Most of us remember when growing cannabis indoors was the name of the game. It seemed everyone had an indoor set-up. Hydro was king. Most grow-rooms resembled sterile labs with bottles of fertilizer and pesticides lining the walls. Soil was almost nonexistent. Perlite, rockwool, and, hydroton were the mediums of choice. If soil was used, it was often discarded after one use, as if it had gone bad.
Thankfully times have changed. As cannabis prohibition comes to an end, emerald triangle cannabis farmers are moving back toward their farming roots. With legalization on the horizon, and faced with what most feel is an impending battle with “big marijuana,” emerald cannabis farmers are attempting to find a niche.
Most agree that it’s not going to be possible to compete in an economy of scale with big marijuana. Therefore the name of the game becomes quality and environmentally friendly small batch product. This is how small farmers across the globe have carved out a living for themselves. Small farm movements have proven that consumers will support farmers who use environmentally friendly practices to produce high quality product.
For most small farmers, the idea is to bring the processes of nature back to the farm. Small farmers fundamentally seek to create an optimum environment for their plants. In nature, plants are not harvested; foliage, flowers, and fruit fall to the ground and create a welcoming environment for microbes. Microbe’s breakdown the fallen plant material through a process we all know as decomposition. This creates an environment where beneficial fungi and bacteria can work symbiotically with plants.
I caught up with Seth Geddes of the Beneficial Living Center and Joseph L. Johnson of Primordial Solutions to better explain the importance of microbiology in soil.
According to Johnson “micro-organisms co-evolved with plants.” Their existence is interdependent, “neither can thrive without the other.”
For example, “during germination, seeds exude sugars into the soil.” They exude up 30% of their weight during germination in order to attract beneficial microbes. Why would plants give up this stored chemical energy? The answer is, “their lives depend on it.”
Microbes are beneficial to a plant in a number of ways. “The diversity of living organism per square foot is a measurement of health” as Geddes explains. Microbial density gives plants resistance to pathogens through “competitive exclusion.” Meaning that there are so many microbes and so much life that pathogens can’t “set up shop.”
Another benefit of increased microbial population in soil is increased growth response. Geddes explains that “in nature all plants are fed through microbes.” When microbes decompose organic matter they release organic acids and other compounds that are soluble to plants. Essentially microbes make nutrients available. The more microbes in soil “the faster nutrient cycling can happen and the more growth response you get.”
Microbes and fungi in particular also improve soil structure. “Fungus causes soil to aggregate.” This aids in water retention and allows soil to “breath” as oxygen is vital to soil structure and fertility.
Not only is increased microbial populations vital to plant health and growth, it is also beneficial to the environment. According to Geddes. “Microbes are the way nature has always done it. Anytime us humans look to nature to solve our problems – how to feed ourselves, how to medicate ourselves … If we look toward nature we can find the most efficient way – the most environmentally sustainable way to do it.”
So how can a farmer or gardener increase microbes in their soil?
“There is no substitute for composting on site” as Geddes confides. “Recycling your own materials and buying as little as possible” is paramount. Vermi composting and using castings allows indigenous populations of microbes to accumulate. These indigenous microbes are “adept at dealing with pathogens in the particular microclimate of your garden.”
Inoculating soil using compost tea or a lacto-ferment is the next step. Either using compost from your garden or purchasing quality commercial compost to make tea and “getting familiar with Lactobacillus – an anaerobic bacteria that aides decomposition – and learning how to ferment this inoculant is super worth while.”
Bottle products are excellent but range in quality. Primordial Solutions products such as Sea Green and Rootamentry work well. A poly-cultured product – as opposed to a mono-cultured product – is always superior. Primordial Solutions products are grown in competition with other microbes, therefore the surviving micro life is stronger.
Johnson explains, “Sea Green is balanced to feed the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, and allow them to achieve dominance. Rootamentary supplies essential micronutrients for the production of enzymes necessary for proper nutrient availability in a biologically driven agricultural system. These two products work together to culture an ideal microbial network in order to generate continual fertility in soils.”
As mentioned, to keep microbiology alive, soil structure must be achieved that supports microbial populations. Using “a diversity of organic inputs” – i.e. not just chicken manure is important. Using fish and alfalfa along with manure gives microbes a diversity of organic matter that, in the end, benefits your plants. Additionally, using biochar and coco creates refuge for microbes during dry periods. Biochar and coco take longer to dry, therefore giving water dependent micro life a safe haven between watering.
Over applying fertilizer – especially synthetic – can negatively impact microbial populations. Any fertilizer in solution can “nuke” soil and only a handful of microbes will survive. Over applying soluble nutrients creates a bottleneck for micro life and many beneficials will die off.
In conclusion, Geddes explained that his interest is in the betterment of the community. Gardening and farming in way that mimics nature is vital to the sustainability of our planet. The more gardeners and farmers use these techniques to improve soil fertility, the healthier our planet. Soil fertility is a serious global issue. Over the last century one third of the worlds fertile soil has been lost. Conflict is now breaking out over remaining fertile regions (See Dirt! The Movie for more on the subject).
Soil fertility through micro life is truly paramount. Whether cannabis farming or tomato farming, the world depends on the invisible microbes beneath our feet. So keep your soil alive and maybe we can keep our planet alive.