No-Till | Recycled Organic Living Soil

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This is a continuation of Organic Matter | Soil Health.

While we are on the topic of organic matter and soil health, lets talk about no-till farming and how you can get that same type of high quality soil into your greenhouse garden.

No-till farming is a natural method of farming that rejects mechanical means of horticulture, such as compacting, plowing, eroding and degrading the earth using tools and machines. No-till farmers believe that tilling is damaging to the land in the long-term because it destroys the soil’s structure, ultimately leading to soil erosion. It is also claimed to kill fungi, earthworms, organic matter, and bacteria, which all play an important role in natural and healthy soil. The video below is of Mark Scarpitti from USDA-NRCS comparing two soils; one tilled for over 50 years and one that has not been tilled for over 50 years. The soil samples were taken 20 feet apart from each other and the results are shocking:

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As you can see in the video the tilled soil looks like a slab of concrete with very little pore space. This type of soil has a platy structure which has poor drainage and permeability making it the least ideal soil structure. If you continue watching, you will see the water tests that really demonstrate how terrible the tilled soil is for water absorption. On the other hand, the no-till soil showed exceptional soil structure with benefits that included stored nutrients, increased pore space from organic matter, recycled root channels that stayed intact, and fungal growth that helped recycle nutrients. Which soil do you think plants grow better in?

It is amazing what can happen to the quality of the soil from letting Mother Nature take control. Most greenhouse growers resort to store bought soils which can get fairly expensive. Another benefit of adopting no-till gardening methods is that it essentially only costs pennies to maintain. When this technique is brought into the greenhouse it is usually referred to as using recycled organic living soil (ROLS). This is an indoor growing method that focuses on the same aspects of soil health as no-till farming; soil structure and organic matter. In this quote High Times explains some benefits of using ROLS:

In a ROLS garden, you’re nurturing a setup that creates a fertile living soil, full of microscopic organ- isms that “digest” food for your plants. You accomplish this by mixing a soil that has everything your microbial life needs to flourish: plant and mineral sources to break down into things your plants’ roots can take up; humic substances that act as a storage and delivery system for your nutrients; and aeration amendments to make sure your roots (and their micro- scopic friends) have plenty of fresh air. Once the soil is mixed, you fortify it with compost tea to kick off the microbial life and then give it some time for the soil to become fully populated. After a few weeks, you’re ready to grow some world-class organic plants! –High Times

In cannabis cultivation recycling the soil after harvest is one of the main principles of ROLS. As the soil matures, it breaks down the minerals that get mixed into it over long periods of time. By recycling the soil, nature gets to work through some of the longer processes of mineral breakdown, resulting in complex compounds that nourish and protect the plants. Not only does recycling the soil create a healthier ecosystem for the plants it also saves time and money. Below is another quote from High Times explaining how some growers accomplish ROLS:

Many ROLS growers empty their containers into a pile, bin, tub or trashcan, mix it with soil amendments, add water or compost tea, and give it six weeks or longer for the microlife to find its rhythm. Some ROLS growers (including MicrobeMan, BlueJayWay and SilverSurfer_OG) are pioneering a no-till method, in which they transplant a new plant directly into the same container they just harvested from. This allows them to take full advantage of the thriving microlife without any delays or hiccups in a busy production schedule. In a no-till system, rather than mixing amendments into the soil, the amendments are sprinkled on top and watered in with teas, allowing the soil to digest them and replenish itself. The no-till method takes advantage of the relationship between the plant’s root system and the microlife that develops in the rhizosphere (rye-zoe-sphere) or root zone. – High Times

Like I mentioned in my last post, setting yourself up with a top of the line greenhouse is only half of the battle. Considering that most greenhouse crops are often planted in pots or beds with fertilizer and bottled nutrients, the soil can lose most of its organic substance and the plants can suffer. No-till gardening methods like using recycled organic living soil (ROLS) can help maintain the proper soil structure and keep organic matter thriving in your greenhouse. In the long run this is the opportunity to save money as well as improve your plant’s health.

Do you have any experience with this topic? Whats your opinion on ROLS vs using new store bought soil each grow cycle? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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