In the Field: Is Your Soil Ready?

Indoor growers and those that have total control greenhouses have a never-ending cycle where they are constantly doing everything from transplanting to harvesting.  In the field, we do things a little differently. In the field, we have to do them right, because we may only get one shot. The costs associated with large outdoor plantings, the use of fields for other seasonal crops, and the economic value of the land itself require special planning and techniques to be profitable.  For those of you growing cannabis for this first time this year, Welcome!  I want to work through this first to tell you about the best practices in farming and horticulture to help walk you through every step of the process as the year unfolds, so that your harvest, our first legal nationwide harvest since the 1930’s, is the best harvest of all time!

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I know what you are thinking, March, especially for the northern growers, there seems to simply be nothing to do in field grown cannabis.  Rainy showers and cold weather remind us that we are still in winter, and sub-freezing temperatures aren’t generally good for tropical annual plants. There are plenty of things to do this month though. 

March is a prep month! So let’s start this month by looking at where it all starts… Ready to get your hands dirty? 

Soil is the foundation of your crop, soil is the food for your crop, soil is how your crop get water, soil is the life of your crop.  You need to know about your soil. 

The first thing I want to look at is the physical properties of the soil.  You need to know what type of soil are you going to be growing in to know what you need to do to improve your soil, improve your roots, and improve your harvests!  

To do this there are not shortcuts, you need to go to the actual place that you are going to be growing and take a shovel, or your hands, and look at the soil. Look at the overall type of soil, dig into the subsoil layers and make sure that they layers are similar. I have on more than one occasion went to a field, someone tells me that they have great clay soil, 

Answer the question “Is it clay, silt, or sand?”  Think of all soils on a scale, most likely your soil is going to some combination of these three types of soil. If you have a fairly even mix, call it loam.  For me, a little to the sandy side of loam has been the easiest to grow cannabis in, but with some knowledge and a few changes to what you need to do for preparation, many combinations of these three soil types can lead to a very successful harvest.   

Physical properties of soil are often linked to problems associated with irrigation.  For example, when I have worked with growers that have very heavy soils, I know I need to keep an eye on the water on both ends of the spectrum.  Clay soils stabilize water within the water column very well, so when plants receive large amounts of water over a very long period, the water stays well in the soil, this can lead to fungal problems.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, when clay soils go through long periods of drought, the soil often hardens and forms a layer that is not easily penetrated by water, so unless it gets significant water, it may not be useable to the plants. 

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Is it compact, is it loose, does it shift?   The actual texture of your soil is important.  From no-till, to plati-culture methodology your preparation is going to be different, but the important part is the roots need a mixture of water, nutrients, and air circulation to be at their best, so ensuring not only the nutrient content, but also the physical characteristics are right for your crop are important to plant growth. 

If you are using no-till methodology you have to take that into account through out the growing cycle, often there is a larger volume of water needed to penetrate deep into the soil if the top layers have not been broken up by cover crops, or if there is a large amount of biomass thatch that has been collected on top of the soil.   During dry times of the year as much as a third of an inch of water may have to be applied just to get to the top soil layers.  The use of very low flow irrigation or cycle and soak irrigation patterns are helpful in combating some of these compaction problems, but doing some easy prep now to your soil can go a long way during what will be a busy growing season. For those of you in the great plains, from Texas to North Dakota and all in between, soil compaction is a balancing act, you want the soil loose enough for the roots to grow un obstructed, but you also have to take into account the days you are going to have a 50 MPH red flag wind day. A plant is just a bad sail when the wind gets going, and too much shifting in the soil damages fine root hairs, and will slow growth by damaging roots. So a balance must be maintained.  The goldilocks zone will depend on site specific conditions, such as wind exposure, nutr

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About the Author

Lance Roberson,

From large commercial greenhouse propagation and growing for box retailers, to problem resolution for ag land across the world, Lance has had his hands on plants as long as he can remember, he integrates his broad real world experience with cutting edge tools and information to make growing easier or profitable for anyone at any scale!

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