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Living Soils: Pro-biological Approach to Cultivation

by Sama’a Djomehri

Microorganisms have been symbiotically interacting with plants for tens of thousands of years, actually responsible for the chemical processes and other functions making it possible for plants to subsist and take an evolutionary hold.  Plants, like humans and other animals, are dependent upon microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes for survival.

The relationship between soil organisms, plants, and animals has been named The Soil Food Web by biologists.  One can think of this web as part of the complex circuitry of our vast Earth bio-computer, complete with regulatory feedback loops.  Here’s how having a healthy and diverse soil biota creates optimal conditions for plants:

Bacteria in the root zone of a plant, or rhizosphere, feed on both nutrients and minerals found in organic and inorganic matter (such as mineral rock) which are unavailable to plants.  Their digestion process cycles these compounds into forms which plants can use.  In addition, bacteria secrete sugars as part of their digestive function; these sugars are critical for nutrient adhesion to plant roots.

Fungi perform a similar task, digesting organic and inorganic particulate matter, and also produce a large network of hyphae, or filaments, extending through the soil, which aerate and enhance root growth, and actually penetrate plant roots with microfilaments to deliver beneficial nutrients!

Nematodes and Protozoa eat bacteria and fungi, employing complex chemical processes to break down matter further, making nutrients even more accessible.  Earthworms and insects aid in this function, and their excrement is extremely high in humic acid, which enhances bio-availability to plants by solubilizing nutrients.

The movements of nematodes and protozoa, as well as earthworms and insects in the soil, further act to enhance soil structure, facilitating aeration and moisture distribution, and minimizing anaerobic pathogens which thrive in overly wet conditions.

In modern commercial agriculture, chemical fertilizers and pesticides destroy the beneficial life both in the root zone and on the plant leaves.  Plants are force-fed chemicals synthesized in pollution-creating industrial processes, and do not undergo the complex metabolic processes which occur in their roots as they interact with soil organisms and uptake nutrients provided by their life processes.  In some cases, chemically grown produce has been shown to contain significantly less nutrition than produce grown with compost and other organic nutrients [1].  It follows that the cannabinoid and terpene content of a medically grown cannabis plant may be significantly affected by choice of nutrient regime, and this is an area of study the pharmaceutical cannabis community should explore.

Widespread use of systemic chemical pesticides results in cannabis with dangerous levels of toxins contained within plant cells and resin glands. To keep pharmaceutical standards high, medical cannabis must test free of harmful pesticides and chemicals, as well as molds and other pathogens.

Using the Living Soils technique for cannabis cultivation completely eliminates the need for both chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Start with certified pathogen-free, organic compost and earthworm humus as a base; these should already contain a diverse array of beneficial organisms and humic acids which can unlock the abundant amount of nutrients present in the organic matter.  Then one can simply super-charge one’s soil by inoculating the substrate and foliar feeding with different strains of beneficial microbes specifically tailored for particular metabolic functions.  Light feedings of sugars, rock mineral dust, and organic matter extract (kelp or fish) keep the soil biota, and therefore your plants, thriving.

Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria capture atmospheric nitrogen (N2) and produce ammonium (NH4+). Ammonium is also produced by bacteria using nitrogen sources found in the organic soil humus. Nitrosomonas Bacteria converts ammonium into nitrite (NO2), which is then transformed into nitrate (NO3) by the genus Nitrobacter.  Nitrate is the form of nitrogen bio-available to the cannabis plant and other annual shrubs.  Products such as the Bacillus Blend by the Utah-based agricultural company, PureAg, feature these strains of bacteria, and represent the cutting edge in bio-technology. The company has been studying soil microbes and isolating their metabolic processes for decades.  Other bacteria included in this blend break down calcium carbonate, and survive in hot climate, high salt conditions.  They consume plant sugars both in the root zone and on plant surfaces, eliminating the food source for potential pathogens.

Trichoderma is a fungus which consumes sugars and dead plant matter in the root zone, outcompeting pathogens with its presence. Endomycorrhizae fungi are capable of penetrating plant roots with micro-hyphae, and becoming enclosed within the cell membrane. This connection between fungus and plant greatly expands the plants’ effective root surface area, as the fungal hyphae have a vast network.  Endomycorrhizae aid in uptake of water, inorganic phosphorous, mineral and organic nitrogen, and amino acids [2].

Other beneficial microbe-based products such as Mammoth P by Mammoth Microbes focus exclusively on phosphorous cycling in order to achieve larger bud size in the flowering stage, and advertise that their strains are designed to survive and work in soilless systems.  Regardless of how they are used, products containing living organisms must pass strict standards ensuring they are organic and free of pathogens before use in medical cannabis cultivation.

In addition to PureAg and Mammoth, a growing number of horticultural companies such as BioTabs , Xtreme, and organic compost producers in Greece, are recognizing that utilizing the positive effects of soil life is the cleanest and most cost-effective way to grow pharmaceutical cannabis as well as industrial hemp.  Cultivators of both types of crops can save money and minimize waste by not purchasing mass quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and can maintain their own pathogen-free compost and earthworm humus production, creating a sustainable source of substrate and nutrients for their operations, and drastically reducing these usually major sources of expense.


[1] Palupi E1, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J, “Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis.”, J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Nov;92(14):2774-81. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5639. Epub 2012 Mar 19. Review.


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