THE DIRT FARMER’S GUIDE TO SOIL GROWING

 

This informal guide is to help anyone who is interested in growing their cannabis, tomatoes or most any other plants in soil.  I will not be going into plant training techniques or lighting requirements, as I only have rudimentary experience with both.  I will be sharing what I have learned from growing vegetables, and that I have applied to growing cannabis.  I’ll also share a couple of recipes for a complete soil that (presumably) doesn’t need added fertilizer.  I am not an expert!

So!  I like to start with a bag of Fox Farms Ocean Forest potting soil.  It’s what I like, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.  It’s just what has worked for me, but any decent bag of soil will work.  My only advice is to not get your soil from the grocery store, but from an actual garden center or grow store.  This, because time after time I have gotten a bag of Black Gold from Freddy’s and wound up fighting fungus gnats.  They can be a bitch to get rid of!  They harbor fungus in their tiny guts and the larva eat the tender roots of your seedlings.  Nasty.  Now, I pick up FFOF at the grow store (Far North or Southside Garden Supply) and haven’t seen a gnat yet.  Knock on wood!

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Never fear, the babies in the front row recovered and are now in flower! The funny little bud-plant to the right is a beautiful plant vegging out in my greenhouse these days.

I germinate my seeds or plugs (clones) in smallish pots placed in rectangular trays, perhaps half gallon size, and then transplant into “big girl” sized pots which are at least 3 gallons.  When I do this depends on a couple of factors.  The first one being, “Do I have the space for these large pots?” which is a dance I have to deal with in our small house/museum.  The other is how tall the plant is in relation to the pot.  Ideally, I try to transplant when the plant is twice the height of the pot.  This might run the risk of the plant becoming root bound (roots compacted tightly in the pot) but I’ve not had too much of an issue.  Usually, the roots ARE wound up in the pot a bit, but this helps to keep dirt, etc. in an easy to manage package when pulling the plant out of the old pot and they quickly spread out in the new, roomier pot.

IMG_1432These are the amendments I use to give my plants a little boost of some of the nutrients (nutes) they need to stay healthy.  The Azomite is the most recent addition and has trace minerals, the bone meal was left over from planting peonies (for root growth…how could it hurt?), and the epsom salts and crushed eggshells are from growing tomatoes…magnesium and calcium.

I crush my own eggshells from my own hens, but store-bought eggs will work just fine!  After using the goodies inside the eggs, wash them out with water and place them, open side down, on a paper towel to let them dry for a day.  Then put them in a ziplock freezer bag and crush them with a rolling pin.  Voila!  Easily absorbed calcium for your plants.  I use the thicker freezer bags because otherwise, the shell fragments will cut holes in your bag and you’ll end up with a powdery mess on your counter and rolling pin.

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Crushed, dried eggshells

The pots I use for late vegetative and blooming stages are larger and are at least 3 gallons, made of hard, black plastic and sit on individual round trays to contain water overflow.  There are different grades of plastic, some leach more chemicals into the soil, but for the most part, grow stores all sell the best pots for growing.

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Wash your brand new pot with soap and water, and if you’re reusing old pots, do that PLUS bleach. Rinse well!

As you may have guessed, I do go around to the different stores around town for the things I need.  I get organic soil amendments from Alaska Mill and Feed, soil is usually less expensive at Far North on Boniface, I like getting most pots from there as well but Southside now carries sturdier pots and trays and they’re right down the street from my house.  Plus, they have free compost tea when you bring your $1 jug in for refills.  Hydroponic Jack’s has a great variety of bottled nutes but you have to ask for the price as they don’t have the prices on the bottle/package.  Even Andy’s Ace Hardware has been carrying a limited array of grow supplies, but they’re expensive and can be had at a lower price across the street at Southside.

When you have your soils, amendments, pots and happy, growing plants ready for transplanting, pick a roomy table inside and cover with newspaper to minimize the dirty mess you’re about to create.  And it will be messy!  And you will feel like you just created something amazing when you’re done!  Or, if you’d rather, pick a pretty day outside.

 I start by filling up my pots about 1/3 of the way up.  Then I sprinkle the amendments I wish to use on the surface of the dirt, then mix it well into that dirt at the bottom of the pot.  I do each pot roughly the same way.  The reason I do it this way is so by the time the roots have grown into this enriched soil, the plant is at a point where it’ll require the extra boost of nutrients and minerals, late veg into flowering.

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A bit of soil on the bottom with Epsom salt located at 12 o’clock, eggshells at 3, Azomite at 6 and bone meal at 9 o’clock, roughly.

After everything is mixed in well, I fill the pot about 2/3 up with soil and water it just until the excess is running out of the bottom of the pot.  I don’t want all the goodness to get flushed out right away!

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Root ball

After you’ve got your pot readied with damp soil, use your hands to scoop and dig a hole big enough to set your plant down into.  Damp dirt is more easily packed to form the walls of your hole than dry dirt but try not to tamp it down so hard that the roots have trouble expanding.

When you’re good and ready, take your dirty hands and hold the stem of your plant in one hand while holding the pot in the other, and tip it at a 120 degree angle.  That is, to the side and slightly upside down.  Give the pot some good squeezes while pulling the plant out of the pot and the entire plant and root ball should come sliding out.  As it slides out, follow the momentum of the root ball with your wrist and gently let it swing free or the stem could be injured and be bent.  Or, as the plant starts to come free, tip it back upright and continue freeing the root ball from the pot that way.  As you become more adept at transplanting you’ll develop the technique that works for YOU.

After you have set the plant into the hole, press down on the root ball to give the roots good contact with the soil.  Sometimes you might feel little pops when doing this…it’s some of the roots breaking.  Some might disagree with me but I don’t think this is an issue.  I feel that it helps open up the mass of roots and encourages new growth.  But that’s me.

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Freshly potted pot plant.

Then, fill the pot the rest of the way with soil, pressing lightly so there’s not so much settling of dirt as you water and the plant grows.

As your plants go into the flowering stage and the weeks of bloom, you may wish to explore the many different brands of liquid and powdered fertilizers, nutes and additives that are out there.  There are so many different brands and types that it can be overwhelming, stepping into your friendly neighborhood grow store.  Don’t feel shy about asking the employees there for some direction, or Googling what you need but be sure to look at a few different search results.  I’ve had good results with Happy Frog tomato fertilizer and Iguana Juice along with (free!) compost tea.  And if you don’t want someone else’s compost tea, you can make your own…there are tutorials for that on youtube!  The world is full of different paths and options!

The guideline for fertilizers is NPK, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  During vegetative growth, you’ll want a fertilizer with more N for lush leaves.  During bloom, you’ll be looking for fertilizers with higher P and K numbers for roots, thick stems and fat flowers.

There are many different recipes for “hot” soil that people have developed so there’s no need to add additional nutes to it.  At all.

 

Andy’s Super Soil

“It a can be a hot mix so let it compost 4 weeks before using.

Mixed with 6-12 bags of dirt: worm castings, granular Azomite, ground oyster or crab shells, guano, fish bone meal, blood meal, dry humic acid, humus, epsom salts, dolomite, kelp, Great White or other beneficials like Robes from Alaska Jacks…it has 37 different beneficial microbes… mix it in the bottom for potted plants or amend your garden soil with it… and don’t use it to fill your potted plants only in the bottom your plants will grow into it without burning.  Add a diluted soil mix to fill the rest of your pot.  All these items should be OMRI listed and you will have a 100% organic garden…. only thing I’ll add all summer is some molasses and Carboload by Advanced nutrients to some waterings to feed the beneficial microbes.”

 

Here is another, from this informative thread: https://www.icmag.com/ic/showthread.php?t=258168

 

3 gal dirt / earth / topsoil / nursery soil (unfertilized)

1.5 gal coir

2.5 gal peat

3 gal aeration (chunky perlite, lava rock, permatil, etc.)

1 gal EWC (earthworm castings)

 

Basic Amendment Recipe:

 

1/2c alfalfa meal

1/2c dry molasses

1c kelp meal

1c blood meal

1c bone meal

1/2c seabird guano

2tbsp Sul-Po-Mg

1/2c azomite

1/3c dolomite

1/3c gypsum

2/3c oyster shell flour

 

1/4 tbsp BioVam

1/4 tbsp BioAg Vam   * I am not familiar with these last two products but I’m sure Google is.

 

I hope this helps in some way if you plan on or are curious about growing in soil.  I enjoy it, it’s very forgiving and I love the therapy of getting my hands dirty.  Good luck!

Tok-in

We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!
We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!



We got a little bit of a late start leaving this morning and it’s not my fault, not this time. I’ll blame it on the blanket I bought yesterday. Yeah.

Okay, so several nights ago we had woken up chilled after running our propane out during the night. (Because when you run out of propane it’s going to be in the middle of the night, right?!) The vents were blowing frigid air from about 2am when we groggily got up and just shut off the system, then until about 5:30 we tossed and turned and shivered but were too sleepy to actually get up and DO anything about it. I woke up with an amazing title for this choice piece of fun, “The Wool is Not Enough”, but I got too ferociously busy in preparation for the start of this trip to write it.

But really, wool is what we have on the bed, along with flannel sheets. Talk about cozy. The only thing is, is that the bed is about a queen size and the blankets are twin so I laid them across the bed sideways. The only thing about THAT is, when you’re huddling under the blankets and drawing the top edge within comfort range of your chin, your feet are simultaneously exposed. No. Thank you.  I made it a part of my to do list to buy a real, full/queen sized blanket, which I did. Whew! One thing!

We were so warm and so comfortable this morning that we stayed put for at least an hour longer than we planned to, but we still managed to NOT forget the rice, silverware, oatmeal, a load of laundry, dog treats, dog leash or my shoes. Seriously, I almost forgot all that stuff. I made sure I had that blanket though, by god.

Robert and I had sad goodbyes with Veronica, Gabe and puppy Hugo, then our next door neighbor, Glen, stopped by with a farewell packet of his smoked salmon as we settled into the Excursion. We waved. Robert pulled us out of the driveway; Moonlight standing midway into the front seat and I still waving at my daughter. So grown up. A few minutes out of town, we stopped to say hi-bye to Yael in Chugiak on our way out, and she met us with fresh squeezed apple juice and big smiles. I had made her a little winged horse and gave it to her but forgot to give her a box of rocks we had intended for her son so now they’re coming on the trip with us. I hope they’re good traveling companions.

Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen
Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen

After a day of driving we bought fuel in Glenallen and again here in Tok, then had ourselves excellent burgers and fries at a place called Fast Eddie’s. Fun fact: I have a cousin who goes by the same name. No shit! He’s a DJ. We drove around for a while trying to find an open campground and after trying a couple of possibilities with no luck, we were directed to the Sourdough Campground. Hurray! We backtracked down the road a little and found that no one was home, but the light was on. Robert went to see what the sign on the locked door said and found a stack of site maps and an envelope in which to fill out some info and put cash money in. We picked out a spot, which was the very best spot in the the place since we were the only patrons….so far. We’re expecting our friend from the rock club (Chugach Gem and Mineral Society) to meet up with us tonight and we’ll all continue on together in the morning. We two and our doggy Moonlight and Sue with her three cats.

There was a burger here.
There was a burger here.

In the meantime, we’re in Tok, Alaska. And I’m not going to spend the evening in Tok, Alaska without doing just that. 😉

Botrytis in Cannabis

I just want to share a cautionary tale about something that happened with regards to my last grow.
I like to flush my plants with spring water for the last several weeks of the bloom period but this last time, it coincided with the McHugh Creek fire and since the firefighters were dousing the entire area with fire retardant and seawater, I was hesitant to fight the traffic to fill my jugs at the nearby spring. (I still am, and probably won’t be drinking from there for some time.)
So, I had the great idea to start harvesting rainwater, as it’s perfect and wonderful…right? Well, it’s also a point of entry into your grow environment for a disease called botrytis or bud rot. It’s a fungus, and it took hold in my little grow tent, which was also the perfect, cool temperature for the rot to grow as we had the air conditioner going in the same room. When I discovered the issue, I quickly cut out the affected growth and then some. And then some more, just to be sure! It was heartbreaking and there was no way to safely salvage it, so into plastic bags it all went. (Do not compost.)
A sad shock, to see bud rot affecting your beautiful plants!
A sad shock, to see bud rot affecting your beautiful plants!
Then I lysoled the entire tent and all the equipment, light fixtures, etc. and let it dry and also added another fan to help with humidity and air circulation. After harvest and drying the remaining plants, which had recovered nicely, everything got the lysol bath again before breaking down the setup. So don’t do what I did, as you’ll find yourself with severe losses and lots of time spent on google trying to research what the hell happened to your plants! Help yourself to avoid this disease and google botrytis in cannabis and you’ll learn something valuable, whether you’re growing cannabis in a tent, peonies in a field or tomatoes in your greenhouse.

God’s Favorite Flower

Mother Father God leaned heavily against the Gates of Eden, watching the retreating forms She had created as they made their way further away from their garden home and out to the dusty plains where they would have to scratch out a new life.  First Woman and First Man had just been banished from lush paradise after having eaten of That Fruit.  It was a test, a really excellent test.  Would they defy Him?  How long would it take for them to grow up and leave the nest?
The Father in Her was truly disappointed in His children for not following His instructions and wanted to make an impression on them, so had His angels chase them out with flaming sword and thundering voice.  The Mother in Him felt utterly sorry for Her children and, though She was angry at them, wanted to make certain they would be able to take care of themselves in their new life.
And so, God made a Flower. IMG_1401

It was lush and green as the Garden of Eden itself and could grow in just about any soil, like a weed.  It could be cultivated or just seed itself wherever it happened to fall.  God’s Children would be able to feed, clothe and comfort themselves with it.  They could build, they could write, they could make art.  God’s Children grew up, civilizations rose and fell, dark ages and renaissances following one upon the next like flickering lights.
A short time before the last great leap of advancement, there was a dark age that masqueraded as an epoch of enlightenment.  God’s favorite flower had been banished, the laws of man would put Her Children in a cage for attempting to use Her holy gift.  It was outlawed.  It was stigmatized.
The water was polluted with chemicals from wood pulp mills and the medications of so many unhappy people.  The air was full of smog from burning fossil fuels.  The very Earth was suffering, and there was no recourse offered from the present direction of the time, which was the love of money.

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But there were some of God’s Children that kept the old ways and knew that enjoying the Flower was not a sin.  They understood that the knowledge of good and evil was enhanced by it, and that it gave one a real sense of Gratitude and of being closer to the Universal Source of Love.  Just like a child.  And didn’t One of their own say that to enter the Kingdom, you were to be in this state of childlike openheartedness and grace?
More and more people started to understand that the Flower was meant to help them heal, that their very bodies were made to thrive with the chemicals produced by the Flower and that the entire planet could be pulled from the brink of destruction by integrating its products into their daily lives.  What would there be to war over if there was food and fuel aplenty growing out of the ground?  If less pollutants needed to be used if so much could be produced from this plant?  Hempcrete, oil, fiber, fuel, clothing, paper, medicine, a sense of wellbeing that doesn’t come from a laboratory.

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Mother Father God watches and waits to see what His children will do with the knowledge they have been given.  This amazing, bountiful resource, this divine gift.  God’s Favorite Flower.