Why you really need to look at what additives you use when cultivating cannabis

July 11, 2023 | Category : Cannabis Knowledge | Posted By : Deon Maas

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Way back when humanity moved from being hunter-gatherers to start farming, they quickly found out that if they did the same thing year after year, the ground got depleted and the yield started getting less and less. Then someone came up with the idea of using fertiliser and voila! everything changed. At some point they ran out of natural fertiliser, it was difficult to get or it was impractical, so someone started making a chemicals version of this. And somehow in-between all of this, we started polluting and damaging and we just didn’t stop. 

No-one will ever tell you not to use additives but it is important, especially for big yield cultivators to start taking a long look at what they use and how much of it is being used.  

Perhaps it will be best to tackle the elephant in the room right from the start and see what impact it has on the environment. So, let’s start off by looking at phosphorus, its impact and why we need to stand back and look at it again. 

A short history 

In 1802 the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was in Peru and saw fishing boats bringing a smelly, clay-like substance to the shore. He soon found out that it was bird guano from a nearby island and that it was used by local farmers to stimulate their crops. He brought some of it home to have it analysed. A Prussian scientist soon found out that it contained high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. It was soon seen as the “Miracle-Gro” of the era and they started importing it. But, what took hundreds of years to accumulate was soon used up. Phosphorus was also discovered as an earth mineral. 

The issue with phosphorus 

Today we have two issues with phosphorus: The first is a shortage and the other is environmental damage caused by it. 

Phosphorus in large quantities is a single origin mineral with Morocco and their illegal occupation of the Western Sahara, controlling 75% of the world’s supply. This supply is running out and scientists are talking about a phosphogeddon and according to those self-same scientists, without phosphorus, we are in big trouble as it plays a huge role in feeding the world. Excessive use of phosphorus is depleting reserves vital to global food production, while also adding to the climate crisis.

“Phosphorus is a key element and the shortage causes problems,” says Steven van Eekeren of Plagron, “but at the same time it is also forcing people to re-look at how they use it. It is over-used and the way it is supposed to be used is not the way it is being used now.” 

Phosphorus makes its way into rivers and here it also stimulates growth – unfortunately it makes the wrong things grow. This kills off algae. The decomposition of algae sucks oxygen out of the water that creates dead zones that kills off fish and gives off increasing releases of methane across the planet, adding to global heating. 

“Unfortunately there are certain things that a plant needs and phosphorus is one of them,” says Steven. One of the advantages for the cannabis industry’s large growers is that they grow in pots in an enclosed system. This means that the leakage of phosphorus becomes less of a problem and if they plan correctly, there is even the possibility of re-usage.” 

Ok, so now that we know where the world stands with phosphorus, let’s take a look at how we can move forward

Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium calcium and magnesium are the main stimulants a cannabis plant needs. Additives contain a blend of elements that should be mixed with soil and soilless growing mediums. Some work quicker than other and it is important to understand that some of these mixes need to be made weeks in advance to be ready for plants. The most widely used are bone meal, soft rock phosphate, bat guano, fish bone meal, seabird guano, and shrimp and crab meal.  

“How you mix these stimulants determines what kind of a plant you will end up with,” says Steven, “and will also determine if your plant reaches it’s full potential. It is also important to understand that the plant needs certain things at certain stages. It’s like when the DJ’s change during a set, the bass or the volume needs to be turned up and some other stuff needs to be turned down. Additives should not be used to correct problems, it should be used to optimise performance of a specific focus.” 

In order to explain this better, we had a conversation with one of Cannavigia’s expert, Sebastian Sonntagbauer. 

Do we really need to use fertilisers and additives? 

We need to distinguish between fertilisers and additives, as fertilisers are definitely needed. Additives, on the other hand, are not always necessary, especially in the amounts that some people use. As we live in changing times, we must learn to cultivate with new knowledge. It was common practice to flush plants once a week. When I was taught how to cultivate, I learned that I had to water the pot so much that at least 30% of the water would come out again. We learned about phosphorus fertilisers and calcium boosters in the flowering phase. In the beginning, the plant needs a lot of phosphorus, but by the end, it needs calcium. We didn’t know this back then, but we do now. It’s a growing industry, and we learn new things every day.

So, what you are saying is that people overuse these things? 

Especially when it comes to big cultivators producing recreational cannabis, it is a real shame how we treat the environment with fertilisers, especially mineral ones. When you go to buy soil at a grow shop, most of them contain only topsoil. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the soil needs to come from somewhere, which is a big issue.

How do we change this? 

Phosphorus is the most aggressive, but nowadays, more and more people are opting for organic solutions. It is very possible to make your own soil and fertilisers. Personally, I recommend to work with supersoil, which is an organic soil that you pre-water. After leaving it for ten days, you can smell the fungi working in it, indicating that it is ready to plant. This soil has all the nutrients the plant needs in large amounts, and the plant gets what it needs when it needs it. There is less waste and fewer chemicals being used, which reduces pollution. 

What is the greenest way to cultivate? 

Use what the environment provides. In the past, farmers used chicken manure because it was readily available. You can even use bones. There are many things going to waste that can be used for cultivation, but people have forgotten about them. Return to nature and work with what surrounds you.  

Our senior consultant, Gabriela Silvera shared some insight as well. Unfortunately, the most environmentally friendly method of cultivating cannabis may not always be the most profitable. Opting for outdoor cultivation allows you to utilise soil nutrients and sunlight, resulting in significant energy savings. However, many soils lack the necessary nutrients, requiring supplementation through the addition of nutrients or organic matter, which also contains nutrients. It is crucial to consider soil pH, as cannabis thrives in the pH range of 5.5 to 6.5, and adjustments should be made if the soil is too acidic or alkaline.  
Alternatively, if you decide to cultivate cannabis using substrates like coco peat or rockwool, you will face higher costs and increased waste generation. Nevertheless, this approach offers the advantage of precise nutrition delivery through drip irrigation, ensuring the plant receives the exact required nutrient quantities. Additionally, you will have control over the Ec and pH levels, with proper drainage management.  

For the cultivation of medicinal cannabis, as with other medicinal herbs, adherence to GACP standards is necessary. This means that while you can determine the cultivation approach (indoor, greenhouse, or outdoor), you must establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that govern each step. It is essential to meticulously document all cultivation and processing operations. This meticulousness is crucial for demonstrating compliance with GACP guidelines, ensuring that the final product is safe for the end user, particularly the patient

Growing cannabis in a greenhouse or indoor environment generates more waste and consumes unnecessary energy compared to outdoor cultivation. However, it provides greater control over pests, diseases, and climate conditions than outdoor growing. Moreover, it offers a more efficient means of preventing uncontrolled contamination that often occurs in outdoor cultivation. Additionally, indoor or greenhouse cultivation allows for multiple growth cycles per year, significantly impacting financial returns. It is important to note that this method is more expensive, with lighting consumption constituting a major cost.  

How can Cannavigia software be used to track the usage of additives? 

Cannavigia software offers a comprehensive solution for tracking the usage of additives. By utilizing the software, users can conveniently monitor both the quantity administered and the specific batch of fertiliser employed. This tracking capability extends to individual plants as well as multiple batches, enabling a flexible and efficient approach. With Cannavigia, accurate documentation of the additive’s impact becomes effortless, facilitating the ability to make necessary adjustments to quantities when required. In addition, the software allows for precise specification of all ingredients, with the option to attach Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for enhanced safety measures. As a bonus, Cannavigia software offers seamless data export functionality, ensuring that all valuable information can be effortlessly extracted for further analysis and insights.  

In addition to the mentioned features, users can conveniently log the administered amount of additives using our user-friendly mobile app. This mobile application further enhances the ease of tracking by providing a convenient and accessible platform to record and monitor the quantity of additives used. With the Cannavigia mobile app, users have the flexibility to log data on the go, ensuring seamless integration and comprehensive tracking capabilities right at their fingertips.