It is possible to grow plants in specially prepared soil that will require no fertilizers in the water later on. There are a number of such commercial and specialty brands of potting soil on the market today. Most are not completely organic and may contain unwanted chemicals. There are some smaller companies up and down the West Coast, among other areas, that do make clean products. It is up to the consumer to shop around in their area and get familiarized with the brands available in the local market.
Even the good local products tend to skimp on some of their ingredients. This is why I like to supplement any commercial soil I use. The two main additives I use are worm castings and a bat/seabird guano mix. For soil used in the vegetative stage I like to add more worm castings than bat/seabird guano. For soil used in the bud cycle it’s the opposite – more bat/seabird guano than worm castings. When one gets to know one’s local products well and gets the mix down just right, the resulting success becomes evident.
The following is a simple recipe for a soil mix that has proven successful for me in the past. The bulk of the mix ? about 70% of the finished product ? is made up of equal parts peat or sphagnum moss (I prefer coarse cut sphagnum moss) and perlite. Then worm castings are mixed in to about 15% of the finished product. About 10% of the finished product is made up of some kind of organic compost, either green or brown. Any rich green manure will do, or bat/seabird guano or seaweed for that matter. The final 5% is made up of a mixture of about equal parts trace mineral elements, granulated charcoal, washed sand and volcanic ash. To this mix a specific dry fertilizer may be added, depending on if the soil will hold a plant in vegetative or flower cycle.
The mixture then needs to be moistened. The perfectly moistened mix will hold together as clumps when squeezed but will not release any more than a drop or two of water. As with many other aspects of life, practice makes perfect.
As for nutrients and supplements, there are many on the market. My preference is for the most natural and organic substance available. Many fertilizers are made from industrial chemical sources and do not, in my opinion, produce the highest quality. The more natural elements are by far preferred. These come from the more obvious natural sources such as worms, fish, bats, birds, plants and seaweed. Green manure, or rich?composted plant matter, is another excellent source of food for plants. As for where to find a reliable organic garden supply store, well, if the store clerk says anything to the affect of: “chemical or compost, it don’t make no difference,” then you are not in a reliable organic garden supply store. It is a large consumer market to be explored.
Some people choose to feed their plants by spraying a nutrient solution onto the plant and having it absorbed through the foliage. Though “foliar feeding” does work, I tend to avoid doing it due to the fact that the foliage is inevitably going to be smoked. There is no guarantee as to how much residue remains upon the foliage, or what exactly that residue may be, when it is finally consumed. Therefore, it is important, especially during the flowering stage, not to use the foliar feeding method on any part of the plant that is destined to be consumed. Foliar feeding during the vegetative stage on the larger shade leaves that will be discarded is a relatively safe practice.
The primary knowledge concerning fertilizer and nutrient (other than its source) are its N, P, and K levels. N stands for Nitrogen, P stands for Phosphorous and K stands for Potassium. These are the three main nutrients that plants need to thrive. Most fertilizers have a number consisting of three numbers such as: 30-10-10, or 5-37-15. These numbers represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (in that order) in the product. That is 30 parts N (nitrogen)-10 parts P (phosphorous)-10 parts K (potassium) is what is in a 30-10-10 fertilizer. An additive I like to use with every fertilizing is a B-vitamin hormone supplement such as Super Thrive. This product helps the plant better metabolize its nutrient uptake, and most are organic.
High nitrogen, low phosphorous, low potassium fertilizers stimulate foliar and stem growth in the vegetative stage. In contrast, low nitrogen, high phosphorous, high potassium fertilizers promote lush flower, bud and fruit growth in the bud or flower cycle.
I like to end all nitrogen to the plant at least five to six weeks prior to harvest. And I like to end all additives to the plant two to three weeks prior to harvest. A B-vitamin hormone such as Super Thrive may be given up to the last week. But I highly recommend a pure water flush for at least the last two watering times.
Nematodes and tea
Teas made from bat/bird guano and/or worm castings and/or green manure are an excellent source of organic nutrient. These teas are simple to make and easy to use. Prepare a container with enough water for a full watering. Next, add the bat/bird guano, worm castings and/or green manure to the water. Finding the “perfect amount” to add will take some practice. The nutrient is allowed to sit and “steep” in the water releasing the nutrients’ water soluble properties.
Another method is to use the full amount of nutrient in a smaller amount of water to create a concentrate. The concentrate is then added to the full amount of water for watering. The tea will color the water similar to the shade of the nutrient (usually brown, but sometimes green as with green manures). The steeping takes anywhere from one day to several days. The teas are considered fresh when made. It is important to use them immediately when they are ready, and to not allow them to stand too long and stagnate. The tea is applied the same way the water is during watering. This is the preferred method of adding organic nutrient during watering.
Another great additive for the organic garden are beneficial nematodes. These microscopic, living organisms are found at the more complete organic garden centers. Beneficial nematodes are cultivated and sold live, usually refrigerated. They must be kept refrigerated until they are ready to be used. They usually come in a sponge, or some other porous medium. It is only necessary to use a small portion each time as they will reproduce profusely if properly introduced into the soil.
A small portion of the nematode colony is simply introduced into the water, (tepid – not too hot, not too cold) with or without the organic fertilizer, and soaked into the soil. Once in the soil, the nematodes do their thing by multiplying and consuming the things detrimental to the plant, such as fungus, spores, insect larvae, mold, and bacteria, while leaving the plant to thrive. Ideally, beneficial nematodes may be added as often as desired, but once every month or two is sufficient.
These are the basics when it comes to growing medium, nutrient and additives. This information was gained via experimentation on advice given to me in the past. Now it is your turn.
Hydroponic medium is any sterile medium that will hold some water, but allows water and air to pass through. Gravel, perlite, rockwool, volcanic pumice, rock corn and sand are some examples of hydroponic mediums.
Most hydroponic systems provide nutrients via the water that is passed over the rocks several times daily. These systems consist of a reservoir, a pump (or pumps), tubing to carry the fluid to the plants, the pots and medium that hold the roots of the plants, and some way for the water to flow, or be pumped, back into the reservoir. The water soluble nutrient is mixed with the water in the reservoir and delivered to the plants via the pump and tubing several times a day. Most systems also utilize a timer to automate this process. There are also ebb and flow, PVC pipe, wick and various other passive systems, but they are much less common.
Hydroponic systems are famous for producing the largest amount of foliage and fruit. The plant does not have to put as much energy into its roots and therefore has more energy for foliar and bud growth. Also, the roots are regularly aerated and thus have excellent oxygen exposure. However, The incessant regimen tends to produce more of a bland finished product.
The entrepreneurs in the hydroponic industry are striving for the most natural hydro system, and are experimenting with many new nutrient products to achieve this end. I have, however, yet to sample a hydroponic grown product that surpassed a soil grown product in overall quality and flavor.
The same can be said about indoor versus outdoor growth, as well. That is, when grown outdoors in the right environment the finished bud is usually superior to its identical twin grown indoors.