Many small-scale growers who intend to consume their harvest themselves already grow organic cannabis; the same can be said for most medicinal growers in the U.S., both caregivers and dispensaries. However, commercial growers for the recreational market often don’t grow organically, due to various outdated misconceptions.
Organic cannabis has become a huge commodity in the cannabis market as consumers become increasingly aware of the unsafe cultivation practices of the industry. For those who grow cannabis at home, the option of organic cannabis growing is quite easily attainable.
As the medicinal cannabis industry has grown in recent years, the demand for high-quality, safe cannabis has grown with it. As a result, many patients are now requesting organic cannabis from their suppliers, and are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible presence of dangerous chemicals in ‘regular’, non-organic cannabis.
There are obvious benefits to growing organic cannabis — there’s less chance of contamination (e.g., pesticides), it’s healthier and overall, there’s a lesser environmental cost. But there’s also the obvious disadvantage of buying organic cannabis: it’s often more expensive than the regular kind. And buying buds is already expensive enough!
We’ve included a how-to guide for growing your own cannabis in this article to help mitigate the hip-pocket damage. Plus, growing your own cannabis organically puts things into perspective about why it’s sometimes more expensive to choose organic.
What is organic cannabis?
There is much confusion over what constitutes organically-grown cannabis. Many still believe that any cannabis grown in soil is organic, but much soil-grown cannabis is grown with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In order to be truly organic, organic cultivators usually only use nutrients and pesticides that are natural in origin. In fact, purists would argue that no pesticides or nutrients may be used at all.
In terms of nutrients, ‘natural’ products that will assist in the growth and flowering of cannabis plants include bat and bird guano, worm castings, manure, blood and bone meal, and compost. Natural pesticides include plant products such as pyrethrum, capsaicin and tobacco. However, even though these substances are from organic sources, there is still uncertainty about their effect on human and environmental health.
Top 5 benefits of organic cannabis
One of the primary concerns of commercial growers is the possibility of reduced yield when growing organically. However, this is not necessarily the case—and in fact, if all conditions are optimum, you may be able to achieve higher yields than if using conventional methods.
If the micro-environment is not optimum, yields may well be comparatively lower than with non-organic grows. This was certainly the case in the past. However, commercially-available organic fertilisers, growing media, and additives have improved greatly over the years, along with the understanding of how best to utilise them.
One major new innovation in organic growing is the development of “super-soil”. This is a growing medium that has been painstakingly tweaked in order to contain exactly what cannabis needs to grow in abundance, without the need for fertiliser. With this method, you can give your plants nothing but water and achieve incredible results.
Prepared mixes are commercially available, but “super-soil” can be easily be made at home. Typically, super-soil contains organic potting soil mixed with worm castings, blood meal, bone meal, guano, and various other additives. Preparing your own means you can develop the precise mix for your preferred strain.
Giving your cannabis plants exactly what they need down to the very last microbe in the soil is a fundamental part of contemporary organic growing. Like any plant, cannabis has specific and highly complex requirements to grow optimally, and matching those requirements as accurately as possible allows your plants to achieve their full potential.
Conventional nutrient systems are relatively simple in their make-up, containing just the basic nutrients required for cannabis to survive and grow. There are six essential macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium) and six essential micronutrients (manganese, boron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, and iron). Most cannabis nutrient mixes contain these nutrients.
Conversely, organic nutrient systems often contain other trace elements that can provide extra benefits to cannabis, even if they are not traditionally classed as essential.
Nickel, sodium, cobalt and chlorine are all examples of nutrients that have been demonstrated to be beneficial for taller plants such as cannabis, but are often overlooked in commercial feeds. Organic growers report that organically-grown cannabis is superior in effect and potency due to the complex make-up of the nutrient mixes used.
Improved flavour and aroma
Organically-grown cannabis is widely considered superior in flavour and aroma to conventionally-grown cannabis for similar reasons to those outlined above. As the micro-environment is optimised for vigorous, healthy growth, plants can produce optimum quantities of flavonoids, terpenoids, and cannabinoids themselves.
Terpenes and terpenoids are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis and many other plants their fragrance. Dozens of these compounds are present in cannabis, and are responsible for giving its strain its sweet, citrus, spicy or pine-like aroma. The more abundant these terpenes and terpenoids are, the more fragrant and flavoursome your final product will be.
Flavonoids are another secondary metabolite of many plants, including cannabis. They often bring with them a wide range of antioxidant effects that contribute to longevity and overall health.
Organically grown cannabis doesn’t contain the synthetic pesticides and insecticides of conventional commercial growing methods. It is also important to think about how these artificial additives affect the overall taste and aroma of a bud.
Another aspect of organic cannabis cultivation that can enable improved yields, flavour and potency is the richness of the soil microbiome (“microbiome” refers to the community of microbes present in a particular environment).
Organic soil mixes are complex living ecosystems in their own right, which contain an abundance of bacteria, fungi and other microscopic organisms such as nematode worms. The sterile environment found within many non-organic growing media does not support this level of complexity.
A substantial amount of research into cannabis and other important crops has demonstrated that establishing a rich soil microbiome has multiple benefits. It enables nitrogen fixing and water retention, stimulates growth, and helps to prevent diseases of the roots. Making your own super-soil and leaving it to mature for around thirty days before use allows an abundance of fungi and other beneficial microorganisms to establish a niche and populate the soil.
Organic compost tea is another excellent way of culturing the beneficial bacteria required for a healthy microbiome. Compost tea involves steeping well-made compost in water and constantly running a bubbler to provide oxygen (allowing conditions inside the “brewer” to become anaerobic causes unhealthy bacteria to develop instead of the beneficial types).
Lighter environmental impact
Of course, the most environmentally beneficial way to grow cannabis is to grow outdoors in natural sunlight, as the greatest negative environmental impact of cannabis growing is electricity consumption when growing indoors. On top of that, there have been reports of banned pesticides running off into water supplies in California.
Unfortunately, not everybody is permitted or able to cultivate their cannabis outdoors (let alone indoors). Organic cultivation minimizes the environmental impact on water in regions of the world where cannabis is grown commercially.
For ultimate green credentials, organic, outdoor cultivation is the clear winner. If that’s not an option, it’s possible to minimise environmental impact growing indoors. Using organic nutrients and fertilisers automatically reduces the environmental impact, because production of organic nutrients and fertilisers typically require less processing than conventional nutrients. Conventional nutrients and fertilisers are mostly derived from fossil fuels and require substantial energy to produce.
Furthermore, organic pest-control techniques are often far less environmentally impactful —for example, ladybirds (or “ladybugs” in the U.S.) can be used to control spider mites, negating the need for the toxic chemical brews used in conventional growing.
A how-to guide for growing organic cannabis
The fundamentals of growing organic cannabis will vary depending on whether it is grown indoors or outdoors. Though many argue that true organic cannabis must be grown outdoors, an organic environment can also be created indoors. The growing medium (soil, coconut fibre, etc.) can be the same across both indoor and outdoor grow ops, but indoor growers will need to think about light spectrums and cycles, too.
Preparing the medium
To grow organic cannabis, it is imperative to grow in soil. While hydroponic grow systems grow fantastic cannabis, water simply cannot harbour the organic nutrients and microorganisms that are present in soil. Organic nutrients and fertilizers often cause problems for indoor growers. Plus, there is contention about whether hydroponic grow systems can ever be certifiably organic.
Once you’ve obtained cannabis seeds, the soil is the starting point for any cannabis growing operation. Therefore, to grow organic cannabis, the soil must also be organic. If you are growing outdoors on a plot of land, you must be sure that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used on that land for quite some time. These chemicals tend to stick in soil for years even after farming has stopped.
It is ultimately easier to grow organic cannabis in pots as you can essentially make your own soil. However, to do so requires around six months of preparation. This method involves mixing composted food products with other nutritional material (such as woody plant trimmings, dry leaves, coffee grounds, livestock manure, etc.). Once mixed, the mixture must be left for anywhere between two and six months, until it begins to steam and let off gases.
Making organic, cannabis-friendly fertilizer
The alternative to making your own soil is to purchase bare potting mix and add in organic nutrition. This is essentially the process of making fertilizer. However, most commercial fertilizers are not organic, although organic fertilizer can be sourced in specialty stores. It can be made at home using the following recipe:
- Spread a layer of bare potting mix on a large tarp, with coco fibre and mycorrhizae (this can be purchased in the garden store).
- Add 0.75 kg of rock phosphate, 30 ml Epsom salts, 60 ml Azomite, 120 ml Dolomite, and 1 tablespoon of humic acid. Spread them around on the layer of soil.
- Add another layer of the bare potting mix.
- Add 1 kg of bat guano, and then top with another layer of bare potting mix.
- Spread 1kg of blood meal in a thick layer on top. Do the same with bone meal.
- Using a spade, mix everything together. Transfer them into garbage cans with 10 litres of water and allow them to cook in the sun. In the sun, the correct bacteria and fungi will begin to grow to support the mini ecosystem required for growing cannabis.
You now have soil that is already fertilized. You may add further nutritional information as your grow continues, but it is best to do so using organic nutrients. However, this should provide the soil with enough nutrients for the entire grow. Every time you transplant into another pot, you can use new soil from your batch of organic potting mix.
The best pesticide is no pesticide
With the correct degree of care and attention to detail, it should be possible to maintain a grow without resorting to pesticide use at all. Keeping plants tidy and well-maintained, keeping the grow room or surrounding environment clean and tidy, and ensuring optimum conditions to promote healthy plants will all go a long way towards keeping an organic garden free from infestations.
However, there are times when even the most fastidious gardener may become overwhelmed by spider mites or whitefly, and in these cases, it is important to be aware of the effects and consequences of the various pesticides available, so that the most appropriate one can be used.
What is pyrethrum?
Pyrethrum is the name given to any one of several chrysanthemum species, as well as to the insecticidal preparation that can be extracted from two species, C. cinerariifolium and C. coccineum. Pyrethrum is directly toxic to several common cannabis pests including spider mites and aphids, and is remarkably non-toxic to mammals.
The active ingredients of pyrethrum, the pyrethrins, are found in the achenes (seed-cases) of the flower, which are crushed to produce a substance known as an oleoresin, a naturally-occurring mixture of oil and resin. This oleoresin is then further processed to produce an emulsion, suspension, or powder, to be used directly on pest-affected plants.
Pyrethrins are highly toxic (to cannabis pests), volatile terpenoids. Chemically, they are closely-related esters (usually an end-product of an acid-alcohol reaction) with cyclopropane cores; their neurotoxicity is derived from their instability, which is also largely the reason that they degrade so rapidly upon exposure to air and water.
Companion planting as a form of pest management
Even using organic pesticides can damage the immediate natural environment around the growing area. Most organic pesticides are used in quantities far greater than would typically appear in nature. In this way, using them can negatively affect native wildlife in the area such as bats, birds, and bees. It’s an important consideration regarding using organic pesticides, especially in an area rich with native wildlife.
Correct use of companion plants may remove the need for pesticides entirely. Companion planting is a permaculture technique that uses plants that can deter pests on your behalf. This decreases the possibility of harming the surrounding environment while trying to protect the cannabis plants. It also removes the need for any “additives” to deal with pests.
Many of the companion plants used with cannabis also double up as great culinary or medicinal herbs to have in the garden. So they won’t go to waste at the end of the grow!
- Basil: This aromatic staple deters aphids, asparagus beetles, mosquitos, tomato hornworms and whitefly. Keep a couple of potted plants around your cannabis pots to protect them, and at the end of your harvest, make some basil pesto!
- Dill: This is another aromatic herb that you can grow in pots or in your cannabis garden. Specifically, dill deters spider mites. On top of that, butterflies and caterpillars will prefer dill to your cannabis plants, so you won’t find them munching on your cannabis either.
- Yarrow: This medicinal herb is praised for its ability to treat respiratory tract issues. At the same time, it deters all kinds of pests from your garden. It also attracts some of the beneficial insects such as ladybugs.
- Coriander: This is another staple herb that you can use in cooking once your grow is over. The strong aroma of coriander sends away dreaded spider mites, aphids and potato beetles.
There is an unending list of companion plants to use for different reasons. While some plants attract beneficial insects, others deter pests. Some (such as nettles and yarrow) can even be planted in the same soil as the cannabis plants, to increase their levels of terpenes and other aromatic compounds. For example, planting marigolds in the same soil can also stimulate the growth of plants surrounding them.
The essentials of organic cannabis
Ultimately, growing organic cannabis means steering clear of anything manufactured in a laboratory. Even when pesticides or fertilizers have natural origins, they are often extremely concentrated, and therefore don’t accurately represent what would typically appear in nature. These products may be beneficial for cannabis, but they can have negative impacts on the surrounding environment.
The essence of growing organic cannabis is to make all of your products at home. Making a solution with crushed coriander seeds at home is an organic solution for a spray-on pesticide. Making compost tea is another way to feed nutrients to your plants.
Growing organically with optimum results is an art. It is unusual to come by agricultural studies that don’t involve the use of some kind of synthetic materials. At the very least, many agricultural techniques use natural materials but in an unnatural way — like using pyrethrin in extremely high concentrations.
It may take a lot of practice and will definitely take a lot of attention to detail to grow organic cannabis, because commercial cannabis growing in the Western world relies heavily on inorganic pesticides. In any case, the benefits of growing organic cannabis are endless, and the same principles can be applied to any other organic growing endeavour.
Anything we missed? Please let us know in the comments!
- Disclaimer:Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.