By Luke Sumpter

A plant can only be as good as the soil it is grown in. So, in order to achieve huge plants with potent flowers, it is paramount to build and maintain healthy and vibrant soil. The past century of intensive and petrochemical-based agriculture has seen humanity do some serious damage. We have stripped much of the topsoil of its nutrients without giving much back in return. We have tilled the earth, releasing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, and eroded the topsoil away.

Thankfully, a counter movement of soil scientists, permaculturists, and organic farmers are promoting the importance of healthy soil for all life on earth. This idea is catching on fast, and many cannabis growers are beginning to build healthy soil to produce some seriously dank cannabis. One manifestation of reclaiming soil health is recycled organic living soil, otherwise known as ROLS.


Upon inspection, ROLS might seem like a stroke of human genius, but in fact it’s merely a copy of what already happens in nature. When we look at a forest, we’re really looking at a complex and detailed recycling system. When leaves and branches fall to the ground, they are still very much part of the life cycle. Saprophytic fungi will start to break them down into small parts, and then microbial life forms will process them into even smaller parts. Eventually, what was once a branch is turned into small molecules that are bioavailable to plants. These nutrients never leave the cycle, they merely change form.

However, when we grow crops without returning organic matter to the soil, we eventually rinse the soil of most of its vitality. The solution to this involves the use of chemical fertilisers. Add pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides into this mix, and you have a cocktail that massively reduces the biodiversity of the soil.

Soil biodiversity is paramount to healthy plants. The presence of fungal life within the soil helps to prevent erosion. Fungal life can also form a symbiotic relationship with plants by connecting to root systems, helping them to obtain nutrients that would otherwise be out of reach in exchange for sugars. Nematodes, small worm-like creatures, also occupy healthy soils. The predatory variety of these minute beings acts to patrol the soil and defend plants against parasitic microorganisms. Other forms of microbial life such as bacteria also help to provide nutrients to plants by breaking down organic matter.

Recycled Organic Living Soil


ROLS is essentially any soil system that uses organic and sustainable practices to return nutrients and vitality to the soil. These systems follow the lessons of nature and use nutrient cycles to ensure the topsoil remains healthy and capable of producing top-quality crops. ROLS is found throughout numerous schools of thought when it comes to organic agriculture. Biodynamic agriculture features a heavy emphasis on adding nutrient-rich preparations to the soil. Permaculture teaches concepts of polycultures, closed loop systems, and soil health. No-till farming methods minimise the amount of nutrients released from the soil and preserve microbial and insect life within the rhizosphere.


There are numerous ways to go about creating recycled organic living soils. You will need to start with a base. If you’re lucky, you might have access to a garden where these methods have already been applied. If not, simply purchase some good-quality soil or use what you have available. Now you’ll need to start implementing some of the concepts below to start building soil that is both healthy and alive.

One of the most common and basic ways is to start composting. Any kitchen and garden scraps can be added to a compost pile, which will eventually be broken down by microbial life. After some time, this nutrient-rich product can be added to soil to give your cannabis plants a boost.

Compost tea is another fantastic way to recycle scraps into a nutrient-dense formula that can be applied to garden beds. Anything from coffee beans, nettles, straw, and egg shells can be used to make this plant-enhancing liquid.

Maintaining good soil aeration is another great way to ensure better breakdown of organic matter and healthy microbial systems. This can be achieved by recycling organic materials such as rice hulls and lava rocks. Adding these materials to the soil will create small openings that air can flow through freely.

Natural fertiliser can also contribute massively to ROLS. Sources such as manure, worm castings, and bone meal can be obtained from many farms, and even created regularly in small permaculture operations.

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