There’s no shortage of jargon or lingo in the cannabis world, so if you’ve been seeing the term “living soil” recently you may have found yourself wondering what it actually means. Is this just another marketing gimmick or do you need to know about living soil marijuana and growing in organic matter to make the most of your plants? In this post we’ll cover exactly what living soil is and what makes it so special in your garden. And if you’re ready to make the switch to growing in healthy living soil we’ve got some tips for you too!
Living soil and Hemp Plants
Even though you may have only heard the term living soil or living soil cannabis recently, the truth is that “living soil” is what happens organically in nature and has been going on for thousands of years. It’s only within the past few centuries that we’ve harnessed this organic style of growing and now many hemp cultivators are gravitating towards this method.
With living soil, a symbiotic relationship develops between the plant and the soil, or more specifically what’s in the soil. Soil isn’t just dirt and is teeming with fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and many other microorganisms that make up the microbial life of the soil. This community of organisms allows that relationship to develop and works more like a closed ecosystem – teeming with everything it needs for a plant to thrive.
What is a Living Soil? (Not Just Compost)
All soil is living soil isn’t it? Technically, but organic living soil in the marijuana world refers specifically to the medium in which the plant is grown and is a growing method that involves the microbial life inside the soil too.
Living soil isn’t just the dirt your plant is grown in but rather a living soil system meant to simulate wild soil. It doesn’t rely on a schedule of nutrients and fertilizers, but rather an army of tiny organisms (microbes) to facilitate the breakdown of organic material into nutrients available for your plants. Living soils are an ecosystem that provides a living environment for your cannabis to grow in that simulates its natural growing environment.
The goal of living soil cultivation is to create a biodiverse growing medium that utilizes the natural ecosystem within the soil, rather than relying on fertilizers or other added nutrients. With living soil, everything you need is found right there in the soil. It has an active microbiology and biodiversity that forms the ecosystem and a symbiotic relationship with the plant to produce healthy cannabis year after year.
What are microbials?
A microbe simply refers to an organism that is microscopic and microorganisms can be bacteria, fungi, archaea or protists. These tiny organisms work together to break down organic material into nutrients the plants can use.
Microbials make up a huge part of the soil’s diversity and help with everything from aeration to pest control. Healthy living soil takes advantage of this biology and allows you to make complex relationships between different organisms work for you. Microbials makeup nature’s operating system and healthy living soil is one way to take advantage of nature’s design to take good care of your plants.
What is happening in the soil that’s so special?
Organic soil is teeming with a microlife that eats and feeds as part of the soil food web, similar to our own biological food-chain. Rather than relying on outside inputs like being force-fed nutrients, healthy living soil honors complex relationships between different players to create a balanced ecosystem. Microbials like protozoa, bacteria, and fungi process organic matter and compost for the plant to feed on and all lifeforms work together to create a small ecosystem that renews itself.
Why should I bother growing a plant with living soil?
Think of living soil as more than just the growing environment for your plants but rather an army of natural organisms working with you to produce the biggest and healthiest buds; the way nature intended. A properly cultivated living soil sustains the rich microbial life within it to provide the plant what it needs.
By mimicking the natural growing environment, you don’t need to worry about simulated nutrients and the problems associated with them if used incorrectly (hello “nute-burn”). Just as it does in nature, living soil cannabis will only take what it needs. There’s no worry of your plants getting overloaded with nutrients and you’ll be producing the most natural yields and the finest flower in no time.
How Do I Build a Living Soil
Cultivating your own healthy living soil is not an exact science and the needs of your soil will change and grow over time as you build the ecosystem. The fundamental elements needed to start building your own organic living soil include minerals, organic material, microorganisms, water, and air. A good recipe to get started involves potting soil, manure or compost, perlite, and a soil additive to get your ecosystem started.
Living soil vs coco and hydro cultivation methods
Living soil is a popular growing medium for cannabis plants because it’s readily available and easy to use, not to mention the most natural. Not every method yields the same results though and how your plants get the vital elements of water, oxygen, and nutrients can also take place in other growing mediums.
Growing in living soil is playing the long game when it comes to cannabis cultivation as you build your ecosystem and use your living soil year after year. Although you’ll be cultivating superior cannabis, you have less control over the environmental conditions and over-watering or pests could be an issue.
Soilless mediums like coco coir use inert growing mediums to support your plants but don’t contain any nutrients. You need stricter control of watering and will need to add your own nutrients. But having complete control over your plant’s nutrients means you can fine tune the process and potentially produce bigger plants.
Hydroponic growing uses only water and nutrients to sustain the plant and offers you complete control over the growing environment. Control comes at a cost though since this growing method is more expensive and complex to run. Your setup could range from simple to elaborate but would include water tanks, nutrients, pumps, and drippers. And although the yields can’t be beat, there’s little room for error and you need to constantly be on top of things.
Components of a healthy living soil?
What we call “dirt” is actually the mineral structure of the soil and a combination of clay, sand, and silt is preferable for living soil cannabis. In nature, organic material like leaves and waste occur naturally but living soil may need compost added. Microorganisms will process this material to make the nutrients available for the plant. You can purchase microbial material to add microorganisms to your living soil or use a compost tea or even a handful of compost to introduce them to the growing medium.
Healthy living soil should be kept moist but shouldn’t need more watering than normal. In fact, you may even need less since microorganisms and other material can help with water retention. The soil itself should be loose enough to allow the plant roots to breathe since this is how they take in oxygen. Worms and other insects can help turn soil over with their movements which helps airflow. The whole system perpetuates itself based on these elements, but the biodiversity of every living soil will be unique.
Amendments for a living soil? Include Reefertilizer Start
Even the best mix of organic living soil may need a little something every now and then. Various amendments can be added to your soil to replenish nutrients or adjust the mixture, based on your unique needs.
Organic compost with beneficial living microbes and mycorrhizal spores, like Reefertilizer Start can be used as a living soil nutrient and can provide roots with a better environment to metabolize nutrients and water. Adding a soil conditioner like this to your own living soil gives the most benefits early on in the plant’s growth cycle and helps your plants establish a strong root zone.
Growing good cannabis can take place in any medium and each come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. It may seem daunting to get started with living soil but once you get the hang of it, your plants will thank you. Living soil will allow you to cultivate a natural and clean cannabis expressed to the fullest.
Kelly is a content writer who has a passion for research and writes about a variety of topics including cannabis, women’s health, and birding. Professionally trained as a teacher, she left the classroom behind to spend more time writing well-researched blog posts and articles, and less time writing report cards.
When she’s not writing, Kelly loves being outdoors as much as possible whether that’s running, hiking, or riding her motorcycle. Read more about her work at her website www.kellyberrycopy.com or connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kellygberry.