WELL, HELLO AGAIN SKUNK HEADS. Rev here, coming at you with a fairly complex subject matter that I will attempt to break down more simply, especially for those of you that are fairly new to growing cannabis, as you will for sure want to wrap your head around this subject matter to avoid potential future problems; problems that can make a big difference when it comes to quality and yields. Chelation is all about the bonding of ions and molecules, but don’t worry, I’ll keep it way less tech. All you need to do is just wrap your head around this—if you don’t already know it—and it will open your eyes to several other aspects you will learn down the (all natural) road.
Now chelation is an all-natural process to be sure, however, fertilizer manufacturers have brought the levels of chelation up so high, that it can quickly become a death sentence to a lot of your soil life. Chelation can be done in synthetic fertilizers with some scary salts, like formaldehyde salts as one example used in EDTA often used as a big chelate in synthetic blends. But we are dealing with all natural growing here today, so we will be talking organic acids (amino acids too) here mostly, because that is what organic liquid fertilizers use to chelate.
Chelate: pronounced like “key’layt” (more accurately – kē′lāt′); and for our purposes here, it is a way to force-feed nutrients to your plants. There are pros and cons depending on what you want and how you want it.
Your Living Soil and Chelation
Just having your soil be alive with microbials and them interacting with the plant and the soil, produces natural chelates at natural levels. Pouring on any kind of liquid fertilizer that uses organic acids to super-chelate (force feed) nutrient elements straight into the plant roots causes some problems for your microbial soil life. Now anything in nature that doesn’t get used, “goes away” much like if you don’t use your muscles they will atrophy (go away). Same holds true for life in general, and if your plant is getting force fed through heavy chelation, those microbials that normally supply those nutrients to your plants become basically useless to the plant and so their populations diminish accordingly.
Also, when using liquid fertilizers with high amounts of organic acids, the pH is dropped pretty severely, and this change in your living soil will really send your micro-universe into chaos, killing many (especially bacteria) outright. So, if you want to see what your plants and the microbes can do working together, you need to have your soil be powerful and balanced enough to allow you to basically just add good water for your plants and they will flourish. Chelation happens for sure, but at normal/natural levels.
In organic soils the pH can often be in a range that in effect causes some micronutrients to become unavailable (insoluble) to the plant. Some of the specialized microbial life in the immediate zone surrounding the roots underground (the rhizosphere) are quite capable of changing that, thus making them available. Your plants work in concert with the microbial life in the soil nearest the roots, and by supplying certain forms of nutrition the plant is actually able to have some control over the rise and fall of certain populations, depending on what nutrients the plant is looking for at that time. Kind of like a puppet master. The microlife, along with the roots can temporarily change pH in micro-zones allowing things like iron to become available.
Using Organic Chelation from Liquid Fertilizers
While using liquid nutrients on living soil can for sure be all organic, but not all-natural in my opinion. It is a matter of style, and breaking it down to rock bottom, organic growing can include the use of heavy chelating acids and still be fully organic. All-natural growing style allows Mother Nature to take over with her ancient wisdom, and there is no adding any real amounts of chelating acids. It is correct, according to me, to say: All the all-natural growers are for sure organic but not all organic growers are all-natural (style) growers. If you plan to use these humic, citric, fulvic, phosphorous etc. acids, you will do best staying on using them throughout the grow. Here’s the problems that often happens in soil, in container growing…
When using these organic chelated liquid fertilizers, dropping the pH with a big organic acid dose tends to do more harm to bacteria than to fungi—cannabis relies on both fungi and bacteria in the soil but favors bacteria dominant soil—so what happens is with a lot of the bacteria killed because they can’t handle lower pH ranges, the fungi (fungi loves them some lower pH ranges for the most part) will essentially take over the whole container soil-mix. Fungi also have the effect of being able to keep the pH low once dominant. This usually makes for some unhappy plants. But it can work for sure with a bit of tweaking, and as long as you stay organic it will be elegant smoke. I have seen guys who use lime in their soil-mix to counter the hard pH drops when using chelated organic liquid fertilizers, and they did very well.
Other pH related problems that will pop off here as I have seen, from the liquid fertilizers using soil in containers is…Different nutrients are more or less available to the plant easily from the soil, depending on the pH the soil runs at. At lower pH ranges things like magnesium, sulfur, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen become far less available and cannabis needs everything of course, but nitrogen and magnesium and calcium are huge biggies.
In living soil, in containers, I always use water that is around 6.8 – 7.5 pH and if I use any teas, I make them low PPM (60-90 PPM for teas) and make sure the pH stays in this same range; this is easily accomplished by adding some dolomite lime to your tea. Dolomite lime is a true buffer and always will draw pH towards 7.0 no matter if it starts out higher or lower—a TRUE buffer.
Let’s think about what is most important…
- All-natural and organic growing styles are often quite different styles, basically it all revolves around if you force feed using chelating organic acids in fertilizers, or not. All-natural style keeps the soil life happy and in equilibrium so they handle feeding the plant; the same way Mother Nature does it, without high doses of acids.
- Allowing the soil life and the plant to have a stable/consistent environment allows you to pull off super exotic cannabis varieties, like landrace types, that have more specific pH tolerances. The microlife right around the rootzone will adjust things for the plant so she can take full advantage of a basic 6.8 – 7.5 soil pH range.
- If you use a lot of liquid organic fertilizers on your soil, finding a way to buffer the pH can work out very well.
- If you are all-natural style, adding any kind of humic/fulvic acid containing liquid will cause chaos with your microbial soil life and starting about 7 – 10 days later you’ll actually see the bad effects start to show. Shun the acids when all-natural style.
- These two different styles don’t really crossover well, all-natural style needs constancy and no forced feeding. Many organic styles that use chelating liquids often, need to stay on these liquids because the soil life will usually be weakened badly in these soils.
Rev Babbles at the EndGrowing mind-blowing exotics using all-natural chelation
We now hopefully know if we didn’t already, that chelation can be accomplished using acids, and also salts. The term “salts” is thrown around pretty loosely (by me as well) in growing, but actually metals would many times be much more accurate. Along with the obvious metals like iron, copper, and zinc, did you know that calcium is also a metal? Metals are needed for chelating to work. Do a little bit of looking into this yourself for more technical info.
These days when growing cannabis, you are just bombed with so much crazy marketing to get you to buy more and more stuff, and the real truth is you just don’t need 90% of that stuff. Dial in your water and your growing environment and that alone will do far more than any new “magic” additive in shiny bottles. The industry has become heavily about money now, and there’s nothing wrong with making money. The problem is when it’s your only driving factor making your decisions, and that’s a big and sad problem. Well, that’s it for now my fine green amigos, so until next time, Revski out!
I'm The Rev, and I have been with SKUNK for about a decade now. I hail from Southern California, spent mucho time in Northern California, and now reside in Southern Oregon; always coastal. I am an all natural style cannabis grower and I have written a couple books on the subject - check out True Living Organics 2nd Edition on Amazon - I have been growing for over 45 years, and I have been breeding cannabis for over 30 years. Check out kingdomorganicseeds.com to see some exotic selections. Growing connoisseur cannabis is what I teach mostly, growing it in living soil without using liquid organic nutrients to feed the plant. I am also a highly skilled synthetics grower, hydroponics, aeroponics, DWC/SWC/NFT, Ebb and Flow, and soilless, but I cringe when smoking synthetic grown herbs, so for the last 15 years or so I preach the artisan style of all natural growing, specializing in container growing. Cheers and welcome aboard.