Veganism is a social movement that has been gaining momentum nowadays. While it can be a difficult lifestyle choice, this way of life is for a moral, health-giving, and environmental cause.
Considering this fact, it is not surprising that the practice is also applied to plant cultivation. In the cannabis world, there is a small but growing community that observe vegan horticulture. While it is not pursued or discussed as much, it is an undertaking worth trying.
The agricultural philosophy of veganic cultivation aims to impact the environment as minimal as possible by growing plants free of any unnatural chemicals. While it is similar to organic gardening, veganics is one step further – it avoids the use of any animal by-product. Instead, it utilizes soil-enriching microbes and plant-based nutrients.
Origin Of Veganics
Plant-based gardening is believed to have been first practiced by ancient cultures thousands of years ago. In modern agriculture, however, it has not garnered much attention until the mid-1900s. The principles of veganic agriculture many use now are attributed to pioneers such as Maya Bruce and Rosa Dalziell O’Brien, who both developed the early system for veganics.
Although already an existing system, the term “veganics” was not used until UK author Geoffrey Rudd coined it as a contraction of the words vegetable organics. He utilized it to describe plant-based agricultural methods and differentiate them from those using chemicals and animal by-products.
In cannabis cultivation, veganics attained mainstream attention through the help of Master Grower Adam Orenstein, more popularly known as Kyle Kushman. he brought going veganic into the spotlight by developing a system that allowed for as close to 100% nutrient bioavailability. The idea is that by eliminating animal by-products and chemicals that deplete beneficial microorganism populations, nutrient availability will increase – resulting in high-quality buds.
Why Grow Vegan
Veganic growing provides numerous benefits, which is why many have stopped using animal-based products. Among these benefits include:
Increased Potency And Overall Quality
Although produced in non-conventional methods, it does not mean that veganic cannabis is less potent than its commercial-based counterpart. On the contrary, many veganic strains are very robust, with most clocking at above 20% THC content.
Moreover, animal residues break down slowly in cannabis. When the plant metabolizes the nutrients it gets from the soil, animal residues remain. It is particularly noticeable in the taste of the final product, affecting its overall quality. Using veganic nutrient systems thus ensure a cleaner, better product.
Vegan horticulture can result to a more abundant harvest. The secret of the more significant yield lies in the soil. Plant-based cultivation makes use nutritious fungi and microbes, supercharging the soil with bioavailable nutrients. It ensures that the plants get the most nutrients possible, allowing it to grow bigger and produce more buds.
No Synthetic Chemicals
By using natural, plant-derived products, cannabis can grow free of harmful contaminants and is, therefore, better for human consumption.
Less Environmental Impact
Another reason why many are turning to vegan cannabis is because it is more eco-friendly. The chemicals in artificial products like fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides pose a significant danger to the natural environment. When used in growing plants, especially outdoors, these chemicals may work their way deep into the soil and waterways, causing potentially irreversible damage.
Growing vegan cannabis can help reduce overhead costs. It works best for larger areas where there is space to compost and grow crops for nutrients. Such order turns a plantation into a self-sustaining, closed loop operation.
Potential Stumbling Blocks
While veganic cultivation offers a number of benefits, it is not without any disadvantages. Below are some of the more common concerns when growing vegan.
Time Consuming And Labor Intensive
Veganics requires a lot of patience and commitment to pull off successfully. It also lacks the convenience offered by mechanical or chemical cultivation.
Plants are observed closely every day to ensure that their needs are catered through the best possible way. Also, there should be an extensive degree of interaction with the crops to keep them free of pest and disease. Moreover, vegan cultivation favors the use of compost and other decaying organic matter over readily available nutrients, making the process rather time-consuming.
Steeper Learning Curve
Veganic cultivation banks heavily on keeping most input as natural as possible. Instead of using chemical techniques to fix specific problems quickly, veganics employs careful observation and understanding of the natural processes to realize the most plausible remedies. The skills and experience needed to achieve mastery of these aspects can take longer to develop. Moreover, since this method is relatively new, help available for beginners is minimal.
Because of its nature, it is harder to grow vegan crops on a larger scale. The process, though rewarding, is very taxing. Aside from that, veganics thrives on mulch and compost. Scaling up operations will also mean producing industrial quantities of these two – something that is not viable for most.
Getting Started With Vegan Gardening
As mentioned, the central principle of veganic cultivation is the avoidance of any animal byproduct and synthetic chemicals. Instead of relying on unnatural sources, veganic gardening encourages the growth of beneficial microbes and fungi. The goal of this type of horticulture is to make nutrients 100% bioavailable at any given time.
Veganic growing does not stray away from the traditional ways of planting cannabis. The main difference, however, lies on the way nutrients are supplied to the floras. To implement a vegan organic system, these principles are applied:
Prepare The Soil
Whenever possible, avoid digging the soil. It may seem counterintuitive, but doing so poses these disadvantages for the plants:
- Disruptive. There are many creatures and organism that live in the land which help create drainage and build up fertility. Digging the soil may kill many of these creatures and destroy the natural drainages they have constructed.
- Rapid breakdown of organic matter. By digging the soil, organic matters are broken down more rapidly, making it hard to sustain the fertility of the soil. Moreover, it also kills beneficial microbes by exposing them to sunlight when the soil is turned.
- Exposes soil to erosion. Digging exposes the soil to erosion from rain and wind. Furthermore, it also increases the leaching of nitrogen and other water-soluble nutrients from the ground.
- Increases weed population. Instead of suppressing unwanted weeds from the garden, digging may trigger the germination of dormant weed seeds. It helps bring these seeds to the surface, where they can germinate and grow fast. These weeds may then steal the nutrients which are supposed to be for the cannabis plants, stunting the floras’ growth.
Growing plants without digging the soil may sound absurd and even impossible. In reality, there are ways to plant cannabis without having to disrupt the soil. Merely applying a mulch of organic matter, such as compost, over the soil surface to create a 10cm-thick blanket can produce better results. The layer quickly breaks down naturally with the help of beneficial bacteria. It is then drawn down into the soil by worms, who, in turn, will do the digging themselves.
There are two cardinal rules when applying mulch. One is that it should be laid on soil that is already weeded, and two, lay down a thick enough layer to inhibit new weeds from coming through. Alternatively, placing a sheet of cardboard box between the soil and the mulch prevents weeds from shooting through. Once the right amount is applied on the ground, the organic matter becomes the surface of the soil.
Adding Organic Matter
To sustain or increase the natural fertility of the soil, it is essential to ensure that there is sufficient organic matter in it. Such task is straightforward as potential sources are naturally abound. Among these include:
A healthy garden has a constant supply of organic matter since everything that lives or lived in it can provide nutrients for the soil and plants. If the compost is insufficient, obtain from other nurseries that do not employ it.
One way to activate the compost heap is through the use of urine. Not only is it free, but it is also a precious source of fertility. The excrement speeds up the decomposition process of the compost while supplying additional nutrients to it.
A little-known fact about soil fertility is that much of it is washed out. Heavy rains, for one, erode soil and wash its nutrients to the rivers and, eventually, to the sea. One way to get these nutrients back to the soil is by harvesting nutrient-rich seaweeds and using it to add fertility to the ground.
This material can be obtained in large quantities from breweries. Hops are excellent soil conditioner and can help increase fertility. Whenever possible, use it with seaweed meals or compost to improve nutrient content.
Tree leaves are another excellent soil conditioner. Moreover, it accessible in areas where trees are abundant. However, caution should be exercised in picking leaves. For example, if it is near busy roads, then it is likely to contain pollution from cars passing by, making it harmful for the plants.
Straw And Hay
Similar to leaves, straw, and hay are also good sources of organic matter for the soil. When using these, however, ensure that it is free of weeds and seeds. Else, it could generate problems for the garden in the future.
Green manure are certain plants that are grown to be turned into the soil and improve its overall quality. A green manure crop can either be cut and plowed into the soil or simply left in the ground for an extended period before tilling. Aside from providing organic matter, a number of these crops enrich the land with the much-needed nitrogen. Species that can be considered include buckwheat, rye, winter tares, clovers, sunflowers, and alfalfa.
Minding The Microbes
The key to successful veganic cultivation is a healthy balance of substrate microbes. These bacteria break down the nutrients from the soil and the organic matter so that it is easier for faster absorption. With the right balance, nutrient uptake can reach close to 100%. In contrast, synthetic nutrients often only have uptake rates of 20% to 25%.
The soil is abundant with microbes. Each gram of soil contains anywhere from 100,000 to 1 million living microbes. In the right conditions, these bacteria will grow, prosper, and reproduce. Among the beneficial microbe species include Actinobacteria, several Bacillus species, Cyanobacteria, Pseudomonas and Trichoderma, as well as many other bacteria and fungi.
One method to promote microbe growth is by using compost teas. The nutrient-rich, liquid fertilizer is made by brewing compost in water. It is easy to prepare, but it may require some trial and error to get the exact requirements for specific plants. All that is needed is to steep the compost in aerated water for at least eight hours. The mixture should be agitated regularly before filtering the water from the solid residue.
The resulting “tea” can be employed directly to the soil or sprayed to the leaves of the plant. It is essential to use the concoction while fresh, as microbes will not live for more than a few days. As a general rule, use an entire batch of brewed compost tea within 36 hours.
Aerating Soil And Water
Aeration is the procedure by which air is diffused through or incorporated into a substance. Aerating soil and water will help improve the overall health of the plant. Many soil microbes depend on oxygen to survive; giving them sufficient air will boost their population – further increasing nutrient bioavailability.
Aside from that, aeration also provides several mechanical benefits. Proper ventilation improves air exchange, reduces compaction, increases water retention and overall resilience, and improves uptake of water and nutrients.
Aerating the soil is pretty simple. It can be done by perforating the mulch with small holes, allowing better air circulation. Water aeration, on the other hand, is a little bit more complicated. It requires the use of an air stone and diffuser or pump. The air stone slowly releases compressed air into the water, while the diffuser or pump circulates it around the container.
Aerated water is used to make compost teas. As mentioned, many microbe species need oxygen to survive. Supplying these aerobic microorganisms with adequate air will allow them to flourish, ultimately benefitting the plants.
Watching The pH
Veganic cultivation makes nutrients in the soil close to 100% bioavailable. Hence, pH adjustment for nutrient uptake almost unnecessary. However, this does not mean that it should be ignored.
Although pH considerations in veganics are not as strict as in other methods, it is still vital to maintain it between 5.5 and 7.0 to keep plants healthy. Aside from the soil, microbe teas should also be tested for its pH before being applied to the plants.
Managing Pests And Diseases
Veganic cultivation does not allow any chemical pesticide in its system. That does not mean, though, that vegan cannabis plants are unguarded against pests and diseases. There are many ways to ward off these unwanted guests without resorting to chemical sprays.
Chamomile And Garlic
Chamomile repels pests and can even attract beneficial insects. On the other hand, garlic’s natural antiseptic properties help in preventing fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases.
Together, these two can create a tonic that repels both pests and diseases. Just add a crushed garlic clove and a handful of chamomile flowers to half a liter of hot water. Cover the blend and leave it to soak for 12 hours. The resulting liquid can be sprayed directly to plants like a common pesticide.
Mixed And Companion Planting
Pest and disease spread easily when there is a dense population of the same plant in an area. To avoid this, try including companion plants in the garden. Certain floras repel pests with their strong scent. Others, on the other hand, provide additional microbes or beneficial elements to the soil. Among the good choices for companion plants are basil, chamomile, catnip, radishes, and marigold.
There is perhaps no better way to fend off pests than to let Mother Nature do the work herself. As in the natural order of things, pests also have their predators – usually in the form of carnivorous insects. These predatory insects can be introduced into a garden to help prevent or mitigate pest infestations.
One important thing to remember when employing the help of beneficial insects: always choose native species. Non-native species may turn out to be invasive and do more harm than good to the ecosystem.
A Method Worth Trying
Veganics is a relatively new method for growing cannabis. Despite that, numerous testimonies prove its effectiveness as a growing system. Moreover, as it is still a new concept, it may still have a lot of untapped potentials. As the market for sustainably sourced, animal-free, plant-based cannabis continue to grow, innovative products will take off as well. Veganic cannabis might very well be the future of the cannabis industry, so it would be wise to give it a try as early as now.