“It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”
Soil supports life. Webs of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, worms, and other creepy crawlies build an ecosystem in healthy soil. Dirt is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Many of the lifeforms that call soil home are friendly with plants and develop symbiotic or beneficial relationships. Thus, living soil majorly impacts the cultivation of cannabis and other plants.
Living organisms in soil respire, giving off carbon dioxide (there is a tool to measure this). Creatures like earthworms break down organic materials to feed bacteria while generating helpful waste. Rhizobia are microorganisms that boost nitrogen fixation and enhance the plant’s stress response. A bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis goes after the larvae of damaging gnats. Nematodes (roundworms) also help defend plants against predatory insects. These are but a few players in the soil game that help plants win.
Colorado State University notes that a cup of living soil contains about 200 billion bacteria, 20 million protozoa, and 100,000 nematodes. To encourage living soil, they recommend adding organic matter such as compost and using an organic mulch. The compost supports healthy life. The mulch stabilizes moisture while defending against weeds. Pesticides and other chemicals should be avoided since they can be harmful to the good life. Rather, living soil depends on sustainable, organic practices.
The University of Minnesota advises testing soil for pH and nutrients. They also note that tilling disturbs the soil too much while standing on the soil compacts it too much. Traversing a series of walking aisles and relying on hand tools is ideal to preserve and encourage living soil. Again, mulch is helpful: it can even prevent soil pathogens from splashing on plants and causing disease.
The United States Department of Agriculture emphasizes cover crops (growing other crops to cover the soil) and crop rotation (switching the crops grown in the same soil) to naturally keep soil healthy. Certain plants can scavenge nitrogen and other nutrients well below surface soil. Hairy vetch, for example, fixes nitrogen, while cereal rye adds carbon to the soil.
Developing living soil means using organic amendments and sustainable practices to support a thriving ecosystem. Testing the soil for pH, microorganisms, and nutrients can help the cannabis cultivator prepare and adjust as needed.