In honor of Earth Day, High Times brings you another reason to look towards Mother Nature to grow better pot. Cannabis sustainability experts at Dragonfly Earth Medicine explain how to conserve a resource all growers know about but might not have known we’re running out of: phosphate. Learn what the problem is and how you can make your garden phosphate-friendly by using plants for fertilizer.
Much like oil, phosphate fertilizers originate deep inside the Earth. Starting off as rocky minerals, a long line of environmentally unfriendly mining and processing turns them into the fertilizer we know and use. A lot of lore around the internet has thrown around the term “peak phosphate,” insinuating that we could run out. Phosphates won’t necessarily run out in 2030 as some have claimed, but the prospects aren’t too pretty.
As humans consume more and more resources, miners have to dig deeper and deeper to find them. Throw a pump in the ground, and you can get some crude oil, but once that starts slowing down, you have to move into digging up dirty tar sands. Oil companies will soon start mining actual solid rock (bitumen carbonate) to keep up oil production.
Phosphate mines have the same problem. Miners need to dig deeper and have to settle with lower quality phosphate-ore to keep up with increasing demand. This increases production costs and impacts the price of all agricultural commodities worldwide.
The mining process of this mineral composite is ecologically unsustainable and unsafe. Phosphorus easily leaches out of the soils and mines and creates toxic water runoff. This seeps into the water table from the mines and farms that use rock phosphate. This runoff fosters the growth of unbeneficial and pathogenic bacteria wherever it pools. Drinking water becomes unsafe and lakes unswimmable due to the colonization of very harmful blue algae blooms and pathogenic colonization. Beneficial microbial life in nature is fragile, and the runoff quickly kills this healthy ecosystem that is a building block of balance.
There are many herbs and plants that contain high amounts of plant-based phosphorus that your cannabis plants can easily uptake. Using certain plants in an anaerobic culture ferment and then turning it to an aerobic drench can unlock the phosphorus and other important minerals and vitamins from the raw plants.
Using plants to feed your plants is economical and wise. You can responsibly grow or gather from nature your own phosphorus-rich plants for your cannabis gardens. Mineral phosphates, mined from deep in the Earth, take a very long time to break down. Plants can only uptake 15 percent of the available nutrients in rock phosphate and 85 percent of the phosphate gets washed out before the plants can ever use it. When you feed your garden pre-digested plants, the nutrients are totally and easily absorbed. During flowering, your plants uptake a large amount of phosphorus. Some Kush strains are huge feeders during flowering, so getting the right nutrient balance is imperative for healthy plants and heavy yields.
You can increase the amount of phosphorus that roots absorb naturally; adding the beneficial fungus mycorrhizae to the soil helps the plant uptake up to 90 percent more phosphorus. The spores—and eventually tiny tendril like fungi extensions—that attach on to healthy roots go in search of available phosphorus to bring to the plant. The endomycorrhizae secretes sugars and enzymes to help break down the phosphorus to make it totally absorbable.
Making your own nutrients is easy. Dedicate a portion of your greenhouse, indoor or outdoor garden to growing your own nutrients. Sprout barley, poppy seeds and sunflower seeds for high phosphorus. Feeding your garden a primarily plant-based diet, will increase the terpene production. Flowers, seeds and roots contain the highest amounts of phosphorus in any plant. Collect and grow plants that have large roots, big flowers and plentiful seeds. Sunflowers make great phosphorus-rich teas. They grow easily, ferment easily and when they are just drooping (after you have enjoyed their beauty), throw them in the tea barrel for your ladies to enjoy. Your cannabis roots and stalks also have a significant amount of phosphorus. Use last year’s stalks and roots in this year’s flowering brew.
Use whole plants, fruits, seeds and roots in ferment to unlock valuable phosphorus. Also try making compost teas and raw ferments to fertilize your garden. Easy to grow perennials, cover crops and food scraps that are high in phosphorus include: alfalfa, apple, asparagus, banana, basil, beetroot, black cohosh, blue cohosh, brussels sprouts, burdock toot, capsicum, cannabis stalks and roots, caraway, catnip, cayenne, celery, chervil, chickweed, chillies, cocoa, comfrey, candelion, fennel, garlic, globe artichoke, horseradish, Irish moss, kelp, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, pineapple, potato, pumpkin seeds, purslane, pokeweed, poppy seeds, raspberry, red clover, rhubarb, rosehip, rosemary, sage, spinach, strawberry, sunflower heads, tomato, turkey rhubarb root, watercress, white oak bark, wood betony and yellow Ddock.
Check out Dragonfly Earth Medicine’s guide on how to make plant fermented fertilizers to start becoming phosphate friendly!