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Undisturbed soil, often teeming with beneficial microbes, can power plants just as well as soil that’s been tilled and fertilized.
For many growers, soil amending involves tilling nutrients or fertilizer into their soil and allowing it to work into the growing media over the off-season. However, no-till farming—growing without digging or turning the soil—has become increasingly popular with cultivators. This type of cultivation has different requirements for amending soil than traditional gardening.
No-Till Cultivation and Cannabis
No-till cultivation is a rising trend in the cannabis industry. A common problem with hydroponic systems is the need to constantly replace the soil media that is ruined by the salts in hydroponic fertilizers, leading to rising costs on soil each season. Instead, some cannabis cultivators are shifting to no-till growing in soil, as this method of cultivation focuses on keeping soil media for reuse season after season and repairing it rather than disposing of it.
This can be beneficial for cannabis growers who use other natural methods to improve their grow, such as soil microbes like beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae. Because the soil is not tilled or disturbed, the established systems of microbes remain season after season, improving the uptake of nutrients by the plants and allowing the soil to become a healthy system based on natural processes.
How to Amend No-Till Gardens
Since no-till garden soil is left undisturbed, cultivators must take care when amending to keep from disrupting established soil biology and root systems. There are a few methods no-till cultivators use to keep their soil in tip-top shape.
Mulching is an integral part of no-till gardening. Cultivators add mulch in layers, over time, to work more nutrients into the soil, insulate the roots from extreme temperatures, and reduce weed and pest infections.
While decorative bark and synthetic mulches are available at your local home and garden store, natural and DIY mulches are the bread and butter of no-till gardeners. Rather than investing in commercially produced barks loaded with color or rubber shreds to keep weeds off, no-till cultivators focus on natural mulching material that adds nutrients to their soil, such as straw, hay, leaves, yard clippings, and compost.
We recommend frequently mulching with a variety of materials. As the mulch decomposes, nutrients will become readily available in your soil and keep your garden plot fertilized naturally. Take care when amending with leaves as a layer that is too thick can create mats that restrict water access and harbor harmful garden pests. It’s best to alternate layers of leaves with grass clippings or straw.
Read also: Companion Plants for Cannabis
Clever Cover Crops
Cover crops are another method that no-till gardeners use to refresh their soil. If you plan to have your cultivation plot rest through the winter months, planting a cover crop such as clover, rye or oats can be a great way to work more nutrients into the soil and keep weeds from taking hold while your bed is in its offseason.
Clover is an especially useful cover crop for beds intended for cannabis. As a nitrogen fixer, clover and other crops like it pull nitrogen from the air, which they later add to the soil as they decompose. This can be particularly helpful for repairing soil for cannabis plots due to the plants’ early need for sufficient nitrogen in the vegetative state.
After the crop has been planted and allowed to grow over the winter, the plot will need preparation before it is ready for new seedlings. Cover the garden with a plastic tarp to kill off the cover crop a few weeks before you want to plant your new seedlings. This gives the cover crop time to begin decomposing into the top layer of soil so that when you plant your starts and seeds, they have nutrient-rich growing media waiting for them.
Time for Top-Dressing
If there’s no time to plant a cover crop, another fantastic way to work fertilizer into a no-till garden is to top-dress.
Top-dressing involves adding nutrients to the top of the soil to be worked in with regular watering. In contrast to liquid fertilizer that adds an instant boost of nutrients to the soil, top-dress fertilizer is intended to break down and work into the soil over time, which allows for a balanced availability of nutrients to the plant. This type of fertilizer is compatible with no-till gardening because it doesn’t disturb soil biology, require tilling, or add harmful chemicals to the media.
Many no-till cultivators focus on growing their plants as naturally and organically as possible. Homemade compost is an excellent addition to any no-till garden, as well as top-dress fertilizers such as Geoflora Nutrients. Geofora VEG and BLOOM support both organic gardening and no-till cultivation with sustainably sourced organic ingredients and a simple granular top-dress formula.
Make No-Till Amending Easy
Since no-till growing avoids mixing nutrients deep into the soil, it is necessary to practice alternative methods of fertilizing and conditioning your garden. These three integral soil amendment methods are staples in any no-till garden, and we hope these tips come in handy for your grow, too.