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Super Soil – Terroir – Does dirt matter?

The magic of your homegrown cannabis may be the dirt!

“We will start to see aged cannabis where there was a great year – just like wine. For example, a vintage year could be one where there was no rain and that carries through to the end product and where its taste and quality are amazing. “ Hearing a statement like this only a few short years ago would have not only been unimaginable, it would have been considered by many, taboo. In today’s rapidly growing sub-economy of cannabis however, anything is possible. And, if someone were to know anything about growing conditions, especially when it comes to terroir (soil), it would be Calvin Manley. Manley is one of the co-founders and owners of Stepwell Soil – considered by many growers to be one of Canada’s leading super soil manufacturers and suppliers.

Plants growing inside a Home Grow Tent Set-up, with fans
Common Home Grow Set-up

Super soil is a term that most have never have heard, but is gaining popularity as more people experiment with home growing. The concept of super soil however, has been around the seasoned growing community for a decade. The term ‘Super Soil’ became widely known when, back in 2009, the famous cannabis breeder Subcool released his super soil recipe in an issue of High Times magazine. Many readers adopted the concept assuming that if it increased the yield and quality of the grow for Subcool, then it should work for their grow. The theory behind super soil is that by using a nutrient dense, and well balanced soil from the outset, few to any additions or adjustments to the composition of the soil will need to be made during the grow cycle. Put another way, all you really have to do is water your plants. For the amateur grower, measuring and balancing soil levels is not only time consuming, but can be both confusing, and detrimental to the success of the grow. Manley explains “Typically, cannabis growers would buy a blank medium like a pro-mix. This is esentially a porous, peat based, growing medium. By using liquid nutrients, you are essentially giving the plants what they need by force feeding them at that time. There is actually no nutrient value in the soil per se, it is being added to the soil and then depleted when watered. The difference between this and super soil is that with super soil the nutrients are provided through a time release in the soil, so it is slowly being broken through a natural compost type of degradation. It would be the same way as if we are getting our bodies’ nutrients by eating food vs getting our nutrients through an intravenous tube.” Manley further explains that at every water, synthetic nutrients would have to be added to the plants, and for the amateur grower, this can create a number of issues. “It is human nature to push push to get max yield. You are always pushing the boundaries, and in that style you are going to run into problems. Whether it is burning the plant from over-feeding, or the plant shows a deficiency from under-feeding or over-watering/under-watering. The super soil just became a very forgiving system. A great way as an introduction to gardening. Realistically, the cost of all of this and the time that you put into it, if you have a bad result the first time, it is very deterring to come back to the garden at all. We are trying to encourage a very positive introduction to growing in order to keep that person growing. Cannabis can be the gateway to other gardening. Vegetables, house plants. Just the interest that you have within the plant can almost be like a golf fever the way that it it just takes over. “

“It would be the same way as if we are getting our bodies’ nutrients by eating food vs getting our nutrients through an intravenous tube.” – Manley Stepwell Soil

Image of the founders of Stepwell Soil.  Q-Tran and Calvin Manley
Q-Tran and Calvin Manley founders of Stepwell Soil

“One thing that government got wrong is that the cannabis industry is very unique. It was already a market, already with an opinion, already with a skill set. Growers are very bias, really stubborn, and really hard to talk to, but they follow really easily. When they see a great example Jimmy tells John, and then John switches everything that he is doing to Jimmy’s set-up. And that is just typically how growers work. ” – Manley

Manley figures that about 95% of all Stepwell Soil is sold to cannabis growers, although in the future, he would like to see Stepwell Soil used for all our growing. The reality however is that when compared to other soils that can be picked up at most grocery stores, Stepwell Soil can be perceived as being too expensive for growing shrubs and regular house plants. “We encourage others to grow companion plants alongside – house plants, or vegetables because the soil can be used for pretty much anything living. Really it comes down to a price point. That is why it is tailored more for cannabis. The average person can go in to a grocery store and grab a loose bag of $5.00 topsoil. Now they don’t know what is in there, and there is probably not nutrient value in there. But things grow – house plants grow. It is really a price point. For our $75 product to be put next to that, it is really hard for many gardeners to justify especially for shrubs or vegetables. When it comes to growing cannabis however, there is value that comes out of the plant, and that’s what it really comes down to. If someone is pitching the idea about growing it for yourself, it is not as much about saving money, but more about being health conscious. Realistically, you are building a foundation that may seem more expensive in the beginning, which it is not, it just feels that way. If you built up a foundation for your first two cycles to enable you to have three cycles and on with a really solid foundation, with minimal input, and you have more time to relay toward your plants – overall that is going to be cheaper.”

Close up image of worm castings on a persons hand.
Worm Castings are a key ingredient in building super-soil

In addition to eliminating confusion and decreasing the risk of harm to the plants, using a super soil has other benefits which include :

  • It is organic – for those that are concerned about taking in harmful toxins
  • Save money on fertilizers
  • Save time in balancing Ph levels
  • The plants typically are stronger
  • You have some control over the expression of the plant (the way that it tastes)

“I would really love to see people start to speak more about that regional expression, and stop comparing plants like they are objects. A bud to another bud is not weed versus weed” – Manley

Cannabis plant photo focused on bud in late growing stage
Homegrown Sativa Plant close to harvest time

Expression, when discussing cannabis, would be akin to using the word nuance in relation to wine. Wine has so many variables that impact the taste, smell and colour, and it is Manley’s opinion that we should be focusing on the same thing as we are establishing our personal grow methods with cannabis. He suggested that despite the fact that we have a nutrient dense soil that we are growing in, we could still add some sort of additional bio-degradable nutrient to further enhance the quality and taste derived from the soil.

He explains, “ I wouldn’t suggest that you make your pot a compost, but you could add bits of your banana or something like that. In that sense it becomes extremely affordable because you most likely have something around your house, in your backyard, or locally for extremely cheap. It would be nice to have a unique expression just like the same way wines have a regional expression. Maybe the amendments that are local to you or the ground that you are growing in are going to impact the expression. I would really love to see people start to speak more about that regional expression, and stop comparing plants like they are objects. A bud to another bud is not weed versus weed”.

As winemakers have known for hundreds of years terroir, or soil, are instrumental in the creation and differentiation of quality and taste. Budding growers (pun intended) need to take a chapter out of the vintners playbook, and become more aware of our growing conditions – especially soil. Those that master the soil will be well on their way to creating smoother, tastier, and more robust buds.

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1 comment on “Super Soil – Terroir – Does dirt matter?

  1. Pingback: Cannabis regions should get the same recognition as wine regions. Here’s why. - Can Can Buzz

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