Living Soil

by Ron Bain

Is the soil you grow in living or dead?

If the soil is dead — meaning lacking in photosynthetic and other bacteria, beneficial fungi, earthworms, and lots of nutritious organic molecules — then your cannabis is going to be malnourished and of poor quality and taste.

Compost teas, which are full of the bacteria and fungi that grow in compost, are the most common way to restore symbiosis to potting soil held in containers, but it has to be used immediately and cannot be stored.

However a Montrose-based company named Rocky Mountain Bio-Ag is distributing a bottled product with a longer shelf life, Quantum Growth, which one Paonia-based grower says increases bacterial content in soil by 6,000 percent in just 24 hours.

“It made ‘em not only go into a frenzy but a colonizing frenzy as well, a reproductive frenzy,” said Ryan Robbins, the director of plant and soil science with Hydroponic Life, a chain of hydroponic and organic growing supplies outlets with a store in Paonia.

“Indoors it is a really complicated thing,” Robbins added. “You have to keep your soil living. Some people go as far as using worms and having them put down fresh castings in the soil.”

Brandon Kail, president and owner at Bio Ag, says that the marijuana industry has begun to embrace the Quantum Growth product but that it was created for general agricultural uses.

“Anything that you put in the soil has to be processed. After it’s processed, the plant can take it. Microbial communities — and there are many processes they deal with in the soil itself, whether that’s soluble ibu phosphorous or different elements that are in the soil — help them to be a healthy, thriving plant,” said Kail. “So without microbiology or probiotics of the soil, what ends up happening is your soils won’t turn over.”

There are levels in living soil: the first tropic level is photosynthetic bacteria; next up are spore-forming microbes and nematodes. “When soils are depleted of photosynthetic bacteria, what happens is those other microbes above are sluggish, they don’t have enough energy to do the process they need to do,” Kail explained. “There are thousands and thousands of different bacteria – we haven’t scratched the surface of it.”

Quantum Growth contains 30 different bacteria that are vital to plant growth, he said. An opportunity to sample cannabis grown by Robbins using Quantum Growth convinced this author that he was definitely onto something.

“The medical value is greatly increased by growing organically,” he said. “Others are going to be happy with what is produced.”

Robbins defines “organic” growing differently than many people do. To him, organic growing means you’re not adding organic hydroponic nutrients and fertilizers — “that’s hydroponic-style growing” — instead you’re adding compost tea and probiotics to restore the “symbiotic soil food web” in soil that’s been bagged and then put in containers.

“You get the whole circle put back together,” he said. “You get all the things put back in place.” Growing this way maximizes quality oils, terpenes, THC, CBD, CBN and additional cannabinoids, according to Robbins.

On the other hand, salt fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals kill the soil, he said. “You start throwing chemicals around and you cause problems.”

Living soil is much more resistant to mold and bad fungi that would attack your plants and can defend against bugs and natural pathogens, Robbins noted. “You don’t have to worry about bringing those toxins into your environment.” Indoors or outdoors, plants need to be grown in living soil from the very beginning, he emphasized.

“What really got me going in that direction was trying to grow organically indoors, which is not easy to pull off,” Robbins said. “It made me need to learn about it. It took me many years to perfect. It took several years of trial and errors.”

Trying to grow indoors organically is a much more time sensitive method, he added.

“With organics, there’s not time to recover from a heavy deficiency,” Robbins said. “You’re looking at a shorter window for blooming.”

If you’re using compost tea to create symbiotic, living soil, the teas should be heavily bacterial in the beginning, more fungal in the middle and back to bacterial during the bloom state, he explained.

Those who grow directly in the ground outdoors can take advantage of the Earth’s natural symbiotic soil web, but they may want to add earthworms and a mineral supplement, such as Liquid E-F-M, that will increase the soil’s phosphorous, copper, zinc and iron content. According to agricultural consultant Marvin Ropp, 85 percent of America’s mineral content has been depleted from the soil due to poor farming techniques.

Bio-Ag’s probiotic Quantum Growth has other applications and uses as well, according to Kail. The bacteria in it will eat oil molecules and can be used to clean up oil spills; a Florida laboratory tested Quantum Growth on Round-Up and found that it neutralized the essential chemical component of the herbicide.

“Probiotics are a good thing to use,” Kail said. “It breaks down all the nutrients and allows plants to use them.”

 

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