Photo courtesy of Gary Lund, Broken Coast Cannabis
By now, most growers have heard the term “veganic cannabis” circulating throughout the cultivation and consumption communities. The commonly accepted meaning of the term refers to cannabis that does not contain any animal-based soil or nutrient ingredients. To define the term from another angle, the soil and fertilizer used are generally plant- and rock-based, and the materials to be used are either OMRI Listed or OMRI listable.
Calling a product organic carries legal accountability for the methods used while calling it veganic can be done without any consequences if used inaccurately. This is something to keep in mind as you become more conscious of the growing veganic trend.
Growers can debate the question of whether veganic weed is truly superior to its organic equivalent, but to a commercial grower, the attraction to veganic growing has more to do with its superiority as an organic indoor method than it does about any parallel or superior virtues.
Let me explain.
Cultivation experts tend to fall into two groups — the organic group (mostly greenhouse and outdoor) whose followers love living soil, worms, compost, microbes, and even adding insects to the garden to manage other insects. Then there’s the conventional group (mostly indoor) whose adherents aim for the cleanest possible cultivation conditions at all times. The conventional group strives toward organic quality and methodology, but managing pests and microbial problems is, and must be, the higher priority if we hope to survive more than a year or two in a single location.
Cleanliness is Godliness
Cleanliness is the biggest key to indoor mold and pest control, but many organic amendments and additives are anything but clean. They are literally intended to encourage the kind of microbial activity and decay that indoor growers strive to control or eliminate.
But does this mean indoor growers can’t succeed at organic cultivation? Not at all, but the cleaner the better, which lands us on veganic methods.
Of course, veganic growing is still messy in comparison to stonewool watered with sterile mineral salts, but it’s much cleaner than traditional organic growing because dirtier substances such as bone meal, blood meal, guano, fish emulsion, feather meal, compost, and worm castings aren’t in the picture. You are more likely to see ingredients in a vegan recipe such as rock dust mixed with various grain or seed meals, augmented by OMRI Listed mineral salts like magnesium sulfate. You still need, as with organic methods, microbes in the soil to break down insoluble substances, but the overall reduction in use of easy-to-rot ingredients is substantial, without any associated downside.
The best veganic methods I’ve seen involve amending some of the slower reacting food sources into coco fiber before planting, then supplementing with faster acting liquid minerals as the crop is irrigated throughout its life. In concert with leaf tissue testing, adjustments can be made to keep the plants perfectly healthy throughout their lives and ensure they reach their genetic potential.
Take note that several mineral salt nutrients are OMRI Listed, including almost all of the sulfates: potassium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, iron sulfate, copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, etc. I don’t shy away from using any of these just because they are soluble salts. The fact is they are organic and vegan, and, if used properly alongside vegan soil amendments, produce top-shelf herb. Yes, soil amendments alone do supply some amount of each of the essential minerals, but there will be times when you need to add more, and using an organic soluble salt is a very effective way to do it.
Recipe for Veganic Success
To pin down the ideal recipe and addition rates, you can either hire an expert to help with a custom recipe, or learn through trial and error, but most veganic recipes produce really frosty and tasty cannabis flowers if the soil isn’t too compact or overwatered, and if the pH of the root zone is kept tightly between 6.4-6.8 throughout the growth cycle (dropping it much lower will usually cause manganese toxicity which stunts flower formation). Start with coco fiber that naturally has the right pH. Many brands are either too acidic or too alkaline right out of the gate.
Since all soil, organic or veganic, gets more acidic over time, some kind of liming material will be applied when the pH of the runoff drops below 6.4. For this, I usually use calcium carbonate granules, top dressed on the soil surface at a rate of about a half-cup per gallon of media. One application will last three to four weeks before pH starts dropping again. Calcium is one of the few minerals that cannabis can handle in larger quantities, and the carbonate is the component that has the alkalizing effect you’ll need. This is especially critical if you are using reverse osmosis water, which contains no natural pH buffers.
As for soil porosity, you don’t want the water to pool up on the surface of the soil at all. If it’s pooling up at normal pouring rates, add rice hulls or perlite until it drains well. Media will always get more compact over time, so err on the side of too much porosity if you aren’t sure how much is the perfect amount. I use about 25 per cent rice hulls if I’m mixing with typical coco fiber, which usually comes in a powdery fine texture. High porosity serves the purpose of both increasing the oxygen available to the roots and reducing the risk of overwatering, which is a very common newbie error.
Once you have the right pH and porosity for the starter media, you’ll want to either add a veganic pre-mix or take it upon yourself to mix in some rock phosphate (supplies calcium and phosphorus), neem or soybean meal (supplies some slow-release nitrogen), greensand (supplies iron and other micros), and maybe some other bells and whistles like seaweed (supplies growth hormones).
The supplemental liquid nutrients that must get added with each watering, on top of the amended soil as the plants grow, include fast-release organic nitrogen (usually amino acid-based from grain sources), potassium and magnesium sulfate, and sometimes extra micronutrients.
The critical additional step is to always use leaf tissue tests to monitor the status of the plant’s internal workings. A good lab will return results within a week, which allows growers to adjust the liquid feed in real-time so a crop won’t be damaged by deficiencies or toxicities. Take note that plants can look perfectly healthy but have an internal build-up occurring of any one of the essential minerals — a toxicity that is about to damage the crop, but just hasn’t quite hit the threshold. You’ll notice, for example, that getting plants about halfway into the flowering cycle in great condition is pretty easy but finishing them in perfect health is difficult. With the use of leaf tissue tests, you can avert problems before they manifest visually or cause any yield reductions.