When I started to follow the Build A Soil 10x10 series is when I started to understand the importance of soil health, with one of the main focuses being “the soil gets better overtime”. This was a very intriguing concept to me because with proper knowledge of soil health, essentially each run will continue to get better and better.
My education on the science behind soil health started by reading the book “Teaming With Microbes" by Josh Lowenfels. Before reading this book, my general understanding was that soil biology is tiny little bugs and microscopic life in the soil which is what makes it “Living Soil”. The term living soil is used by many of us organic growers when first starting out, but actually understanding what living soil is takes time and dedication.
Now I'm no scientist, but from intensive research and reading multiple books, I've gained knowledge in this sector that I would like to share.
Living soil involves something called the “soil food web”. The soil food web demonstrates the ecosystem that is present in our soils. The interesting thing about the soil food web is that from microscopic bacteria to worms and fungus gnats, everything in our soil is completely interconnected. With something like the food chain, it is much more linear, therefore comparing the soil food web to the food chain would be a false comparison. Now there's a few main things I believe to be the most important part of a healthy living soil.
Fungi & Bacteria
Ensuring there is adequate and even moisture in your soil is one of the hardest parts of growing organic cannabis. When first starting to grow cannabis, watering is one of the main struggles for the new grower and cannabis is fairly sensitive to being overwatered or underwatered. When growing hydro or using synthetic nutrients, you can have a pretty good balance of dry and wet for your soil medium. When growing organically we never want the soil to be too wet or too dry, we need an adequate moisture level. When our soil is too wet it prevents the biology from being able to work at full capacity as it's essentially suffocating the roots with moisture. Your plant's roots need oxygen to survive and flourish, therefore too much water can cause root rot and which can directly affect plant health. Now when letting your pot or bed dry out too much, you end up killing off a lot of microbial activity that exists in your soil. Fungi and bacteria, to name two, cannot survive in your soil without an adequate amount of moisture. This concept is really simple to understand but it is very hard to execute. I would guess that even master growers have issues with watering every once and while as it's hard to be perfect. In saying this, cannabis is extremely resilient and your plant can bounce back from almost anything. In the Build a Soil 10x10 series, Jeremy has a plant in the back corner of his tent that he overwatered and it struggled for about a week falling behind the other phenos. After he corrected the overwatering Jeremy brought the plant back to full health and actually ended up picking that as his prized pheno out of the four plants grown. This goes to show you that cannabis can really bounce back from anything and when starting out you will most likely experience some overwatering and underwatering. It also shows us that having an adequate moisture level in our soil is directly correlated to plant health.
Address the mistake and everything will be okay.
Fungi and Bacteria
Fungi and bacteria play a huge role in cannabis like with many other plants. Fungi and Bacteria are arguably one of the most important parts of our everyday life. Majority of fungi acts as a decomposer, decomposing all matter on the planet from humans to rocks. Bacteria plays a very similar role in the ecosystem, but also helping our body break down the food we
consume. When growing in living soil, moisture directly correlates to the activity of bacteria and fungi. Fungi and bacteria work together in the soil food web to break down organic matter and assist in the cycling of nutrients our plants will then uptake. It has to go through this system in order to become “plant available” as not all nutrients in the soil are ready to be eaten by our plant.
Now if you grow organic cannabis you may hear people say that your soil gets better overtime which is very much true under a few circumstances. When constantly cycling out plants and providing your soil with material to break down on the surface, you essentially keep your soil active. When mulching our soil with brown materials (carbon rich) such as rice hulls, straw or wood chips, then meeting that material with green material (nitrogen rich) such as cover crops or lawn clippings, we activate the “carbon to nitrogen ratio”. This ratio is what allows humus or compost to be created, while bacteria and fungi are the main assistants in making this happen. When setting up our soil for the first time, our mulch layer broke down very slowly leaving a lot of brown material, which is harder to break down than most green. Now in round two with the soil bed, the mulch layer is noticeably more active and filled with mycelium while breaking through the mulch much faster than round one. This is why I love growing organically. Before my eyes, I am watching the soil food web grow and flourish which has been a remarkable experience thus far.
Without bacteria and fungi there would be no earth as we see it today.
Many of us are not familiar with the term “arthropods”. Arthropods can range from something like a lobster to a predator mite. These arthropods play a large role in the soil food web and have shells that are made of chitin which play a huge role in the overall health of plants. In the soil food web, everything works together. Many different types of arthropods feed on each other only to then dispose of waste and or be eaten by something else. This ultimately provides the soil with nutrients as the cycle continues and nothing really goes to waste. Most arthropods eat and break down different kinds of organic matter. When one arthropod is consumed by another arthropod, they also consume all the matter the arthropod carried with it.
Most arthropods have 3 stages being…
When taking a soil sample and examining under a microscope you can usually see a range of arthropods in these different stages. One of the most important factors of arthropods is shredding. Many of the arthropods you find in the top 6 inches of your soil are mainly shredding organic matter such as the mulch layer. When relating back to the soil food web and how everything works together, arthropods actually elevate the activity of bacteria and fungi. They do this by breaking down all organic matter into a form where bacteria and fungi can then take over. Without going into too much detail about the many arthropods that may be in your soil, I encourage you to research and look into them.
The soil food web is truly fascinating. From the Build a Soil 10x10 series to reading the "Teaming With” book series, The Intelligent Gardener by Erica Reinheimer or The Ideal Soil by Michael Astera, I developed a real passion for soil health. The importance of soil health is far past our personal gardens and is important everywhere around the world. If you haven't looked into the soil food web I highly recommend watching “Feed the Ground” on Netflix and starting with the “Teaming With Microbes” book by Josh Lowenfels.
Thanks for reading!
Like I mentioned, I'm not a scientist!
If there's things I've misrepresented or if there's just things you'd like to talk about, message us on instagram!