“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Soil is the foundation of all life.
As gardeners, we have a duty to be stewards of the land and leave it better than we found. Many agriculture-dense areas have very depleted soil from decades of monoculture. As you read further, you’ll learn that many of these soil ingredients help rejuvenate and recondition the soil back to its fertile prime. Building your soil is not only immensely satisfying on a feel-good level, but it saves you money by eliminating the need for bottled nutrients. If you care for it properly, this soil will only get more potent and powerful over time.
In this Grow Guide, I am going to walk you through three levels of building your own soil – basic, plus and ultimate blends.
Building your soil is better than buying bags of soil from the store because of one reason I briefly mentioned already, it will let you cut bottled nutrients out of your regimen. This one elimination can save you, the grower, thousands of dollars. But the main benefit of building your soil it that it gives the cannabis plant exactly what she wants. Giving your plant nutrients by way of composted soil, allows you to deliver nourishment to your plants in the exact form they need.
What I will walk you through today is building a soil that requires no additional bottled nutrients. These practices are also known in the industry as super soil or no-till. These two methods are very similar, both are building an organic soil that allows you “just add water” to grow amazing, high-quality cannabis. The main difference is that no-till is an evolution of super soil. It’s taking the concept a step further and replacing any animal byproducts nutrients with plant nutrients. Essentially, no-till is the vegan version of super soil. To be 100% organic, you are almost required to implement no-till unless you make organic animal byproduct amendments or you really look into the sourcing of them to ensure they are organic. Most animal byproducts are OMRI Listed, which may cause the grower to think it is organic, however, this certification only means that this product can be used in organic agriculture, not that it is an actual organic product. Many animal byproducts are sourced from non-organic commercial slaughterhouses, which would be filled with pesticides, antibiotics and other gnarly chemicals. If you want your cannabis to be no question, 100% organic, it’s best to go with a no-till method. Sometimes access to the right materials can be difficult, so it’s all about the baby steps that get you to the ultimate goal of being organic and sustainable.
Basic Soil Blend
This basic soil blend is an excellent foundation to build upon. This mix is a danker version of what you would be getting from a bag of soil at the store. I’ve listed options for each ingredient because every region has access to various amendments. It’s always best to find a local, organic source for these ingredients (Craigslist can be a great resource).
- 1/3 WORM CASTINGS / COMPOSTED MANURE
- 1/3 LAVA ROCK / PUMICE / PERLITE
- 1/3 PEAT MOSS / COMPOST
Worm castings or composted manure add the valuable nutrient-dense organic matter that helps our soil microorganisms thrive. Worm castings are made through worms digesting highly nutritious inputs. The worms break down macro and micro nutrients into a uniform coffee-ground type material that makes it effortless for your plants to intake. Worm castings also contain water soluble-nutrients that are absorbed by your plant roots as you water. If you don’t have access to organic worm castings, or if you have better access to local, organic manure then that is a great addition of organic matter as well. If you are using manure, make sure it has composted for at least 60 days.
Lava rock, pumice or perlite are some options for soil aeration and drainage. Of course, you’re not obligated to these three options, there are other great aerating materials available, so it’s about whatever is local and accessible. There are many debates on which is best for the plant, the environment, etc. For the plant, many argue that perlite is the best because it holds more water in its porous surface than lava rock or pumice, but it does contain fluoride and leaches nutrients more than the other two options.
Peat moss or compost make up the last third of your basic soil blend. Peat moss has always been a popular and accessible product, but recently many people have become worried that harvesting the peat moss can cause destruction to the fragile peat bog ecosystem. Cornell University claims, “Canada, where we get most of our peat moss in the United States, has 25% of the world’s peatlands and only .02% of them is being harvested. The industry is regulated and practices restoration and reclamation to attempt to keep peat a sustainable resource. Environmental assessments are conducted before opening a virgin bog to harvest.” Which is comforting, however, it’s still good to be aware of where your inputs are coming from and to not use in excess. Compost is an easy alternative to the organic matter that peat moss provides – it also is more nutrient dense than peat moss and provides protection from soil pathogens. Remember, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can always play around with these ratios until you find your perfect foundational blend.
Plus Soil Blend
TAKE THE BASIC BLEND AND ADD…
- OYSTER SHELL
- GLACIAL ROCK DUST
- DIATOMACEOUS EARTH
- BAT GUANO
Alfalfa is a great source of nitrogen and potassium. It also contains many minerals that plants absolutely love such as calcium, folic acid, iron and magnesium. The word alfalfa actually derives from the Arabic phrase “Father of All Foods” because it is such a nutrient-rich.
Oyster Shell is a rich source of calcium that promotes healthy and vigorous root growth. It has an immediate nutrient release but also a long-term release of nutrients, so it’s a great addition to your living soil. It can also help raise the pH in acidic soils.
Glacial Rock Dust is made from a wide variety of mineral-dense rocks, pulverized over time by the subtle movements of a glacier. As the glacier moves, it leaves behind these mineral deposits that get collected for agricultural use. The rock dust contains a variety of trace minerals that are essential for healthy plant growth and soil structure.
Fishbone is a high source of phosphorus and calcium. It is exactly what it sounds like, ground up fish bones. Fishbone is a fast-release alternative to the traditional bone meal amendment.
Kelp is a type of seaweed that is dense with micronutrients and growth hormones.It encourages vigorous growth, but it’s not the most potent fertilizer. When combined with fish products, kelp helps to increase the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Diatomaceous Earth is an optional amendment, but it works wonders as an organic pest prevention plus it is a physical method of killing pests rather than a chemical one. Diatomaceous earth is almost pure silica, but it is actually ancient fossilized marine organisms that are ground up into a powder that is like microscopic daggers to insects. It is a nontoxic way to kill exoskeleton insects.
Bat Guano is an excellent nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer and all-around soil conditioner with many great uses. Bat Guano enhances the tilth of the soil, it activates compost by speeding up the decomposition process and the microbes in bat guano have been said to cleanse toxic soils and prevent soil disease.
Ultimate Soil Blend
TAKE THE PLUS BLEND AND ADD…
- CRAB MEAL
- FISH MEAL
- NEEM SEED MEAL
- STINGING NETTLE
Crab Meal is popular in the Northwest because it is typically a byproduct of the Pacific Northwest Dungeness crab harvest. Ground crab shell is rich is calcium and has a slow-release of nitrogen. What makes crab meal unique is its high content of a unique protein called Chitin, which the microorganisms in the soil go absolutely crazy for.
Fish Meal is an amazingly rich source of nitrogen made from ground fish byproducts. Its wide range of macro and micronutrients stimulate rapid growth, even for heavy feeders. It also contains the entire amino acid spectrum and a diverse range of vitamins. Because of fish meal’s slow release of nutrients, it’s best to cook this into your 30-60 days before using it.
Azomite is a mineral supplement rich is calcium, iron and manganese. It is made from rocks, similar to the glacial rock dust. The minerals in Azomite actually help to replenish micronutrients and trace elements to depleted soil so it really enhances soil condition. The microbes in the soil also love these minerals which will cause your plants to thrive.
Greensand is mined in New Jersey out of marine deposits that are estimated to be 70 million years old. Ancient nutrients, right there. Greensand breaks down slowly to release potassium and micronutrients over time.
Neem Seed Meal is made by pressing the seeds of the neem tree. Neem oil is commonly used as an organic pesticide but Neem Seed Meal, or ‘Neem Cakes,’ is also a great amendment for your soil. It’s a great all-natural fertilizer that slow-releases nitrogen while also improving organic matter in the soil. Some have also found it’s natural pest repellent characteristics transfer to the soil and aids in ridding soil gnats.
Stinging Nettle is usually seen as a troublesome weed, but it is actually a rich source of nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, copper, iron and sodium. It has micronutrients that plants will eat up. Stinging Nettle also helps cure most nutrient deficiencies, so if you see any yellowing leaves hit them with an extra boost of stinging nettle.
Soil is a living organism. For your plants to produce high yields, your soil ecosystem needs to be happy and in balance. I found it helps to flip the perspective — you’re not feeding your plants, you’re feeding your soil. Happy soil = happy plants. Your plants will be rejoicing and thanking you for all your hard work in giving them exactly what they need to thrive. With all this information you can now go off and experiment with these recipes or create your own blends! I’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks for soil building in the comments below!
Allie is a NW-based content curator for Marijuana.com. She has been a professional in the marijuana industry since she was 18 years old, spending the first five years of her career working for Dope Magazine as lead photographer. Allie has worked on mainstream projects such as Idiot’s Guide: Growing Marijuana, Branding Bud: The Consumerization of Cannabis and her own self-published book, As The Grass Grows.