Soil Health is the Key to a Superior Cannabis Crop

The cannabis industry can be just as pretentious as the wine industry—with people speaking of terroir and heirloom varietals.  While those details matter, for the average cannabis consumer and home grower, some details matter more than others.

At Rebel Spirit, we take your health and the planet’s health seriously, which is why we’re composing this three-part series to help you understand which details matter no matter what and which details you can gloss over.

The series will be broken into three parts:

  1. Soil health
  2. Sustainability
  3. Organic growing

Knowing about these aspects of cannabis will inform not only your cannabis consumption choices but also your choices as a produce (fruit & vegetable) consumer.

We’ll do our best to answer all your questions about soil health, but if we missed something, please leave a comment below, and we’ll add your questions and our answers to this piece.

What is soil health?

Soil health is defined by the USDA as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”

That definition is important because we need the soil to produce healthy crops for us not just this year but for years to come. Farmers have historically replenished the soil by rotating crops or letting fields lie fallow to foster the redeposition of essential nutrients.

Rebel Spirit focuses on proactively measuring and maintaining our soil’s health, not by rotating crops or letting fields lie fallow, but by amending our soil with organic materials, teas, and mulches to create living soil.

How do you measure soil health?

We measure our soil’s health on a regular basis by sampling our soil and sending it to a lab at  Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis. OSU analyzes our soil and sends us the results.

These analyses guide our amending the soil for the best possible plant health, all the while maintaining the organic nature of our soil.

How do you ensure soil health?

We avoid using chelated nutrients since they kill the live microbial action, the protozoa, in the soil.

We avoid using non-organic products that force feed the plants. Plants fed with synthetic products grow, but they don’t do so in a healthy way. Non-organic products cause the plants to achieve their growth by depleting the soil. Therefore, we use organic nutrients to feed the soil, and the soil takes care of the plants.

We put the legwork into making our own organic soil that will nourish our cannabis plants naturally. It takes more effort and costs more, but the end results are worth it.

What about growing cannabis hydroponically?

Growing plants hydroponically is, by definition, growing them, in a soil-less, artificial environment. That artifice comes out in the end product. Soil and sun grow the healthiest plants with the richest terpene profiles.

Comparing the end-products of hydroponically-grown cannabis plants to the end-products from organic cannabis plants is akin to drinking juice-flavored drink vs. drinking fresh squeezed juice. The difference is plain, and fresh-squeezed is better tasting and healthier. Think of tomatoes: would you rather eat one that’s been grown hydroponically or one that’s been grown organically in your backyard?

Why is making your own soil important?

As organic growers, we are creating a living environment for the soil, the plants, and everything that’s in the soil, thereby creating a symbiotic environment.

Natural soil enhances the plants’ ability to feed, which in turn creates natural and more potent terpene and cannabinoid profiles. In the end, we get a better tasting product from our organic, living soil that we’ve mixed ourselves.

The real difference is that we’re not feeding the plants; we’re feeding the soil, which then feeds the plants. This is how nature works. Like nature, Rebel Spirit focuses on keeping our soil alive—if we have healthy, living soil, our plants will be healthy as well. Furthermore, natural soil is rich in the terpenes that give cannabis its flavors.  In the end, we get better tasting products from our terpene-rich natural soil.

Why not just buy organic soil?

Home growers who do not want to mix their own soil should always purchase organic soil for their own use.

Unfortunately, a lot of premixed soil is not 100% organic and is quite expensive to use on a large scale. For instance, it may be labeled “organic” because the company considers all animal manure to be organic material, even though the animals may not have been fed an organic diet and may have passed chemicals or hormones through to their manure.

For example, we had a horse farm nearby that was offering to give us their manure. We thought, “Oh, my gosh, what a godsend. Free manure!” And then we found out that their horse manure was not organic in that their horses weren’t being fed organic feed, and they were giving their horses antibiotics and other medicines that would come through in the manure. So even though we had this great source of free fertilizer, we decided to reject it because we wanted to make sure that our land, and ultimately our plants, weren’t contaminated by inorganic substances.

Making our own organic soil is more work, but it is cost-effective and worth the effort.

How long has Rebel Spirit been making its own soil?

When we started up in 2015 one of our first purchases was a huge soil mixer.

From the very beginning, Chris was insistent that as organic growers we need to take advantage of the amazingly fertile soil that we have here and improve upon it. However, it isn’t a quick and easy process.

What is Rebel Spirit’s process for making soil?

It takes about two years to create a living soil, and we don’t use any synthetic products to do so.

Generally, composting is most important for living soil. We create an environment for protozoa, microbes, and fungi to flourish. The combination of heat, moisture, organic material, and time create a powerful compost.

Our process is two-fold to create our blend. We begin with our native soil, and then amend it with composted cannabis stalks, organic chicken manure, perlite, worm castings, and other natural ingredients. We make sure to “cook” our compost, keeping it at the proper temperature to kill the pests and weed seeds and to nurture the living microbes.

Once the compost is done cooking, we begin the second process, which is mixing in other ingredients such as peat moss, more perlite, and a blend of nutrients. We let this soil sit for a period of time as well before using it.

Finally, we use our own teas that are rich in protozoa to feed the soil after planting.

So now Rebel Spirit knows how to make perfect soil for cannabis plants?

Of course not. While we know how to make good soil, we continue to learn and improve.

Every day we learn something new. We have people going to school to learn how to implement different practices, such as Korean fermentation process, and Dr. Elaine’s soil food web approach to soil regeneration. There are multitudes of things you can learn to make better soil and to grow a plant in that soil.

We’re working hard to sustain and build our healthy soil. We’re figuring out how to make a better compost by using different ingredients such as yarrow, seaweed, and alfalfa that have naturally occurring biofilms. These biofilms, protozoa, bacteria, and fungi are the biostimulators that help our plants growl.

If you’d like to learn more about sustainability, organic growing, cannabis, and Rebel Spirit, please check out the other articles in this series.