I hear two really popular tag-lines about growing cannabis these days: living soil and no till.
In reality, these terms are really just old forms of magic poking their head into the new cannabis industry. Living soil is a term defined by Elaine Ingram, our godmother to biological understanding of the soil. The problem is, all soul is living.
The idea of living soil is that you nurture the environment within the soil and develop an ecological or biological ecosystem. Now, on the surface it sounds great. But how do we get there, and what does it really mean to have “living” soil?
Origins of Living Soil Ingredients
First off, living soil is no more environmentally friendly than rockwool.
Ok, 3/4 of the people reading this just threw their phone across the room or started cursing my name. But just think about where all those organic ingredients come from. Just because they are natural ingredients doesn’t mean they’re superior.
Almost every specialty organic ingredient is strip mined. Somebody rolls onto a piece of land, sets up conveyors and starts digging a hole. They get all the gypsum or bat guano or whatever else out and maybe they fill the hole back up. Maybe they just walk away. Not the most environmentally friendly.
For instance, bat guano is one of the most loved organic ingredients by living soil farmers. However they don’t just sweep up the fresh bat poop on the floor of caves. They find areas around the planet where bats are living, and tear them apart top to bottom.
High-nitrogen guano is the freshest bat poop. This is the first product that is swept up off the bottom of the cave using large excavators and front-end loaders. As soon as the fresh bat guano is depleted the hard soil at the bottom of the cave begins to be dug up. This is the high phosphorus bat guano.
The same destructive process is used for fossilized kelp, humus, gypsum and lime, creating eco-damaging strip mines everywhere. Kind of uncool if you ask me.
Real “Living Soil”
If you have a real commitment to organic farming you would use just compost and other waste products such as fish emulsion, bonemeal, harvested kelp, and composted agricultural waste. Compost has minimal nutrition in it and only biological life like weeds, seeds and other bugs.
I have made literally millions of yards of compost. Compost is usually made from green waste materials or sawdust. The whole point is to add nitrogen to the carbon-based waste product.
When you balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio, your compost is ready. This means all the nitrogen and most of the beneficial phosphorus and potassium has also been eaten up in the composting process. Therefore compost is mostly cheap filler. The only benefits you get from it is biological life, yet you have to deal with the bugs, pests, weeds and the seeds.
Living Soil and Cannabis
Besides the environmental impacts, living soil doesn’t really work that well inside. Living soil is often full of bugs, part of what makes it “alive”. Once a critter is introduced into an indoor environment there’s little chance that you’ll be able to restore your grow room back to its bug-less inception.
With modern cannabis growing, pesticides and pest control are of the upmost importance. Pest control is a heavily regulated area within the cannabis community. Pest control is so highly regulated that the introduction of pests into your room is the first line of defense.
Living soil doesn’t yield indoors and in most cases living soil does not yield much at all. It mostly serves as a magical term used by magical people to complete their Bro-science degree.
I’m not telling you it doesn’t work, I’m saying it’s like a hole-in-one. You can try as hard as you can, practice your swing all day. But a hole-in-one is determined as much by luck as it is determined by your skill. Living soil is the same way; it’s expensive, it’s never the same twice, you have to work hard at mixing it, and then only randomly does it actually work well.
At this point if you’re still reading you’re either intrigued or you totally hate me. Here’s the truth. I’m a sucker for organic, and if it says organic on the label I generally buy it. I’m a 25 year vegetarian, and even lived off the grid for numerous years. I am a tree hugger and a conservationist.
But if you want to grow the highest quality cannabis indoors, the above ideas don’t mash. If you want to grow consistently and not crap after crap, living soil will not work for you.
If you want to believe your bro science or your brother-in-law or your “Master” grower friend that’s always putting you down, go for it. But look at the quality of all of your buds without excuses and you’ll see living soil a little differently.