Fruits and vegetables that are produced in the most cost-effective and least time-consuming manner often come with all sorts of disadvantages. Harmful pesticides and their negative effects on our health are one concern. But non-organically grown foods can have other drawbacks as well. They often lack flavour and have a decreased nutritional value. It is also understood that the pollution caused by non-organic growing is bad for the environment.

Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides are not just used for growing foods in large-scale industrial grows. When it comes to marijuana, the use of these harmful substances is equally concerning. After all, we are not growing cannabis for decorative reasons, but will at some point smoke or otherwise consume the fruits of our labour. Surprisingly, growing weed organically is a rather novel concept.

THE HISTORY OF ORGANIC GROWING

Humans have been cultivating cannabis for millennia and up until recently, there wasn’t much to it. Cannabis simply grew wherever the climate allowed it to, whether it was the mountain ranges of Afghanistan or under the sunny skies of California.

Things changed when marijuana became prohibited in the early 20th century. And with the onset of the War on Drugs in America in the early 1970s, things became even more strict. All of a sudden, growers were forced into hiding where they started to grow indoors. At first, this had a negative effect on cannabis production and quality. To make up for this, weed growers started to use potent chemical fertilizers to max out their yields. With grow-ops now happening mostly in enclosed spaces, this meant a higher occurrence of pests and diseases. This required even more chemical measures to get things under control. Back then, growing organically wasn’t on the list of priorities for cultivators.

Excess Nutrients Improper Nutrient Balance Cannabis Cultivation

PRESENT DAY

Now let’s fast-forward. Not too long ago, people realised that yield isn’t the only important factor when growing cannabis. While chemicals may result in a heftier haul of bud, they diminish the quality and flavour of your precious flowers. Consumers should also be concerned about the potential health risks from eating or inhaling products that may contain these chemicals. In an effort to challenge this potentially unhealthy method of cultivation, the idea of organic cannabis growing was born, and has since gained massive popularity.

WHAT IS ORGANIC CANNABIS?

The concept of growing cannabis organically was first widely promoted by Jeff Lowenfels, a lawyer and Harvard graduate from Alaska who also happened to be a passionate gardener. He explained that growing organically is all about the natural life cycle of plants and the microorganisms that make up the soil food web. This web describes a complex living system in the soil and how it interacts with the environment, plants, and animals.

A good example of this concept is when gardeners keep fallen leaves to naturally fertilize their lawn in the spring. The philosophy to keep things as natural as possible, with the least amount of human intervention quickly caught on. Soon, people talked about the benefits of an organic lifestyle and praised the advantages of growing, eating (and smoking) organically.

MICROORGANISMS AND THEIR IMPORTANT ROLE IN ORGANIC GARDENING

Microorganisms that live in the soil play an important role in organic gardening. They help produce nutrients for the plants from waste and other compounds present in the soil. This natural process has two benefits: the organisms help feed the plants, while also removing harmful waste.

In conventional gardening with synthetic fertilizers, nutrients are given directly to the plants. On the contrary, organic growing is all about conditioning the soil so that these microorganisms can thrive. The result is a healthy plant grown the natural way!

Organic Feeding Chain

HOW TO GROW ORGANIC CANNABIS

Before we get into how you can grow cannabis organically, a word of advice would be in order. There are currently no regulations as to what qualifies as true organic farming, which means that the term is rather vague and often inaccurately used. Some go so far as to say that growing organically indoors is not even possible.

They may have a point, seeing as an indoor grow cannot benefit from a “natural cycle” since it is an enclosed system. For example, when there is a pest infestation indoors, natural predators won’t be taking care of the problem. A grower will then need to use some type of treatment if they don’t want to lose their crops. Then again, depending on how one defines organic growing, indoor growers can use natural (non-chemical) forms of nutrients and pest control, which may still qualify their crop as “organic.”

ORGANIC CANNABIS STARTS WITH THE SOIL FOOD WEB

Coming back to our soil food web, the first step for growing organically is to use naturally amended soil. This is absolutely essential for creating an optimal environment for the microorganisms that will ultimately provide your plants with nutrients. Good types of organic soils include mixes of compost, earthworm castings, kelp meal, perlite, bat guano, pumice, fish emulsion, peat moss, and other ingredients appearing in various combinations.

Sure, making your own “super-soil” mix isn’t necessarily something for the novice. Fortunately, there are many super-soil recipes to be found on the internet that aren’t very complex.

As a new organic grower who isn’t born with this knowledge, you have two options. First, you could buy the individual ingredients (compost, worm castings, etc.) that you need and mix your own organic soil from a recipe. Or, you can try to find a pre-mixed super-soil from a grow store. The latter may be recommended if you’re new to organic growing, since pre-mixed soils will require very little maintenance. Most of the time, all you need to do is water properly and these soils (better: the microorganisms within them) will take care of everything for you.

Your soil mix is arguably the most important part of your organic cannabis grow, but this style of cultivation goes well beyond what you put in your pots. Some organic growers say that one should focus on the entire growing environment as a single ecosystem. This means keeping a healthy balance between soil, temperature, humidity, airflow, grow lights, etc. As all of these factors influence one another, it’s important to consider the big picture.

ORGANIC CANNABIS NUTRIENTS

The nutrients for your cannabis plants will be produced by the microorganisms that live in the soil, which means that you could get away with not using any additional organic nutrients, amendments, or supplements. In the simplest of cases, you would just water your plants and that would be it.

But cannabis growers can also find a variety of organic supplements that can help aid growth. Most cultivators of organic cannabis use compost teas that can provide a plethora of benefits. These support the microorganisms in the soil and they help keep diseases at bay. A little research can yield a good amount of recipes for compost teas that can greatly benefit your organic grow-op.

 
 

MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI ARE A NATURAL PLANT GROWTH BOOSTER

Adding mycorrhizal fungi to your organic soil can be another way to naturally provide your plants with an added boost. The mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with your plants and increase their ability to take in nutrients and water. Some commercial organic fertilizers already contain mycorrhizal fungi, but you can also find it sold separately. Sprinkling this fungi into your soil will provide benefits throughout your plant’s entire growing cycle.

ORGANIC PEST CONTROL

When you grow cannabis, you rarely ever need to use strong synthetic insecticides to get rid of the most common pests. Many effective pest management solutions work naturally without chemicals.

For battling aphids, spider mites and other common pests, you can use foliar sprays made from neem oil, which have been proven to be very effective. Bacillus thuringiensis is another biological pesticide that can help eradicate fungus gnats, mosquitos, or caterpillars.

COMPANION PLANTS KEEP PESTS AWAY

If you have the space, one good method for natural and organic pest control is to use companion plants. These are plants with natural pest-repelling abilities, making them ideal to plant alongside your marijuana. Aphids have a distaste for marigolds while basil and dill can be good companions for keeping gnats away. For nearly every common pest, there exists a matching companion plant. Once again, a quick internet search will provide helpful information on the best solutions to your problem.

WHY YOU WANT TO GROW CANNABIS ORGANICALLY

Chemical cannabis nutrients can lead to all sorts of troubles in the long run. Growers may at some point run into problems when salts and minerals accumulate in the soil, causing the dreaded nutrient lockout. This in turn catalyses nutrient deficiencies in your precious plants. Issues from overfeeding with chemical nutrients are quite common, especially for novice cultivators.

No such worries with organic growing since you don’t give nutrients directly, but rather feed the microorganisms instead. Because of this, overfeeding in an organic grow is improbable. Likewise, you won’t need to worry about the pH of your water or nutrient solution since the organic soil can tolerate a less-than-optimal pH quite well.

With chemical fertilizers, up to 90% of your nutrients will go to waste. Only a small percentage of them will be taken in by your plants. The rest will run-off with watering. Conventional potting mixes will at some point also be depleted of nutrients, meaning you’ll have to renew your growing medium every season. With an organic potting mix, you can renew it each season by simply adding some sprinkles of mycorrhizal fungi. This can make organic growing a lot more economical.

Last, but not least, proponents of organic cannabis swear by the superior quality of the final product - fat and juicy buds that are full of flavour because no harsh chemical ever touched them. If you love growing cannabis, consider organic growing as a more sustainable alternative.

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