Finding the appropriate growing medium for your plant is probably the most important decision you can make as an organic gardener. It is advisable to think of your plant’s growing medium similar to your own home, the place you work, or wherever you spend the majority of your time. I’m sure you appreciate comfortable surroundings, healthy air, clean water, and plenty of nutritious food – and I am sure if any of these elements are in short supply or unavailable, you notice their absence and it begins to affect your health.
Growing Medium Options for Cannabis
Recently, many various growing mediums have come to the market, each with its own claim to promote or prevent some positive or less-desirable aspect of plant life.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “living soil” many times, or maybe you’ve landed here because you are wondering if soil can really be considered “alive.” And if so, what does that mean to your indoor, organic cannabis plants? Should you opt for living soil over another growing medium? Does living soil require a lot of research, knowledge or maintenance in order to maintain a healthy and productive plant? We are here to answer all of these questions, and likely many more. Keep reading to find out all of the reasons we adore planting in living soil, and would never use another medium anywhere on our entire farm!
In living soil (and the greater practice of permaculture), we appreciate all of the interconnected and mutually beneficial life cycles thriving among our soil. As a matter of fact, we begin to view our plants as ONE of these lives that the earth is sustaining – and our crop is merely one product being produced, but we never regard just a singular aspect – everything is part of a greater dynamic. This is key in order to prevent soil nutrient depletion, as well as for pest management, and disease control.
Understanding The Composition of Living Soil
Living soil specifically involves establishing a healthy base of soil in whatever container you plan to use to create your plant’s ecosystem. This environment will eventually house many species, so choose wisely. Choosing the right container is a very important first step. Keep in mind that your plant’s roots must not ever dry out, but having excellent aeration will also help in preventing mold and root rot.
Building the Soil
The foundation should be about:
- 33% sphagnum peat moss,
- 20% Compost (Malibu) You can add vermicompost but not the full 20% due to sodium issues (or a quality store-bought variety like these).
- 33% aeration amendment,
- 14% quality topsoil
Then a mixture of quality soil additives should be used such as:
After adding the soil mix to your container, protect with a living mulch, like clover, wood chips or straw. The idea is to build a biologically diverse environment, and keep it! Your soil will age, and only improve with time, as it flourishes with new life.
An excellent option for purchasing pre-made soils and amendments is Build-A-Soil.
Additionally, the creation of healthy compost that is also rich in nutrients and beneficial bacteria is necessary in order to maintain the ecosystem of a living soil growing environment. Healthy compost is easy to make, and a great way to help the environment by reducing your family’s trash production. Find out about making your own compost here.
Planting in Your Soil
After the base for your soil is built, it’s time to start growing. Plant your seeds, using the guide available here. After your first growth has sprouted, it is advisable to engage in minimal tilling in order to incorporate the nutrient-rich topsoil, plus any compost or additives.
You may want to add amendments, based upon the needs of your plant. Typically it is advised to topdress new inputs as the plant grows. Keep a close eye on all areas of your plant, especially as it first begins growing, as this will tell you everything about your soil. You want to feed the soil, not the plants. The soil is where the plant receives its nutrition – its food and water. We never want to force-feed our plants, but we mustn’t starve them either.
It’s important to pay attention to your plants and let the soil (nature) do the work for you, ideally before you have any problems. A living soil environment maintains the proper balance nature intended so that most man-made problems are never encountered, and those same synthetic chemicals are then never even considered.
One of the most popular of these “alternative” or soilless growing methods is water – known as hydroponic growing, or simply “hydroponics” – which requires the grower to add various materials in order to add stability for the actual growth of the plant’s roots. Coco coir, which is made from the husk of coconuts, has become a popular hydroponic medium for indoor growers, along with rock wool or stone wool blocks, perlite and vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, clay pellets, lava rock, pumice, composted bark, or even sawdust. Essentially any material which can hold water and provide a surface for the plant’s structure is possible as a hydroponic medium.
To begin, hydroponic growing can be very productive for some indoor growers for a few reasons. Primarily, nutrients come from artificial sources, everything the plant “eats” must be purchased and added to this alternative medium. Because of this, the grower is in control of every aspect of that plant’s nutrient regime.
However, as we have discussed, hydroponic or alternative growing methods are a fairly new phenomenon. While they may offer the grower the sense of complete control and hence simplicity, the opposite is often found to be the case. Hydroponic growing is unnatural, this is absolutely not the way the majority of our plants thrive in their true habitats, and therefore in order to make them successful, these alternative growing methods require a tremendous amount of human intervention. Hydroponic growing is wholly incapable of providing the benefits and protection naturally present in the soil – including the presence of indigenous microorganisms, but also the slow feeding maintained by the way in which soil physically interacts with your plants’ root system.