Tom’s facts on organic nutrients and marijuana – in soil!
- Nutrients Introduction
- Necessary Plant Nutrients
- Understanding N-P-K
- The N-P-K Ratios To Use
- Can I Over Fertilize Using Organic Nutrients ?
- Super Soil and Nutrients
- Organic Commercial Soils and Nutrients
- What You Should Know About Organic Fertilizers and Types
- The Truth About Molasses
When it comes to organic nutrients and marijuana, many people confuse plant nutrition with plant fertilization. Plant nutrition refers to the need for basic chemical elements for plant growth. The term fertilization refers to the application of plant nutrients to supplement the nutrients naturally occurring in the soil. Nutrients may be applied as commercial manufactured fertilizers, organic fertilizers and other soil amendments for growing organic marijuana.
Defining Nutrients ! Nutrients are the nutritious components that a plant utilizes to survive and grow. Macronutrients provide the bulk energy for a plants metabolic system to function, while micronutrients provide the necessary cofactors for metabolism to be carried out. Both types of nutrients can be acquired from the environment. They are used to build and repair tissues, regulate plant processes, and are converted to and used for energy. Marijuana plants intake nutrients directly from the soil through their roots and from the atmosphere through their leaves.
Organic nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins. Minerals, water, and oxygen, and carbon dioxide may also be considered nutrients. A nutrient is said to be “essential” if it must be obtained from an external source, because the plant cannot synthesize it themselves. Nutrients needed in very small amounts are micronutrients and those that are needed in larger quantities are called macronutrients.
Plants need 17 elements for normal growth. Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen come from the air and water. Soil is the principal source of the other nutrients, the primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and are used in relatively large amounts by plants, and often need to be supplemented by amendments or fertilizers.
Secondary nutrients (calcium, magnesium, and sulfur) are also used in large amounts but are typically readily available and in adequate supply. Micronutrients or trace elements are needed only in small amounts. These include iron, zinc, molybdenum, manganese, boron, copper, cobalt, and chlorine. Micronutrients are rarely deficient in soils.
- Essential Plant Nutrients !
- Macronutrients (derived from air and water)
- Carbon, C
- Hydrogen, H
- Oxygen, O
- Macronutrients (primary)
- Nitrogen, N
- Phosphorus, P
- Potassium, K
- Macronutrients (secondary)
- Calcium, Ca
- Magnesium, MG
- Sulphur, S
- Boron, B
- Chlorine, Cl
- Cobalt, Co
- Copper, Cu
- Manganese, Mn
- Molybdenum, MO
- Iron, Fe
- Zinc, Zn
- Macronutrients (derived from air and water)
Macronutrients (derived from air and water)
- Carbon ! Carbon forms the backbone of many plants biomolecules, including starches and cellulose. Carbon is fixed through photosynthesis from the carbon dioxide in the air and is a part of the carbohydrates that store energy in the plant.
- Hydrogen ! Hydrogen also is necessary for building sugars and building the plant. It is obtained almost entirely from water. Hydrogen ions are imperative for a proton gradient to help drive the electron transport chain in photosynthesis and for respiration.
- Oxygen ! Oxygen by itself or in the molecules of H2O or CO2 are necessary for plant cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is the process of generating energy-rich adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the consumption of sugars made in photosynthesis. Plants produce oxygen gas during photosynthesis to produce glucose but then require oxygen to undergo aerobic cellular respiration and break down this glucose and produce ATP.
Macronutrients (Primary Nutrients)
- Nitrogen ! (N) Plants need nitrogen to build proteins and to produce the green pigment chlorophyll, which is essential to the photosynthesis process, where plants use water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce their own food. More than 3/4 of the air around you is nitrogen, but plants can’t get their nitrogen from the air; they need to get it from the soil. Plants are genetically programmed to absorb as much nitrogen as possible, so it gets pulled out of the soil fairly quickly.
- Phosphorous ! (P) Phosphorus is vital to plant growth and is found in every living
plant cell. It is involved in several key plant functions, including energy transfer, photosynthesis, transformation of sugars and starches, nutrient movement within the plant and transfer of genetic characteristics from one generation to the next. Phosphorus is needed for the conversion of light energy to chemical energy during photosynthesis. Phosphorus is important for plant growth, flower development and seed formation.
- Potassium ! (K) Potassium also known as potash, The main role of potassium is to
provide an ionic environment for metabolic processes. and functions as a regulator of various processes including growth regulation. Plants require potassium for protein synthesis and for the opening and closing of stomata. Since stomata are important in water regulation, potassium reduces water loss from the leaves and increases drought tolerance. Potassium also functions in other physiological processes such as photosynthesis and protein synthesis. Without potassium, the plant cannot cycle the nutrients to feed roots, leaves and flowers.
- Sulphur ! Sulphur is a structural component of some amino acids and vitamins, and is essential in the manufacturing of chloroplasts. Chloroplasts main role is to conduct photosynthesis.
- Calcium ! Calcium regulates transport of other nutrients into the plant and is also involved in the activation of certain plant enzymes.
- Magnesium ! Magnesium is an important part of chlorophyll, a critical plant pigment important in photosynthesis. It is important in the production of ATP. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism.
Some micro-nutrient elements are directly involved in plant metabolism, however, other micro- nutrients are beneficial elements, whose presence, while not required, has clear positive effects on plant growth. These are mineral elements that either stimulate growth but are not essential, or that are essential only for certain plant species, or under given conditions, are usually defined as beneficial elements. These elements are sometimes called minor elements or trace elements, and are rarely deficient.
- Boron ! Boron is important for binding of pectins of the primary cell wall, secondary roles may be in sugar transport, cell division, and synthesizing certain enzymes. Boron deficiency causes necrosis in young leaves and stunting.
- Chlorine ! Chlorine, as compounded chloride, is necessary for osmosis and ionic balance; it also plays a role in photosynthesis.
- Cobalt ! Cobalt has proven to be essential, where it is required for nitrogen fixation for the symbiotic relationship it has with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
- Copper ! Copper is important for photosynthesis. Copper is involved in many enzyme processes and is necessary for proper photosynthesis. Copper is also Involved in the manufacture of cell walls.
- Manganese ! Manganese is necessary for photosynthesis, including the building of chloroplasts.
- Molybdenum ! Molybdenum is a cofactor to enzymes important in building amino acids. Involved in Nitrogen metabolism.
- Iron ! Iron is necessary for photosynthesis and although iron is not the structural part of chlorophyll but very much essential for its synthesis.
- Zinc ! Zinc is required in a large number of enzymes and plays an essential role in DNA transcription.
Understanding N-P -K
Major Ingredients: All commercial fertilizers have 3 numbers on the front label, separated by dashes. For example: 5-10-5. This is the fertilizer analysis or percentage by weight of the 3 major nutrients plants need: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are abbreviated as N-P-K and are always in this order.
A 10 pound bag of fertilizer labeled 5-10-5, would contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 5% potassium. The remaining 80% could be composed of other Ingredients. Any additional ingredients will be listed on the side label. This may include nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur and micronutrients and even a filler such as sand. In the case of liquid fertilizer the filler would be water.
- 1st Number = Nitrogen: The first number gives the concentration of nitrogen in the product. Nitrogen encourages foliage growth, among other benefits. A 5-10-5 fertilizer would contain 5% nitrogen by weight. A 10 pound bag would contain .5 lb. nitrogen.
- 2nd Number = Phosphorous: The middle number refers to the concentration of phosphorous. Phosphorous contributes to many fundamental plant processes such as rooting, setting flower buds and seed development. A 5-10-5 fertilizer would contain 10% phosphorous by weight or .1 pounds of phosphorous. A 10 pound bag would contain 1 lb. of phosphorus.
- 3rd Number = Potassium: The final number states the concentration of potassium. Potassium contributes to stimulating stem growth and the overall health and vigor of plants. Again, a 5-10-5 fertilizer would contain 5% potassium by weight or .05 pounds of potassium. A 10 pound bag would contain .5 lb. potassium.
Don’t Get Hung Up On The Numbers. It’s The Ratio That’s Important !
Fertilizer Ratio (An easier comparison): An easier way to compare the numbers is to break them down to the fertilizer ratio or the amounts of the 3 major nutrients in relation to each other. A 5-10-5 fertilizer has a ratio of 1-2-1. This becomes important when looking for a fertilizer for a specific need, such as for vegetating or perhaps for flowering.
So What Ratios Do We Want and When ?
Keep in mind these are just guidelines, and not written in stone.
- Twice as much Nitrogen than Phosphorus
- Potassium (K) equal to or greater than the Nitrogen
- Ratios I seen for Vegetating organic marijuana, many companies call this their “grow formula”. (2-1-3), (6-3-9), (2-1-6), (4-3-3), (4-0-4), (2-1-6), (1-1-1).
- A balanced fertilizer such as a 1-1-1 or 5-5-5 is also good for vegetating and early flowering.
- Twice as much or more Phosphorus than Nitrogen
- Potassium(K) equal to or greater than Phosphorus
- Ratios I’ve seen for Flowering organic marijuana. (1-2-3), (3-6-9), (6-12-18), (1-4-5), (0-5-4), (1-5-6), (2-4-4)
Seedlings and Clones
- No fertilizer is required or recommended until roots are well established. Then fertilize with a weak vegetating formula or not at all, because the soil will have plenty of nutrients in it for them.
I use Super Soil so I’m all set ! ARE YOU ? How can you be sure ? If you followed the super soil recipe you should be in good shape, but you can’t be sure until you actually do a grow the variety of marijuana you chose. The organic amendments that you added to the make the super soil can take a long time to break down and become available to the plant. The blood meal, the bone meal, the rock phosphate, and bat guano take a long time to break down and make their nutrients available. This is the reason we must COOK the super soil. By letting the super soil cook we are speeding up the growth of soil microorganisms and thus speeding up the process of decomposing these ingredients that normally take months to years to make the nutrients available.
I cooked the super soil like I should so I’m sure I’m all set ! Yea, well maybe you are and just maybe you’re not. You still cannot be sure until you have done a crop. Super soil still takes trial and error. Does the variety you are growing want half a pot of super soil or does it want 2/3 of a pot of super soil ? You just can’t tell until you have grown a crop. The plants reaction will show you if it is too much or not enough nutrients in the mix.
What I have found out using super soil ! I have grown over 150 different varieties of marijuana in super soil for a Colorado dispensary. For the majority of varieties, the super soil did a great job using a half to 2/3 of a pot of it per plant. About 10% of the varieties needed more nitrogen, and about 3% had too much phosphorus showing phosphorous overdose symptoms.
Too much of a nutrient in the super soil ! There is not much or anything you can do if the plants soil has too much of one nutrient. Flushing the pot doesn’t work because all you are doing is releasing more of the nutrients from the powdered amendment. All you can do is wait and see and hope the plant will grow out of the problem. You could repot the plant into new soil, but that usually isn’t an option because by the time you notice the overdose the plant is too large and the roots too well-developed. Fortunately for me the phosphorus overdose was slight and the plants grew out of the problem. I took notes for that variety and the next time I planted those varieties I adjusted the soil ingredients and used less phosphorus. Keep good notes or a grow journal on all varieties you grow.
Too little of a nutrient in super soil ! To little of a nutrient is an easy fix but be careful how you go about fixing the problem. My experience : When I noticed the first plants in super soil that had a nitrogen deficiency, I decided to top-dress the plants soil with a little blood meal mixed with some earthworm castings because that is what I had on hand. I used about 1 1/2 cups of the mix per 7 gal. pot. In a week or so the plants were a nice dark green but all the leaf tips had turned white. It was just about a 1/4 inch of the leaves tips that had turned white. Why was that ? Well, the top-dressing mix was too much and now I had nitrogen overdose. Fortunately for me, the plants still did fine all the way thru flowering with no problems, but it could have been disastrous. Go to Subcool’s Super-Soil .
This is the reason I don’t like to top-dress plants with powdered amendments. The amount to use is a guessing game and it is just too easy to use too much. I of course, kept good notes on the varieties that wanted more nitrogen and adjusted the super soil accordingly, adding more blood meal to the mix for them the next time. But, what did I do the next time I ran into a variety that need more nitrogen that was already planted in super soil ? I used a liquid organic fertilizer, formulated for vegetating, at half of the recommended strength and increased that dosage if needed. From that time on I always kept some liquid organic fertilizer on hand for deficiencies that may arise from time to time. I now always keep an “organic grow formula” (for nitrogen deficiencies) and an ” organic flowering formula ” (for phosphorous deficiencies) on hand. Liquid organic fertilizers nutrients are readily available for plant use because all the ingredients are water-soluble.
Using a commercial organic soil ! There are good commercial bagged soils on the market and they may get your crops through the vegetating stage and some even through the flowering stage without fertilizing, but don’t count on it. Even if the soil can get your plants through to the end, you have to wonder how much better you crop would have been if you had fertilized. I have used Roots Organics soil in many home grows with a few amendments. I always add some dolomite lime to buffer PH, and I always add azomite for trace minerals (the micronutrients) just to make sure they are there and available. I also add a little magnesium sulphate (epsom salts), for the magnesium and sulphur. Lastly I like to add a little humic acid, and some Mycorrhizae to get a jump on the beneficial soil micro-organisms. I very rarely fertilize in the vegetating stage because the soil mix has plenty of what the plants need for this stage. However I always fertilize the home grow in the flowering stage with a liquid organic fertilizer for flowering plants. I always use a fertilizer specifically for marijuana. I use a 2-4-4, but those are just numbers, remember it’s the ratio that’s important. Organic home-brewed teas would also be an excellent choice to use at this time.
An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees, at least, the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. Examples include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners. The terms soil amendment refers to any material mixed into the soil. By legal definition, soil amendments make no legal claims about
nutrient content .
Organic products require the activity of soil microorganisms before nutrients are available for plant uptake. Microorganism activity is generally dependent on soil temperatures greater than 50°F in the presence of sufficient soil moisture. Dry and/or cold soil conditions will delay the release of nutrients from these organic sources.
Powdered or Granular Amendments ! These bagged amendments such as blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, rock phosphate, bat guano, lime, earthworm castings, Alfalfa Meal, Kelp Meal, powdered oyster shell, seabird guano, etc,etc,etc, are meant to be mixed into the soil before planting in it. They should not be used as a top-dressing although you can, it’s not recommended. Although these amendments are meant to be mixed into the soil, many of them can also be used to make organic teas for fertilizing with. These amendments may or may not have a NPK designation.
- Time Release Fertilizers Including Fertilizer Spikes ! Some are specially formulated as “controlled release”, “slow release” or “time release” products that release over a period of months. I don’t recommend the use these type of fertilizers on container grown marijuana. These are best used for outside applications, such as gorilla grows. The trouble with these types of fertilizers ( just like topdressing with granular or powdered nutrients)is that you have no control of the nutrients after they are applied. One grower in an on-line forum has this to say about “Osmocote” a controlled release fertilizer : “As far as having not having control over your nutes goes, that holds true for “slow-release” type fertilizers that can be somewhat unpredictable, but OC+ is a high-tech “controlled-release” fertilizer, that theoretically should not require any control or adjustments.” This sounds good but, Please, high-tech ? Give me a break, all the, slow, time, and controlled released fertilizers are high-tech. The biggest problem with these fertilizers is that they are all general (generic) fertilizers that are meant for the outside garden for a wide variety of plants. There are no flowering formulas in this group of fertilizers and none of these are specifically for marijuana. Yes, there are growers that use these with great success, but I don’t recommend them for container grown marijuana. Especially when there are so many other better choices.
Organic Teas for Fertilization ! These home-brewed organic teas for your plants are an extremely effective way to fertilize your plants soil as well as foliar feeding. Compost teas are a natural way to provide nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms to your plants. A compost tea is created when some form of compost or vermicompost is steeped in water to get a broth of beneficial microorganisms that are let to multiply by the billions of millions. By using some form of agitation the microbes break free from the compost and they multiply because food is added to the water such as, black-strap molasses, fish hydrolysate, kelp meal, etc., etc. Simply stated, a Compost Tea is a homemade fertilizer of beneficial microorganisms that can be applied to the soil. Organic Teas are your own homemade liquid fertilizers. To learn more about organic compost teas for your plants go to Tim Wilson’s website. He is a self-taught researcher/scientist, currently doing research in soil biology. Tim’s website is Microbe Organics . http://microbeorganics.com/
Organic Liquid Fertilizers ! These are fertilizers that are made commercially, and are usually in a concentration that needs to be mixed with water. These come in many different formulations for growing organic marijuana and for the flowering stage of your plants. All of these will have a NPK designation. There are many excellent organic liquid fertilizers in the marketplace explicitly for growing organic marijuana.
Don’t Mix and Match Fertilizers ! It is best to stick with only one manufactures fertilizer products, as they are formulated to work together. Using two different manufactures products together on the same grow is not wise as they may not be compatible. This holds true for fertilizers not soil amendments. There is nothing wrong combining different manufactures soil amendments together that are mixed into the soil.
Fact or Myth ? Many people think that adding molasses to water in the flowering stage will sweeten the taste of their buds and it may actually do that to a small extent. The fact is Karo Syrup and table sugar will do a better job of making your buds taste sweeter. Another claim is molasses will bulk up the flower buds and even make them denser. That’s the claim, using molasses in the flowering stage will increase the size of the buds making them larger and harder. I believe there is sufficient evidence to justify the claim that it can make the flowers larger. However there isn’t enough evidence to say they will become harder or denser. But I must clarify that, and say these claims may very well be true depending on the variety of marijuana grown.
What molasses will do that everybody agrees on ! Molasses added to the water supplied to your plants will feed the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. The simple fact is, molasses is a great source of carbohydrates that stimulates the growth of beneficial microorganisms. “Carbohydrate” is essentially just a fancy word for sugar, and molasses is the best sugar for horticultural use. Besides sugars, molasses also contains significant amounts of potash, sulfur, and a variety of micronutrients. The primary reason molasses is the best sugar for agricultural use is the variety of micronutrients (trace minerals). Molasses averages a NPK of (1-0-5 NPK) so it can serve as a nutritious soil amendment. Molasses is also an excellent chelating agent.
Molasses comes in different grades. Molasses is a thick syrupy juice created by the processing of sugar beets or sugar cane. Several grades and types of molasses are produced by sugar cane processing. The grade and type of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or beet and the method of extraction. The different molasses’ have names like: first molasses, second molasses, unsulfured molasses, sulfured molasses, and blackstrap molasses. Any kind of molasses will work to provide benefit for soil and growing plants, but blackstrap molasses is the best choice because it contains the greatest concentration of sulfur, iron and micronutrients from the original sugar cane plant and feeds the Mycorrhizae colonies of bacteria.
Do Not Use Sulfured Molasses. Green (unripe) sugar cane that has been treated with sulfur fumes during sugar extraction produces sulfured molasses. This molasses has too much sulfur. Now, the juice of sun-ripened sugar cane which has been clarified and concentrated produces unsulfured molasses. Many rounds of processing and boiling will yield the dark-colored blackstrap molasses, which has the most nutritional value of the various types of molasses.
Molasses Products ! There are numerous fertilizer companies selling a variety of sugar based additives billed as carbohydrate booster products for plants. These are usually fairly expensive. Some of the more popular sugar products are: Bud Candy, Flora Nectar, Hydro Honey, Sugar Daddy, Garden Safe Liquid Plant Foods, Schultz Garden Safe Liquid Plant Food. I have no doubt these products work but why buy an expensive product when you can spend less money and buy the real deal “Blackstrap Molasses”, or any real unsulphured “Molasses” at any corner grocery store. “Grandma’s Molasses” and “Brer Rabbit” are well-known brands of molasses and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg to use them. Molasses is growers first choice in the making of organic teas and to water with.
Dry Molasses ! Dry molasses is something different still. It’s not exactly dehydrated molasses either. Dry molasses is actually a ground grain waste “carrier” which has been coated with molasses. The best use for dry molasses is to include it in your soil mix, it would be a very good additive to a “super-soil” recipe.
How To Use Molasses ! Molasses may be used throughout the growing stages but most growers only use it during the flowering stage. There is no general consensus on when to begin using it. Some folks use it only during the last few weeks of flowering and others use it during the entire flowering stage. Fewer folks also use in the vegetating stage. The truth is you may use it any time because it feeds the Mycorrhizae colonies of beneficial bacteria. Most growers recommend 1 tablespoon of molasses per gallon of water and it may be used with other organic fertilizers. Some growers use as little as 1 teaspoon/gallon, and others use as much as 2 tablespoons/gallon. Molasses should be added to all compost home-brewed fertilizer teas, at the rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon of water.
As you can see molasses is a fairly versatile product, it can serve as a plant food as well as a an additive to improve a fertilizer mix or tea. Dry molasses can be used as an ingredient in a soil mix, and liquid molasses can be used alone or as a component in both sprays and soil drenches. If you would like to read more than you would ever want to know on this subject go to : http://www.420magazine.com/forums/indoor-soil-cultivation/114725-molasses-everything-you-want-know-your-plants.html
When it comes to organic nutrients and marijuana you know you need them ! The only question is how you want to go about incorporating them for growing organic marijuana. There are six methods of incorporating nutrients :
- You may mix them into your soil before planting . ( nice steady release of nutrients)
- You may apply compost teas with the nutrients in it. (very fast release of nutrients)
- You may use commercial liquid organic fertilizers. ( fast release of nutrients)
- Yes, you may also use foliar sprays to feed your plants, but I see this as only a supplement to the other methods of fertilizing. ( I’m unsure how fast acting foliar feeding is)
- Then again, you may incorporate a couple of these applications together.
- Top dressing– Not Recommended unless you are an expert !
One way of fertilizing is not necessarily any better than another, (with the exception of top-dressing)so the choice is up to you !
Author, Tom D.