What Does “Organic” Mean?
An organic product can broadly be described as any product that’s derived from a recently living organism. To grow organic pot means that your growing medium and plant foods result from natural sources and not synthetic salt compounds dreamed up in a lab. Organic particles are capable of decay or are sometimes the product of decay, unlike the chemical formulas designed to grow commercial crops cheaply.
In a natural setting, plants, dead animals and animal waste all collect over time on the forest floor, where they decay with the help of bugs, bacteria, worms and fungus to provide nourishment in the topsoil layer so vital to plant growth. This process, referred to as the “soil food web,” is how recently living organisms feed their future selves and complete the cycle of life and death. Roots thrive, aided by mycorrhizal fungi that help break down nutrients for easy accessibility and uptake. This top humic layer of soil, teeming with beneficial microbes and bacteria, is what we try to re-create when growing organic pot.
Examples of chemically derived nonorganic nutrients are Miracle-Gro, Peter’s and the popular General Hydroponics Flora Series three-part formula. These nutrients will grow plants with nice-looking, sizable flowers, but without a long flush, these buds will burn like charcoal, with a black ash that continuously needs to be relit. I’ve smoked plenty of decent chemically grown pot (and grown it in the past), but the same strains, grown organically, always win out in the final analysis.
Pouring salts and chemicals onto a dead medium and then down the drain does unnecessary damage to your local environment, polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. One look at some of the results of chemical agribusiness runoff, such as the Salton Sea in Southern California, and you’ll see why nonorganic nutrients are never advisable: Rotting fish carcasses float on the salty foam of a dead sea, and the whole area reeks with a foul stench that’s clearly man-made. This isn’t the woodsy, earthy smell of natural decay prevalent in a compost pile; it’s the acrid odor of an early demise caused by overuse of chemicals.
Cannabis growers should feel an obligation to use a healthy, living soil to produce truly medicinal and connoisseur-quality pot. Now, most nutrient companies provide organic alternatives that won’t clog drippers or stink up reservoirs, so even hydro growers can take advantage of more natural plant foods. Medicinal users growing their own buds should especially take note of organic methods. There’s no longer any legitimate reason to use chemical formulas.
The simplest way to grow organically indoors is in 5-gallon buckets with holes drilled into the bottom. You can grow big plants that will yield at least a quarter-pound-per-plant without the trouble of trying to manage and water a whole bunch of smaller plants. Limits on plant amounts in states that allow medical marijuana also encourage farmers to produce fewer, bigger plants. Larger containers will work for monster plants but the 5-gallon size have proved easiest to work with and move around, and can be found at any paint supply or hardware store.
Fill the buckets with the prepared mix described below (or another one of your choice) and place seedlings or female clones into the top of the mix. Lighting for plants this size should be at least 400-watt HIDs (High Intensity Discharge ) – either MH (Metal Halide) or HPS (High-Pressure Sodium), with 600-watt or 1000-watt lighting as ideal for bigger colas. These plants will need to grow in their vegetative state for at least a month to reach the proper size to initiate flowering and begin the budding stage of plant life. Lighting must penetrate deeply in order to fill out the buds that will grow on a bush that will reach 3 or more feet before it’s finished.
Danny Danko’s Magic Organic Mix for 5-gallon Buckets
3 parts Canadian sphagnum peat mix, coco coir or Pro-Mix
1 part large chunky perlite
1 part worm castings
1/2 cup greensand
1/2 cup of dolomite lime
1/3 cup of Peruvian seabird guano
1/4 cup Epsom salts
Mix it all together and soak it all down for at least a day or two before you plan to use it to get all the contents blended up and oxygenated. It should be wet throughout but not over-saturated.
The first few waterings should be done with plain water as the fresh planting mix is fairly “hot” (nutrient-rich). Let water sit out for at least 24 hours to evaporate chlorine that will kill off your beneficial microbes. Airstones at the bottom of the bucket with an air pump will speed up this process as well.
From then on, use compost teas and diluted liquid seaweed throughout growth and add some high-phosphorus bat guano tea during flowering. No need to flush towards the end, simply use milder tea for the last two weeks of flowering. Some natural yellowing will occur on fan leaves but this is a good thing as nitrogen is leaching out of the plant’s cells.
Making Organic Teas
The same 5-gallon buckets are perfect for brewing custom teas for each stage of plant growth. Early on, a compost tea is perfect for both watering and foliar spraying. Fill a nylon stocking with your chosen ingredients, which can include compost, guanos from both seabirds and bats and a little bit of molasses to feed the microorganisms. Fill the bucket with water and use an air pump and air stone bubblers to oxygenate the water for a few hours (this helps remove chlorine and other potential pollutants). Now, dunk the nylon sock into the water and steep for two days while stirring occasionally and allowing the airstones to bubble throughout the process to keep everything aerobic (oxygenated).
Now you’re ready to use the tea. Let it sit for a half hour or so to settle and then strain it into another bucket. You can feed this tea directly to the plants roots by saturating the growing mix in your buckets and/or spray the leaves for the added benefit of suppressing foliar diseases. Use the tea immediately. It’s only at it’s most effective for an hour or so.
It’s even easier to grow organically outdoors. If you’ve got the space, start a compost pile with leaves and kitchen scraps as well as lawn clippings (and even spent rootballs and used bubblebag scraps). Turn the pile once a week with a shovel or compost fork and you’ll have plenty of free compost (a.k.a. “black gold”) to mix into your outdoor soil and use as a nutritious mulch for your pot plants.
Outdoors, the bigger your container – the better. Loose organic mixes and plenty of sunshine encourage roots to grow at tremendous rates, leading to huge bushes that yield over a pound-per-plant and more! Better yet, dig your own hole deep and fill it with a variety of organic materials for a custom “seasoned” spot you can re-use year after year by simply replenishing the mix. Liquid seaweed and liquid fish as well as compost and guano teas combined with a healthy regimen of organic additives will keep plants happily thriving in the sun. Before long, you’ll be growing trees with trunks that need a hacksaw to take down!
Organic Pest Control
There are beneficial insects to combat every plague and dozens of natural sprays that are effective and non-toxic ways to eliminate the pests that damage plants. Chemical bombs and synthetic pesticides have no place in any cannabis garden. Predator mites and ladybugs are simple to acquire through the mail and it’s actually kind of fun to watch them devour their prey – the evil vegetarian bugs that have been feasting on your plants. Smoke a big spliff, get a nice-sized magnifying glass and watch the massacre unfold. It’s like Discovery Channel, but with weed!
Reliable Companies Selling Organic Products
Foxfarm, Advanced Nutrients, General Hydroponics, Canna, Age Old, Earth Juice, Biobizz, Botanicare, Guano-Gro, Maxicrop, Higrocorp, Humboldt Nutrients, Organics Alive, Safer, Technaflora, Atami, Bio Nova, Vita Grow, Alaska, Hydrodynamics, Budswel.
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If you can’t be bothered making the tea, I have used Biocanna Organic tea. It’s amazing. And, because it is nutrient specific ie vege and bloom I find that helpful for knowing exactly what your plant gets. I also use and recommend Ucanna as a soil supplement and almost ANY product from Gaia Green. Yum, organics!