The Dirt On Growing Green: Soil Texture & Composition

By Sunny Kaercher

Every grower has their own approach to cannabis. Varying techniques and products are plentiful, but one thing that remains constant is that healthy plants depend on healthy roots. This is the beginning of a series dedicated to creating and maintaining a vigorous root zone, also known as the rhizosphere. These articles will range from horticultural to scientific, with the goal of educating cannabis growers about natural cycles and what makes the perfect organic growing media.

My name is Sunny Kaercher and I work with Miller Soils. We offer all-natural, cannabis-specific container media catered to growers that want to minimize their inputs and see big, beautiful yields. We design our medias to mimic and support ecological balance, both within the container and out. Now, let’s dig in.

This being the opening piece in The Dirt on Growing Green, it seems appropriate to cover some of the basics of soil science.

One of the first things to understand is soil composition; what’s in your dirt?

45% of soil is composed of mineral particles, which originate from the parent material several horizons below the surface of the earth. These particles, sand, silt and clay, are measured and identified by their diameter. Together, their ratio determines soil texture, which greatly affects important soil properties. Sand, the biggest of the three (.05-2mm), is great for drainage, but has a very low holding capacity. Clay, on the other end of the spectrum (less than .002mm), has a high surface area for adsorption of water and nutrients. Though this retention is cornerstone to a thriving rhizosphere, too much clay leads to compaction, meaning inadequate drainage and roots that cannot breath. A balanced soil, called loam, will have all sizes of particles, and in turn embody all characteristics.

Another 5% of soil is composed of organic matter (including roots) and soil organisms. These I will tackle another day… but what about the remaining 50%?

The remaining half of soil is a delicate flux of air and water, existing in the pore spaces between the physical substrate and active biology. This pore space, though ‘empty,’ is incredibly important to the success of any plant. Unlike leaves, plant roots breath in oxygen (O2) and respire carbon dioxide (CO2). Soil microorganisms and fauna need porosity for this same reason. Soil must allow gas exchange with the greater atmosphere. Water also moves through these pore spaces, but it is infinitely more complicated. There are 3 types of soil water, gravitational, capillary and hygroscopic. The latter is adhered so tightly to particle surfaces, plant roots cannot absorb it. Gravitational water drains from the soil in a matter of days, whereas capillary will be available for longer. This is directly tied to pore size and porosity. It is critical to understand soil water behavior in your cannabis container, whatever it may be, because it affects everything else, from pH to watering/feeding schedule to root vigor.

Now that we’ve covered the foundation of life in soil, air and water, we can move on to the food web.

Stay tuned for next time!

Growing Sustainable Profits With Cannabis

Dr. Richard Freeman, Ph.D.

We’re hearing the word “sustainable” a lot these days. It’s coming from activists and journalists, from politicians and the marketing agents, writers, anyone in public life. I hear it talking with friends. Sustainable agriculture, sustainable development, and sustainable living – I certainly use the word, myself.

So, when I use the term “sustainable,” I try to maintain a clear understanding of what I mean. And, really, it’s pretty straightforward. If we can keep doing it the way we’re doing it year after year, generation after generation, without running out of resources and trashing our living environment, then it’s sustainable. The details can add a world of nuance, but that’s the basic idea.

Growing cannabis sustainably means growing plants in ways that will keep working in the short term and long term while returning a profit. Sustainable business models work in the natural environment AND perform on the bottom-line. If we’re growing Cannabis and we’re doing it sustainably, then we’re going to stay in business, by definition.

Sustainable growing can reduce costs in the long-term and short-term, grow the kindest quality product, and sustain and preserve health in our own living environment. It benefits the growers, the consumers, and pretty much everyone else. Sustainability offers us a win-win-win situation. Assessing an operation for sustainability begins with analyzing energy-use and materials-consumption in the working environment, equipment and materials, and horticultural methods. And, it requires analyzing associated production costs. In assessing equipment and materials, direct impact on ecosystems is part of the picture, but so is “embodied energy” – the energy required to create these items.

Assessing methods means understanding how our growing techniques affect our environment. Are they life sustaining? Are they a source of throw-away costs? Do they degrade the quality of our goods? Sustainable responses include increasing efficiencies and “closing loops,” which both cut costs. If we can produce an equal or superior product for less money, then profits increase. If we save money by using super-efficient lighting without sacrificing quality and pay for the investment with the savings within a reasonable time frame, then why not? Closing loops means local-sourcing and re-using materials whenever we can – for instance recycling our bio-abundant soil mixes and composting vegetative residues (fan leaves and root balls) into valuable soil amendments. Or, closing loops could include developing nature’s “environmental services,” such as encouraging insects that kill pests. With some imaginative thinking and a little number crunching, we can pick the low-hanging fruit and benefit immediately.

When it comes to benefiting, who can argue with cutting costs, especially when the outcome includes better quality and value in the product? As the market becomes savvy to the benefits of healthy-grown plants – including the taste benefits – the value of sustainably grown Cannabis can only rise. People can taste fertilizer salts, and they can taste pesticides. Anyone who has tasted high-quality organic flowers will never go back to “chem pot” and they’ll pay premium for the good stuff. The same holds true for folks who eat herbal products or rub creams on their skin. As lab testing becomes the standard (and it will), the ability to detect chemical residues will improve. People will be able to tell the difference. And smell the difference. And customers will start asking for the good stuff. Sustainable, indeed.

In future posts, we’ll offer some more detail on ways to close the loops and increase efficiencies – and ways to grow Cannabis that maximize the benefits of good plant genetics while producing outstanding flowers.

Spokane’s First Cannabis Job Fair Draws Huge Crowds

WASHINGTON: Nearly 900 eager job seekers turned out for Spokane’s first ever cannabis job fair this past weekend, many of them lining up as early as 7:30 to drop their resumes off and meet some of eastern Washington’s leading cannabis industry employers.

Organized by the Marijuana Business Association, and presented by Washington NORML and the Islander, MJBA Job Fair Spokane was held at the Spokane Convention Center and featured employers and exhibitors included leading cultivators Washington’s Finest Cannabis, Blue Roots Cannabis, Triple T Farms, Kush Comfort Farms, and Buddy Boy, who were looking for trimmers and agricultural help; leading cannabis brands including Evergreen Herbal, Cannabis Training Institute, 420MEDIA, Analytically Correct, Mosaic Insurance, PayQwick, BioTrackTHC, Miller Soils, WeedTraQR, and Dope Magazine.

The Inlander publisher Ted McGregor delivered the keynote address, using the occasion to look back on the first year of Washington legal cannabis (the state’s first recreational shops opened on July 8, 2014).  Ted gave a shout out to Spokane resident Mike Boyer, the first recreational pot consumer in the state who subsequently lost his job after a workplace drug test confirm his legal consumption, who was in attendance at the fair optimistically seeking employment opportunities.  He drew parallels between the end of alcohol prohibition and today’s unravelling of the failed war on drugs.

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Business Intelligence expert Joe Armes, Analytically Correct, preceded the keynote, and delivered the MJ Research Jobs Report in which Analytically Correct estimates WA State recreation cannabis direct industry jobs to be 3,000 – 4,000 by the end of 2015 and 5,000 – 6,000 by the end of 2016.

MJ Research Jobs Report

MJ Research Jobs Report

420MEDIA and Kerri Accardi were in the house, hosting an open casting call for their upcoming web series, Hmm…Did You know.   A panel of cannabis cultivators from Washington’s Finest Cannabis, Farmer Tom Organics, Kush Comfort Farms talked about careers as a pot farmer.  Other featured speakers included Luc Nelson, Cannabis Training Institute; Kevin Oliver, Washington NORML; Melissa Braddock, Eden Labs; Norm Ives, Mosaic Insurance; Dan McMahon, BioTrackTHC, Aubrey Armes, Analytically Correct HR; Eric Ogden, WeedTraQR; Isaac Curtis, UFCW; Crystal Oliver, Washington’s Finest Cannabis; Terry Polyak, PayQwick; Kerri Accardi, 420MEDIA; Heather Gehrman, Evergreen Herbal; and Jon Hofer, RMMC Consulting.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fG7Fqt_G_Zg&w=560&h=315]