HOWDY MY ESTEEMED HOMESKILLETS. I’m going to tackle a biggie here today, an age old “battle” over style of cannabis growing; using synthetic nutrients, or natural nutrients—a little tip, they don’t work worth a damn merged together 90% of the time. Some of you likely don’t know, but way back when I was a hydro-cropper and I designed and built my own ABS systems, that were hybrid systems, combining shallow water culture (SWC), and ebb and flow/fill and drain hydroponics into single (bad ass) growing units. So, I know a little bit about what I am babbling about here. I have been an all-natural grower for about 15 years or so now, and would never even think about going back.
Today’s piece is going to be pretty heady, and I think it’s super important that you understand the various styles of growing cannabis, with the most important reason being… Crossing over styles rarely turns out well, in fact more often than not they are highly detrimental to each other. I see this all the time, someone growing in soil and using synthetic nutrients—that will make for some ugly plants fast—or, someone using a soilless mix with all-natural style—totally ass backwards. Let’s define the three main styles here, for clarity, and away we go.
Synthetic Growing Style
This is a growing style where you will use synthetic nutrients to force feed your plants via synthetic chelation, that use man made super-salts like EDTA, and others. Since you are force feeding them you need to make sure you are using a complete nutrient regiment that has everything a plant needs to grow big and strong. You want to go hydroponics here (or aeroponics), but if you can’t manage a hydro system, then please don’t use soil, it’s not only a waste of soil, but the soil will collect all the synthetic salts the plant doesn’t use causing huge problems for your garden.
If you want to do liquid synthetic nutrients in regular growing containers, then use a soilless mixture, and I recommend using a blend of 50/50 vermiculite/perlite here for the best results. I used this exact style for about 8 years and it works very well. Of course, you will need to have a way to flush these containers with plain water about once every 2 or 3 weeks—depending on how often you feed them and how much per feeding. There isn’t any nutrient value in vermiculite or perlite so all your food must come from the liquids. The flushing will remove excess synthetic salts that will build up, and this in turn will cause your pH value to change; and not for the better.
If you are using a hydroponics system, then one of the rules you can break is you can add some microlife products. This does work well as I have seen with my own eyes many times. This is because microlife can exist in a liquid environment and do good things, even with synthetic nutrients present. However, adding microlife when using synthetic nutrients in containers is just a total waste of money because as soon as your growing medium dries out to any degree the microlife are hyper-dehydrated and killed by the synthetic salts (think pouring salt on a snail here). So, the effect of the microlife is at best, extremely limited and nominal.
Organic Growing StyleOrganic produced buds are elegant smoking and far superior to synthetic buds
Organic growing can actually refer to a couple of styles because all-natural style is always organic too, but organic style is not always all-natural … Lemme ‘splain … When you are using liquid organic nutrients, 90% of them are also designed around a synthetic-mindset of force feeding your plants. Organic nutrients just use organic acids to force feed the plants rather than synthetic salts. However, if using liquid organic nutrients, you absolutely can use soil in containers, and make it work awesome. I’ll tell ya how in a sec, but first I should also mention when using liquid organic nutrients, you can use hydroponics systems like Ebb & Flow, DWC, Bubblers, etc.
I do not consider myself wickedly skilled using liquid organic nutrients with hydroponics growing systems, but I have seen it work pretty well more than a couple of times; it’s just kind of a hassle; due to the levels of microlife that propagate in and around the system, and other bio-residues. So, I abandoned that path after a few grows using that combo, in the past. But… Using a soil-mix in containers with liquid organic nutrients can work super good, I have done it myself and seen it many times myself. The things that are highly important here are soil-mix aeration, and soil-mix buffering.
I would highly recommend cutting any bagged soil-mix you are using for this purpose with about 25% perlite (small nugget sized); which is a good rule of thumb for any soil you use in containers always. For the buffering you will want to add Dolomite Lime, powdered. I can’t give you an exact amount to use here but a general rule instead. Some organic liquid fertilizers are far more acidic than others, and these acids are organic for sure (usually phosphoric acid is present in high amounts) they are also preservatives which allow these liquids to have long shelf lives staying fully potent without degrading/braking down. If you are using something like Earth Juice, it will really try and drop your soil pH into dangerous low levels causing big problems; and any organic liquid fertilizer (90% of them) will do the same to variable degrees. The dolomite lime will counter this problem totally:
Commercially Available Soil Mixes Commonly Come in 1 or 2 Cubic Foot Bags
Good soil at a good price 2-cubic-foot bags
2 Cubic feet of soil can be divided into gallons of soil, and 12 gallons equals 2 cubic feet, FYI. If I were using something like Earth Juice here, I would use at least 1 tablespoon of dolomite lime per gallon of soil-mix, depending on my water source (see below). Due to the high levels of organic acids in this product that will try and keep the pH lower than your plants will love.
- Mix these together, perlite, soil, and dolomite lime, adding enough water to make the soil slightly moist, and let it sit out in the open (like in open totes, a kiddie pool, or on a tarp) for about a week before you use it, someplace that stays above 65 deg. F. and the warmer the better. This allows the lime to break down and react with elements in the soil, including the soil microlife. Raw and highly reactive dolomite lime is never good around living roots, so give it a week and it will be all good, as it reacts fast.
- Adjust your dolomite lime ratios as you see fit, from grow to grow, given your observations, you could end up using 2 tablespoons of lime per gallon of soil-mix, or ½ tablespoon of lime per gallon of soil-mix. It will depend upon variables in your particular environment and your choice of liquids, and it’s a good idea to get pretty complete nutrients here, although your soil will still be able to contribute just fine when feeding your plant; unlike a synthetic style with soil, which literally kills the soil, and dead soil isn’t soil, and does nothing for the plant but support the roots—FYI.
- You will be wanting to use chlorine (chloramine) free water for sure, and the PPM of that water will matter, so get a cheap TDS meter; this will matter when it comes to your lime additions, and basically the higher PPM your water is, the less dolomite lime you will need; so, it’s always a floating formula from grow to grow, but not too hard to dial in fast. Dolomite lime is a pure buffer in the true sense, as it tends to pull the pH towards 7.0 (neutral) whether it is starting out higher, or lower, and dolomite lime is just a calcium and magnesium element found easily at any quality nursery.
“Organic Based” nutrients are NOT organic—FYI.
All-Natural Growing StyleHealthy and very happy all naturally grown plants
While this style is for sure organic, it doesn’t involve bottles of liquid nutrients that force feed your plants using chelation. This style uses the soil-mix, in concert with high levels of soil microlife (microbeasties) and high–quality water to reveal the true beauty and individuality of every plant. This is my chosen style of growing. You can learn this style and become bad-ass at it from my latest book: True Living Organics 2nd Edition, by The Rev. But suffice it to say your bottles using this style are very limited. I use only two liquid organic fertilizers, hardly ever, and in super small ratios, and these two are an example of liquid organic nutrients that do not have high levels of organic acids present, just high levels of organic matter. They are: Big Bloom, by Fox Farm, and Liquid Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1, by Alaska brand.
Just using quality chloramine free water, like around 30-80 PPM with an occasional mellow organic tea will show you the true magic of Mother Nature’s cannabis, for reals. Basically, what you are doing is building an amended soil-mix and then fast-composting it for about 30 days. From that point on you are almost always (like 75% of the time) just adding water to your plants, allowing them and the microlife in the soil to work in concert, like they have been doing since there first were plants on Earth; not surprisingly, they rock at their job, heh heh, all you have to do is not interfere with them for the most part. That, my esteemed homeskillets, is ALL-NATURAL style! See ya next time everyone, hope you enjoyed this one; cheers.