Soil-grown cannabis is the gold standard of organically cultivated, craft cannabis, but depending on grow style—organic vs. other—flowers raised in soil can have some important differences that matter to consumers. Consistency, flavor, medicinal properties, and even the plant’s carbon footprint are all contingent on the manner in which soil-grown cannabis is cultivated.
“Always ask if the cannabis was grown in soil, but the bigger question is whether the plants are truly organic—grown without being fed synthetic chemical salts, flavorants, or hormones. Truly organic cannabis is fed with herbs, molasses, kelp, fish, and guano—and that produces the highest quality bud,” says Cassandra Maffey, head grower at Verde Natural, where she’s devised a large-scale soil grow dedicated to organically cultivated cannabis.
According to Maffey, using all-natural nutrients and organic bedding methods are a big part of the equation, and if implemented properly, produce effective, dependable, all-natural medicine.
Synthetic nutrients often remain inside the flowers after harvest, making them harsh when consumed. These chemical salts, hormones, and flavorants are difficult to flush—a process that eliminates residual nutrients in the plant’s system just before harvest. This build up of synthetics inside the flower is imparted to your throat and lungs as you put flame to flower.
Synthetic nutrients can also deteriorate the health of the plant. Over time, the chemical salts and their cohorts destroy the soil’s beneficial microbes—life that has helped cannabis digest food for millions of years. Malnourished, the cannabis plant is unable to produce as many cannabinoids, terpenes or flavonoids resulting in ineffective medicine.
The plant’s natural flavor is also altered by synthetic nutrients. While taste is a matter of opinion, only natural nutrients lead to the true terpene expression of a specific strain. Because synthetic nutrients change the plant’s instinctive terpene profile, it modifies the overall natural medicinal properties found within the flower.
These problems can be avoided by using an organic tea to feed cannabis—an age-old method of adding natural nutrients to the soil to reinforce the stamina of the plant. Maffey feeds her plants weekly with an organic tea that includes herbs like willow bark, alfalfa and comfrey to encourage plant growth and nettle leaf, which studies show helps protect cannabis against invasive fungi like powdery mildew. All-natural nutrients are easier to flush, work in unison with the soil’s beneficial microbes to make sure the plant is well fed, and encourage the plant to produce robust trichomes. Maffey cautions growers to be sure they’re using truly organic teas—some brands make both organic and synthetic nutrients, so always double check the packaging.
Another tenet of organic growing is to let cannabis roots spread as naturally as possible, as if they were in the Earth. Roots that can co-mingle with neighboring plants and stretch around to capture as many nutrients as possible will grow healthier, happier, consistent cannabis.
Raised beds make it easier to create a consistently hydrated ecosystem. This steady dispersal of water keeps roots healthy and free from rotting so plants don’t wilt, a problem that can happen to plants living in pots with poor drainage. Once cannabis wilts, it never grows to full potential.
Harvest consistency—an important factor in the therapeutic use of marijuana—is also easier to ensure with raised bed cannabis. Cannabis grown in raised beds are rarely ever moved, so they and their sister plants are treated as more of a whole, which results in uniform medicine at harvest. Plants living in pots get moved around a little more. With each displacement, the plant can be damaged or exposed to new stressors that slightly alter the homogeneity of the yield, making the medicinal properties of the flowers within each batch a little different.
Synthetics render soil useless after one use so it has to get tossed out, creating waste. Soil that has been fed natural nutrients can be continually reused, reducing its carbon footprint. Maffey employs a hand-process called amending to add natural nutrients back into Verde Natural’s soil before each cycle. They’ve been using the same soil since opening their grow in 2015. The longest Maffey’s ever employed the same soil? Seven years!
Think of it This Way
Maffey puts it all into perspective. “Go for plants that are treated with the same care you'd give your body. If you lived off Gatorade and synthetic protein shakes and slept in an uncomfortable bed, you wouldn't feel all that great. But if you eat organic foods and consume healthy, natural medicine, you'll likely feel cleaner, healthier, and better able to enjoy this life!”