Hemp Cultivation: Secrets of the Soil

There was a time when the norm was cultivating cannabis in hidden grow rooms using artificial lights and media along with a perfectly wizard array of nutrient solutions, timers, pumps and whatever. Little distinction was made between marijuana strains rich in psychoactive cannabinols and hemp strains rich in medicinal cannabidiols. Growing either was prohibited by law. With widespread acknowledgment of hemp’s medical importance, the public attitude about cannabis cultivation is changing. In the United States alone several states have changed their laws to allow cannabis growing in natural environments on fertile soils. Especially for medicinal use, cannabis quality and integrity are huge issues, and the biodynamic method, which grows food and medicine for human evolution, holds promise of attaining both. Demeter Biodynamic Certification makes perfect sense for growers who aspire to high attainment.

In A Nutshell
Though our culture is changing, most people believe agriculture must fight nature. We rip up the land and do our best to digest it. Then we blast it with fertilizers, fight weeds, pests and diseases and pretty much do whatever it takes to harvest as much as possible of just one thing no matter the overall cost. Killing nature like this lacks integrity, and it’s no wonder the will to support such stuff is disappearing. The bottom line is foods and medicines grown today are notable for their lack of balance and vitality, to say nothing of their failure to inspire. This will influence change.

We must understand, nature works as a system. Everything is interwoven and interactive at the finest levels everywhere. Growing quality cannabis starts with the soil food web and interacts with everything all the way to the farthest stars. Plants, along with their symbiotic microbes, influence greater and greater systems in their surroundings, while this circumstance informs them in return. No amount of fighting nature will equal the overall results of growers working in partnership with nature to produce high yields of top quality.

Cannabis/Hemp
Sometimes referred to as ditch weed, hemp thrives in ditches where trash and sediments collect along with anything soluble in water. Picture hemp as an extremely fibrous plant that takes up water abundantly with strong flows both up and down between roots and canopy. It is efficient at photosynthesis and invests a lot of its energy in making complex oils and resins with a variety of uses. It thrives on sopping up the things that leach out of fertile environments–nitrates, borates, silicates, potash, phosphates, trace minerals and other factors that collect in or pass through ditches and sloughs. Hemp likes conditions where stinging nettles thrive, and stinging nettles make a good mulch and companion plant for hemp. As for follow on benefits, cannabis leaves the soil in good condition to grow potatoes. Hemp is thrives in the free warmth of the summer environment, ripening in late summer as the ditches dry up. How can this help us understand cannabis cultivation better?

What is Life Made Of?
Life arises out of chaos at boundaries. This syntropic process shows the enormous significance of boundaries in every living organism between its insides and its outsides. Without these boundaries—membranes, cell walls, skins and bark there would be no life on earth.

Nature involves both substances and activities. When it comes to substance living organisms are made up of Hydrogen, whose oxide, water, is the basis of chemical activity. As living protoplasm, hydrogen joins with carbon, cinder of the first stars, and its siblings, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur. Carbon, the basis of structural activity, provides a framework for virtually any form imaginable. We are all carbon based life forms. Like money, Oxygen is life’s medium of exchange, its basis of activity. Plants take in CO2 and H2O and give off O2. Animals take in O2 and give off CO2 and H2O. As the basis of awareness, memory, sensation and desire, Nitrogen provides the genetic blueprints for life and its reproduction. With Sulfur as catalyst, along with the atmosphere’s gifts of water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, plants incorporate the activities of warmth and light as living protoplasm. Hemp is designed to harvest all five of these free gifts from the atmosphere’s abundance.

There is also the five percent of hemp biomass that comes from the earth. Soil is made up of sand, clay, lime (cations) and humus. The bulk of the cation exchange portion of the soil is a mix of calcium and magnesium, with a lesser portion of potassium, sodium and traces. These positively charged elements form the lime complex. Sand is silica (SiO2) and is virtually inert even though energy flows through it continuously. Aluminum bonded to silica as Clay provides a gentle but insistent anionic charge that embraces and buoys the lime component of the soil. This buoyance is enlivened by humus, which stores the soil’s vitality.

In terms of activity, plants make sugars via photosynthesis and supply energy to the soil biology as root exudates. This feeds microbial nitrogen fixation and mineral release as well as building humus. With strong root exudation, bacteria, fungi and other microbes multiply abundantly in the root zone. Protozoa and higher animals feed off this soil food web and nourish plants by excreting freshly digested amino acids, minerals and other protoplasmic building blocks around plant roots on the finest scale. Larger animals like earthworms and ants aerate the soil, recycle residues and modulate this digestive activity. With the soil as their digestive tract, plants rely on the digestion occurring around them. Of course, some oxidation of free amino acids in the soil is inevitable, and plants take up nitrate (NO3-) quite readily because it is so soluble. Plants must then prioritize conversion of nitrates into useful amino acids for photosynthetic efficiency. Hemp is a very lively plant that does this extremely well.

The Humus ‘Flywheel’
Soil vitality is stored as humus, rather like a flywheel stores up momentum. Most soils today are deficient in stored life energy, though it’s no mystery how to restore the humus in our soils. We know that maximizing both plant growth and animal digestion in a healthy, balanced way builds momentum into the soil’s humus flywheel and enlivens the soil. Using comprehensive soil testing to reveal any true deficiencies, these can be supplied along with fossil humates for food so the soil biology takes up what is needed. Once bound inside the cell walls of living organisms nothing, not even moisture, is lost.
Optimizing crop production requires enhancing the dynamic interplay between photosynthetic chemistry in the canopy and digestion around the roots. Plants’ silica based capillary systems undergo tension when sunlight strikes their leaves. Interacting with silicon, trace amounts of boron intensify this tension between the electron hunger of the atmosphere and the electron surplus in the soil. This is what draws minerals, amino acids and other growth factors up through hemp’s fibrous stalk or xylem. As the sun goes down and this tension relaxes, the canopy’s daytime carbohydrate build-up subsides along the juicy phloem under the outer skin or bark to the roots and soil, feeding the soil food web. Of course, sap must first go up to come down. Plants whose growing tips nod at mid-day are not drawing strongly enough on the soil, and humic acid along with about 3% boron can supply the missing ingredient.

Nitrates flush borates and silicates into solution and carry these means for sap flow away with the nitrates’ salty streaming. Ditches accumulate these nutrients, and may be useful irrigation resources for hemp. Nitrates occur wherever protein rich organisms break down and oxidize in contact with electron hungry water. Such is the case with feed pads, dairy effluent ponds and so forth. Nitrates may also occur in the wider landscape where overgrazing, cultivation and drought-followed-by-wet cause nitrate flushes. In addition, nitrogen fertilizers, manures and virtually all protein sources tend to oxidize to nitrate as they decay. Often hemp growers overdose their soils with immature composts, dry poultry manure, blood and bone meal and other protein-rich inputs. Mixed into the soil, these inputs may release nitrates for years. If nitrate release occurs as hemp matures it interferes with ripening.

In moderation, a dry blend made of well-humified compost or leonardite (fossil humate) can be tailored for each soil’s needs whether they be lime, gypsum, rock phosphate, sea minerals, diatomaceous earth or silica rich rock powders such as palagonite, basalt or granite. This dry blend should be backed up by a humate soil drench of soluble humate extracts, borates, potassium silicate and the biodynamic preparations, especially 503 (chamomile), 504 (stinging nettle), 505 (oak bark), 508 (horsetail decoction) and summer horn clay (SHC). The soil drench can include dairy effluent and can be applied via irrigation. This can help balance, sequester and reduce nitrate super abundance. In addition a liquid inject formula of fulvic acid, phosphates, kelp and microbial inoculants can be sprayed on the seed at planting to ensure a robust strike when planting. This fertilizer program works well during the vegetative stage and the humate, boron, trace mineral, biodynamic soil drench sets up an integrated pattern activity that prevents fungal diseases as it reduces vulnerability to insects. Ideally surplus nitrates run low as hemp ripens and shifts gears to flowering (phosphates) and ripening (potash).
Nitrates retard and impair maturity, keeping hemp from achieving its full oil and resin potential. Blooming and ripening is where the phosphate, sulfate and potash processes reach their culmination and antioxidants like manganese, copper and zinc need to be working at the finest level. At this stage apply moderate inputs of humates, borates, silicates and sea minerals along with 506 (dandelion) 507 (valerian), 508 (horsetail) and SHC to improve and enhance maturity.

Boron
By itself boron is extremely reactive and leachable, while living organisms and their stores of humus are what holds on to boron in the soil. It is notoriously easy to overdose the soil when adding boron with soluble humates to young seedlings. Wait for plants to grow a bit before applying supplementary boron, as too strong sap pressure drives salt (NaCl) out the leaf margins burning leaves and distorting young growth. Apply a little straw mulch while waiting for the hemp to grow.

Burning up humus and organic matter leaches the soil’s boron while building humus holds on to it and makes it more available. Typically today’s soils are degraded, humus is depleted and boron is deficient. This must be remedied gradually with regular soil drenches that include small amounts of boron with humic acids to feed the soil food web, and the appropriate biodynamic preparations should be included in all these applications.

How Plants Grow
The more strongly the soil food web’s freshly digested minerals and amino acids are drawn up into plants’ leafy chemical activities by day, the more abundantly the night time carbohydrate stream exudes back into the soil, feeding the fungi, bacteria and protozoa that provide the next day’s mineral and amino acid uptake. Especially for a tall woody weed like hemp, this daily uptake through the inner, fibrous xylem and nightly subsidence along the outer, juicy phloem provides soil microbes a rich source of energy for further mineral release, nitrate reduction and nitrogen fixation—which in turn feeds protozoal digestion which feeds the plant. This maximizes digestive activity along with vegetative growth, building soil fertility. Keep in mind that boosting vegetative growth just when the hemp takes off sets the stage beautifully for later when hemp shifts to flowering, and even later proceeds to fruiting and ripening. At each stage the cannabis plant has different needs for achieving its full potential.

Silicon
Working with bound (living) nitrogen, silicon supplies the structural material for membranes, connective tissues and transport vessels. Amorphous fluid silicon is essential at every stage, though it fully expresses itself in the formation and maturation of fruits. Silicon builds the capillary systems that interact with warmth and light in the interplay between what goes up and what comes down. Mowing, mulching and composting with straw and crop residues recycles fluid silica to the soil biology. Then the life in the soil makes this available to the next round of growth.

To better understand how boron and silicon behave, think of boron as a hyperactive court jester, while silicon is a staid aristocrat whose aloof inertia to change requires a tickle from boron.

Cycles
Keep in mind that everything in nature—minerals, microbes, plants and animals—is interconnected and interactive as a system. Within this system there are daily cycles and yearly cycles. What happens in winter determines what will be possible the following summer, so advance preparation is important. As a rule of thumb, silicon’s activity follows the sun. In summer silicon is drawn upwards with the free warmth and light surrounding summer plants such as sugar cane, maize, millet, cannabis, okra, sunflowers and soybeans.

In winter, fluid silicon is drawn back into the earth and re-organized as the sun spends more time below the horizon. Winter plants like garlic, wheat, barley, lupines, rape, corn salad, chickweed, English spinach and so forth are fed by bound warmth and light.
Animal digestion, which predominates in autumn and winter, internalizes warmth and light as sense and desire life. With animals awareness feeds the gut, and the gut feeds awareness in return. In animals, silicon, working with bound nitrogen, forms their neural networks. By way of contrast plants digestion occurs in the near surroundings, and fluid silicon, along with living nitrogen, provides the structural networks for nature’s intelligent guidance. One could say plants are informed by their surroundings.
Plants are sensitive but do not internalize awareness. Awareness surrounds the plant, especially in the soil. If we could see beneath the surface, silicon, especially in winter, works with living (bound) nitrogen in the soil to form neural networks supportive of intelligence and integrity in the soil environment. As noted earlier, nitrates, which are dead (free) nitrogen, disrupt silicon and boron and flush them away. This dumbs down the soil.

In the summer part of the annual cycle, when the sun spends more time above the horizon, the soil goes to sleep. Then the soil’s dreaming feeds summer growth. This gets deeper as summer progresses and free warmth fully expresses itself. If cannabis exhausts the soil’s support in late summer then the previous autumn and winter failed to build a sufficiently strong and healthy neural network. To improve this activity the 500 (horn manure), 501 (horn silica) and winter horn clay (WHC) should be applied as a soil drench in autumn and winter.

Intervention
Observation is the basis of intelligence, while understanding is the basis of integrity. Where the attention goes the energy flows and where the energy flows the attention follows. Accurate intervention to augment natural processes requires keen observation along with an understanding of nature so exact diagnosis and appropriate responses occur. Combining meditation with observation helps inform appropriate activity.
For soil fertility we need to understand that nitrogen, boron and silicon are the most easily lost nutrients in the soil. Free is dead while bound is living. Whenever any portion of the soil dies, nitrogen, boron and silicon go free and are easily lost. This is our greatest concern.

Make a Plan, Think Life
Evil exists to awaken our appreciation of good. The pity is we often wake up when what is good is gone. Copying existing practices can be misleading and cultivation is one such temptation. Another is taking away too much biomass without returning its equivalent as compost, mulch or crop residues to feed the soil food web.

Plowing opens up the soil, exposes the surfaces of soil particles and lets air, moisture and life get to work. A little can be excellent, but more is not better. Cultivating and leaving the surface bare for long periods wrecks the soil food web, and not feeding the soil’s recovery decimates its fungal, bacterial and protozoal populations. This releases nutrients, particularly nitrogen, boron and silicon, briefly boosting soluble nutrients for the following crop while leading to soil bankruptcy. Compaction after cultivation makes matters even worse. Why wreck the soil food web only to compact it again?

We Must
1. Minimize time soil spends bare
2. Control traffic
3. Reduce salt fertilization
4. Eliminate toxic contamination and
5. Crop with complementary plants that fill all the ecological niches.

We Can
1. Improve ground cover (mulch, under sow, sow and mow).
2. Keep traffic to lanes, minimum-till, mulch or vegetate but try to avoid plowing.
3. Take comprehensive soil tests, supply compost, traces, dry blends, soil drenches.
4. Restore nitrogen fixation (when nitrogen is right weeds, pests and diseases
disappear).
5. Build soil ecologies with diverse, minimum-till intercropping.

All are proven alternatives that build soil. Along the way biodynamics give us tools to achieve these ends with ease and grace.

Building Soil
It pays to study nature, since nature builds fertility without plowing. Nature’s army of soil workers come up to breathe and feed on composts and residues left on the surface. Then they tunnel down again, aerating the soil in the finest ways wherever they go. In the daytime most soil animals hang out near plant roots where the soil biology is rich and abundant. When pooping and peeing they give plants and the soil food web freshly digested remnants of what they consumed the previous night at the verges of their sub-surface habitat. This feeds new growth at the finest level while recycling surface litter in a steady way. Given assistance, nature’s intelligence cultivates the soil in ways we can’t duplicate.

Ideally crops would be grown in mixed covers with as little soil disturbance as possible while feeding, balancing and enriching the soil’s ecology with mulches, humified compost, raw humates and soil drenches to harvest warmth, light, water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere. Carbon attracts hydrogen, so humus is a magnet for water. When plants cover the earth’s surface, they soak up warmth, light, CO2 and H2O, synthesize amino acids and build humus while cooling off the atmosphere and improving precipitation along with water retention. Rotating crops with annual summer and winter mixes of grasses, legumes and forbs builds carbon into the soil as humus. It also stores warmth and light in the soil’s humus flywheel as it builds life into the environment into the future.

Going Biological
Nitrogen fixation, a key component of natural systems, requires energy. It also requires calcium and a broad array of minerals for amino acid balance and function. Feeding inputs needed to the soil food web requires combining them with food for the soil biology. Well-made humified composts are excellent, but until such quality compost is available raw humates or soluble humic and fulvic concentrates are economical and reliable alternatives for supplying what is necessary for nitrogen fixation.

Fossil Humates
Earlier ages created huge deposits of humus-rich materials known as leonardites or soft coals. These fossil organic deposits are mined on an industrial scale like coal. Some are prepared as a raw humate base for prescription dry blends that activate rock minerals and trace inputs shown to be deficient by comprehensive soil testing. Extracts from these fossil deposits are sold as soluble humic and fulvic acids for making soil drenches using urea or fish emulsion, solubor, sea minerals, microbes and biodynamic preparations. Spraying soils with humic/fulvic soil drenches can feed vigor to a diverse ecology that favors legumes while suppressing weeds.

Because biological nitrogen fixation takes a couple years to get up to speed, nitrogen inputs cannot simply be omitted unless legumes are already dominant. Nitrogen fixation in most soils must be supplemented just to build soil biology. As legume dominance and vigorous growth occurs the nitrogen part of the formula should be omitted and probably has to be omitted for amino acid synthesis to go into overdrive. At the same time be sure to discontinue all herbicides and other fertilizers or anything that has an adverse effect on soil life.

Humate/Urea/Sea Mineral Soil Drench

5 qt/ac liquid humic acid
0.5 qt/ac liquid fulvic acid
5-10 lb/ac urea (use fish emulsion if certified biodynamic; reduce as N fixation takes over)
0.5 qt/ac molasses
150 grams/ac solubor
75 grams/ac soluble kelp powder
1 qt/ac sea minerals (with sodium chloride removed)
1 unit/ac of Biodynamic Field Activator

Apply by horizontal boomless jet on alternate months with enough water for usual spray rate. If using radionics, apply appropriate biodynamic preparations via the spray water. Google for sources of supplies.
Another helpful technique is brewing anti-oxidant cultures of activated EM (effective microbe) brews using molasses, EM mother culture and sea minerals along with the full spectrum of biodynamic preparations. Sea minerals ensure that every element will be available in biologically active forms when applied with humic and fulvic soil drenches. See:
http://forum.alchemyforums.com/showthread.php?1814-Effective-Microorganism-EM-Cosortium-Brewing
and http://envismadrasuniv.org/pdf/Effect%20Microorganisms.pdf or http://www.scdprobiotics.com/

In this case a 1000 liter brew in a 220 gallon ICB container could involve 900 liters of water, 50 liters of EM mother culture, 50 liters of molasses, 1.5 liters of sea minerals and a biodynamic preparation complex as Earth Legacy Field Activator (North America see: http://www.earthlegacyagriculture.com/ ). Brew with a fermentation lock and apply at the rate of 3-5 quarts/acre once a month or as needed. Cut back the recipe for smaller brews.

Other helpful tips for growing quality crops including which biodynamic preparations to use at specific times can be found in my new book, Quantum Agriculture, Biodynamics and Beyond. Understanding biodynamic preparations and their application may take a bit of study. In general horn manure (500), horn silica (501) and horn clay should be established as background patterns. During the vegetative phase stinging nettle (504), oak bark (505) and horsetail (508) are called for to ensure conversion of nitrates to amino acids. Yarrow (502) and chamomile (503) may also be helpful. There should be especial emphasis on oak bark (505) and horsetail (508) under wet conditions or to protect from fungal diseases. To protect against frost use chamomile (503), stinging nettle (504), dandelion (506) and valerian (507). To shift emphasis to flowering, fruiting and maturity use valerian (507), dandelion (506) and horsetail (508).