ORGANICS: Growing Successfully in Containers With Living Soil

Check out our masterpost to growing cannabis indoors here!

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The FAB Guide to Growing Cannabis Indoors in Australia: 2020 Edition

Growing Can Be Easy As!

Using the method I have refined and compiled throughout many years of trial and error, as well as generous sharing of knowledge with amazing, like-minded organic gardeners… you too can grow your own fecund flowers in living soil!

This guide will work for any quality living soil. If you don’t feel like making your own mix, you can purchase most of the organic products listed in the guide at my website, easyasorganics.com.au

It’s Alive!

Growing bud in containers using organic soil requires a distinct change in mindset from more conventional techniques, which use bottled fertilisers to feed the plants directly with ionic nutrients. This is a living ecosystem we are talking about, after all.

“Flushing” (or runoff) is never required for organic soils… as you are not applying any salts to your soil, in the process of irrigation or watering. If you’re growing your cannabis in well maintained living soil, testing for water pH or EC levels is just optional – that is to say, not required. The pH is likely to reach something of an equilibrium through the interactions of the plant and microbes supporting growth in the soil.

‘Super Soils’ and ‘No-Till Living Soils’

Both soil types revolve around microbes creating large amounts of plant nutrition in less soluble colloidal forms via breakdown/chelation of organic matter.

Super Soils generally contain enough nutrition for an entire grow. They require amending with organic matter and nutrition for reuse. You can set up super soils in smaller pots, to limit plant size and increase the mobility of the plant.

Biochar and worm castings can increase ion exchange capacity, available nutrition and microbial levels, as well as maintain microbial life.

Examples of ‘Super Soils’:

Organic Gardening Solutions
High Powered Organics
Dr Greenthumbs
Easy as Organics

Living soils work around creating a self-sustaining environment that can be used continuously without additional organic amendment.

A living soil requires a strong and diverse macro (earthworms, slugs, nematodes, termites, earth-mites) and micro fauna (fungi, bacteria, protozoa, algae, actinomycetes). A larger immobile soil bed is needed to achieve self-sustaining relationships between plant roots and microbes/insects.

Feeding revolves around compost teas to stimulate microbial (and macro) life.

Cover crops such as ryegrass, rapeseed, hairy vetch, clover, lucerne and fenugreek will greatly improve soil structure and fertility. When planted at the start of a grow, they can help feed soil microbes, increase microbial activity of the soil, fix atmospheric nitrogen, and add organic nutrition to the soil via root pathways.

Basic Tea / Topdressing Recipes

These mixes maximise genetic/yield potential in your living soil. Teas will improve microbial activity and nutrient cycling, pest resistance and terpene/flavonoid production, while reducing maturation time.

Botanical inputs such as neem meal and kelp meal can be swapped with or mixed with other inputs to make your own nutrient/phytochemical-rich teas.

Neem Kelp Tea

For botanical nutrition and IPM.

1/2 cup neem meal
1/4 cup kelp meal per 19L water
Brew for 18 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Water your soil with this solution.

Malted Barley Powder Topdress and Tea

Topdress 1/4 cup of freshly ground malted barley per 50L of soil or about 1 cup per sqm
Alternatively, add about 56 grams of ground, freshly sprouted seeds to 19L of water and add the following:
2.5 ml/L Fulvic Acid
Freshly blended aloe fillet – or 1 tsp of Southern No Till Aloe Powder – to 19L water

Coconut Water Enzyme Tea

1.25 cups organic coconut water per 19L water
1 tsp Southern No Till Aloe Powder or a freshly blended aloe fillet

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Weekly Foliar Spray

1/4 tsp Aloe Powder or an aloe fillet blended in 4L of water
Ensure you dissolve the aloe powder in solution before adding emulsified oils, to trigger the natural plant immune response.
1 – 3 ml/L of cold pressed neem oil, emulsified in shot glass with a few drops of Doctor Bronners Liquid Soap (baby soap, unscented)
Alternatively, emulsify a couple drops of organic rosemary, lavender and/or peppermint oil (.5 ml/L total essential oils) with a few drops of Dr. Bronners’ liquid soap and mix into water with the pre-blended Aloe Powder or fresh aloe.

Stir solution vigorously in the 4L tepid water. Apply with a quality v-pattern pump sprayer to the top and bottom of your leaves at sun down, or when lights turn off.

For excellent long term pest resistance, introduce predatory insects once the foliar program is complete. Predatory mites and other beneficial predatory insects will feed on any pest eggs or adults that may have been left behind after your foliar sprays.

With proper care, they can also become part of the soil food web ecology; helping keep your plants safe from pest attacks for more than a single growing cycle.

See bugsforbugs.com.au for more info!

Fungal Friends

Fungi or mycorrhiza – also pre-inoculated into most ‘super soils’ – are capable of feeding on and breaking down more complex organic matter in addition to carbohydrates, eventually transforming it into usable plant nutrition through a process known as humification.

They also protect plant roots by forming a biofilm; and can create nutrient hyphae transport networks between the roots in your medium. The combination of bacteria and fungi in a nutrition-rich soil can go on to provide everything your plant needs.

You should apply MycoBiome mycorrhizal fungi powder (or any quality endo-mycorrhizal inoculant you can find) directly to the roots of your transplant, clone or seed, and place it into the soil, covering your roots with more soil.

The MycoBiome powder will inoculate your soil with mycorrhizal fungus – an incredibly important component within the soil-food web. Mycorrhizal fungi extract the nutrients and water contained in your soil’s cation exchange sites, wrapping itself around soil particles and holding them together. This improves the overall structure of the soil, allowing the plant can to take up more nutrients at a higher rate.

The plant forms association with the fungus at its roots, in exchange for sugars infused with carbon; increasing the nutrient-cycling ability of the soil ecology, and buffering the plant’s ability to take up nutrients.

Don’t Panic!

…if it’s Organic.

Growing organically in live ecology requires enough volume to sustain a healthy and active microbiological community that consistently solubilises organic nutrients into a form available to the ganja plant.

This is true throughout the entire growing cycle. The microscopic life contained within the Earth is one of nature’s best kept secrets; even today, the classic soil method grows toe-to-toe with the tightly-controlled conditions of a hydroponic setup.

Growing Schedule for Indoor Organic Growing

 

This simple, sustainable and economical cultivation schedule is a great foundation for beginners. It’s also proven to work very well for me, and many others in their own grows.

Please keep in mind that this schedule should not begin until your seedling or cutting has established itself in the container or raised bed, and is developing at a healthy rate. Only then should you begin “Week 1”.

After a few weeks, you should notice unparalleled peak plant health, displayed by incredible leaf turgor, plant vigour, intoxicating aromas and dark green, shiny leaves, virtually resistant to pests and disease.

In between teas, water lightly as needed to ensure the soil medium remains evenly moist – but not so wet that water runs out the bottom of the container. Water as little or as much as required to maintain the perfect soil moisture. The amount of water will vary, depending on plant life stage, pot size, temperature, humidity and other factors.

Where to Purchase Your Soil

Organic soil can be found all over the place, but we at Friendly Aussie Buds recommend the Living Organic Water Only Soil’ from Easy As Organics.

living soil

The soil goes for $55 a bag; but we’ve partnered with them to provide it to our readers on the cheap!

Use the code FABEAO2020 at checkout for 20% off orders over $100 at easyasorganics.com.au.

Working Out the Specifics of Your Grow

The optimal size of container for your grow will be directly related to the size and age of the plant.

Plan for the length of time that your plant will be in the container, as well as the general size and vigour of your chosen cultivar.

A clone placed in a vegetative state for 4 weeks, which is then allowed to flower for a further 8 weeks, will grow to its full potential in a 50L pot with regular watering.

This size will empower the plant to draw from a balanced diet of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Use this as a basic guide to figure out how much soil you will need for each plant in your garden.

However, if you place a full-cycle outdoor plant in the same size container, the growing process will take twice as long – and will require an increased soil volume, up to 2-3x more than the indoor operation. If you were to grow a large, vigorous cultivar outdoors in a container for an entire hot summer season (November to May), the plant will be growing in that container for roughly 25 weeks – give or take. You would also need about 150L for uninhibited plant growth.

Be sure to give yourself enough soil volume for the size and length of season that you plan to grow for. We recommend a minimum of 25L pots for a single plant, vegetating for 4 weeks. 50L provides better performance with uninhibited root growth and nutrient cycling. Larger pots can even be used for a no-till setup, where the soil is left undisturbed at the end of each growing cycle. This allows your soil to improve organically over time.

Tips for Watering

Watering technique is the key to success in living soils.

Water thoroughly until the soil is evenly hydrated and equalised; but not so much that you see runoff. You should be able to squeeze the soil in your hand, with only a drop of water coming out.

A performing soil must contain a balance of air and water for roots and soil microbes to access oxygen and expel CO2. When the moisture content of your soil is dialled in, you will notice amazing plant health and general vigour.

Using as little water as possible (0.2-0.6 EC), as slowly and as often as possible, is best. Smart pots and/or Blumats can help create the most stable and aerobic environment possible.
Oversaturation of the medium with water is a common beginner mistake that promote growth of anaerobic bacteria, which can attract pests and disease to the plant.

If the soil is watered too much, the soil porosity will be completely taken up by water; preventing any air from entering the root-zone… which will not only slow plant growth to a halt, but also set the stage for pests and other unfavourable soil conditions.

Drying out leads to microbial activity significantly decreasing, and also makes the soil hydrophobic, leading to an increased tendency for water to run straight through the soil and out the bottom, without wetting the soil very well.

Proper watering practice is extremely important, when it comes to maintain a thriving aerobic bacterial colony. Oversaturating the medium, letting the medium dry out too much, feeding a dry medium too quickly, or feeding to runoff, can all create issues with microbial life that struggle under fluctuating root zone conditions.

Root-colonising bacteria – often pre-inoculated into soils – can create all the Biostimulants in bottled products.

These aerobic bacteria require sources of sugar for nutrition, in order to get to work and perform a range of functions. These functions include increasing passive nutrient availability, turning plant-unavailable salts into plant-available nutrition, breaking down organic matter, altering gene expression, outcompeting harmful bacteria and increasing plant metabolism. That’s a lot of pluses!

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The Natural Synergy of Biostimulants, Salts and Microbes

Yucca and aloe extract both work well as wetting agents; both to rewet dry hydrophobic soil, and to keep soil moist longer.

They’re very good at keeping microbes happy in higher temperatures, too.

Where tap water is bad, extra amendment with biochar and worm castings can help account for extra salts being dumped into the medium. Water quality testing is often readily available to determine if filtration might be necessary.

If your water is particularly hard, or tastes particularly bad, it might be worth looking into acquiring rainwater, using a sediment +/- carbon filter, or using a RO filter to mix with tap water back to 0.3 – 0.6 EC. You want water with an EC of around 0.3 to avoid water leaking nutrition into the solution, as this can cause issues (even without runoff).

Water containing chlorine and/or chloramine can have a very negative cumulative effect on microbial life. If your water supply contains chloramine, using an RO filter and remineralising to 0.3 – 0.6 EC may be necessary. Aquarium chloramine binders may be an option as well.

Once again: only supply water to keep the soil just moist enough.
This is very important.

Be Kind to Your Seedlings!

When you first plant into properly prepared, hydrated living soil, you may find you don’t need to water again for some time, as the seedling establishes itself. This is the most common time for growers to over-water.

Avoid the temptation – wait until your seedling begins to take off!

Other Directions

Plant health should remain constant. Unnecessary stress factors should be avoided, such as transplanting or changing light spectrum.

Input requirements ought to be reduced to a simple fortnightly botanical tea or amendment topdressing to deter pests, maximise terpenoid expression and keep your soil nutrient bank full – providing your plant with a luxury buffet of nutrients. 

After meeting these conditions for 1-to-2 growing cycles, you will notice a visible level of microbial life underneath the mulch layer; and no pest pressure. A diverse microbiome will contain beneficial predatory mites, live fungi, nematodes and many other little critters that help the plant to grow to its full potential.

The proof will be in the pudding… or the plant.

Click our articles for growing cannabis indoors!
Follow this link if you need more info to decide which soil to use in your op!

‘Till next time!

Contributions from Mick Hardwood and other anonymous internet users. Edited by Mitch.

Resources

  1. www.easyasorganics.com.au
  2. www.highpoweredorganics.com
  3. www.organicgardeningsolutions.com.au
  4. www.drgreenthumbs.com.au
  5. www.blumat.com
  6. https://indicainfo.com/2020/03/23/jasons-guide-to-no-till-living-soil-indoor-and-outdoor/
Mitch
Mitch Keys is a young writer from Brisbane, Australia unfolding in a dynamic process of becoming (like everyone else, so don’t go thinking he’s special or anything). He likes being alive.

16 COMMENTS

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Natasha
Natasha
1 year ago

Is there a certain depth the seeds should go?

JZ
JZ
4 months ago
Reply to  Mitch

The Easy As site seems to recommend placing seeds directly in the centre of the soil. Would that not be the case when growing cannabis in this medium?

Joe Lagrasso
4 months ago
Reply to  JZ

You can do it straight into the soil. Sometimes it’s nice to use a seed planter, I really like the Jiffy-Peat-Pellets 🙂

Kirk
Kirk
1 year ago

I find adding worm castings and molasses (when flowering) to be a big help in maintaining soil microbes

Sumjoeblo
Sumjoeblo
1 year ago

I never use worm castings. Have live worms in the substrate. My substrate is my worm farm and microbial farm. I never use guano. Only plant and invertebrate based amendments.

Cover crops being diverse is excellent advice. A lot of good advice, however as you become more experienced you know your nutritional needs, soil structure, CEC etc. So you can customise or modify your grow tek to suit your grow environment and reduce environmental pressures.

Insect frass. Rice hulls. ?

Andrew
Andrew
11 months ago

Great Article! Can you recommend an Aussie sourced cover crop seed mix? There’s lot of info for North America but scratching to find a local recommendation.

Joe Lagrasso
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

I can’t at the moment, but I’ll have a chat with some experts 😉

Culper712
Culper712
4 months ago

Organic soil is a great way to start and if you make your own compost you can get the most out of a single bag to bulk up your soil.

trackback

[…] horticulture methods and deep water cultures. Once we reach a point where we all agree that living soil is best, we transition into some comments about outdoor grows and […]

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[…] is the most popular medium for growers and producers of organic cannabis. Soil can be used for indoor growing – but it’s mainly used outside. The big difference […]

Daniel
Daniel
3 months ago

“Add 10-15L aeration amendment.”

I looked up “aeration amendment” but couldn’t find any definition on what that is.
Are you talking about Perlite and things of that nature?

Daniel
Daniel
2 months ago
Reply to  Mitch

Thanks for the response, Would it be worth mixing in rice hulls with the easy as organics living soil at about about a 1:3 ratio? Or is there good aeration in the soil to begin with? Since Rice hulls don’t break down like perlite and become like cement. Love your guide it’s really helping me setup my first grow and was where I was first introduced to the idea of no-till.

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[…] Recommended For YouORGANICS: Growing Successfully in Containers With Living Soil […]

Daniel
Daniel
2 months ago

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