Is small pot organics possible? First, we need to decide what is considered a small pot. The general consensus is that living soil should be done in a 10-gallon container or larger. Does that mean you can’t grow organically in 3-gallon or 5-gallon pots? Absolutely not.
Outdoor gardeners and many indoor facilities with large beds are switching to using regenerative, living soil. This is soil that does not require synthetic nutrients, it is soil that gets reused, and it is soil that gets healthier each run. The attraction is obvious, whether that be closing loops and reducing inputs or simply because you can get better margins from each consecutive crop.
Why do cannabis growers use larger containers for living soil? Battery life. The larger the soil mass, the more nutrients can be stored, sustaining a growing plant for longer. One reason this approach is not commonly used in smaller containers is that the nutrient load of the soil will only last for part of the run. Cannabis growers will need to supplement nutrients to bring their crops all the way to harvest.
One distinction between synthetic and organic inputs is the availability of nutrients to plants. Synthetic nutrients are immediately plant-available. In optimal conditions, growers will see effects within days. Organic nutrients are not readily available to your hungry plants. These nutrients need microbial activity to convert them into a plant-available form. This can take time, and the amount of microbial activity in the soil is part of the equation.
Using a regenerative approach to growing cannabis in smaller containers requires advanced planning. Organic growers are behind the ball if they apply a top dressing when there is a visible sign of problems on the plants. Particularly in smaller containers, an organic grower needs to anticipate nutrient requirements through the various stages of growth.
The smaller 3- and 5-gallon containers can generally sustain vigorous plant growth for 40 to 50 days. Cannabis growers commonly keep the plants in a vegetative stage for that amount of time, which means gardeners need to anticipate adding nutrients to promote and sustain flower growth. Providing a boost of nutrients for the flowering stage begins weeks before the actual flipping of the photoperiod.
Each cultivar will have marginally different feeding requirements, but until a gardener dials in the specific needs, maintaining a balance between all nutrients in the soil is a key factor. Foliar feeding is a quick way to get certain nutrients into the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t address the underlying situation in the soil. Commonly the way to rectify deficiencies is by amending the soil with dry nutrients and watering them into the root zone. From there, the soil microbes go to work and convert the inputs into plant-available forms.
Anticipating this shortage of “horse-power” at the start of flower when using smaller containers can be addressed by applying a top-dressing two to three weeks prior to the flip. Recently, a larger number of bottled organic nutrients have made their way to the market. These also require time for the microbes to convert the nutrients into a form that the plant has the ability to uptake and use.
If there is a theme developing here, it is that you need to think ahead. Truthfully, regenerative, living soil systems are entirely possible in 3-gallon and 5-gallon containers, but they will require more effort and attention compared to using a larger soil mass, aka battery.
Small pot organics benefit the hobby grower or tent grower because they will not need to battle with the high humidity created by having a larger soil mass. Living soil needs to stay wet, much wetter than traditional soils which use synthetic feeding. Dry soil conditions can reduce microbial activity, and it is the microbial activity that unlocks the key to success in organic living soils.
If you’ve been on the fence about trying the regenerative approach because you were told that it must be done in large containers, you can ignore it. Make the switch. Control your inputs, build healthy soil, and reap the benefits of improved flower quality and the nuances in the profile that only an organic living soil approach can provide.
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