How To Cultivate Living Soil For Quality Grows

Francis Cassidy November 15, 2019 3 comments

Living soil is teeming with mutually beneficial relationships between the plant and micro-organisms.

The highest quality medicine is often obtained from biologically living soil. But that’s a world few of us truly appreciate or understand. It’s a world where protozoa, bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and nematodes all reign supreme. It’s a symbiotic world, one where the rules of laws are defined by the tried and tested synergies of mother nature’s compounds. Beyond our understanding it may be, but it holds the key to so many of the issues we face in modern times. And when it comes to cannabis and demanding the best medicine, well, that means returning to and embracing the mother that birthed us—the living soil beneath our feet.

What’s Going on In the World Beneath Our Feet?

In the push for higher THC values, humans often revel in our own perceived intelligence. The hours spent manipulating the cannabis plant with lights and chemicals is one such example. But, what if our conscious awareness was merely an extrapolation upon something much more primal and interconnected?

A look at biologically alive soil suggests that nature is a lot more alive and aware that we may think. It’s a complex series of dimethyltryptamine pathways that act as biomolecular bridges for tryptamines that permeate all of nature. Many of those with expertise in the field claim that it’s a form of consciousness, one that we, in our arrogance, have been blind to for years.

A 2016 study at the University of Edinburgh entitled “Intelligence, Cognition, and Language of Green Plants,” researchers noted that extensive mycelial networks beneath the soil connect plants. And that once established, “information on disease and herbivory can pass through this network to other host network partners enabling them to prepare defense reactions.”

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It’s just like nature’s version of the internet. And tragically, many of us have been blissfully unaware of that interconnected web of life within living soil biology.

couple happily gardening

What is in Living Soil?

The excessive use of synthetic fertilizers has resulted in much of our soil lacking the required biology for optimal plant growth. The consequence of our ignorance is fewer minerals and weaker plants now unprotected by the fungi and bacteria that once provided protection.

Living soil is based upon the symbiotic relationships between plants, fungi, and bacteria. Within living soil, the aforementioned form synergistic relationships that are based on trading. Bacteria and fungi provide nutrients that are otherwise out of reach to the plant. And plants pay the favor back in the form of glucose.

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living soil represented by icons of nitrogen, water, etc.

Rhizobacteria Help The Root

The reason these relationships exist is that plant roots typically use only 4-7% of the soil volume. Their limited capacity and short lifetime of one to three weeks mean that plant roots need external help. And that help comes in the form of the partnerships they forge with fungi and bacteria.

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One such relationship is with rhizobacteria—a unique type of bacteria that specializes in mining minerals from the soil to provide to the plant. Their presence in the soil forms a natural defense around the root. In their attempt to protect the hand that feeds them—the glucose provided by the plant—rhizobacteria prevent harmful bacteria from attacking the plant.

Mycorrhiza Increase Absorption of Water

The root systems in plants can’t take advantage of minerals that lie beyond the reach of the roots and the accompanying rhizobacteria. But help is at hand in the form of mycorrhiza fungi. These are not widely found in soil due to synthetic fertilizers, but help increase absorption capacity by sprouting fungal threads off the roots. They grow outward in search of water and nutrients, and in effect, they act as a transport system from the roots. Without their help, the plant simply won’t have access to the wealth of useful minerals that lie just outside its reach.

These fungal threads that form mycorrhiza bacteria help absorb minerals and water while also helping with disease resistance. In healthy living soil, these are both abundant and important. And in one teaspoon of soil, these can be up to one kilometer in length.

How Can You Improve Soil?

Living soil is a food web. The waste product from one source becomes fuel for the next. It requires a vast community of willing participants who are in on the wider game being played out.

Protozoa, bacteria, fungi, earthworms, algae, and nematodes are all part of the community in living soil. But essential to living soil are the plants themselves, the roots of which become a busy playground for the aforementioned.

living soil with plants growin out of egg carton

Improving Soil on a Budget

If you don’t have the time or money required to make your own soil, you can still work with what you have. Here are some quick and easy tips for improving existing soil on a budget.

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Add compost

The organic matter contained in well-composted material provides your soil with much of the trace minerals and microbes required for a living ecosystem. Compost can consist of food waste or garden waste, just ensure you give it sufficient time to decompose.

TapRoot Plants

In preparing your soil for cannabis, taproot plants can often be a welcome addition. They help maintain soil fertility when it’s not in use. In addition, taproot plants help break apart the soil, and thus make it easier for the roots of newly planted cannabis to extend its roots. It also helps ensure that soil becomes more breathable—an important consideration for the microbes and bacteria that will one day thrive within.

Wood Chips

Adding woodchips to soil has long since been a tactic of gardeners to enhance soil. A Chinese study carried out in 2016 investigated the effects of mulching on soil properties. They found that “mulching improved plant growth by increasing root activity, soluble sugar, and chlorophyll”, before further noting that mulching provided “suitable moisture conditions and nutrients in the root zone.”

Adding woodchips is something you can do if the soil is not in use for a period. The mycelium beneath will thrive, and when it comes time to plant, you should have some extra life in your soil as a result.

living soil in gardener's scoop

How to Make Living Soil Yourself

For those with more time and money, many protocols exist for creating your own living soil. Here’s a list of some easily obtainable compounds that will help ensure your soil is brimming with the aliveness required for healthy cannabis plants. Designed to fill six 10-gallon containers, you can adjust accordingly for your own needs.

  • 1 cu ft of peat moss
    • It helps with water retention, aeration, and nutrient exchange sites.
  • 1 cu ft of compost
    • Used for repair and sustaining the ecosystem
  • 0.5 cu ft humus
    • Adds beneficial bacteria, protozoa, and fungi to the soil
  • 0.5 cu ft of worm castings
    • That’s the mineral-rich waste produced by earthworms.
  • 3 cups of neem seed meal
    • That’s your NPK equivalent
  • 3 cups of kelp
    • A great source of potash. Required for strong root growth
  • 3 cups of malted barley
    • Rich in nitrogen and potassium
  • 0.5 cups of gypsum
    • Aids in solubility and helps keep calcium and sulfur near the soil surface and readily available
  • 8 cups of basalt
    • An excellent source of trace minerals essential for healthy plant growth
  • 16 cups biochar
    • This charcoal with its microscopic porous surfaces act as sites to hold nutrients and moisture
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Mix everything thoroughly before placing it in the pots. And since you’ve gone to such lengths in ensuring biodiversity in your soil, don’t just throw any old water on it. Reverse osmosis (RO) water or well water is always recommended. Tap water has chemicals such as chlorine that disrupt microbial activity in living soil.

large pile of dirt on white background

Let The Plants Do The Work

It takes deep knowledge coupled with time, care, and attention to work effectively with living soil. But once established, the plants can improve and sustain living soil on their own. After all, nature has the answers, and we humans just have to learn to work at her pace. The quality of our medicine depends on it after all!

Author avatar

Francis Cassidy
Francis Cassidy is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics. With a particular focus on the cannabis industry, he aims to help ensure the smooth reintegration of cannabis back into global culture. When not writing, he's to be found exploring his new base in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow his other works including his photography on his blog


  1. Mark Campbell

    Thank you for this article, it’s a wonderful read. I hope we’ll see more articles like this. Thanks.

  2. David Rubin

    Can cannabis be grown in a Mediterranean climate.

  3. Tonto

    Some Observations,

    I have found from soil testing that adding compost and worm castings provide the bulk of nutrients your plants will need. The amendments you propose are mostly unnecessary, only a small amount of amendments may be required.

    Without soil tests, you are just guessing. You will also find most of your micronutrients in the peat, compost, & EWC therefore, rock dust is not necessary. I don’t believe that malted barley is rich in N or K, but it is great for the microbiology in the soil.

    While tap water may briefly affect soil microbes, they recolonize and rebound to their previous levels very quickly. A little ascorbic acid will neutralize the chlorine or, you can just leave your water containers open 24 hours so the chlorine can evaporate.