less is more, and although we want to optimize growth throughout the life cycle of the plant, too much of a good thing can seriously damage yield, potency, and overall quality and terpene production. Big-Hydro wants you to think that you have to phosphate load your plants all through flower production to get good yields, however, most of the time the truth is the exact opposite. Contrary to popular belief, healthy plant growth can be achieved without adding any soluble or liquid fertilizers to an amended organic soil mix. The main thing that I focus on isn’t feeding the plant but feeding the soil. By feeding the fungi and bacteria in the soil you help the living symbiosis between the plants’ roots and the microorganisms that live in a healthy soil to occur, this is what causes your plants to uptake the necessary nutrients that are already present in the soil in the plants’ rhizosphere. Adding too many soluble nutrients often is the cause of poor yields and over dosing your plants with chemical fertilizers not only kills off all of the beneficial fungi and bacteria, it will also kill your plants.

Something to consider when growing in organic soil is the size of the container that you are going to use in relation to the size of the plant that you intend to grow. It is important to give your plant an adequate amount of soil to achieve the potential growth the plant is capable of. I recommend 3 gallons of soil per 1-2 ounces of dried manicured buds you intend to grow, or 45-50 gallons of soil per 1-2 pounds of dried manicured buds you intend to grow.  To grow a 5-pound or larger plant I would suggest 300 gallon or larger container. The more soil you give your plants the more you increase your potential yield, other factors such as temperature, lighting, space, length of season and weather all will affect a plants growth potential as well. A plant that gets all day full sun, tons of water and has upwards of a hundred square feet of canopy space, has a lot more potential to yield over 5-pounds than a plant with limited sun or partial shade and limited water and space. Sometimes it is better to use smaller containers and less soil to grow more, smaller plants. One hundred half-pound plants might yield higher quality medicine than twenty-five two-pound plants.  In the microclimate where I live we have a costal influence, and plants that yield more than 2-3 pounds have a higher percentage of loss to mold than plants that yield 3 pounds or less. My neighbor had a bunch of 5-7 pound plants last year and because of heavy early rains and warm weather for the two weeks to follow he lost 90% of his crop to mold. While my plants averaged between 1 and 3 pounds and I lost maybe 20% of my crop at the most. My favorite plants were around 300 grams and didn’t mold at all. Bigger buds doesn’t necessarily mean better pot, in fact it is often the other way around, some of the best nugs I have ever grown have come from plants between ¼ and ¾ of a pound. If and when cannabis becomes accepted as the godsend that it is, and the political oppression and persecution of the plant and all of the herbsmen and herbswomen who grow it is no longer tolerated by the people of this world, when we no longer face the threat of incarceration for growing or possessing a medicinal herb, given to us with all the other seed bearing plants by the most-high creator, then maybe we will grow as many plants as we should choose in the full sun, in front of god and everyone. I don’t feel like I need my local, state or federal government’s help to figure out how to grow my ganja in my own backyard. Do you?

So the next question is, “What do I use to feed the biology in my soil?” the answer, complex carbohydrates, simple sugars, humic and fulvic acids, seaweed extracts and various protein hydrolysates. For optimal biological activity during the vegetive stage of growth your goal is to increase the fungal count of your soil, when you switch over to the floral stage of growth your goal is to increase the bacterial count of your soil. Compost tea has become the popular way to increase soil biology. Many farms have invested in relatively expensive commercial compost tea brewers and many growers are very happy with the results. There is a lot of infor