The soil food web powers the life of plants; when we model this natural order, we can grow cannabis in a perpetual closed loop system. When we create the proper environment, we can grow the nutrients our plants need in our gardens, without having to purchase synthetic varieties of nutrients. These principles can be applied indoors in no-till living soil containers, and outdoors in living soil. They can also be applied from small home grows to large-scale operations, by way of regenerative farming practices.
The soil food web powers the life of plants.
The first step is to create and mimic the natural soil food web: the network of microorganisms serving to decompose organic matter, and fix nutrients and minerals into available forms for plants. The benefits of growing regenerative cannabis include carbon sequestration, less labor inputs, lower financial inputs, and a clean, healthy, beyond organic end product. Nature has created a perfect system that when bypassed, as conventional agriculture attempts to do, negates these benefits and creates unnecessary problems. Rather, by modeling nature’s designs and rhythms, we can develop regenerative cannabis farms that are healthy for the environment, the plant, and the end user.
Let’s take a look at how one might approach each stage of plant growth to close the loop and perpetuate the cycle:
5-10 days. The initial stage of growth begins in a living organic soil medium that is alive and teeming with nutrients, fungi, minerals, and microorganisms. It is ideal to start the plant in its final home to avoid stress, although many people transplant for space reasons. Here, we experience our first inputs that will remain cycle after cycle. The soil for germination will have either a seed or clone that will then be transferred to another container from their initial nursery.
2-3 weeks, 18 hours light. Plants remain in the same soil. Water, mulch, and amendments may be applied. Seedlings may be transferred to a new container where they will remain for the rest of their life cycle.
3-15 weeks, 18 hours light. Plants remain in the same soil.
Water, mulch, amendments, and integrated pest management (IPM)
may be applied. For indoor no-till container gardens, worms may be applied. Cover crops can be planted to provide natural nutrients for the plant. Crops are cut and clippings may be applied as mulch and also serve as organic matter for the soil food web.
8-11 weeks, 12 hours light. Plants remain in the same soil. Water and amendments may be applied.
Plants are harvested. Roots can remain in soil to serve as organic matter for microbiology or removed and composted for a quicker turnaround.
Plants are dried and cured before being processed or consumed. Plants may also be harvested for fresh frozen purposes.
To continue the cycle, the next round of seedlings are planted in the same no-till container. If we can create an ecosystem focused on feeding the soil and turn away from the chemical dependent pH/NPK* model of feeding the plant, we will establish the optimal outcomes for the earth, the people, and the equity of all.
*NPK is fertilizer (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium)
The Soul of the Soil
A single teaspoon of soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and thousands of nematodes, the essential factor separating soil from dirt— Life! To build living soil for your garden, use high quality organic ingredients from sustainable sources to create a stable ecosystem that will model nature’s rhythms. The soil food web powers the growth of the plants by making nutrients available and creates a regenerative closed loop system.
Natural soil systems allow for the organic cycling of nutrients from the diversity of microbes present. Once you have created a living organic soil, you, in essence, can just plant a seed and water it. Plants have and do grow all the time without the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemicals to motivate pH levels. It happens in nature everyday. When humans interrupt these natural systems, like trying to bypass the soil food web for example, it can lead to a dependance on varying methods of agriculture based in synthetic models known to harm the environment and, potentially, the plant and end user.
There are many examples of soil building + methods to farming that one may explore.
One solution is to observe natural patterns and model them (both indoors and out). When seeds fall, they are covered with a mulch. The soil receives a protective layer of dried leaves to create an inhabitable environment for the life beneath our feet to thrive. We mock this particular autumn seasonal flow in our gardens by including cover crops, top dressing with compost, and mulching. There are many examples of soil building and methods to farming that one may explore.
Recommended Soil Recipe
May vary depending on your ecosystem and materials available.
1 part Sphagnum Peat Moss:
A natural, organic resource from bog ecosystems that is predominantly harvested for water retaining properties, and it is naturally pathogen free. Peat moss improves soil structure, drainage, and retains nutrients.
1 part Compost:
Decomposing organic matter; it can be made of up to 50% earthworm castings. Depending on your needs, making a worm bin at home may interest you to ensure product quality. Whatever the animal eats, the compost will become, so be sure to check the source.
1 part Aeration:
Pumice stones, volcanic rock, and/or rice hulls (that have a low germination rate) are added to create aeration. In a no-till system, these natural spaces serve to allow water and nutrients to flow, and are also home for microbes. Worms are another example of aeration. As they move through the soil, their bioslime binds soil particles together, which, in turn, allows for water retention!
per cubic foot of total soil volume, consider adding ½ cup of each:
Known to enrich the soil.
Meal: High in calcium carbonate, crab and shrimp combined.
The shells are made of chitin and break down into chitenaise.
It contains nitrogen and phosphorous.
High azardaractin count, natural fertilizer.
Cake: Organic fertilizer, high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
If the aspect of building soil from scratch feels overwhelming, there are companies who offer pre-mixed living soil for your convenience. Tracking all of your inputs and following a grow cycle that supports a living system will create the best case scenario for your gardening success. No-till container gardening is a simple solution to both indoor and outdoor farms with the end goal of closing loops, so we can best preserve the earth and create harmonious systems which produce safe and clean plants.
What didn’t you do to bury me but you forgot that I was a seed.
The famous words written by Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos, refers to the strength needed to grow and rise up out of adversities, and highlights the tremendous potential held within the mighty seed of nature. The process of germination, where a seed sprouts, and grows into a new plant, requires stable genetics, a growing medium, water, and time.
When it really comes down to it, you can throw a seed into some good organic living soil, and from it, a healthy seed starts. After all, this is how nature does it. Such as life, one can choose to make things as simple or as complicated as they’d like. I prefer to keep it simple; keep in mind, all genetics, environments, and growers are different, so results may vary.
The most important thing you want to focus on is making sure you have legitimate genetics. The best seeds you can purchase are seeds grown and bred in organic living soils. The second most important thing you can have is a healthy environment your plants can sprout in. Lastly, the third most important thing you can have is a healthy, clean biological medium into which you can germinate the seeds.
Germinate seeds under light with 20 hours on and 4 hours off. Adjust your light source to accommodate height wise for the reality that the plants will grow after they germinate. T5s or LEDs are highly recommended for this stage of growth. Try to keep the room between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit when the lights are off.
How to Germinate Seeds
A Step by Step Process:
1. Direct seeding into final soil. Plant the seed directly into moist organic soil because it will allow for the plant to grow into the most natural environment. If your seeds don’t make it within two weeks, then they were not biologically resilient enough to merit staying in your garden.
1. Drop seeds in a cup of clean distilled RO (Reverse Osmosis) water, and wait for the first tap root, or tendril to pop. Keep the cup of water in a dark place. It should take between 24-32 hours to see the white root appear.
2. Prepare your growing medium, and poke holes the size of your pinky into soil about ½ inch down.
3. Hold seedling very gently or use tweezers and place the seed, tendril side down into the soil. Lightly backfill with soil to cover the seed. Be careful not to touch the root, and always use clean hands when working in the garden.
4. Gently water over the soil.
5. Put under light source.
6. Begin watering cycle to keep plant growing. As you monitor the growth of the plant, make sure you have healthy green vertical growth, and make sure the plant receives the feeding regimen it needs.
7. Soon you will notice the plant emerging from the soil. This first growth is called the cotyledon, and then the next growth you will notice are the first true leaves of your new plant!
Not all genetics are the same, so be patient. Some will germinate at faster rates than others, and some seeds will not germinate at all. This is all part of the cycle of life, so keep a grow journal to learn the signs and patterns of each genetic you are working with from seed to harvest.
Anyone can grow cannabis, if you have the passion, and drive. It is a relationship we cultivate with the plant, and just like any other friendship, it takes time, practice, and presence for a successful coexistence to blossom. The question is not if, but when we make mistakes, let them serve as a lesson for the future. Keep a dated grow journal to log every input, plant responses you observe.
Preparing Your Space
Review your local cannabis grow laws and abide by them. If you are renting, lease agreements may differ from the law, so ensure you are not putting yourself at risk. Before growing cannabis, take the time to prepare the environment. From cultivation to harvest, drying, storing, waste management, and knowing what you will do with your end product is key information that will light the way when making important decisions in your design process. Consider how you will mitigate smell, and if your location is in close proximity to neighbors who may be concerned. You don’t want to spend your time, money, and energy growing a garden that only has to be taken down due to some complaints.
Water may be your most limiting factor, so think about where you will source it from, and test it to make sure it has a balanced pH and is clean. Water filters help eliminate any future problems in the garden. Plan your garden around your water source and prepare sustainable irrigation systems.
Cannabis is one of the worlds largest bioremediators. Its tap root draws up whatever is in the soil, be it heavy metals, toxins, or beneficial nutrients. For this reason, if cannabis is being grown outdoors, its highly recommended to test the soil to ensure quality. A trained eye will notice robust life thriving in the soil if it is fertile. If stable ecosystems are created and integrated pest management is in place, there will be no need to use any toxins of any kind.
Consider your environment and decide if you want to plant directly into the ground, in raised beds, or a greenhouse. Be careful for cross-pollination from your neighbors, especially now that more and more people are deciding to grow cannabis.
There is no greater energy than the sun; however, current legislation has enforced that some regions can only cultivate cannabis indoors including in Colorado where the home grow law states that, “[Cannabis] plants must be kept in an enclosed, locked area that can’t be viewed openly. This means the plants can’t be outside.”
Consider where you will be growing indoors. Are you going to frame out a room? Put up an indoor tent? Or use natural light by the window? Cannabis makes great house plants, and can be used to grow microgreens as well! How will you manage the temperature of the room? Do you need a fan, an air conditioning unit? There are no right or wrong answers, only solutions to your unique situation.
One way to adapt to indoor gardening practices is to build living soil systems inside. This can be accomplished in pots, indoor raised beds, or other methods, depending on the materials you have available.
SEED OR CLONE?
Decide if you will grow from seeds or if you will be using rooted clones. The benefits of growing from seed include a more stable genetic and eliminate the risk of inheriting pests from a purchased clone. Seeds take longer to germinate, and you will have to ‘sex’ the plants, which means to identify which are male and which are female, and try to remove the males as fast as possible. Clones are cut from a mother plant and are ready to go in your garden right away. Those taken from your own plants are more cost effective than purchasing seeds. Genetics are just as important as your growing methods, so choose wisely! If purchasing seed, use credible sources who offer genetics that are completely stabilized. Know that not all genetics are the same; they will grow at different rates and sizes. These factors can all play into your overall
design of your room.
MALE OR FEMALE?
Cannabis sativa l. (Cannabaceae) is a dioecious plant, meaning it has distinct male plants and female plants. Female plants are mostly used for their flowers which contain cannabinoids (including THC, and CBD, among hundreds of others) and terpenes (like limonene, which is also found in lemons!) Male plants may be used for breeding purposes, among other things. In most cases, you will want to grow females, and this requires the removal of all male plants so that the females do not get seeded. A male in the room can seed your whole garden if you are
Do what feels best for your time and space, and source your materials from farmers who are also using clean, regenerative methods of cultivation. Cannabis completes its life cycle in one season, an annual plant, so plan for about three months from seed to harvest.
No matter your location, from urban cities to coastal climates, from greenhouse spaces to large-scale indoor operations, from sea level to mountain ranges, regenerative agriculture practices can be applied to all contexts. More is possible by working with nature’s bio rhythms. We can harvest greater yields and increase fertility in the soils.
Regenerative cannabis cultivation is the solution to growing healthy plants that are good for the environment and the people. Be humble, honor your intention for cultivating the cannabis plant, and start slowly. Be kind to yourself, trust your intuition, come to your senses, let them tell you everything. The more time we spend in the garden, the more intuitive we will become. Get your hands dirty, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Nature is an impeccable teacher when we take the time to do the work and listen.