Organic Growing: An Introductory Guide

Discussion in 'Organics' started by Rasta Roy, Sep 18, 2016.

    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member


    What's up growers and Cannabis enthusiasts! As a professional caregiver and growing consultant in the great medically compliant state of Michigan, and overall friendly guy on the internet; I tend to field the same handful of questions involving super soil, improving yield, and organic feeding (compost teas, top dressings, soil recipes). It made making this seem like the prudent thing to do!

    A couple of disclaimers...

    First and foremost, this is a beginner's guide to organic cannabis growing, based off my experiences with multiple technique's. Im not a botanist by any means, but I do my best to explain why I do what I do (in a simple stoner's terms), so that you can understand a few different ways to meet your plant's needs and find what works best for you. It is not a no til guide, I do recommend reading about no til. And any and all ways to grow. Experiment as much as you can. Take notes. Compare notes. I do my best here to give you a bullet proof guide for success, but this isn't the only way. I'm always trying to learn more and improve. I suggest you do the same.

    Part 1: "The Shade"

    I won't spend too much time here because I can just link to a blog that I would be paraphrasing from anyway. Super Soil... here's a nice little blog post you can read about why super soil is full of faults...

    Now that we've tore apart subcool's super soil recipe, let's talk real quick about water only soil mixes and container gardening. Most people attempting a water only approach (even with a good recipe) find themselves needing to add a little of something or other at some point, or find their yields disappointing. No til gardening is definitely a viable solution, but again, this isn't a no til guide. The solution that I'm gonna talk a mix of a balanced amended soil (without "cooking"), with readily available fertilizer occasionally applied in waterings.

    Can you substitute bottled "organic" nutrients for some of the dry bagged ones you ask?

    No! Not ever I say! You're cheating yourself out of fresh biological activity and you deserve better!

    Alright, that's enough of my naysaying!

    Part 2: Building Your Base Soil

    This is simple enough. Peat moss or Coco coir/aeration/compost in even parts.

    For example:

    One gallon of peat moss or coir, one gallon of compost, and one gallon of aeration.

    What you mean by aeration dog?

    Perlite, volcanic rock dust, Google for more...basically something to ensure you will have heavy drainage.

    Have some fox farm or promix that you used in your previous grow and would rather start with that as a base?

    You totally should! Always make use of what you have before you buy anything else. If this is spent soil from a previous grow it will probably have a comparable consistency to a mix of peat moss and perlite. Add in even parts compost and that'll give you the same solid mix.

    What kind of compost should I use?

    All of the kinds of compost!!! Grow stores are so limited, most will usually have over priced forest floor compost and worm castings at best. Your big box stores with garden centers, tractor and farm supply stores, and landscape supplier's will provide more affordable options. Google if there's a local compost facility in your area. Thatd be even better.

    Cannabis is an annual so it prefers bacterial dominant soil. Worm castings and thermal made compost (compost with lots of foods scraps, leaves, and coffee grounds to create a hot compost pile) will provide this.

    Fungal heavy compost (found in compost broken down without heat); made from just wood chips or the forest floor, plays an important role is well. Leaf mold compost (also cold broken down) is great too, it's super rich in humus and minerals. Fungal microbes play a major role in phosphorus uptake so you want at least

    Worm castings of course are the best of all...especially of you can homemake them.

    A nice blend of bacterial compost, a forest floor or fungal heavy compost, and worm castings will be best. But if you have to settle for one, you'll be okay. Just the more diversity you can have in your soil the better.

    Part 3: Nutrients, and Amending Your Soil

    I won't go full on essential plant nutrient lesson, it's covered in many other guides. I'm assuming a level novice knowledge has been acquired before reading this guide.

    We want to build a soil that will have all the nutrients the plant needs, readily available when the plant needs it. Organic growing is not the same as growing with bottled nutrients where you apply and the nutrients are already chelated and ready for uptake by the plant roots. Growing organic, you already have everything in the soil, the roots send out exudates that communicate with the microbiology in the soil, and the microbiology breaks down the organic matter in the soil to be uptaken by the plant. If you want to know more of the details of this relationship I highly recommend checking out the book Teaming With Microbes.

    So what nutes do we want in our soil and how do we provide them?

    I'm gonna start backwards with the micronutrients. Boron, copper, manganese...these should be plentiful in your soil with little effort. No need for extra amendments to provide these typically.

    Calcium, magnesium, and sulfer, while still micronutrients, are much more needed by the plant. In particular calcium and magnesium. The good news about sulfer is that it's usually provided when you're providing something else. So there's no need to amend for sulfer typically. Now magnesium is available in compost, castings, so there's some in the base mix but adding some is usually needed, especially in container gardening. Which most indoor cannabis is. Calcium, could almost be a macronutrient with how important it is. It is also available to the plant from compost and worm castings but we will want to amend the soil further and apply some additional love throughout the grow.

    Onto the big three boys. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. NPK. Cannabis uses lots of nitrogen in veg, and lots of phosphorus and potassium. This has misled synthetic growers, who have to feed the plant directly, into not supplying adequate K during veg (although not often), and cutting off the supply of nitrogen too soon into flower. And everyone always overdoes it with phosphorus...Google peak phosphorus... A good NPK ratio for cannabis soil (tomato's, and pepper's love this as well) would be something like 5-2-3 (these numbers are pretty arbitrary just trying to give you an example). Lots of nitrogen, more than anything, it is your biggest building block...however...over doing it can inhibit root growth and delay maturity. That's why phosphorus needs to be not too far behind nitrogen. And since we want big fruits to come from those big roots, and we want a strong, sturdy plant...we've got potassium.

    Growing organically, we don't have to feed the plant directly. We make sure the soil is good and prepared, and its microbes and the roots talk to make the magic happen.

    Now, in my gardening I noticed that while building a solid soil yielded positive results, quantity could use some improvement. Even when I composted my amendments into my soil (commonly referred to as cooking in super soil circles). Growth rates and yields were a little disappointing.

    Adding readily available sources of macronutrients, along with amendments that provide growth hormones and trace minerals (alfalfa and kelp meal) in addition to having a prepared soil was where I found my salvation. I did some grows where I simply applied the readily available macronutrients and beneficial amendments into a unamended soil and it had some deficiencies, and performance issues.

    The plain water approach vs the just tea approach was no match for the two of them combined.
    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    Part 4: soil mix recipe

    There's a lot of options for what amendments you can go for knowing what you need to give the plant. I recommend whatever is locally available to you. I like amendments that provide multiple benefits. Fish meal for example provides nitrogen...but also phosphorus, calcium, amimo acids, and hormones. While blood meal only provides nitrogen and iron. So these are the amendments I go for, applied at 1/2 cup per cubic feet (that's about 7 gallons) to virgin soil. These are mixed directly into the soil.

    Fish Meal (9-4-0)
    Nitrogen, phosphorus, along with amino acids, hormones.

    Crab Shell Meal (4-3-0)
    N, P, calcium, magnesium, pH buffer, chitin

    Oyster Shell Flour
    Calcium, pH buffer

    Kelp meal (0-0-1) or (1-0-2)
    Potassium, trace minerals

    Do you need to let this all cook? Not the way we're doing things. The readily available nutrients from worm castings, compost, and teas we'll be applying will do the heavy lifting in veg, while the meals in the soil will be ready for us once we hit flower. Now...if you're able to let the mix age...that would be all for the better.

    A quick side note about pH and lime...Growing organic you don't need to adjust pH constantly. If your soil pH is too low (like if you use peat moss over Coco coir) you'll want an amendment that acts as a pH buffer to bring up the pH. Most people use dolomite lime. You'll notice I don't use any lime in my mix. I use a combination of crab shell meal and oyster shell flour. Calcium and magnesium levels in my soil stay higher for longer vs when I was using lime. And my soil is buffered all the same.

    If your plant is having uptake issues the first thing you should do is get a cheap soil pH test kit and see where your soil is at before you do anything drastic.

    Part 5: Tea recipes

    I've thrown out the tea word a couple of times already. So let me clarify and say that tea is a blanket term for a few different things.

    First compost tea, more specifically actively aerated compost tea (AACT). This is not something we do to add nutrients, we do it to add microbiology to soil if it is in need of being recharged. A soil built with organic matter will develop a microherd on its own (especially if you water with molasses), compost tea just speeds up this process. So if you don't want to or aren't capable of doing AACT don't fret. If you desire a better understanding of the process again I recommend reading Teaming With Microbes. You'll need an air pump and and airstone or three. And it can be applied at anytime, and won't burn plants. How do you know when it's done? Take a good whiff when you first dump the molasses. When that sweet smell is replaced by a more earthy smell, your tea is good to use. Apply immediately as a root drench or foliar spray (helps fight pests and powdery mildew!)

    Compost tea recipe

    Five gallon of dechlorinated or RO water
    Six cups of compost
    1/4 cup of unsulphered molasses
    Brew for 24 - 48 hours
    Dilute with up to twenty gallons but dilution isn't needed.

    Worm Castings tea
    This is similar to the above but I believe it has some well rounded nutrient content if you're using fresh, homemade worm castings.

    Five gallons dechlorinated or RO water
    4-6 cups of worm castings
    1/2 cup of kelp
    1/4 cup of molasses
    Brew 24-48 hours
    Can dilute with up to 15 gallons of water

    Then there's nutrient teas, these are used to add boosts of your macros and big micros. These are usually steeped teas but you could approach these as AACT as well...just be aware that some fertilizers can slow microbe growth...which is why we use compost tea to add microbes, and nutrient teas to add nutrients. Bird and bat guanos provide the most readily available fertilizer. I prefer seabird guanos over bat guano because of the sustainability issues around harvesting bat guano. Also seabird guano is richer in trace minerals. Bat guano trace minerals leech away easily before it's even harvested for use. I also use alfalfa and kelp. These are both rich in growth hormones, trace minerals. Most bottled additives that promise you the world and more are made from one or both of them.

    All of these are steeped for 24 hours or could be brewed for 24 hours if you throw in the appropriate amount of molasses. Strain off liquid for foliar spray or just dump on roots.

    Teas for in Veg, these are all just 1-2 tbsp per gallon. No need to dilute, you could... especially if you feel your plants don't need much and you just want to add for the growth hormones. I'll use just alfalfa meal and kelp meal. Applied once every couple weeks.

    Teas for in flower:

    For when you first switch over, applied again in the third week of flower

    Five gallons of dechlorinated or RO water
    One cup of all purpose seabird guano (12-12-2)
    1/2 cup of kelp
    4 cups of worm castings
    1/4 cup of molasses
    Dilute with 10-15 gallons of water (you'll wanna dilute this one for sure...cut back on the guano if you need to make a smaller batch)

    Kelp meal tea...just 1-2 tbsp per gallon of water steeped for 24 hours. No need to dilute, can apply up until cut down...but by week 7 I'm not bothering. This can be applied anytime in the life cycle. It's great for after transplant for shock relief. Apply once a week flower.

    Now...week 3-7 I know y'all wanna add phosphorus...I don't know that you have to the way a lot of us have been conditioned to think we do. I'm still doing tests to be sure. I'll keep y'all posted. In the meantime if you're afraid you might miss it then use the seabird guano recipe above but use high phosphorus seabird guano instead of all purpose. Apply once every couple weeks.

    Part 6: top dressing
    If you can't do teas top dressings are a good go to alternative. Applied every three weeks. Usually 1/2 cup or 1/4 cup of each per plant depending on their size. Sowed into the first couple inches of soil (don't tear down into your roots!), Here's some recipes....

    In veg every three to four week
    Worm castings
    Neem cake or neem seed meal
    Kelp meal

    At the beginning of flower
    Worm castings
    All purpose seabird guano

    At any sign of deficiencies I top dress with neem cake, worm castings, and kelp. Problem clears up.

    Part 7: other factors to consider

    Water frequently...but also not too much. This is always the hardest part to explain and understand. You want the entire medium to be moist (or the microherd dies). Common practice when using bottles is too let the medium dry out, soak it down. With organic you don't wanna let it dry out that same way. But if you over water it'll deprive your roots of oxygen (fabric pots help solve this problem). Mulching your plants can help moisture maintain in the soil for longer.

    Co2, if you're inside you should supplement. With a tank. The get around using a tank methods are kinda pointless. 1500 ppm. If you can't you can't, but this is gonna bring up your yields more than anything.

    Big pots are the golden ticket. 15 gallons or up. If you're using smart pots you can get away with seven or ten gallons.

    Temperature, if you're running co2 you can run it up in the 80s, I don't like to go over 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temp drops more than 15 degrees when the lights go off I would use a small heater to keep the temp steady. You want the temp to drop some, but too much can cause stress. Without co2 you're gonna wanna keep the temp in the 70s. Get yourself an a/c.

    Fans. Four oscillating fans, front to middle, and back to middle coverage on one side, same on the opposite side. And then two floor fans on opposite corners. it...why have one or two stalks when you could have a bush? Topping is how you get there.

    1000 watt hid lights...thats what this guide is for...600 watts will do... 400 eh if that's all you got. If you're growing with quality probably made them and don't need my help. If you're using might as well just throw some seeds outside and see what happens...

    Part 8: in conclusion

    ...this is really just the beginning. This is very much an introductory guide to organics, very much aimed at the grower who is buying most of their supplies. This isn't even scratching the surface of sourcing your own materials, cover crops, comfrey, malted barley, homemade fertilizers. Organic growing gives you a lot of options, especially for the motivated and crafty. I highly recommend going to and checking out some of their homemade recipes. You could replace the tea recipes with those and they're made with scraps from your kitchen.

    I did my best to provide all the knowledge I could, if anyone has anything to add please comment!
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2016
    Gritzman, Giggsy70, What..? and 28 others like this.

    Muskegman Well-Known Member

    My man! this is awesome info. I wasn't expecting this much so I'm pretty impressed. I'm going to try all of this out. It all makes a lot of sense now . Hell, I think I could have been under watering my plants and the microbes are dying off . I'm so worried about giving it too much water, getting root rot, suffocating things, flushing the soil of the bat guano, etc. I'm DEFINITELY going to go get the stuff I need to start making these teas. Thanks a million Rasta. You are really knowledgable and helpful.
    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    You're definitely better off to under water than over water, so your caution is definitely in the right place! It's one of those things that's hard to get a feel for.

    In ten gallon smart pots my plants are getting about a half gallon or so every other day. I got a couple heavy drinkers that get a little more. Any excess just runs out the sides and bottom of the pot. Fabric pots are where it's at. Kinda eliminates the concern of over watering (although I'm sure you could still if you tried hard enough lol).

    Focusing more on meals instead of bat guanos you won't be worried about washing away your amendments.
    Cheesy Bo' Greesy and MeJuana like this.

    Muskegman Well-Known Member

    Ok. I have all the smart pots up to 30 gal but they just use up a lot of room . At the moment I'm trying those black 7gal plastic bags . I don't like them. I'm gonna go back to my 10gal smart pots, making sure I'm watering more cause I'm watering less than you are for sure . I've been watering them a half gallon every 4 days or so. I'm gonna try yout method of watering and see what happens, but I'm going to really be cautious. Along with the tea I think things may turn around this time. I honestly think that my plants are running out of juice and these teas are gonna make a world of difference.
    Rasta Roy likes this.
    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    Yeah I would be doing a gallon if I was going every four days, I would definitely wanna mulch to keep it moister longer. But yeah, teas and top dressings will save you when your soil starts to run out of juice.
    714steadyeddie and Muskegman like this.

    Muskegman Well-Known Member

    Sounds like a plan. Now just have to order all the stuff. I live on an island in Alaska . Only one place sells stuff and it's limited. So I'm gonna have to order on Amazon . Doing it today.
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    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    That's crazy man! has a nice diverse line of compost they sell (the fish compost has gotta be killer). A lot of people like for ordering. Set up your own worm bin man, homemade castings are the best fertilizer and might help eliminate your need for the extra orders in time. If you can get some local fish or even fish guts and make your fish fertilizer. Between those two things you'd be killing it I bet. All depends on how involved in the garden you want to get. This is what I do so it's easy for me to talk shit like yeah just do this! Lol. I know it can be hard for people with time or space limitations.

    Muskegman Well-Known Member

    Well, gettin fish is no problem man. I fish a ton but have no idea how to make fert with it the leftovers. I'm gonna look it up though, and same with the worms . I love doing this and I'm in it for the long run. I really want to grow the best I can and have a decent yeild. I think I should be doing better than 2 OZ a plant (3 plants per 600 watt lamp)in a 7gal pot. I'm gong to take advice and do what I gotta do . I spend countless hrs trying to get better at this . Thanks for all the help . It's really appreciated .
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    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    No problem man! Someone helped me once, least I could do is pay it forward. is a great online resource for making homemade fertilizers and worm bins.
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    CallmeTex Well-Known Member

    Hey man check out The Rev's "True Living Organics" too. Very similar methods to what Rasta Roy just laid down. This is basically what I've been using the past year, and am just starting to kill it in the yield department. You may want to get a propane burner if you're trying to run C02.
    Rasta Roy likes this.

    CallmeTex Well-Known Member

    Great guide, by the way Rasta! Thanks for posting
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    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    Yea propane burner would probably be a much easier co2 option for you than a co2 tank. Propane should be plenty available anywhere. They add a little heat to the room but considering where you're at...bringing in cool air to bring down the heat shouldn't be an issue if need be.
    greasemonkeymann likes this.
    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    Of course! Rev Run was definitely a resource for me when I was first learning my way into organics. Teaming With Microbes is a great book resource. So we're a number of books about container gardening. Unfortunately, no one has put together a real comprehensive, well researched cannabis book. Im working on putting together an actual book...working with a couple of university students and professors to try to make it as professional of a resource as possible. We're still a good year away from publishing any findings though. The above guide is a modified take on what we're doing. I shaved out the experimental stuff we are trying in favor of some time tested techniques. We're messing with homemade fertilizers and some different potting soil recipes. Cool stuff though Im super excited to share when we're finished!

    greasemonkeymann Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't worry necessarily about the microbes being the cause of whatever issue you are having, I've done a good amount of "abusive" grows, those will teach you a lil about what REALLY pisses the plants off.
    Underwatering probably isn't hurting your microbial life, remember the soil is DRY in a lot of areas, if that was the case, the whole friggin state of California would have barren soil.
    one thing I can say, is the plastic bags are CRAP to grow in, the do not breathe right, at all.
    If you can make a compost pile and a wormbin, you wont need much past that.
    BUT I do understand that may be challenging up in alaska

    greasemonkeymann Well-Known Member

    in a cold area??
    hell yea, a gas burning co2 system is perfect for that.
    get a greenhouse and a good burner on it, and it's two birds with one stone
    Rasta Roy likes this.

    Fastslappy Well-Known Member

    whole fish works best but fish guts & some trash fish that y'd throw back work great (carp)
    5 gallon with tight sealing lid fill with fresh fish wait a few months it will all go liquid

    Muskegman Well-Known Member

    Thank you all for the ideas and input. Where I live isn't that cold though. I live not to far from BC and our winters are pretty mild. I wasn't even gonna try co2 cause it's not a perfectlysealed room. As far as fish goes, that's gonna smell like no other and attract bears lol we have a crap load of bears here . I'm not gonna grow in these bags anymore either . I'm gonna use my smart pots from here on out . Greesedmonkey, do you have an idea what could be the problem if it's not the microbes? Something is missing , I just don't know what it is . I never had this problem when using nutes. It's got me baffled. I'm going to try the teas like Rasta said could help, and see what happens.

    the_small_axe Member

    I praise you rasta roy for putting this up cuz it is definitely doable. Knowledge is power.
    Rasta Roy

    Rasta Roy Well-Known Member

    Hope it helps! I tried to keep it simple but informative!
    Muskegman likes this.

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