Episode 1: Introduction with Tad Hussey
There are better ways of cultivating cannabis than bottled nutrients and with proper management soil can be improved and re-used for multiple cycles. In this podcast we discuss techniques from leading experts in the industry on how we can apply science-based horticulture techniques to the world of cannabis cultivation.
In this episode, I offer a bit of information about my background as well as an overview of these cultivation theories to give you a solid foundation for the information to come.
Welcome to the Cannabis Cultivation and Science podcast, I’m your host, Tad Hussey of KIS Organics. This is the podcast where we discuss the cutting edge of organic growing from a science based perspective and draw in top experts from around the industry to share their wisdom and knowledge.
This first episode is just to give some background on why I created this podcast and what sort of cultivation I believe is the future of cannabis production.
Too much of the information surrounding cannabis is myth and speculation that has been spread through internet forums and poor science. My aim with this podcast is to bridge the gap between horticulture and cannabis growers based on our experience, scientifically-supported principles, and to debunk many of the myths surrounding this industry.
This podcast is intended to be a resource for both beginner and long-time growers alike, and to bring together the existing body of knowledge in one location. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive work on all the ways and equipment you can use to grow cannabis. Rather, our goal is to focus on sustainable and organic cultivation methods using the best practices available based on current research. Much of this research has come from long hours reading journal articles and discussions with people far smarter than myself.
We’ve worked hard to make cannabis cultivation more sustainable and economically viable for growers, as well as focusing on organics to provide the safest and most effective medicine to consumers.
Now if you’re currently a chemical nutrient or hydro grower, I’d ask that before you turn this podcast off, please hear me out. Organics is no longer some hippie idea where you’re sacrificing quality or yield, but rather the path to growing the highest quality cannabis. And if you’re a commercial grower and this is your livelihood, then I think it’s even more important you stay tuned.
The more traditional cultivation techniques of buying cheap soils or sterile media that then require bottled nutrients to feed your plant are outdated in my opinion. Sure, they do work, but they are way too expensive and many of these ingredients can be sourced in raw form, saving the grower a ton of money. There’s a reason you don’t see General Hydroponics or Advanced Nutrients in the agricultural world or being used on commercial basil or tomato crops.
Not to mention the excessive nitrates and phosphates polluting our groundwater when growers dispose of their spent soil, and the labor required to constantly be moving soil in an out of the facility.
The types of programs and cultivation we discuss in this podcast have an average cost on a commercial scale of 1-5 cents per gram or under $5 a pound by the second year. That’s for both your media and nutrients, along with the added benefit of reduced labor inputs. We have been working with growers now who have been re-using their same soil for over 5 years and getting really consistent yields over 2 lbs. per light indoors and commanding top dollar in dispensaries and stores. We have a a couple talented growers who have even gotten over 3 lbs per light or 60 grams per square foot.
And while some of what we do is proprietary, like our soil mix recipes, my goal with this podcast is to get as much information out to growers as possible, so everyone can save money, be more sustainable and organic, without sacrificing plant health and yield.
Now to give you a little background on myself so you can see where I’m coming from, I’m the owner of Keep It Simple, Inc. We do business as Keep It Simple Farm or KIS Farm, which you can check out at www.kisfarm.com and also KIS Organics at www.kisorganics.com. KIS Farm is our 7 acre brick and mortar farm and feed store where we are all about urban farming and growing your own food. We have an urban farm and feed store, organic hydro shop and garden center, edible nursery, outdoor preschool, and production greenhouse. We grow thousands of organic veggie starts for the community and also have a U Pick. There’s an edible nursery where we carry unique edible and medicinal plants, and of course with the farm and feed store we have chickens, ducks, cats, pigs, turkeys, bees, and goats. Most of the animals free-range and co-exist on the property. It’s a beautiful location that is bordered by a salmon spawning stream, and we have a non-profit organization setup just for giving education tours on the salmon and native habitats throughout the Fall.
It’s a beautiful property and if you’re ever in the Seattle area, make your way out to Redmond, and check us out.
KIS Organics is our gardening and soil branch that is specifically focused on helping growers and gardeners source high quality soils, nutrients, compost tea supplies, and soil amendments.
This all came about because I grew up with my parents running a retail nursery and landscape company. I was always around plants and forced to work summers as a laborer for the maintenance and construction crews. It was tough work and while I learned a lot from hands on experience, it wasn’t something I really enjoyed. I went off to college at the University of Washington and wasn’t really interested in horticulture. After undergrad, I went back to school at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia to pursue a Master’s degree in Special Education. When I got out of school, my parents had sold the nursery business and my father had started a business making compost tea brewing systems.
I tried a few different jobs but ultimately decided to come back and help my father with running the compost tea business. It was a new industry and he had just finished conducting experiments with Dr. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web in determining such things as optimal brew length, dissolved oxygen levels, and if pathogens like e. coli could survive the brewing process. It was a fun time because it was really a brand new industry and anyone with a bit of patience and a microscope could test out their own theories and further the body of knowledge around this technology.
I went to hear people like Dr. Ingham and Jeff Lowenfels speak and read everything I could on the topic to educate myself. Having just finished grad school, where I was forced to read peer reviewed journal articles and studies all day was a great background for wading through the information available on the internet. Through this process, I got to know Jeff personally and also met a gentleman named Tim Wilson, who at the time was also active in a Yahoo group on compost tea that Jeff moderated. He was only a few hours North of me in Vancouver Canada and actually took the time to come down and teach me how to best identify these microorganisms and really use the microscope. He taught me to challenge conventional beliefs and not just accept something as fact just because an expert happened to say so. During his week visit, we conducted a variety of experiments that I still reference today regarding humic acids in compost teas, brewing lengths, various microbial products, and much more.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been so fortunate to meet a lot of really intelligent and passionate individuals who have furthered my own knowledge and I felt like it was important to create a platform to share this information more publicly, especially in the cannabis world.
I remember my first time seeing a cannabis plant. I was almost a mystical experience. I was visiting a friend and he took me down into his basement, and all my senses were overwhelmed. The lights were way too bright, the humidity was super high, and the smell coming out of the room was intense. Much of what he told me about his growing process seemed to clash with what I had learned from my parents from growing up around the nursery and in our own greenhouse. Why were we throwing away the soil? What were these fancy bottles I’d never heard of? I’d never seen them before at a garden center, and rather than being a plain label with an ingredient list, they had cartoonish figures of monster plants or girls in bikinis. I was blown away!
Now while all this was going on, I had done some searches for aerated compost teas on google and the two websites that really stood out to me were one on cannabis called IC Mag, where I joined the Organic Soil Forum as CT Guy. The other was a giant pumpkin forum called bigpumpkins.com where I joined using my real name. These two groups of growers, growing entirely different plants, both had a passion that went beyond what I was used to from backyard gardeners, and were really pushing the envelope in regards to plant size and yield.
Giant Pumpkin growers for example, start with a seed in the spring and finish in the fall with a pumpkin over 2,000 lbs. At the time of this recording, the current world record is 2,624 lbs!
But let me back up again. It was about 10 years ago, that I went to a hydro shop in Portland, OR with my microscope to give a talk on aerated compost teas. I think I must have posted something on IC Mag about it because Clackamas Coot showed up. I got to meet him in person and we started talking about soils. This really sparked my interest as to how we could develop soils that were more sustainable without sacrificing plant quality and yield. Through many long phone conversations, he was able to help guide in regards to ingredients, ratios, and sourcing amendments so I could nail down the best inputs.
As I was just beginning to experiment with soil recipes and testing, a guy by the name of Jaya Palmer stopped by. He had done a bunch of internet research regarding compost teas and found that we were one of the few companies doing microscope work and lab testing and happened to be local. When he showed up I was literally mixing my very first batch of our Water Only Soil Mix in the driveway in one of those compost tumblers, and after talking for a bit, we hit it off and I gave him some soil to take home and try out with his plants.
Now prior to this, Jaya had tried just about every organic line of bottled nutrients out there. He was a Botanicare user at the time but also doing compost teas and other nutrient applications. After growing a plant in my soil and just using water, where he got comparable yields for less work and nutrient cost, he was sold on the process. From there, we worked hand in hand in refining the process, doing lab testing on successive grows to determine optimal levels for re-amending the soil. With his help, we were able to keep the same soil in production for a number of years. I’m looking forward to having Jaya on the show here soon to tell his story, as he is a wealth of information and one of the smartest and most passionate growers I’ve ever met.
So that’s a little bit of history about me and my background.
So what’s the basis of our gardening practices that make them different than conventional growing techniques?
Well for starters, I think we need to look at cannabis as a high value agricultural crop and treat it as such. Sure, it’s an amazing plant with many medicinal and recreational properties, but that doesn’t mean we need to ignore the existing body of agricultural and horticultural research like much of the bottled nutrient marketing would have you believe.
One thing all good farmers know, is that their soil is there most important asset. Without good soil, you’ll be constantly battling nutrient deficiencies and disease problems as the plant won’t be healthy enough to fight off insects, fungal pathogens, and other pests.
There’s no reason we can’t be more sustainable with our growing methods and save money in the process.
So here’s the foundation of our growing process, it’s really quite simple.
Start with a good base media. That means investing in your soil mix, because you’ll be using it for years to come. With a good soil mix that chalk full of nutrients and good beneficial biology, your plant is going to get off to a much better start
Then it’s as simple as adding a mycorrhizal inoculant when planting your rooted clone and then just using water or a light nutrient solution because most of the nutrients will be in the soil since we are using a premium mix. Once you’re done vegging, you can move the plants into your flower room and preferably you would have raised beds in your flower room. There’s so many advantages to this, that it makes it well worth the setup.
- They give the plant’s roots access to more soil and also more space to spread out. By doing this, root space is no longer a factor for limiting growth. Have you ever grown 2 plants side by side, with one in a container and one in the ground? I have mulberry trees in our nursery right now that have been in containers for 3 years. They are about 3-4 feet in height. The one I planted in the ground is now over 10 feet tall. It really does make a difference.
- They make a lot of sense if we plan on reusing the soil because watering becomes so much easier. I have a future podcast on Blumats with the North American distributor so I won’t spend much time on it now, but you can literally hook up a soaker hose or drippers around the beds that will maintain the moisture content in the soil perfectly without any human intervention. Not only does this save a ton of money on labor, but it reduces the total amount of water you’re using and eliminates those wet/dry cycles in the soil that slow down plant growth. I can’t emphasize enough how important proper watering is and it’s so much easier in a large container or bed to water properly than it is in a small container, especially as the plant starts to become root bound.
- When you’re done growing, you can literally just pull out the plant roots and shake off any soil back into the beds. Then after harvesting your plant, you’ll mix back in about 1/2 of one of our Nutrient Packs per yard of soil along with a cubic foot of compost and you’re up and running again 24 hours later with your next flowering crop. Now every other cycle you’ll want to add in a bit more aeration in form of pumice or perlite or lava rock, but it's really that simple. In fact, some of our growers don’t even pull the roots, but just cut the base of the plant and transplant next to it, letting the roots break down during the next cycle.
Other considerations to this type of growing are that you don’t need to pH any of your nutrient teas or solutions, or pH your water provided it’s not at a crazy pH to start with. Good organic soil has amazing buffering capacity. You can remove the chlorine but we’ve have run test grows with straight city tap water and the plants performed great. The goal here is really to simplify the entire gardening process.
As for other nutrients you can use, well we typically like to make our own nutrient teas out of things like seaweed extract powder, uncultured molasses, kelp meal, humic acids, fish hydrolysate, or wildcrafted plant teas using things like comfrey or horsetail or nettles. In addition, you can make aerated compost teas to increase biological diversity and biomass in your soil. And we will cover these topics in further depth throughout the podcast series by talking to experts on these subjects.
But you can even use your current bottled nutrient program provided it’s organic, as long as you go with very light doses. You see, you don’t want to put too much of any nutrient into the soil because that can create excesses or deficiencies over time.
And while it’s not my preferred method of growing, we are seeing some chem growers using our soil and getting better growth and yield but they are then throwing out the soil and starting over every cycle. You can check out GreenRush on instagram if you want to see what that looks like.
If you turn to the Giant Pumpkin community, which is the other set of fanatic growers that like to push the envelope in regards to yield, you’ll see that they were growing with just chemical nutrients and the world records were topping out around 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. Then they started incorporating back in some organic methods and products like mycorrhizal fungi and compost teas and that in conjunction with ever improving genetics has gotten the world record over 2,600 lbs. It’s pretty amazing that they can go from seed to giant pumpkin in a matter of months and get that kind of growth!
In fact, my favorite mycorrhizal inoculant comes out of the giant pumpkin world, which is the WOW Pumpkin Pro from a former giant pumpkin world record holder, Ron Wallace. It’s the right species for most vegetables, but also fruit trees and cannabis. I have a great blog post on mycorrhizal fungus if you want to learn more, as well as our first podcast interview with Jeff Lowenfels who wrote an entire book on the subject recently.
So this is the outline of what the podcast is all about. We’ve got some amazing guests lined up so far on a wide variety of topics. I’ve worked hard to source the best information out there on these subjects and make it available to growers. Though if you know anyone that you think I should interview, please have them contact me through the website. And if you like the podcast, please take the time to leave me a review on iTunes or whatever platform you’re listening on. It’s these reviews and comments that will help not only in spreading this knowledge but allowing me to offer these podcasts free of charge.
Once again, this is the Cannabis Cultivation and Science Podcast, I’m your host, Tad Hussey. Stay tuned for future podcasts from leading experts around the industry and don’t forget to check out our blog at www.kisorganics.com for more information. Thanks for listening!