Many small-scale growers who intend to smoke their harvest themselves already grow organic cannabis; the same can be said for most medical 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 However, commercial growers for the recreational market often don’t grow organically, due to various outdated misconceptions.
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”—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; however, “super-soil” can be easily homemade from 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; to get started, a step-by-step guide to the original recipe developed by underground growing legend Subcool can be found here.
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) that are present in most nutrient mixes for cannabis.
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 higher plants such as cannabis, but are often overlooked in commercial feeds. Organic growers the world over 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 are able to produce optimum quantities of terpenes and terpenoids as well as 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.
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 cause unhealthy bacteria to develop instead of the beneficial types). An in-depth guide to mixing your own organic compost tea can be found here. Using either of these two crucial techniques allows organic growers to develop a “food web” of beneficial organisms that will bring multiple benefits to the quality of the final harvest.
Lighter environmental impact
Of course, the least environmentally-impacting way to grow cannabis is to grow outdoors in natural sunlight, as the single greatest environmental impact of cannabis growing is electricity consumption when growing indoors. However, persistent unfavourable legislation in many countries ensures that cannabis is grown indoors, even if the local climate can support outdoor cultivation!
For ultimate green credentials, organic outdoor growing is the clear winner, but if this is not a viable option for you, at the very least care can be taken to minimise overall environmental impact indoors. Growing organically is one important way of reducing overall impact, as production of organic nutrients generally requires less processing compared to conventional nutrients (which also require substantial use of energy to produce, mostly derived from fossil fuels). Furthermore, organic pest-control techniques are often far less environmentally impacting—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.