Easy Organic Soil Mix for Beginners

Discussion in 'Growing Organic Marijuana' started by InTheGarden, Oct 2, 2012.

  1. #1 InTheGarden, Oct 2, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 8, 2012
    So you want to go organic but don't know where to start? Here's a recipe for an easy, organic, water-only soil that will provide more than enough nutrition for your plants. It's also a cheaper way to go organic. This soil can be reused again and again, so in the future you can add "extra" amendments if you like, or as your budget allows. The first part of this thread will detail a super easy, basic organic soil mix. This soil mix will grow gorgeous, healthy plants and is easy to make-you don't have to source a million different amendments. This simple soil mix contains all the nutrition that your plants need. All you have to do is water with dechlorinated water.
    The next part of the thread will talk about "extra" amendments that you can add, now or for future grows. These amendments are very beneficial and will absolutely improve your soil, but they aren't necessary and you don't have to have them to get started. Please note that all pictures are shown only as a guide, you do not have to buy these specific brands. Get what is available in your area.

    Just a note: the best place to buy organic gardening amendments is from a feed/farm store. Hit up google and try to find one in your area. The feed store will have the best selection and prices, and will make the process much easier.

    Here's what you need to get started:

    Base Soil:
    [​IMG] Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss

    [​IMG]Aeration amendment (to help with drainage and allow oxygen into the soil). Some common aeration amendments are: perlite, pumice, turface, rice hulls, calcined diatomaceous earth (Napa Auto parts product # ). You only need to pick one of these, and you should choose whatever's cheapest and most easily sourced. If using perlite, make sure that your perlite does not have slow release chemical fertilizers added (Miracle gro perlite has chemical fertilizer added and should be avoided)

    [​IMG]Humus (compost/earth worm castings (ewc) ). High quality humus is the key ingredient in an organic soil. Without good humus you've just got a bucket of peat moss and some amendments. You don't have to add both compost and ewc, just one will do, but if you have access to both, the more diversity the better. The bagged manure compost from the store really won't do. Look on craigslist for a local source for compost or ewc. There are some good bagged composts like Coast of Maine bagged composts, Bu's Blend Organic Biodynamic compost, and Farmer D's Organic Biodynamic compost. EWC can be bought on ebay. If your budget won't allow you to buy enough high quality humus (or if you'd have to order it all), buy as much good ewc as you can. Then buy the best bagged compost available in your area. If you want, you can make an ACT with a small amount of the ewc and use it to inoculate the bagged compost. This will increase the viability of the bagged compost.

    Nutritional Amendments:
    [​IMG]Dry Organic Fertilizer. My favorite is Espoma "tomato tone". Espoma "garden tone" and "plant tone" are also excellent choices. More good choices are Dr. Earth "all purpose" or "tomato and vegetable blend" and Down to Earth "all purpose blend". Use what you have available.
    [​IMG] Kelp meal. Kelp meal is a good source of K, but its real value lies in its micronutrient content. Kelp meal contains all the micronutrients your plants need, and it's also full of growth-stimulating plant compounds.

    Mineral Amendments:
    [​IMG]Lime. Used to neutralize the acidity of the peat moss and help stabilize pH. Look for agricultural lime, garden lime, or dolomite lime. Avoid "fast acting" or "hydrated" lime-these have been treated with chemicals that you do not want in your garden.
    [​IMG]Rock Dust. Rock dust helps to mineralize the soil but it's real value is as a "home" for the microbes and an anchor for the fungal hyphae in our soil (see jerry's excellent "rock dust" thread for more info). Dust from igneous rocks like granite, basalt, azomite, glacial rock dust, etc. is what you want. Granite dust can be found very cheaply at a local stone cutting place or at a place that sells mulch/topsoil/gravel/stones. Granite dust is an excellent rock dust and this is the cheapest option.

    Now for the soil mix. First you want to make a base mix comprised of peat moss, humus (compost and/or ewc), your aeration amendment of choice, and lime. The soil mix should be about 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 humus, and 1/3 aeration amendment (don't stress out if you add a little too much of one thing or your ratios aren't exact, it will be okay). If you want to use a 50/25/25 ratio of peat moss/perlite/humus, that's fine too. You can use a 5 gallon bucket (or a 1 gallon bucket) to measure. Remember when making your soil that 1 cubic foot = 7.5 gallons. You can use just the plain base soil for starting your seeds and clones.

    Note: we are using a 5 gallon bucket to measure, so 1 part=1 full 5 gallon bucket, 1/2 part=1/2 of a 5 gallon bucket, or 2.5 gallons

    To make 1 cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of base soil:

    1/2 part peat moss
    1/2 part humus (compost and/or ewc- can do all compost or all ewc or some mixture of the two)
    1/2 part aeration amendment
    1 cup lime (per cubic foot)

    Nutritional amendments: you want to add about 2-3 cups total of all your nutritional amendments per cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of soil. Note that this means 2-3 cups total, a combination of all your nutritional amendments, not 2-3 cups of each amendment.
    1 cup kelp meal
    1.5 cups dry organic fertilizer

    Mineral amendment: now add 4 cups of your rock dust per cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of soil

    Mix all the above ingredients well. Now moisten the soil by adding water and mixing until the soil is about as damp as a well-wrung out sponge. Now let the soil sit for 3-4 weeks to allow the microbes to begin to break down the amendments and convert the nutrients into a form that the plant can use. This process of nutrient cycling is also referred to as "cooking". Neither heat nor the sun are required, the soil can "cook" inside just fine. You can go ahead and fill up the pots you plan to use and let the soil "cook" in the pots. You can moisten the soil with an ACT if desired to help jump-start the nutrient cycling process.
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  2. #2 InTheGarden, Oct 2, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 6, 2012
    Additional amendments:

    There are many additional amendments that can be of benefit in an organic soil. Here I will talk about several and discuss what benefits they add to the soil. The above soil mix with dry organic fertilizer and kelp meal will provide for all your plants nutritional needs, you do not have to add any of these amendments. You can add 1 of these "extra" amendments to your soil, or all of them, or none at all. Or you can start with just tomato tone and kelp meal, then add "extra" amendments to your soil in the future as your understanding of organic gardening improves (or as your budget will allow).

    The rate of application for nutritional amendments is 2-3 cups total of nutritional amendments per cubic foot of soil. Note that this is 2-3 cups of all your nutritional amendments combined, not 2-3 cups of each amendment. Obviously if you are using additional amendments, you would disregard the amounts of dry organic fertilizer and kelp meal given in the previous post and instead just include those in your amendment mix.

    [​IMG]Neem meal: Neem meal is a good source of N and many other macro and micronutrients and beneficial plant compounds. It is a nitrification inhibitor, meaning that it prevents the loss of nitrogen as nitrogen gas (specifically, neem prevents soil microbes from converting nitrogen compounds into nitrogen gas), thus keeping nitrogen in the soil. Neem also has tremendous value as a pesticide. Including neem meal in your soil mix will help greatly in preventing pest problems.

    [​IMG]Alfalfa meal: Alfalfa is an excellent source of macronutrients (N,P,K), plus many vitamins and micronutrients, most notably Ca. Alfalfa also contains 16 amino acids and beneficial plant compounds like triacontanol, a compound that stimulates growth and branching.

    [​IMG]Crab meal: Crab meal is a good source of N and P, and is an excellent source of Ca. Crab meal also contains chitin, which acts as a pesticide. The chitin in crab meal stimulates soil microbes to exude an enzyme called chitinase. Chitinase breaks down the exoskeletons of many pests and their eggs (the exoskeletons and eggs contain chitin, and the chitinase breaks down this chitin).

    How to use additional nutritional amendments:
    If you are using multiple nutritional amendments, it's easiest to make a blend of equal parts of all your nutritional amendments (except kelp meal, use double the amount of kelp meal), then add this amendment mix to the base soil. Apply 2-3 cups of the amendment mix per cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of soil.

    For example, if you want to use kelp meal, a dry organic fertilizer (like tomato tone), neem meal, alfalfa meal, and crab meal as amendments, here's what you do: (I am going to say 1 cup=1 part for illustrative purposes. If you need more or less, just have 1 part equal to more or less than one cup.) (any leftover amendment mix can be stored in a ziploc or tupperware container)

    -Amendment mix: 1 cup dry organic fertilizer, 1 cup neem meal, 1 cup alfalfa meal, 1 cup crab meal, 2 cups kelp meal.
    -Now add 2-3 cups of this amendment mix per cubic foot of soil. Store the rest for later use in making more soil or as a top-dressing.

    (more to come soon- more additional amendments and info on how to re-use/re-amend your soil! thanks for being patient guys, this is a busy week for me)
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  3. #3 InTheGarden, Oct 2, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 7, 2012
    Re-using Your Organic Soil

    Organic soil can be re-used over and over again. In fact, the soil actually gets better as it ages! Organic amendments take a long time to break down-definitely longer than a single grow cycle and years in some cases. You can even re-use the soil without adding any extra amendments. A plant only uses a small amount of the nutrition available in an organic soil, so remember that there's still a lot of good stuff in there. Soil can be used for several grow cycles without any additional amendments-you can grow for years without re-amending it. Also, if your garden is no-till, then you wouldn't follow this re-amending procedure. Just top-dress with some extra "goodies" every so often.

    It's important to note that re-amending your organic soil is an art, not a science. While the recommendations I've made below are good, your soil may need something a little different. If your plant showed any kind of deficiencies, you'll need to amend the soil to correct for those now. Ultimately you should trust your gut and go with what you think is best over following a prescribed formula. The only thing you should absolutely add more of is your humus, and then any extra aeration amendment needed to offset the additional humus.

    I like to lightly re-amend after each grow cycle or two to keep a steady supply of amendments in multiple stages of decomposition. After harvesting, pull out the root balls and soil and dump them in a large container. Use a shovel to chop up the roots as best you can (don't sweat over this). If you shake the soil off the root balls, then allow them to dry out for a day or two, they will break up pretty easily. Then add the root balls and old soil to some new soil or just use as-is if you don't have any new soil.

    -additional humus (ewc and/or compost) at the rate of 1 part humus to 4 parts old soil.
    -additional aeration amendment: add about half as much additional aeration amendment as you do additional humus (so if you add 4 gallons of compost/ewc, add 2 gallons of aeration amendment). You may need to add more to keep the level of aeration amendment consistent with that of the original soil-go with what you think is best.
    -kelp meal: 1 cup per cubic foot of soil.
    -dry organic fertilizer: about 1/4-1/2 cup per cubic foot.
    -liming amendment: approximately 1/4 cup liming amendment per cubic foot of soil

    If you amend soil this lightly, you don't have to let it sit and cycle (cook) before using it again-just toss a new plant right in. However, if you add any "extra" amendments or more than about 1/2 cup per cubic foot of the dry organic fertilizer, you will need to let it cook for 2-4 weeks before re-using it.

    At this point you can also add any new "extra" amendments that you want to add. I would recommend adding about 1-1.5 cups total of additional amendments. Remember that if you add "extra" amendments you will need to allow the soil another 2-4 weeks of cycling (cooking) to give those amendments time to break down.
    Let's say that you started with the base soil amended with only kelp meal and dry organic fertilizer, and now you want to several "extra" amendments (or just one, whatever you like). Make a blend of all the amendments you want to add, using equal portions of all amendments with a double portion of kelp meal. Now add 1-1.5 cups of this mix to your organic soil and allow to cycle for 2-4 weeks, or more (the longer the better).

    (in progress, thanks for being so patient guys!)
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  4. Wow ITG, did you type all that up?
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  5. Simple and very effective. Too often soil mixes are ever complicated.

    Thank you.

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  6. Organics is all about simplicity...2 weeks in and I already feel less stressed, not worried about maintaining a feeding regiment or having nutes on hand. Sound soil and good teas is all ya need, but even then I'm not too worried about teas. Basic teas every couple weeks, planning on possibly some guano teas later into flower but we'll see if they even need it.

    In the past couple months this forum has developed an absolute guarantee cookie cutter organic approach that is doing awesome for so many growers. I really don't ever see myself growing otherwise...its just too easy and the results are too good...
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  7. planning on possibly some guano teas later into flower but we'll see if they even need it.

    For as long as most guanos take to break down, and as mythical as the "N for Veg & P for Flower mentality is, I honestly don't believe that this helps at all for the short term/quick "boost". A well rounded soil mix with plenty of nutrient cycling time, alongside a healthy bacterial environment will win hands down every time.

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  8. That's what I'm going for jerry. Something simple and easy for new organic gardeners to get into, and then they can build from there. I want it to be as easy an un-intimidating as possible, I think I might try to rework a few things. What do you think?
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  9. I'd use it any day. I think when I first started out that I added just too many "unnecessary" ingredients. Since then I think I've come to terms that a simple mix is probably as good as an expensive complicated one, as long as our basic needs are met well - a solid, healthy humus component, first and foremost, sphagnum peat, something to offset pH of the peat, whether its lime, oyster, whatever, and a few nutritional amendments such as crab, neem, kelp and alfalfa - and don't forget the rock dust.

    I remember Chunk doing a kelp only, I believe, with fine results. Kelp will provide complete mineralization, but I guess I just can't help a few other items. Neem is good for both nutrition and insects, crabs covers the chitin/calcium and we all love alfalfa.


    I do think that the longer we can allow our soil to sit and cycle is a good thing too -

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  10. ^yep. Quality ingredients are more important than quantity. And especially for gardeners who are new to organics, having to buy a bunch of different amendments is intimidating. The beauty of an organic soil is that you can always add to it as your understanding and knowledge of organic gardening grows. I just wanted to post a good, easy starting point for new organic growers. Then they can head over to your indoor gardening thread and build a "big dog" soil!

    And I agree about letting the soil sit and cycle for as long as possible. In april or may I mixed up a blend of foraged seaweed, alfalfa meal, other odds and ends, compost, and some composted bark fines and it's been hanging out getting happy ever since. I've been adding it to my new soil as I mix it up and using it to top dress my old soil and everyone loves it so far!
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  11. She was just tired of my stupidity bothering her, so put it all in 1 place :p

    ITG it's great, like you. Got it all mixed up, correctly this time and hoping to introduce seeds to soil (just the dixy cups) within a week, once they're ready to transplant my 5gal pots of soil should be ready. If you can walk me through it ANYONE is capable of going organic if they want.
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  12. yep, figured it would be easier to just do it once and not have to do it again!
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  13. #13 hypercardriac, Oct 3, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 3, 2012
    Awesome info and you got me hooked... im assuming this is something i can do in my basement as i plan on mixing up this for the next round... im all about cheap, and easy, and youve nailed both... 2 thumbs up from hyper... any mixing or measuring makes me nervous and the term organic i believe "intimidates" alot of folks... this UN-intimidates me... thanx for helping alot of us noobies to see that quality can be easy...
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  14. hyper, this is totally something that you can do in your basement! Thanks for the positive feedback!
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  15. another nice read from ITG, You have reached guru status in my book!

    I found espoma plant tone on clearance at tractor supply, you guys might keep your eye out for it. I use the "tones" for worm food, so I grabbed em all

    This seems like a good place to ask.....if you use rabbit manure in a mix, would you consider it the same as using alfalfa meal? In reality, the rabbit food, mostly ground alfalfa right?, goes through the rabbit, twice, then through the worms a time or a few then to the mix
  16. Hey Clink, welcome :wave:

    Thank you for the compliment but if I'm a "guru" then we're all in serious trouble! I just like to garden and I'm here to learn and improve like everybody else. I've got some things that I can contribute but a whole lot more that I can learn.

    Nice getting the plant tone on clearance!

    As far as rabbit manure, do you mean so that you could decrease the amount of added alfalfa meal? Sure, just because you are adding that additional N source and some leftover alfalfa! I would not eliminate the alfalfa meal entirely though, since I imagine a lot of the beneficial compounds and minerals are lost and/or broken down during the digestive process, but I don't see a problem with decreasing the amount of alfalfa meal.

    Peace and happy gardening
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  17. Thanks, I've been lurking here for years, but I haved posted in any mj forum since overgrow went down, but what the heck, I like it around these parts, hehe

    yep, that's what I was getting at, thanks, I just wanted to pick your brain, my buddy and I have been discussing it.........BTW- I love my chickens and worms, now my daughters rabbit, not so much, but she doesn't eat much and makes some awesome worm food, lol
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  18. awesome thread.

    it's been a month for my mix already. just put my babies. tossed the ppm n ph meter. oh man that felt good.

    I noticed some of my rice hulls had seeds in em something was sprouting as the soil was cooking.

    I'm very happy I came across gc n the wonderful peeps that are more than willing to share great info.
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  19. Clink, rabbit manure makes an excellent fertilizer. I think you'll be pleased with the results. Plus, it won't burn your plants if not composted like other manures.

    Hey spryguy! Glad you joined us over on the dark side. You'll wonder why it took you so long. Stuff sprouts in my soil all the time, that's evidence of a healthy soil. Glad to have you around!
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  20. great thread itg.
    can't wait for the next installment of reusing this soil for multiple rounds!
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