If you were to quiz different cultivators of cannabis on best practices you would likely come away from those conversations with very different opinions. This is partly because to produce healthy crops there are optimum growing conditions and prerequisites, such as temperature and humidity that are generally universally acknowledged. But, it could also be said there is an element of intuition and some would say artistry involved.
As a notoriously tricky plant to grow successfully, susceptible to a myriad of diseases and pests, hungry for very specific nutrients in very precise amounts and highly intolerant of mistakes, many growers happily admit it can take a lifetime to master.
One of the most polarising elements of this endeavour is growth medium: what the plant roots into. There are many different approaches to this, each with its own merits and challenges.
Hydroponics have long been a staple in the cannabis cultivation industry, offering rapid growth, supposed increased yield and the ability to fine-tune the environment and plant-feeding with a very high degree of accuracy. All of this sounds very appealing to a large-scale licensed commercial grower, but critics would say that this comes at the expense of a high-quality product. More traditional growers favour a soil medium. But in both instances, nutrients are usually added to the soil and adjusted depending on the needs/growth phase of the plant.
There is, however, a new kid on the block. Although this is very much a misnomer as the ‘new kid’ has been around since plant life on planet Earth began! Living soil grows.
What is a living soil grow?
Living soil is exactly what it sounds like; instead of adding specific nutrients in exact concentrations to a sterile or largely inert medium to ‘feed’ the plant, instead, you feed the soil. This is achieved by creating a complex blend of microbes working cooperatively to break down organic matter that in turn provides nutrition to the plant.
One UK producer and supplier of living soils, Felix Arkin of Dr Organics Living Soil, has been championing living soil for decades.
“The hydroponics and synthetic fertiliser industry has been peddling salt-based bottled nutrients for years.” Says Felix. “Not only are they unnecessary and expensive, but you often find harmful additives in there too. Growers talk about flushing in the same way we think about our kidneys and livers but plants don’t work like that. You can’t fill a plant with additives and growth regulators and other carcinogenic substances that the plant absorbs through the root system and then give it a bunch of water to ‘flush it out’, it doesn’t work like that. These additives stay in the plant, and are passed to the end user.”
According to Felix, and many other die-hard living soil advocates, a plant grown in an organic living soil medium will taste better, smell better have a better profile of terpenes and cannabinoids, too. Better still, it won’t have absorbed any of the harmful substances commonly found in commercially produced synthetic fertilisers.
“Growers talk about flushing in the same way we think about our kidneys and livers but plants don’t work like that. You can’t fill a plant with additives and growth regulators and other carcinogenic substances… and then give it a bunch of water to ‘flush it out’, it doesn’t work like that.”
“It’s very much a case of quality over quantity,” says Felix “Although I’d argue that a plant grown in correct conditions using living soil will be comparable to a bottle-fed hydro grow in terms of size and yield.
Ultimately, your preference in grow method (or how you like to have your cannabis grown for you) very much comes down to what side of the fence you sit on. There is a case for hydroponically grown cannabis in a sterile environment, that’s irradiated and kept as ‘clean’ as possible for patients, perhaps with seriously compromised immune systems. But many commercial growers around the world are switching to the more natural and living soil grows, trusting that nature knows best.
Living soil cannabis comes to the UK medical market
While Living Soil-grown cannabis has been held in high esteem in the US and Canada for some time, it’s now finally starting to trickle down into the UK medical cannabis market too. A recent partnership between 4C labs and certified organic Living Soil cannabis grower, The Green Organic Dutchman Ltd. Is set to welcome approximately 600 kg of Living Soil flower annually for the next two years. However, this product will only be available exclusively through the Mamedica clinic.
Commenting on the decision to go the living soil route with their new collaboration, James Smith, CRO of 4C and co-chair of the sub-committee for the Cannabis Industry Council says “We believe there are patients who will want a product grown organically and that this method of cultivation has a history of producing flowers with higher levels of minor cannabinoids and terpenes. The Green Organic Dutchman also has an exceptionally high ESG rating, and has over 10 years of experience producing medical cannabis for the Canadian market.”
It’s always good to see more choices becoming available on the UK medical cannabis market, and even more so when taking patient needs into consideration. But will Living Soil-grown medical cannabis live up to the hype? Only time will tell.