Horticulture Techniques

It Starts with Soil

What I learned from Growing Nutrient Dense Foods Can Help You Maximize Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and the Entourage Effect.

I began my journey with a passion for soil 35 years ago. Instinctively I knew it was the wellspring of health and nutrition. As it turns out, it’s also the source to obtaining the highest potency medicinals.

As a young teen, I enjoyed reading and buying books on soil while gardening with my family. I read all the classic books on organic gardening from Rodale publishing.

Later, I started working for International Ag Labs. After a few years and hundreds of conversations with people looking for high-quality food, I started the High Brix Gardens program to help people grow better tasting and nourishing food. About the same time, I became one of the owners of International Ag Labs.

Through High Brix Gardens, I have provided fertility recommendations on thousands of gardens across the United States. The great thing about working with gardens is that there is virtually no limit on budget as compared to field crops. Also, most gardeners test every year, so I got to see the same soil year after year following my fertility program.

Soon after High Brix Gardens was started in 2005, I began working with market gardeners and especially with greenhouse growers raising tomatoes.

By 2014, we started seeing a trickle of cannabis growers sending in their soil samples as well. Today the trickle has ballooned into a steady stream of ever-expanding cannabis growers as more states legalize hemp and cannabis to some degree.

The next big wave is already looming; commercial growers want to raise hemp on larger acres to satisfy the needs for cannabidiol and various other extractables.

So, what are the key takeaways I learned?

  1. Vegetables take a whole lot more minerals out of the soil than grain crops. I learned this the hard way. By quickly increasing the amount of minerals being applied, the deficit was overcome. This applies to cannabis since it is also a heavy feeder.
  2. Food quality varies immensely. It is not standardized as the US Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database would lead you to believe. Instead, it’s localized to the specific soil and environment it was raised in. This means a tomato can vary in flavor and nutrient density as widely as a $300 junk car versus a $100,000 luxury car. Yes, they are both cars, but they are definitely not the same.
  3. Soil can be changed and optimized. And when this is done, it directly impacts the flavor, aroma, and nutrient density of the food it produces. This process of optimizing soil usually takes 3-5 years and is a curious mix of industrialized technology and living biology. Industrialized technology can be used to test soil, grind rocks, mine minerals, etc. But when it supplants biology, it fails. For example, hydroponics is industrialized technology replacing biology that normally interacts around plant roots as the rhizosphere. What happens? Food yield is high but quality is crap and not worth eating. Connoisseurs of high-quality cannabis can’t stand low-grade cannabis from hydroponics.
  4. The best soils in the world are: volcanic, rich in calcium, and teeming with microbes. I learned how to change soils so they took on these attributes. As this happened, flavor and satiety dramatically improved.
  5. The best fertility program uses full-spectrum nutrition. That is, we build the soil to have an abundant supply of major minerals, secondary minerals, trace minerals, and rare earth elements. The last group is not fully recognized by conventional science, but eventually it will be.
  6. There are 3 basic ways to test food quality: taste, brix readings, and analysis. I developed a laboratory test called the Nutrient Density Analysis. With this test, we quantify the various minerals per 100 grams of fresh produce. The better the soil, the better the flavor and shelf life; the higher the brix, the higher the mineral concentration.
  7. Soil microbes and plant health are best approached by optimizing the level and ratio of available minerals. That means not focusing exclusively on the microbes. Focus instead on the environment of those microbes.
  8. I learned what an optimum soil looks like. Not visually of course, but on a lab analysis. Yes, an optimum soil will vary some from crop to crop. I can only do this with the Original Morgan test developed by Dr. M.F. Morgan and popularized by Dr. Carey Reams.
  9. Most organic programs produce food about the same in nutritional quality as conventionally raised. Why? Because the levels and ratios that nature demands for top quality have not been met. Many times, an excess of compost/manure creates an imbalance between calcium and potassium.
  10. I learned patience. Building an optimized soil takes time and quite a bit of inputs over the years. And yet, it’s so worth it in the long run because quality goes up and yield goes through the roof.
  11. Study the pioneers. These are the true heroes in this story. They paved the way. I consolidated their teachings.
  12. Feed the Soil, Feed the Plant, and Feed the Leaf. If you do all three you will be amazed. Each of these will be fleshed out in subsequent articles.
  13. When the same strategies to grow nutrient dense food was applied to cannabis, it responds the same as vegetables—at or near its genetic potential. And that is good news for you!

Lastly, I will conclude with a story from my own garden this year. I planted a whole 4’ X 8’ raised bed of rosemary. I gave a custom blend of minerals and carbons based off a soil test. In the transplant hole, I worked in 3-4 Tablespoons of Primal Plant Food beneath each transplant. Later I mulched the surface with ¾ inch of ramial wood chips.

Whenever the plants are touched as I am weeding around them, they give off a wonderful but strong aroma. When I chew on a leaf, the flavor is outstanding and strong. The flavor from the essential oils pleasantly lingers for a long time. When used in cooking, it only takes a small amount to flavor the whole dish.

I decided to take a brix reading. After pounding some leaves to a pulp in a mortar and pestle and squeezing the juice through a vinyl window screen mesh, the refractometer showed 15.5 brix freshly picked from the garden. This type of rosemary is far beyond anything that could be found in grocery stores. It is nutrient dense and truly therapeutic. The only way to adequately convey how good this rosemary is, is for you to taste and experience it for yourself. I wish you could.

If you create this same environment for your hemp fields or cannabis plants, you will get the same response. I promise.

If you have friends or colleges who could benefit from more writing and info about our work with hemp and cannabis growers, please ask them to sign up here: https://www.aglabs.com/hemp-cannabis.html.

With Respect,

Jon Frank

International Ag Labs

About the author

Terpenes and Testing

Terpenes and Testing

Leave a Comment