Episode 3: Clackamas Coot Talks Worm Castings, Malted Barley, Peat Moss, & Coot's Soil mix
In this episode, we talk with Clackamas Coot (Jim Bennett) about how he came up with using malted barley in his soils and sprouting seeds for teas. He explains the benefits of neem and the importance of worm castings. Coot is famous for his soil mixes and all the information he freely shared on forums for years.
Tad: 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 on top experts from around the industry to share their wisdom and knowledge. Our guest today is gone by the online name of Clackamas Coot on such forums as IC Mag and Lumperdawgz on Grass City, he's an organic grower and gardener who has helped many people in improving the way they garden and move away from bottled nutrients.
He is most famous for his ‘neem, crab, kelp and soil mix’ which many people know as the ‘Coot Mix’ which he shares freely and the sprouted seed enzyme teas he makes using barley. I met Coot eight or nine years ago when he came to one of my talks in Portland on compost teas.
We became friends and I have to attribute a lot of credit to him in regards to our soil mixes and nutrient packs. He's been a good friend and mentor and helped me improve my gardens over the past decade. Well, before we start I wanted to find out, did you want to go by Jim or Clackamas Coot?
Jim: Jim, yeah I don't care. I mean more people know me as Coot unfortunately so, that's my fault though.
Tad: [Chuckles] You're not hiding anymore, your identity?
Jim: No, I never was. I just - I got tired of Instagram and the silliness, I mean I thought forums were bad but they don't hold a candle to social media. I mean this is a whole, you know.
Jim: I just, you know - hey look, I never made myself a big deal. All I ever did was pass out information about how people could the soil better, okay? I mean I'm not selling anything. They say everything is in a bottle, everything is proprietary, I don't know. Just, I'm disgusted with the whole thing. So anyway I take it that obviously given your type of business, you know the teas and biology and what have you, microbiology, did you ever run a test on the Mammoth – what’s the name, Mammoth microbes? But here is what got me, Tad…
Tad: I did, after we’re done, check out our blog. In my latest blog post, as I took it, I looked at it in the scope, I added different ingredients as food sources because one of the claims that one of their sales guys - probably the guy you saw, I don't remember the guy's name but he said that microbes are in a dormant state, they’re not - or they’re past their reproductive states, which wasn't something that I was even familiar with, I talked to Tim Wilson he said there was a possibility but he doubted it, anyway I talked to Colin Bell the founder, real smart guy. I like Colin a lot actually I have to say, we had a really good conversation and from talking to him, I asked him straight up, I'm like can I put this in the compost tea, are they aerobic microorganisms, if I add a food source what will happen, and he said yeah you can probably reproduce them in a brew, so I just tested it out, posted all the microscope video of it and let people draw their own conclusions.
Jim: Yeah, I know.
Tad: So have you been up to any dispensaries since cannabis was legalized in Oregon?
Jim: If you want it, well you’ve got to grow it yourself. It's just like tomatoes; you can't find a good tomato, can you in this country? Because it's been decimated by hybrids, these production numbers and the way they have to pick it, they pick them green, and they run ethylene gas inside the trailers in transit so that when they arrive at the produce warehouses they spend less time in the ripening room which is injected with ethylene gas, just like bananas but they also do avocados, they bring the color on and once they get color Tad, that's it. They’re done. Get them out to the store because the consumer, all they want to see is color. They don't care what it tastes like, they don't care about anything. But if you want to get tomato you’ve got to grow it on your own, right?
Jim: There you go.
Tad: We go we grow our own every year. Every year I always plant at least three new varieties.
Tad: This year I have one Japanese Trifele, I’ve never grown before, it's a potato leaf shape.
Jim: Cool. It’s the same thing with cannabis and it’s the same thing in anything. I've been baking bread now for 20 years. I did 6 months at The Baking Institute of San Francisco, it was 6 months long and the last and then 3 weeks in France working as a slave laborer really, in bakeries. Well, what an opportunity, right?
And then my daughter – anyway, real-life stuff happened and I was unable - because my plans were to open a bakery over on the coast but it didn't happen. But I still have the skills so I do all my own baking and I promise you unless you go to an artisan bakery and are willing to pay $7 to $8 dollars for a loaf of bread, you're not going to get that quality that you can make in your home. You want to talk about worm castings? That's what I'd like to talk about because that's what I really got going.
Tad: Sure. We can start off talking about worm castings, that’d be great.
Jim: Okay. Because Doug gave me a yard and I split it with Kool Kush, a yard of black leaf mold, talk about carbon. Do you imagine what this is going to be like when it's finished? A hundred gallons of premium worm castings which will probably last me 2 years. You know and I'm like the smallish grower you've ever met believe me.
Alright well, worm castings are my hot burn because I really - I've been studying Edwards Vermiculture book and other writings by Rhonda Sherman and Yasmin Cardoza relative to not only the disease suppression benefits but it was Yasmin Cardoza four years ago, the insects' suppression properties of quality vermicompost.
Jim: Alright, let's go.
Jim: Let's do vermicomposting because I’ve got some really exciting news relative to neem and barley in the bedding.
Tad: Okay, I'd love to cover more of those things and then the other thing I've been arguing with people about recently is - I got ripped up online for posting about how composted forest products, forest humus, all of those things are just code for sawdust.
Jim: For sure.
Tad: And that they are lower quality ingredients, guys jumped on me saying no way, peat’s unsustainable, it's way worse, these forest products are great and I’m like; no they're not. Yeah, there's nothing wrong with leaf mold.
Jim: They’re not great.
Tad: But then so they're like why not use…
Jim: This isn't leaf mold.
Tad: No and that’s the whole thing, like – they’re like use leaf mold, use forest duff, and I'm like well those are not commercially available sustainable options. Peat’s the best we have you know and I'm not saying it's perfect but they - you know, use hemp fiber. Well, come on guys this isn't commercially available you know like it was killing me so I might want to ask you about that a little bit too just to kind of, you know.
Jim: Sure because of the arguments - before we start, the arguments are based on the political and economic issues in the British Isles because to this day in the countryside the majority of homes are heated and their cooking heat is peat moss. Well, the Brits want it for gardening and the Irish are saying no, we need this. This is like you want to take our oil. Okay, so if you want to not to use peat then you need to bring in the infrastructure and bring in natural gas or something into our homes, what do you want us to do? And here's another one you - are you a scotch drinker?
Jim: Okay so you've heard the term “Smoky”?
Tad: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Okay well that comes from peat moss because when they cook the malt or the wart, whatever it's called, there’s sort of heat.
Tad: Oh yeah, you can tell it, there’s some really peaty ones out there, yeah.
Jim: Right. And so – so Scotland and Ireland basically tell the Brits to go screw themselves so they bring these arguments that are legitimate in the British Isles because it's politics, right? It's hubris and it's economics but to bring that to the Canadian deal that's tightly controlled by the CCSPM and the industry.
Tad: There's a lot of propaganda out there from the coco industry now, you know.
Jim: It's not even the same thing, oh of course it is. They screw themselves here in Oregon and California in the nursery industry 20 years ago so where did they turn? They turned to the weed growers but it was a disaster because it's not plant material.
Yes, it comes from a plant, if you like the same thing as saying well, yeah these are dandelion petals, cute. How long did that take you, you know to assimilate?
Tad: Yeah it's a little crazy. So yeah -
Jim: It's tightly monitored with - you know, they have adults in Canada running things and so if the orders… Sun Gro harvest more than all their competitors combined, the numbers from - last year from CCSPM, that's a Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss - oh, CSPMA, I'm sorry, Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association, okay.
Sun Gro harvested 54% of all the peat that was allowed to be harvested but if Sun Gro got big orders, they can't just go hey we're going to pull another 50 truckloads, the amount that you're allowed to harvest is set, you're done. Like last year when Alaska Peat ran out before the buyout from Aurora Innovations, because on the bales, 3.8 bales like you and I use, or have used, whatever, those are cut and wrapped at the site. They're not processed. Now the stuff that is bagged, we’ll talk about it cause that is dried in a kiln, they call it sterilization so it kills the microbes, then you bring it down to big plants like the one in Woodburn, it's ground to a consistent size and now it's hit with steam, why? Well, you’ve got to get it wet again because when the customer opens the bag they’re going to say; Oh God, look how fresh this is. Not really but - so it's been sterilized in an oven in kiln…
Tad: You're talking about the stuff used for cloning or you’re talking about smaller than a 3.8 bale?
Jim: Yeah, the stuff that goes in the bag stuff like Sunshine Mix.
Tad: Oh, okay. I've never gone smaller than a 3.8-Cubic Foot Bale.
Jim: Oh yeah, right so when you buy a bag of any of those other – unless they say peat moss on them, well that's like saying flowers and what the kids call mids - you know the shake, it ain't the good stuff. So what would - the big one is peat moss is acidic, why don't you talk about Sphagnum Peat Moss? Oh well it's not acidic, right? So don't use peat moss, use Sphagnum Peat Moss, I mean, I don't know.
Tad: It's a little acidic, it’s not as acidic as I think people claim but the nice thing about that acidity is it allows us to add calcium to get us back up to the levels that we’re wan whereas with coco…
Jim: Okay do we need to talk about castings because castings are literally coated….
Tad: Yeah I want to go ahead and to get started you'd really want to talk about warm castings initially here so why don’t we dig right into that.
Jim: Well I've been - at the request of my supplier, I did a little investigation on adding neem meal to the- what people incorrectly call ‘bedding’ and the numbers on both the reproduction rates as well as the length and girth, the increases in length and girth from the neem, was quite remarkable. And then Doug at Northwest Red Worms, he grows or he produces his Vermicompost and worms in long windrows and what he does as a general rule is to pile up the aged manure and then he dumps in produce that he picks up from produce companies and what have you, number two stuff and then he set up another one and all he added was malted barley.
And it wasn't at my request I just told him that this is what it did in the soil so he wanted to see what effect it would have in as far as creating Vermicompost and worms to sell. He said that he had never seen the reproduction rates of worms like he saw in the pile with just the malted grains and it makes sense because what those grains are doing through the enzymes is deconstructing - excuse me, as a catalyst, they deconstruct material and making it more available to the microbes to break it down for the worms to ingest their manure, that's how castings are created.
So my point is if we - he gave me a yard of black leaf mold, three-year-old leaf mold, and I split it with a friend so we set up hundred-gallon smart pots on a pallet for aeration through the bottom of course, and then we added copious amounts of barley, neem and Karanja and the other day I just barely lifted up the little top layer of the worm bin and the worms were just massed, like - it was crazy, I couldn't believe it and I did start out with - I bought 6 pounds and a hundred gallons, I bought 6 pounds of Euro's because they tend to stay lower in the material and do a better job of finishing, and then when Doug loaded the stuff in the truck for me, he said, by the way, there's going to be quite a bit of Red Wigglers and cocoons in this material so you're going to have Reds Wigglers work on the top and the Euro's work in the bottom of the bin.
Tad: That's the European worms,, is what you’re referring to?
Jim: Yeah. That's why Europeans do not make a good choice for vertical flow through because they tend to stay lower in bedding or whatever you want to call it, the foods - I call it food stock, I don't use kitchen stuff I mean, I use their compost or good quality manure, my chiropractor has draft horses, you can imagine how much manure they produce every day, and he has him in a field in it and he does give them vermicides which he has to but that's easy, just age it for 4-6 weeks and the vermicides that were given to the animals deconstruct so they're no longer a problem. So it's pretty exciting - pretty exciting because the reason I want a 6 pounds is I asked Doug if I want to have this finished by before the rain season starts, so he mentally calculated and says I think this will take care of it with the amount of red wigglers that you have and cocoons because what I saw the other day when I lifted up the material, obviously were wigglers because the Euros - I went ahead and just loaded them in the lower, I kind of did like lasagna, I did - you know manure, and kelp meal, barley, neem or Karanja. And then do another layer of manure - excuse me, the leaf mold.
So it sounds like a sandwich, so these were definitely the red wigglers and they were massing like you would expect to see if you threw in like say chopped up fresh peaches or something. Something that has a lot of sugar, you know and - so I’m pretty excited about what I'm going to have when this is finished because I figure that will be enough for me for a couple of years and so having the time and small amount of startup money, I’m going to have some pretty nice castings when it's over because the thing about cold compost, and I learned this from your father, one time we were talking a cold composting he said; many, if not most of the secondary metabolites in the plant material remain intact, they're not lost like they are in thermophilic composting.
So that's exciting they have those properties from the neem and the Karanja with regard to insects and disease suppression. So that's it and they also then you can add other materials like - I don't know how you've been up there because you probably - you had, we all had a lot of rain this year, but I already did my first cutting on comfrey which is; usually I don't get a cutting till the middle of June and the ones I cut there are already backed over 15-inches tall, it's a shame you can't cross comfrey with every food plant in the world because you would end world hunger.
Tad: Yeah, we're on the same page up here. We've already done our first cutting and we're well on our way towards our second cutting already.
Jim: Crazy, isn't it?
Tad: It is.
Jim: You know, talk about free fertilizer, I don't like using that word but - excuse me, nutes. You can't do any better than kelp and comfrey and alfalfa, those three and some either by themselves and some combination does nothing but good things I think, you know, for soils.
Tad: Now I do want to caution listeners in regards to comfrey because two things: one, it's important that you use a sterile variety, I think it's the Bocking 14, is the one that is most popular, I think that's the one we have on our property.
Tad: But in addition to that, wherever you plant that comfrey you're making a lifetime commitment to having a plant there.
Jim: That's right. It owns that piece of real estate.
Tad: Our staff made some poor choices that I wasn't aware of at the time with a couple of plantings of comfrey and now we have it inside our garden whereas before we were just using it as a great weed barrier, a border for poorer quality soils, as a way of keeping seeds out of the garden…
Tad: And it worked great for that but when we got a few into the middle of the garden that had been planted there or you know, poorly weeded, we're having a heck of a time getting it removed. That in horsetail – Oh man, not horsetail, I apologize, horseradish, I planted some horseradish and oh my gosh, I can't get rid of that either.
Jim: Oh really? Can I explain the Bocking nomenclature?
Tad: Yeah, please do. Explain a little bit more about comfrey let's just talk about that really quick.
Jim: Sure. Okay, back at the end of the eighteenth century, in 1790 were the first seeds that were sold in Great Britain, not that the plant hadn't been around, the plant’s one of the ancient ones out of the Greek era, 500 - before the Common Era I think. So they were selling seeds because it was an incredible life stock feed but it’s extremely invasive but the thing about fertilizer didn't really happen until close to like the 1870’s. But in the 1930’s a nurseryman in Essex, England whose nursery was on Bocking Road, name of Lawrence Hills whose book a Comfrey, Past, Present, and Future, is a summation of his research. And one of the research stations was here in Canby, Oregon just a few miles south of Portland and those documents are still in the library, you can't check them out but you can go into their reading rooms and review them.
So originally they were close to 20 different – Bocking-1 through Bocking-20. I'd have to check the book because I don’t want to give bad information. I don't remember exactly why the Bocking-14 is the one that survived or became the one.
So basically everybody that grows Bocking-14 is growing root cuts from a plant that was established about 1945 and for those who pay homage to the genetic drift that might be something to consider. But in any event, so that that cutting has been passed around now for say over 72 years, I think it's pretty remarkable.
And yes, the steriles are great but as you said, that postage stamp piece of real estate you planted, they own it. The pricing in Portland area right now starts at $300 dollars to remove a comfrey plant, because remember they put down roots twice as deep as a fruit tree and people that do silly things like take a rototiller to it find the next year they have you know hundreds of sterile plants, because it doesn't take much to start a new plant, just a little bit of root material as you probably - because I know you prepare them for your customers so you know it doesn't take much to - in a little container of the soil and you're going to have, you know, another plant.
Tad: Yeah. A quarter-inch, half-inch of a root can potentially start another plant, it's pretty amazing.
Jim: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it is and by this not the first year but, let’s say you planted it now, a new one. Say one of your customers come into your nursery and bought one, you’re not going to get much this year but even by next year, you're going to start getting some really nice amounts of comfrey biomass to work with.
You know I used to make the tea where you soak it till it smells like manure? That's just so silly. I just cut it down, top dress it as a green mulch, and you know yourself how fast it disappears, I mean this is so much nitrogen, it’s what, 99% water? So pretty soon it just disappears.
Tad: Yeah I do you see powdery mildew on it in the fall so I don't like to…
Tad: I’d like to put them straight into my compost pile rather than into my garden.
Tad: The reason that we use comfrey, I think it’s really important to let people know in terms of it being a dynamic accumulator, how it pulls nutrients from the subsoil and minerals that are not normally accessible to your other plants that are not putting roots quite so deep and then produces a ton of biomass, that leaf matter that we get out of it is really - that's essentially free nutrients.
Jim: Well that's the same thing that alfalfa [especially here in the Northwest] because it's grown primarily east of the Cascades. But those soils are some of the richest volcanic soils in the world literally and alfalfa, because you don't plant it every year, you’d go broke, you're ever priced alfalfa seeds?
So by the time you're into your fourth or fifth year, you're deeper than 30 feet. So it too which is twice as deep - as almost twice as deep as the comfrey, and then the final bio-nutrient accumulator that I'd like to mention is kelp.
Here's a plant that grows - what is it? It’s like 250 feet a year without a root system and what's remarkable is that it accumulates 83 elements but it leaves the ones that wouldn’t impact its growth and then also our garden if we used it then that would be salt. It doesn't accumulate salt so in my opinion kelp meal, alfalfa and comfrey are some of the top bio-nutrient accumulators because in the case of the land plants, how deep their roots go and the kelp that we get comes out of the North Atlantic and the human race has been polling that kelp out of the ocean since 1372 to use as fertilizer. In the early, early days they used to burn it, I don't know why, you have to do that with wood, what is it, to release the potassium?
Tad: Yeah, potash.
Jim: Yeah but it's not necessary with the kelp and the advantage of the kelp is all those elements, all 83 are in the right balance. It's not like the grow store stuff where you know, this one is magnesium hungry so you really want a high dose of magnesium. No you don't, that's the best way to screw up your soil because just like when you're a child and you get sick and you want mom to give you milk of magnesia right, because it tightens up your flora in your gut, but does the same thing in the soil, it restricts the air flow and water flow in the soil. Plus, I know you don’t want to get in this but the whole imbalance of turning the cation exchange capacity on its head with excessive magnesium but anyway, kelp and all these - the other two, everything's in the right balance and I think they really add to - if I were going to make compost piles I would do compost pile material first and then in the mesophilic stage that's when I would add those accumulators. I wouldn't put it in at the start, why, it burns them up, right?
So when it drops down below a hundred and you're starting your – hopefully, your several months' cure of your compost then you can add those materials and again there’s like, your dad and I talked about cold composting, those compounds are going to remain intact. You know we just had the worm castings from Doug tested and he does - I do mine the same way he does but I was telling you the day, I mean it came in at 6.8 pH, you're not going to get any better than that. And that's without any amendments or - that's just the raw castings and something a lot of people don't quite understand about castings is that inside the worms gut, not gut but digestive tract, they don’t have a stomach. The material, the castings are covered with the calcium carbonate slime. You know, I mean, you can’t have problems if you're using quality castings in that regard. I mean you can do some other silly stuff but…
Tad: One thing I think is a little unique is you invest a lot of time, a lot of money in creating high-quality castings.
Tad: As part of your own personal soil when you make up your recipe.
Tad: Can you explain a bit more about why this is so important, as in a fraction of your total media?
Jim: Oh it's obviously too much. I mean I take that hit all the time and I just shrug my shoulders and say yeah okay, whatever. It is true, you don't need – okay my mix is the one that we also talked about years ago when we all met at IC Mag, you know a third of Sphagnum peat moss, and I don't want to get in this discussion but I happen to prefer pumice or lava rock which is scoria, because I can buy it at the landscape yards for nothing.
I guess I have a real - I don't like perlite because when I owned a nursery, we grew plants that have to be in the field for several years; Japanese lace maples and perlite move around, close to the top. Pumice doesn't float, stays where is supposed to be in the strata. Okay and then a third casting, is that too much?
Tad: I don't know.
Jim: I mean for some perlite if you don't have your own thing going, maybe it is but is poor quality as you know. We do a lot of gardening here in the northwest, that's a good thing. That means there's a lot of different choices for compost which is, as it's turned out, isn't always such a good thing because let's be honest, it's just a lot of products that aren't very good.
Tad: It's definitely a problem I mean, we use Oly compost, I think I told you about it, almost a decade ago.
Tad: And it's a good product, it's not perfect, they do use a little bit of post-consumer waste so occasionally we find some plastic in there which I'm not terribly excited about but the thing that they do right versus all these other companies is what you talked about with that static composting pile. That material sits for two to three years right.
Tad: And that's something that you don't see in any of these other commercial composting facilities.
Tad: And it's a huge, huge difference to that, I can't emphasize enough.
Jim: Absolutely. The value of compost, in my opinion, is, the key component is how long was it cured and we've proved that with our castings, because the material we're starting with - the castings that I'm creating right now, the Black Leaf Mold, which was really - that's a big gift because you know yourself that's a multi-year process to create Black Leaf Mold.
Tad: Oh yeah that's what we made a lot of our compost out of for years, our fungal compost, it’s a wonderful starting material.
Jim: Exactly. So I’m already starting off with material that is three years old. Now I don't have the lab equipment that would be necessary to test it, on the other hand, the chances of me buying lab equipment to grow plants is somewhere between nil and none. I mean I don't care I mean if it didn't work you know I got it I got to go, it goes I've never had, I've never had bad worm castings, I’ll just leave it like that. Even when I've had to start with one year, for health reasons I couldn't make my own compost so don't laugh, but I went and bought bad compost at Portland nursery.
Jim: And I knew going in there wasn't going to be good but you know the old expression about value-added commodities right? By the time it ran through the worm vermiculture cycle, it was good but I made sure I had things like I'm a big kelp user. I used them, I raised beds because - in fact, the you were the one that told me about the book, some years ago, Dr. Senn’s Seaweed and Plant Growth, or something like that, Seaweed and Plants or something.
Tad: It’s Seaweed and Plant Growth.
Jim: He was the one who put Maxicrop on the map back in the '50s. William Stafford was the founder of Maxicrop and they began using a process, it was never intended as a retail product this was strictly an agricultural product, something that could be mixed in the water and applied to large fields and orchards and what have you. So they were using sodium hydroxide and then, I don't know - probably in the ’70s maybe, maybe it’s the 80’s. You started seeing Maxicrop show up at retail nurseries in a liquid form where they bring it into their factories south of Chicago on the Illinois river? Anyway, so they mix it with water there and bottled it because you're not going to ship bottles of fertilizer from Norway to Portland and have it make any sense as far as you know, price.
So you've got to bring it in as a powder. My objection to the powders is that everything is destroyed in terms of plant hormones, I mean secondary metabolites, and the big one is alginic acid. Alginic acid can hold 250 to 300% of its weight in water so for outdoor raised bed venue's and that kind of thing, having kelp in there is a good way to maintain the - well the wetness, I can't think of the term right now, I'm sorry.
Tad: Moisture retention content.
Jim: Yeah, so it helps that move along, it's not a cure-all but it's part of it and that's what good compost does too, it retains water and slows down the - and then we use our moist we slow us down the evaporation because most water that we applied to our garden is lost by evaporation. I mean imagine, look at the number sometimes it's kind of staggering, the percentage of five gallons of water on a raised bed, how much goes up in the air?
Tad: Yeah sure, sure. Well, one thing I want to address is when people talk about your soil recipe, it's probably the most popular freely available soil recipe for organic gardeners that want to do living soil.
Jim: Can I address that though?
Tad: Yeah I want to give you that opportunity, a little platform to talk about it.
Jim: Alright because this is a joke, and I've said this, written it, posted it many, many times. In 1937 or 1938, Cornell University which is you know is one of the leading - even then, leading horticultural research schools in the world, not just the United States but the world. And a lot of things were established that day as an example, or that week, whatever it was.
A number one nursery pot right isn't a gallon, never was a gallon and number two isn't necessarily exactly twice, it depends on the manufacturer. If you're in the nursery business, when you go to the suppliers and you pick out the sheet or the product, they will hand you a sheet and they’ll tell you how many units you're going to get per yard of that size of container but it was a shovel-full so they were trying to begin a process of standardizing things. All this was, this was before perlite; that kind of puts things in perspective for you.
All people have to do is look up the Cornell mix, that's all I did and modified it a bit and I only use three well I guess you’d say five, okay I use copious amounts of basalt rock dust and we're blessed here in the Northwest because we have some of the best the basalt in the world it has to do with hardness, I add as you know - I even introduce using malted grains in the soil but in terms of what most would call amendments, it's limited three kelp, neem and crab meal, and I've kind of backed off crab meal because that's a lot of money to get the chitin when I can get all the kind I need and do from the malted grains, barley in particular.
That's it, so when people say well you know, I did that Coot mix and what I got, you know the potassium was just off the chart, no you didn’t, you didn’t do mine. You went and got something locally, it may have been steer manure from Wal-Mart for all I know, I have no idea what used, you didn't make my mix because you don’t have my castings.
So say that you made a recipe but I change things and now I don't like it, okay then don't do it. I'm not making any money off this and I really don't care what they use and someone has to spend an inordinate amount of time whining about something that is just silly. If you use bad biology in your soil you're going to have bad soil, that's all there is to it. If you can get to use unfinished compost, I don't need to explain the science to you, you know what it does to the roots, it burns them. So garbage in, garbage out, you want good potting soil, you've got to start with something good and you know you've got to plan ahead.
Maybe the issue is you got to get by doing this but you can start a worm bin today, all you got to do is go buy a smart pot, load it up with some aged manure and put in some aeration material because, you know this is an aerobic process, vermiculture, and then buy all the worms you can afford.
Tad: Or cocoons.
Jim: It’s not complicated.
Tad: Or you can get the cocoons, I found that's a more affordable way.
Jim: Or yes, right. Cocoons, that's another way. Online there's a gentleman down in Georgia, I don’t know, something like that he's like the guru of cocoons, I mean he sells them to the commercial but, yeah I mean figure each cocoon, the average is what 3.8 warms per cocoon, I mean think about this so once a cocoon hatches, or the hatchlings leave the cocoon, within 42 days they're sexually mature. They then will produce three cocoons a week, so that means that every worm is going to produce at least, on average 10 new worms, this is red wigglers, others have different reproduction rates. So think about that for a minute. And the numbers put in Dr. Edward’s vermiculture technology book, that if you had perfect conditions and we never will, but let's say that we could set this up, a pound of worms today would be a thousand pounds a year from today, I mean that's pretty amazing.
Tad: Yeah I think the name of the company that you turned me on to was Blue Ridge Vermiculture, does that ring a bell?
Jim: Right, yeah, yeah. I think he was in North Carolina and also had something set up in the Bay Area, Oakland, is anyway, yeah that Blue Ridge, yeah.
Tad: Yeah. So I think the important thing, essentially what you're saying is that in order for people to truly evaluate the quality of your recipe, they would actually have to use your worm castings and we've already talked a little bit of how much time and energy you put into creating those worm casting and what important aspect of your total soil that really is.
Jim: Then I don't have to have a nute program. I don't have to be, you know with a dog collar and a choke chain, you know tied to - I don't name names because there might be an advertiser or something but it's just - the whole thing is silly to me.
I've been to a couple of these weed things, you know events and they have these, these companies have these beautiful displays and they put people in there who they could either be selling insurance door to door on Saturday morning or used car salesmen, I mean look ammonium nitrate is ammonium nitrate. I mean go take a Chemistry 101 in a community college down the street, just you know people are buying stuff because of the label and then the big one that gets me is what's proprietary? Well, then you're an idiot for buying that stuff. You're believing that there's some mythology, that there's something special that has to go into this nute product so you can grow whatever it is you want to grow. I mean can you imagine the tomato industry doing that? The first guy that shows up sales rep, the Californian Tomato Commission also, they were all going to switch over this because the label is a cool label, that's a hot button with me…
Tad: No, I know and I think the reason we see these nute programs, in general, being so successful is that either A, people are starting with a poor quality media, or B what I see a lot of this people are trying to grow as they would hydroponically with organic soil.
Jim: Oh, exactly.
Tad: So you have giant plant, tiny pot. You can't get a 5-foot plant in a three-gallon pot, it just doesn't work.
Jim: No, nope. Yeah I mean there has to be - that's one of the reasons that I think you were there at that point when one day - I wouldn’t call it a study but it was a field test conducted in Aurora, Oregon at the research station for - I think it's OSU who runs that, anyway at that time and as a group they're called auto pruning pots and Smart Pot is a brand and then you know that don’t know there's geo pot but they did a test on the ones that were for commercial growers, Air Pot, remember that one, Caledonia Tree Company, the dumbest idea for cannabis ever, I mean dumb. There’s a difference between growing saplings - and I speak from experience, then growing an annual, just a whole different dynamic. There is, you know this how small the diameter is, on those?
Tad: They’re tall cylinders; they’re narrow cylinders, yeah.
Jim: Right. One of the biggest losses in the nursery industry is what's called ‘knock overs’ and that comes from wind and storms right? So the last thing you want is something that's top-heavy, I mean it's challenging enough that's why the smart pot which their parent company before there was smart pot was called Tree Bag Company and then it morphed into High Caliper but those are still manufacturing the sapling growers. If you're interested you can go to those separate websites, not smart pot but it's part of the same group.
But as a group, the auto pruning pots do allow you to get more biomass than - say you had a five-gallon standard what they call the Black Lipped Nursery Pot, so when we call - that's the ones you get when you go to home depot and buy a plant it's going to be on one of those or if you use the number five which is, okay, smart pot yes you can get more biomass but you're not going to get double, you know, I mean you have to set up the garden that makes sense to you and then live within those restrictions because trying to push something because Johnny at Grass City or IC Mag or whatever it is, oh yeah just you know fill in the blank and then you know you've got these silly concoctions that make zero sense. For me if I had poor soil my focus would be what it is now; kelp, alfalfa, and neem, and if it's that bad then do better next year, you know make better choices, that's my read.
Tad: Yeah I wanted to change directions a little bit and talk a little more about barley, that’s sort of something that you’ve really brought to the cannabis industry, this idea of enzymes from barley and enzyme teas and I know you started out initially sprouting the barley after attending a beer-making class.
Tad: Can you talk a little bit more about where you're at now with it and your thoughts?
Tad: And why?
Jim: Well exactly, I attended the San Francisco Baking Institute in preparation to open or accurately and not so accurately called Artisan bakeries and what they call lean dough which means just the four elements; yeast, salt, flour and water for baguettes and things. They will also add what is called malt or diastatic malt, and so I would buy that from a bakery supply house and never really understood or really cared much what diastatic meant.
So one day out of sheer boredom I decided to look it up and then I realized, oh this is just barley malt and diastatic means that the enzymes weren't killed like it is like barley extract is not diastatic, it’s non-diastatic. Doesn't mean it doesn’t have any value, I mean the sugar’s in there and some other things, okay, so then I was with Tim Wilson and I were talking back and forth online, and I asked him about yeast this used commercial yeast for bread baking and which is a single-celled fungi, so we add diastatic malt to our bread to enhance the activity of the yeast.
So I'm thinking well what if we put sprouted barley, at this point, I still didn't understand you could just go buy this stuff, you know at a brew store. So I go over to Bob's Red Mill and get organic barley, raw you know and then I - that's all-malt means, you let it sprout or germinate really, you don't really you don’t grow a taproot of all.
And then one day a friend who fancies himself to be beer master said; why don’t you just go buy malted barley at the brew store? They make this stuff? Yeah.
So I went and bought it and the rest is history I started adding it and other people, the first thing that I saw, besides the increase in resin set, is that we were cutting several percentage points off the flowering period. One of the advantages that I have probably a lot of people don't, is that I've been growing the same - not strain, the same plant through cuts mother cut, mother cut, for 33 years so that when I test something I can immediately know what is standard and what change there is good or bad right.
Tad: That's a huge benefit it's essentially your control, your genetic control so…
Jim: Right, exactly because - so many people like to say well, so I want to try, fill in the blank, whatever it is, and this time I'm going to use this seed or cut. Okay, well that's cool but it has nothing to do with research. So immediately I saw that I was finishing 15% faster and then other people who used different methods of determining when it's finished started putting - and I never even discussed it because I wasn't sure but then there were just too many people posting that, yeah I mean I'm seeing 15-20% reduction but the main thing that I saw is the increase in the girth and what I would call that tensile strength of the branches. I was having to use far less support in the later stages of flowering from the flowers being so heavy.
But the resin cell is off the chart and some of the fellas, especially at Instagram that I couldn't believe how much they were adding. I mean I'm really cautious as you know but some of these guys are adding like 5-pounds a week, you know on two hundred gallon pots the outdoor of the Boys of Summer, I said are you sure? I mean it's kind of seems insane I'm out, but now that I've been adding it to my worm bin I can't believe the amount of biology activity with not just the worms but the other organisms that we find in a healthy worm bin, you know the shredders and this and that.
Unfortunately, because of what happens when you try to bottle, and I've approached a lot of brewers, and first all brewers only care about one enzyme; amylase, that’s it. But in barley we have urease, protease, phosphatase, there’s a total of eight. I post it so many times I almost type it automatically without even reading it. Because I know from bread baking if you use too much malt or diastatic malt as they call it, that all of a sudden you lose your structure and your structure is what? Well, it's gluten. What's gluten? Protein.
Now I learned that it’s the protease, too high level of the protease weakens the structure of the gluten so therefore you're not getting what bakers call the inside of the bread, the outside is called the crumb right, the inside is called the - I'm sorry, the outside is called the crust and the inside they refer to it as the crumb, bakers will talk about, well how's the crumb on that flour, as an example right?
So if you use too much diastatic malt, the protease is accelerating the breakdown of the gluten, the protein which provides a structure to the bread. Now in our soils that wouldn’t be an issue and what I can attest to is that not one person in my circle - and I don't read too much online because people will mix it with, you know ammonia because somebody told them to do it, and you know that malt didn't work, it burned my plants, oh okay, it wasn't the ammonia right, just it was the barley. But we're seeing incredible acceleration like after you transplant your rooted cuts and just sprinkle maybe like a half a teaspoon of barley on top and just water it in; that alone will accelerate the root growth to get them ready for transplanting faster depending on your system of rooting.
Tad: Jim can you explain a little bit more about why these, what enzymes do you and why they're important what started what the barley is doing here you think is doing that's making it so beneficial to soils?
Jim: In part the amylase, of course, what'’s amylase though, that's your saliva. Is uber levels of amylase it starts breaking down sugars right? Carbohydrates and the simple sugars, well that's what plants use, and protease, proteins, urease, urea and then phosphatase which since that's a popular discussion especially in that cannabis boards, you know phosphorus, real or imagined, that one should really get them excited because these things - if you, the description used by biologists is that enzymes are catalysts and so chitinase, for example, chitinase is important because chitin in itself doesn't really do much in the soil.
Chitin is a polysaccharide, it's in an acetyl form of glucosamine, it's what, if you had surgery either external or oral surgery, they'll seal you up with chitin and here's another instant connection to the - Albert Hofmann the man who isolated several compounds in ALD52 and LSD25 and later - when he was at his Sandoz labs, well at the age of twenty-two if you can imagine this he graduates with a Doctorate in Chemistry or Biology, it doesn't matter.
He was the one who figured out the molecular - not formula, but the structure of chitin and it was a big deal in 1922. So he was like this, he was I mean this genius. So he really understood the complexities of these and that's what for example it's grown on rye ergot, mold and so in our soils, they accelerate - the chitin as the bacteria try to deconstruct this polysaccharide it creates chitinase and if chitinase, it gives us the benefits, so that's what deconstructs the shells of insects as an example. There's also topics that, listeners might be interested in this, that chitinase salicylic acid pathway which is one of the several pathways that plants have as a defense system, the SAR, the systemic acquired resistance and there's other there's ethylene salicylic, salicylic acid is a key component in several of the pathways which is why we've also been a big advocate of using quality Aloe Vera materials.
So when we add the barley to - and I really, strongly, if people are going to do a worm bin please add all the barley you can because it will really accelerate the conversion of manure into vermicompost. And that's another reason to use fulvic acid because Dr. Faust, he has an interesting description of all the fulvic acids, so enzymes are a catalyst and then he wrote that fulvic acid, pure fulvic acid is a catalyst of catalysts and a reason to do according to the directions because his products are professional, don't start high dosing, if you want to see Jurassic Park plants start high dosing with fulvic acid and that’s what you might not be able to flush out either, do you use barley?
Tad: Yeah, we've just – we started using it in our nursery, in our, we do edible veggie starts and we're just now planting our rows out and so I have, well the stuff that I've been working with you on and with the tinctures, I've been using that in trials in different rows comparing plants.
Tad: I'm hoping to share that with you here really soon but I haven't done just the straight barley, now I just set up my vegetable garden because I'm not actually growing any cannabis.
Tad: I just have my vegetable garden.
Jim: Most of my garden in it is vegetables too.
Tad: Yes so I've started using that, my raised bed there, I mean I just plant my tomatoes last week so I'm excited to start trying out some of these things here at home too.
Jim: One thing I'd like to tell your audience is that when you go to a homebrew store, it doesn't matter what grain you get. So if they have rye on sale, malted rye, buy malted rye. If they have oats, which is one of my favorite for another reason, that just - it sounds to me it sounds cool, I keep thinking of the guy on the Quaker Oats box you know, but anyway by price and sometimes they have distressed merchandise, maybe water damage to the sack or whatever, just go ahead and get it.
I mean, okay Steinbart in Portland, they're the oldest brew store in the United States. They started 98 years ago. You wouldn't believe the number of people, when I started they said were you at Steinbart, it has everything and they did they, they go in there and they probably have ten different malted grains. Different, like different red wheat, white wheat, barley, spelt, oats, you know you get the idea, a lot of different seeds. And they were telling me, you won’t believe many people ordered from us.
I said they don't what, they don't have brew stores in Chicago I mean, use some imagination you know I mean something. And also I'd like to add I'm not saying you don't want to use it, certainly in compost it's a good thing but do not use spent brewery grain the same way that you're going to use malted barley, they’re two different - the one has been ……changed through the fermentation process so it's not the same thing and you can really get into trouble so go buy the real stuff or get, you know do something else is what I'm saying. Don’t get it wrong, I'm not saying that spent grains aren’t good, they are, but it's not the same thing.
Tad: That's a really good point, let's talk a little bit more about how you process it. So when you go in there, each time they have a grinder there that they make an adjustment too and you like that of coarser ground grain?
Jim: Right. Yeah I mean that really comes down to personal I mean if I'm going to mix soil, yeah I mean larger pieces are fine. When I first started I used grain meal that I bought from Austria, a Cuomo and got it to the finest powder that it could so I could sprinkle it on top of the soil and then water it in with Chapin concrete sprayer so it really gets pushed down in there. So if I were going to top-dress I'd probably want to use, you want to use the finest grain you can get but if you're preparing soil or certainly for your compost material then you don't - you could get larger but it's a free surface and most larger (brew stores) from what I understand I haven’t traveled around the country looking at them but I understand that most stores have grinders for their customers to grind the grains they buy for the home brewing sector.
Tad: Yeah, they usually charge a nominal fee, they're not able to adjust the grind sometimes you get kind of get what you get but you know, the advantage of a finer grind like you mentioned is a greater surface area so that the microbes are going to go to break it down faster.
Jim: Correct and that was proven at a project that I was involved in and I told him to grind it or worst case scenario let me know and I would do a few pounds form in my Cuomo grinder. Anyway, they decided well no, we’re not going to grind it all and they mixed it with the whole malted grain with worm castings and top-dressed plants in a public garden that was under distress.
Now what was interesting is that in spite of the fact, they would, when I went out to visit like two weeks later, the grains were still intact for the most part but the amount of evidence of fungal growth, mycelium, just exploded in the areas surrounding the piece of grain, now that's kind of exciting news because that confirms what I thought, is that this was really a very high - excuse me, very good food for fungal development in our compost, worm bins and in our soils.
So I'll send you the photo that was taken at 20X and it's pretty spectacular. I mean, it looks like some bad cheese you know you forgot about in the back of the refrigerator or something, and it's the right color and all that stuff. One of the problems in trying to get information about malt is that I talked to over 20 brewmasters and even a couple….the head people, founders of artisan malting houses, do you know that no one had any idea that there was something called chitinase in malt, barley, and malted grains, or phosphatase or urease or protease, I mean I was blown away, but they could talk about amylase.
They got that one down because asked the one that is central to the process of brewing beer. Can I address one other thing? There are two types of barley; there’s like - okay there's two-row and six-row. Six-row is pretty much only grown in America and it has higher levels of amylase, that does not translate into that it has higher levels of these other enzymes, the ones I care about, the chitinase, phosphatase for example. And because it's a much smaller crop, harvested crop, you're going to pay through the nose for six-row. It isn't necessary, just get the - and again you don't have use barley, use whatever they have at homebrew store and buy price. Now there is one little caveat, rye has slightly higher levels of phosphorus so that should become really popular here with a certain sector of gardeners that obsess about phosphorus. So if phosphorous is your big thing then go for the rye.
Tad: That was part one of our interview with Jim Bennett also known online as Clackamas Coot in our next installment we discuss neem in further depth and also the history of The One, the cultivar Jim has been growing now for over 40 years.
You're listening to the Cannabis Cultivation and Science; I'm your host, Tad Hussey. Stay tuned for future podcasts from leading experts around the industry and don't forget that there's more information and articles available on our website and blog at www.kisorganics.com. And if you enjoy these podcasts, please take a moment to leave me a review on iTunes and send me your feedback and suggestions through our website contact page.