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The Ultimate Guide To Growing Organic Cannabis

Growing cannabis organically is better for you, your soil, your garden, and the Earth. Use the guide below to grow incredible weed and boost the health of your garden.

A complete guide to organic cannabis cultivation.

  • 1. Perfect organic soil for cannabis
  • 1.a. The soil food web and plant intelligence
  • 1.b. Key players
  • 1.c. How to preserve soil life
  • 2. Beds or containers?
  • 3. Macronutrients and micronutrients
  • 3.a. Macronutrients
  • 3.b. Micronutrients
  • 4. Plant nutrition
  • 5. Organic vs chemical fertilisers
  • 5.a. Organic fertilisers
  • 5.b. Chemical fertilisers
  • 6. How pH works in organic cultivation
  • 7. Compost
  • 7.a. Slow composting
  • 7.b. Worm composting
  • 8. Manure
  • 9. How to feed cannabis organically
  • 10. Summary
  • 1. Perfect organic soil for cannabis
  • 1.a. The soil food web and plant intelligence
  • 1.b. Key players
  • 1.c. How to preserve soil life
  • 2. Beds or containers?
  • 3. Macronutrients and micronutrients
  • 3.a. Macronutrients
  • 3.b. Micronutrients
  • 4. Plant nutrition
  • 5. Organic vs chemical fertilisers
  • 5.a. Organic fertilisers
  • 5.b. Chemical fertilisers
  • 6. How pH works in organic cultivation
  • 7. Compost
  • 7.a. Slow composting
  • 7.b. Worm composting
  • 8. Manure
  • 9. How to feed cannabis organically
  • 10. Summary

Growing cannabis organically means cultivating the herb as nature intended. Native cannabis strains—or landraces—thrive in the wild all over the world. This goes to show that high-quality soil and biodiversity are all it takes to support the growth of thriving plants.

Sure, the cannabis industry has developed many synthetic formulas and techniques, and with great results. But we believe the best-quality flowers and the healthiest plants emerge when we go back to our roots.

Much like alchemy, organic cannabis cultivation involves turning low-value or waste products into high-value resources. Not only does growing cannabis organically result in incredible harvests, but it benefits our gardens and the environment, too.

PERFECT ORGANIC SOIL FOR CANNABIS

High-quality organic cannabis depends on one major factor: soil health. The last few decades have seen growers apply one nutrient for one problem—somewhat of a reductionist view. More recently, advancements in soil science have shown us that cannabis plants rely on a complex interplay within the soil—the soil food web—to stay healthy and thrive.

THE SOIL FOOD WEB AND PLANT INTELLIGENCE

The soil food web consists of many microorganisms, insects, and even birds and mammals. These creatures—many acting as both predator and prey—play an important role in breaking down organic matter into nutrients that are accessible to cannabis plants.

Starting off your growing operation with healthy living soil will help you avoid potential nutritional deficiencies, pest issues, and plant pathogens further down the line. Contrary to popular belief, plants don’t just suck up nutrients straight from the soil.

Instead, they farm their own food (literally!). They do so by releasing sugars (exudates) into the rhizosphere—an area that extends around two millimetres from the surface of the root system—attracting beneficial bacteria and fungi. Some of these organisms team up with the roots, allowing plants to better absorb nutrients, whereas other microbes act as food for larger creatures.

Nematodes and protozoa—the next step up in the soil food web—eat some of these microbes. It just so happens that bacteria and fungi are very efficient at breaking down organic matter and storing the nutrients locked up inside.

Nematodes and protozoa poop out some of these molecules. The plants then feed on these bioavailable nutrients, harvesting the bounty of their farming operation. Simply amazing, huh?

KEY PLAYERS

But plants don’t just make food through this interplay. The organisms they attract also help to shape the soil and keep it in optimal condition for healthy growth. Check out some of the most important soil food web lifeforms below:

Bacteria: These tiny creatures produce slimy substances that keep soil particles stuck together and give the growing medium structure. They also serve as food for larger lifeforms that excrete plant food.

Fungi: Fungi produce net-like structures (mycelium) that give the soil shape and keep it from crumbling or washing away. Beneficial “mycorrhizal” fungi also link up with plant root systems to improve nutrient uptake.

Nematodes: They gobble up smaller lifeforms and free up nutrients into plant-available forms. Certain “good” nematodes also keep the “bad” ones away (the latter like to chomp on plant roots).

Protozoa: These guys graze (like tiny little cows) on bacteria in the soil. Not only do they excrete free nutrients, but their hunting encourages the bacterial population to respond by growing faster.

Worms: Chill out, we’re not asking you to bring worms into your grow room! But, worms are so important in the soil. They take nutrients down into the medium, and their tunnels help to aerate and bring water down to plant roots.

HOW TO PRESERVE SOIL LIFE

Do you see why growing organic cannabis far exceeds simply pouring in nutrients now and then? By growing in a way that looks after all soil life, your soil will become richer and richer with each season.

But how can you achieve this?

Start off by purchasing good-quality organic soil. Once you have it, treat it like a pet (or billions of smaller pets). Horticultural geniuses have developed ways to garden over time that involve minimal destruction of soil life.

These methods involve avoiding the following actions:

Tilling: Healthy soil takes a while to build. Tilling and digging can quickly destroy beneficial life. They exist in the soil for a reason. Tilling brings them to the surface and exposes them to UV rays and other harmful factors—quickly killing them. It also breaks up those valuable fungal networks.

Pesticides/herbicides/fungicides: As their names suggest, these chemicals kill certain lifeforms, many of which are beneficial. As it happens, a healthy soil food web helps to defend against many diseases and pests without the use of poisonous chemicals.

Chemical fertilisers: These rich sources of synthetic nutrients irritate key life in the soil, such as our worm friends.

Organic no-till (or no-dig) farming aims to avoid the practices mentioned above. It involves creating shallow beds of high-quality soil on the surface, allowing plant roots to penetrate down without disturbing microbial life. The benefits of no-till include:

Protects the topsoil and beneficial organisms
Saves time and money
Slows evaporation
Keeps carbon locked in the soil

BEDS OR CONTAINERS?

Now that you know how to maintain healthy soil life, you’ll need to decide what to grow your cannabis plants in. You have two primary choices: beds or containers.

Garden beds

Garden beds are large patches of fertile land that allow roots to penetrate deep into the soil. Certain strains, namely monster sativa varieties, can take advantage of this extra space and reach enormous heights. However, outdoor beds remain exposed to the elements. They are relatively hard to defend against excessive rainfall, sudden heat waves, and early frosts.

Containers

Cultivating in containers allows growers to physically move their plants around as needed. They can be relocated into greenhouses or indoors if the weather takes a turn for the worse. They can also be transported into the shade or sun accordingly.

Not all containers are made equal. Plastic and ceramic containers fulfil the purpose of holding in a growing medium, but they can cause plant roots to behave in a less than desirable fashion. Fabric pots offer the best solution when it comes to this style of growing. They harness geotextile technology to retain adequate water while promoting aeration. This helps to stave off fungal pathogens and dehydration simultaneously.

MACRONUTRIENTS AND MICRONUTRIENTS

Cannabis plants require a varied and complete diet to produce the best results. Much like us humans, they require two main categories of food: macronutrients and micronutrients. Cannabis plants can draw in all of their nutrients from the soil, with three exceptions: They “inhale” carbon dioxide through tiny little pores on their leaves (called stomata), and create oxygen and hydrogen by splitting water during photosynthesis.

MACRONUTRIENTS

First, let’s go over the three nutrients that plants need in large quantities, appropriately known as macronutrients. We’ll cover the role of each one, as well as some organic sources.

NITROGEN

• Required for vegetative growth
• Forms part of the chlorophyll molecule

• Seaweed
• Manure
• Worm castings

POTASSIUM

• Needed for photosynthesis
• Opens and closes stomata
• Regulates CO₂ uptake
• Activates enzymes for ATP production

• Kelp meal
• Greensand
• Wood ash

PHOSPHOROUS

• Plays an important role in energy transfer
• Transforms sugars and starches
• Helps move nutrients around
• Transfers genetic characteristics to the subsequent generation

• Bone meal
• Manure
• Rock phosphate

NITROGEN

• Required for vegetative growth
• Forms part of the chlorophyll molecule

POTASSIUM

• Needed for photosynthesis
• Opens and closes stomata
• Regulates CO₂ uptake
• Activates enzymes for ATP production

PHOSPHOROUS

• Plays an important role in energy transfer
• Transforms sugars and starches
• Helps move nutrients around
• Transfers genetic characteristics to the subsequent generation

MICRONUTRIENTS

Plants require micronutrients in much smaller quantities, as their name suggests. However, this doesn’t mean they are less important. A lack of any of these minerals and elements can manifest in nutritional deficiencies that impede growth and reduce yields. Get to know them below.

BORON

• Helps build cell walls
• Essential for cell division
• Important in pollination and seed development

• Compost and organic matter

CALCIUM

• Involved in plant growth and nutrition
• Cell wall deposition
• Reduces soil salinity
• Enhances water penetration

COPPER

• Activates key enzymes
• Required for photosynthesis
• Assists in carbohydrate and protein metabolism

IRON

• Key to important metabolic processes
• DNA synthesis
• Chlorophyll synthesis
• Maintains chloroplast structure and function

MAGNESIUM

• Central atom of the chlorophyll molecule
• Essential for photosynthesis

MANGANESE

• Contributes to photosynthesis, respiration, and nitrogen assimilation
• Involved in germination
• Assists root cell elongation and resistance to root diseases

MOLYBDENUM

• Converts nitrate into nitrite and then ammonia
• Required by symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nitrogen-fixing plants

SULPHUR

• Helps form important enzymes
• Assists in protein synthesis

ZINC

• Key part of enzymes and proteins
• Helps produce growth hormones
• Assists in internode elongation

BORON

• Helps build cell walls
• Essential for cell division
• Important in pollination and seed development

• Compost and organic matter

CALCIUM

• Involved in plant growth and nutrition
• Cell wall deposition
• Reduces soil salinity
• Enhances water penetration

COPPER

• Activates key enzymes
• Required for photosynthesis
• Assists in carbohydrate and protein metabolism

IRON

• Key to important metabolic processes
• DNA synthesis
• Chlorophyll synthesis
• Maintains chloroplast structure and function

MAGNESIUM

• Central atom of the chlorophyll molecule
• Essential for photosynthesis

MANGANESE

• Contributes to photosynthesis, respiration, and nitrogen assimilation
• Involved in germination
• Assists root cell elongation and resistance to root diseases

MOLYBDENUM

• Converts nitrate into nitrite and then ammonia
• Required by symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nitrogen-fixing plants

SULPHUR

• Helps form important enzymes
• Assists in protein synthesis

ZINC

• Key part of enzymes and proteins
• Helps produce growth hormones
• Assists in internode elongation

PLANT NUTRITION

Giving your plants access to this array of nutrients all boils down to high-quality living soil. Starting with good soil rich in compost and organic matter almost always guarantees a good supply of all of these minerals and elements.

However, cannabis plants rely on the life and death cycle of a thriving soil food web to gain access to nutrients. Roots simply can’t pull minerals directly from organic matter. They can, however, conduct the orchestra of the rhizosphere using root exudates.

As an organic grower, you just need to make sure your soil has a good supply of nutrient-rich organic matter in the form of compost/compost teas, worm castings, and other sources. As long as you provide the food, your plants will recruit the soil food web to make their dinner available.

Mycorrhizal fungi are one of the key plant allies that hang out in the rhizosphere. These species form a physical bond with plant roots, attaching themselves to the root system. They feed on plant exudates and, in return, digest organic matter and shuttle specific nutrients into plants.

An array of other soil microbes join the synergistic dance. Keep them well-fed with organic matter, and you’ll generate a perpetual cycle of nutrients right under your feet.

Using organic practices in your cannabis garden will support microbial life and improve soil year after year. Learn what you need to know in our complete guide!

What Organic Cannabis Means for the Marijuana Industry

Sunday July 23, 2017

S moking cannabis may not be dangerous, but smoking pesticides sure is. Unfortunately, a lack of regulatory oversite has many cannabis consumers worried about the chemicals they are ingesting along with their weed. While this is especially concerning for the medical community, all cannabis users should be confident that the products they are consuming are safe, healthy and free of unwanted chemicals and additives.

Hence the growing demand for organic cannabis. Unfortunately, as long as cannabis remains federally illegal, the search for certified organic cannabis will always come up dry.

Why it’s Not “Organic” Cannabis

The USDA regulates the organic certification process. Every fruit, vegetable or other consumable product must meet a specific set of guidelines to be labeled “certified organic.” 95 percent of the product must be completely natural and free of chemicals or additives while the other 5 percent may contain only specific additives as outlined by USDA. Some additives are permissible for some foods while unacceptable for others.

But, because cannabis is federally illegal, the USDA cannot regulate any nutrients or pesticides, and cannot give it the USDA stamp of approval.

As it stands, there are no pesticides that are permissible for both smokable and edible products combined, so cultivation must involve 100 percent organic techniques at all times in order to be of organic quality. This usually takes place through soil supplementation which includes things like worm castings, compost, castings, bat guano, perlite, fish emulsions or peat moss.

Though these products will never officially be “organic” until it becomes federally legal, ancillary companies like the Cannabis Certification Counsel have come along to provide unbiased certification for cannabis products that have been “organically grown and fairly produced”.

How Organic Growing Practices Benefit the Cannabis Industry

Though cannabis products cannot be certified organic, they can absolutely be cultivated organically, thus removing concern regarding contaminants like pesticides or heavy metals. According to a Steep Hill report, 84 percent of California cannabis contains pesticides, the bulk of which being Myclobutanil, a fungicide primarily used on grapes.

Though the product has been deemed safe for use on grapes that can be washed clean, the same cannot be said for cannabis. To make matters worse, smoking pesticides can release dangerous toxins like hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride and more. If smoking pesticides off of cannabis flower is this bad, imagine how dangerous non-organic cannabis concentrates can be.

Another dangerous consequence of growing cannabis non-organically is the limitations researchers will have when studying it. Unless the cannabis that is studied is guaranteed to be safe for human consumption, we will always have some serious variables to consider and will have a much more difficult time coming to conclusions.

“The Future of “Green” Cannabis

Organically-grown cannabis is better for the plant and for the consumer. Because there is a higher level of support for medical versus recreational cannabis, focus on the health and safety of cannabis products will always be at the forefront of discussions.

If products cannot hold an official “Certified Organic” label, there must be other ways to ensure consumers are receiving the safest products possible. Unfortunately, because the industry is so young, cultivation and production oversight is not standardized and many fertilizers or pesticides slip between the cracks as a result, especially when cultivators stand to earn a sizeable chunk of money based on the amount of product they’re able to churn out.

It is because of this, independent companies like the CCC in California (mentioned above), Organic Cannabis Growers Society in Oregon or OneCert in Nebraska have been born. Using standards outlined by the USDA, these independent companies are offering both training and certification to cannabis cultivation facilities so that their products can feature an official certified stamp instead of simple buzz words like “all-natural,” “organic,” or “100 percent pure” which can be very misleading. Washington state has gone as far as to make a state-wide organic cannabis certification program. Yay, Washington!

What’s Next for Organic Cannabis?

The legal weed industry has developed quite the demand for cannabis products. With the popularity of edibles and concentrates rising, as well, larger amounts of cannabis are needing to be cultivated to keep up with demand (which is why Nevada ran out of weed only two weeks into legal rec sales).

Though some may think this suggests the need for mass cannabis production, the opposite is more likely true. In fact, the cannabis with the most earning – and healing – potential is that that has been organically-grown and processed. But because the federal government cannot oversee a federally-illegal product, the certification process must be performed by third parties.

Looking past old advertising tricks that use buzz words to sell a product, organic cannabis certification lets consumers know that the products they are consuming are safe, healthy, and medically-beneficial.

Do you think it’s important to only consume organically-produced cannabis products? Why or why not?

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

The organic movement has made its way into the cannabis industry. Learn about organic cannabis and some of the regulations and restrictions surrounding it.