The Benefits Of LIVE Composting
Composting worms dig and build dissolved oxygen channels and allow soil mites, especially the white springtail mite, to "hitch a ride" onto the worm's bio-film. Then, they move around the soil system working in harmony with the composting worms to break down organic matter into carbon.
The more composting worms living soil farmers have to work and continue driving the soils engine, the quicker the newly created soil life can keep up with the high nutrient demands of the cannabis plant.
If you’ve considered adding live worms to your soil, you’ve probably realized that composting worms can quickly become one of the most expensive parts of any living soil growers budget.
What many don’t realize is that once the soil’s microbial life begins to thrive, we can purposely increase our worm’s populations by using a technique that our VP of Soil Science Bryan Wachsman made famous on Instagram, known as "AvocadoTech." This is a tried and true method of saving facilities hundreds to thousands in upfront costs on worms.
Composting worms, like all other organisms in the soil food web, form a symbiotic relationship with their neighbors. One of these groups of creatures that live in symbiosis with worms are mites.
In order to become a true organic farmer, one must learn how to control pests without using pesticides, and a very effective way to do so is using predatory insects and predatory mites. So by encouraging composting worms to grow in our soil, we can also encourage these beneficial mites.
Adding this skill set to one's Cannabis and Hemp IPM playbook allows the organic farmer to learn to trust and believe that mother nature will combat the plant's health issues. This gives freedom and time back to the farmer so they can focus on other things, and become a proactive farmer instead of a reactive one.
One of the concerns we hear about transitioning to cultivating living soil cannabis is, "How are we going to be able to afford the amount of composting worms it takes to fill a commercial facility?" With these conditions, composting worms will begin to double in population every 90 days.
We recommend transitioning one grow room at a time, and using the surplus of worms you will create to populate the next room. Calcium sources such as Gypsum, Oystershell flour, and eggshells, aid in speeding up this reproduction process as well. Calcium is KING when it comes to next level worm farming and vermicomposting.
There is a disconnect with some cannabis growers about the real power of having the nutrients they feed their cannabis or hemp plants come from soil microbes instead of synthetic salts.
The living soil system relies in part on the quality of the organic matter that the microbes are breaking down. Quality inputs will always equal quality outputs.
So take the plunge by starting to introduce and breed live worms in your soil, and we promise you’ll see a big difference.
3) Add Organic Matter & Microbial Supplements To Your Soil
Soil organic matter is the key to fostering healthy and diverse microbial life. There are many amendments that can add organic material and a boost of microbes to your soil. Some will work quickly, while others will build up the soil organic matter over a few seasons.
Aerobic compost is the most common soil amendment used to add organic matter and beneficial microbes. This compost can be made on your farm with your natural waste materials, but the process can be labor-intensive. Purchasing compost from a reliable, tested source can be a good alternative. A lesser-known and less widely available form of compost is Bokashi. This originates from a Japanese technique of essentially fermenting organic waste material, without the labor-intensive process of turning and aerating.
Actively Aerated Compost Tea (ACCT) is a water-based oxygen-rich tea containing large populations of beneficial aerobic bacteria, nematodes, fungi, and protozoa; these microbes work in a symbiotic relationship with plants. Quality compost tea breeds thousands of beneficial microorganisms as well as a stable balance of bacterial and fungal ratios. Compost tea allows you to breed a small amount of compost into a dispersible liquid form, letting a little bit go a lot farther. Be cautious of variations in compost quality, as well as the potential to reintroduce pathogens when making compost tea. If not constantly aerated, compost tea will go bad in 24 hours!
Biochar is an amendment that's very high in carbon, and in surface area, making is super-absorptive. This can be extremely beneficial for holding water, nutrients, and microbes for plants. However, one must ensure that biochar has been inoculated with microbes before being applied to the soil. Otherwise, the raw char might temporarily suck up nutrients and microbes, depriving the plant. Balancing the pH of biochar ahead of application is also important, as biochar is naturally very alkaline.
Worm castings from composting worms are one of the most effective organic soil amendments because they contain some of the highest density and diversity of microbial life, as well as bioavailable nutrients since this is essentially worm manure. Producing worm castings at scale is challenging, but they can often be bought and made into a tea, which can be applied to crops through the irrigation system.
Finally, fermented plant juice, produced from anaerobically fermenting organic material, produces a liquid microbial similar to compost tea, but with a few additional advantages:
1) It doesn't have to be aerated, and therefore has a longer shelf-life,
2) It is guaranteed to be pathogen-free because the fermentation process kills human pathogens through acidity, and
3) The organic acids produced in the fermentation act as growth hormones for the plant, causing a more rapid response in plants than a compost tea.
Woody mulches will also break down during the season and supply extra organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Biodegradable plastic mulches are also an effective way to control weeds. Finally, if you introduce the right kind of grazing animal into your field during the growing season – one that will eat the weeds instead of the hemp plants – this can not only control weeds but provide organic fertilizer to your field in the form of manure.
Part 2) Reduce Tillage & Implement Alternative
Our ancestors brought a wide variety of knowledge from Europe, and one of the most detrimental "pearls of wisdom" they brought with them was the art form of tilling the land. Their thought process was that by tilling, they could "fluff and soften" up the soil, mix in oxygen, and increase water infiltration. It turns out that they were sadly misinformed. Tilling is exceptionally destructive to our land and atmosphere, and also has the following detrimental effects:
• Destroys the Rhizosphere, which is
crucial for peak soil function
• Destroys mycelial networks, which
bring nutrients to the plant
• Reduces soil organic matter & releases
excess carbon into the atmosphere as CO2
• Increases the presence of weeds
(contrary to conventional wisdom)
• Decreases water infiltration
While tiling is often seen as crucial for controlling weeds, there are many other, less destructive ways to do so. And in fact, tilling only causes weeds to grow back with a vengeance.
Properly timing the planting and harvesting of a cover crop can do a lot to slow down weed growth. If the field is covered with a dense and diverse cover crop, this crop will typically out-compete common weeds. During the primary planting season, companion crops can be planted with hemp, which can also reduce weed pressure and protect the hemp plant from pests. Mulch is also an effective weed control strategy.
1) Plant Diverse Cover Crops
And Rotate Them
Next level hemp farming begins with comprehending that mother nature never lets soil become bare. Newly developed soil microbes depend on plants, and soil health depends on the bio-diversity of the living soil microbes. How we manage plants is critical to not only restoring but also rebuilding the microbial health of the soil. Cultivating a diverse mix of healthy cover crops and other plants does many useful things for you, including:
• Rebuilding microbial populations and allowing composting worms and white springtail mites to break down organic matter in the soil, producing more carbon and nitrogen for the Soil Food Web.
• Protecting and covering the earth, regulating and maintaining its temperature during extreme hot or cold conditions
• Allowing another level of security for your hemp plants to defend and fight off insect infestations
We have found that the more attention to detail and diversity in the cover crop seed selection, the easier it is in the summer months for the hemp farmer. Diverse seed selection helps create the level of health the farmer needs to achieve by beginning to build a thriving microbial ecosystem. Here are the twelve best cover crops to use in conjunction with the hemp plant:
Cultivating a diverse variety of plants to the soil, the microbial population in the ground becomes more energetic and better able to fight off invasive diseases and pests.
Diversity also gives the plants access to more nutrients that were bound up in the soil and previously not bioavailable.
1. Flax - Carter
2. Clover - Yellow Sweet
3. Clover - White Dutch
4. Clover - Medium Red
5. Clover - Crimson
6. Lentils - Indianhead
7. Millet - White Proso
8. Vetch - Hairy
9. Vetch - Common
10. Cowpeas - Red Ripper
11. Buckwheat - Mancan
12. Pea - Forage
Daniel Enking is the founder of Everflux Technologies. He is a life-long environmentalist and practical dreamer who is obsessed with resource efficiency and imaged an "everything recycling machine" at age 10.