In the Emerald Triangle, cannabis skirts the line between horticulture and agriculture. Everyone grows a little differently with soils ranging from native soil to potting media, with an entire spectrum in between. We have created a new soil type that, in some cases, is neither native nor potting, and we do things that no other farmer in the world does.
I am Sarah, co-owner of Dirty Business Soil (DBS). My company has helped hundreds of farmers transition to a sustainable, organic method of farming cannabis, including rebuilding and revitalizing soil. I have seen successes and failures on the farm and understand how quickly things can take a turn for the worse. I also understand the decisions farmers are faced with in order to maximize profits while minimizing crop loss or failure, and the variables involved in producing a bumper crop year after year.
Why do we use potting media to grow cannabis outdoors?
Our infertile forest soils on steep rocky hillsides of Humboldt County are not ideal for growing much of anything other than trees. This is the main reason for importing soil, mainly potting media, to remote locations. We need to start somewhere, so we build beds and dig trenches, filling them with different variations of fertile growing media.
The industry has, unfortunately, not empowered us to understand how our soil works. We are at the whim of soil and fertilizer companies to make decisions for us. By relying on marketing, we are not able to troubleshoot our own problems. We have to spend more money than necessary on replacing soil and using expensive proprietary products with a feeding schedule upon which we rely.
This industry has been disposable: We throw away soil and buy products with unsustainable packaging, some that are harmful to the environment and ourselves.
Why do we replace rather than reuse?
We tend to believe that the soil has “gone bad” because:
- It is devoid of nutrients due to plant consumption during the growing season.
- Salt and fertilizer build up depending on products used to grow your crop.
- Concerns about pests and pathogens in the soil that may affect crop success.
- Used soil breaks down, causing compaction and decreased water infiltration.
Solutions to these common problems include:
- Re-amending to add nutrients back to the soil
- Flushing excess build up from the soil
- Using cover crops to retain nutrients and break the pest cycle
- Build strong healthy plants that withstand pests and pathogens
- Use conditioners to “fluff” soil, which increases water retention, infiltration, and drainage
Revitalizing soil takes more work than replacing it, but reaps greater benefits for the land, food, medicine, and farmers.
Reasons to reuse rather than replace?
No other farmer in the world would dream of throwing away their soil and replacing it. That sounds ridiculous to most people, farmer or not. I believe that almost all soil is re-useable and available for revitalization.
Replacing soil annually is costly, especially on a large scale, and soil replacement has its challenges. There is an energy/labor cost to excavating your beds, trenches, or pots and transportation costs associated with replacement. Either you pay to have it hauled to an appropriate location to be recycled or reused, or you throw it out in the forest somewhere to be washed into the river causing pollution. Both have a cost.
Growers used to be able to spend money without worrying how it affected their profit margin, but over the years the market price has declined requiring farmers shift their paradigm. More than ever, cannabis farmers are:
- Reusing soil
- Buying from bulk distributors rather than retail stores
- Catching and storing water
- Implementing other cost and labor saving measures
Soil should be viewed as an investment rather than an expense. Investing in your soil is the idea that the soil will be used year after year. Natural resources are mined in order to make potting media. You can amend and renew your soil for a fraction of the cost while reducing impact on precious natural resources.
We need to make soil disposal a thing of the past, turning instead to soil revitalization as we transition our crop from horticulture to agriculture.
Every day I spend time with farmers of varying experience levels, farm sizes, and problems. The main goal is to decrease input cost while increasing yields. Dirty Business Soil is in the business of helping you keep money in the farmers pocket while growing sustainable cannabis. Our goal is to help maintain your livelihood and heritage through these changing times.