Getting Started with Organic Growing
Organic growing has become increasingly popular in recent times and rightly so, with organic natural inputs you can create a perfect soil environment to grow your favourite plants in, safe in the knowledge your produce will be clean, and free of any nasty chemicals or unwanted contaminants.
There are two common methods to growing organically, standard pot culture using organic compost and adding liquid and/or dry organic feeds that are broken down in the soil and absorbed directly by the plants roots. And secondly living soil growing including recently the popular ‘no-till method’.
Firstly pot culture, as mentioned, uses a quality organic potting soil such as Biobizz Light-Mix or Biobizz All-Mix, these soils are one of our favourites here at Critical Mass and in our opinion are the easiest way to dip a toe into the world of organic growing. Such soils have a certain amount of organic fertiliser included and should last 2-4 weeks from potting up before any extra nutrient is needed to be added (additives can still be used including Biobizz Root Juice and Ecothrive Biosys). After this time we would recommend using a good quality liquid food such as Biobizz Grow and later Biobizz Bloom and TopMax also adding some extra dry amendments such as Ecothrive Charge every 2-4 weeks and Guano Kalong Bat Guano (in the later stages particularly). Pot size for this method generally ranges from 10-40l for the final pot size depending on number of plants per square metre. The soil can be re-used by adding extra dry organic fertiliser such as Biobizz Pre-mix or Ecothrive Life Cycle.
The second main method for organic growing and one that is becoming more popular all the time is using a living soil such as Ecothrive Eco Life. The basic principle for this is using a very large pot with a heavily fertilised soil that will break down over time and release lovely organic nutrients throughout the entire crop cycle. The secret is in the formulation to create a well-balanced NPK level that gives the plant everything it requires whenever it needs it. This gives the grower the freedom to focus on other day to day plant needs, but the main key focus is in feeding your soil food web, not the plants themselves directly. You only need to lightly water with dechlorinated water and occasionally top up with extra dry amendments. You can still add liquid organic boosters such as seaweed extract based products organic boosters, guano teas etc that help release flavour, if you so wish or indeed add extra organic nutrients at any stage you feel the plants need a little more.
The idea with this method is a long-term media that you reuse indefinitely and ‘feed the soil’ rather than the plants. You are creating an ecosystem within the pot and you add organic amendments that need to be broken down first before they are available to the plant by beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae fungi. Many growers also add worms to their pots to recycle dead plant matter and created a lovely rich soil for your plants. Mulching old leaves and other top growth into the pot as the plant develops and letting the worms recycle these into lovely organic nutrients for your plants. You can even sow an under-canopy crop on top of your bare soil such as clover and then mulch this into the soil so it too is turned into nutrients.
As mentioned, this involves using large pots or plant bed area, we recommend 40-50l per plant and 4 pots per 1.2m square or thereabouts. Because it is about the amount of fertiliser in the soil, to go full cycle some companies can recommend up to 200ltrs per 1.2mtr2 space if you have a heavy feeder. You can either lightly hand water these pots every few days (sometimes even weekly) or set up a drip irrigation system that keeps the soil at the perfect moisture daily.
The idea is that after each cycle you either take the plant out remove the larger roots mix the soil up add some more dry organic amendments such as Ecothrive Life-Cycle and put into back into the pot ready to plant into or if using the no-till method you just cut out the main stem and surrounding soil/roots trying to disturb the soil as little as possible and pot your young plant directly into the resulting hole. This method is recommended if using worms especially as they will use their enzymatic feeding system to digest the mulch material and kick out fresh batches of worm castings, not only reconstituting old matter into it’s basic mineral form but improving the soil with every cycle! Again, here we would recommend replacing lost nutrients at the end of every cycle, reloading your soil for the next phase of its use.
Clean water is key!
For either of the organic methods above clean dechlorinated water with no contaminants is key to successful organic growing. Tap water contains chlorine, chloramines and all sorts of unwanted extras that are detrimental to the microbiological life that you need to break down the organic matter into available nutrients for your plants. Chlorine is the more reactive of the two bleaching agents, which can be addressed with a 24hr standing of the water. This however will not do anything to combat the more stable chloramine. Chloramine needs to react with an agent, such as the vitamin C content in Ecothrive’s Neutralise. This is then safe to use on soil that is your microbes’ habitat. Remember these are the fixers, the liberators and the support systems for organic cycling of nutrition your plant depends on!
Some areas of the UK have very hard water (with EC Values of over 1.0 in some places) which contains lots of carbonates and other things, in this situation we would recommend the use of a full reverse osmosis unit which essentially strip your water back to pure water and removes everything you need to, leaving you contaminate free. Such systems can be fitted to a water butt or tank and will continuously keep a tank of pure reverse osmosis water ready for when you need it.
In softer water areas simply dechlorinating your water either by standing it for 24 hours and ideally agitating it either with an air pump or a water pump will remove most of the nasties but to be sure we recommend using Ecothrive Neutralise which instantly removes chlorine and chloramine.
When growing organically its important to remember not to use any inorganic pesticides or foliar sprays, we recommend the use of natural predators to control pests or natural pest remedies such as neem oil or the especially effective Flying Skull Nuke-em which is OMRI listed for organic use. Please see our info section on Pest Management.
Growing wouldn’t be the same without additives would it? Some people shy away from growing organically as they believe you can’t ‘boost’ your result as much by using additives however there are a range of recommended additives for organic growing that will ensure great results are still easily achievable whilst keeping things as natural as possible. For bottled off the shelf solutions it’s hard to look past the Biobizz range of additives, not only do they have the Biobizz Grow and Bloom organic feed they have some great extras such as Biobizz Acti-Vera, Biobizz Root Juice, Bio-Heaven and Biobizz Fish-Mix but for those of you that wish to get down and dirty with your soil. Dry amendments are brilliant slow release options, but remember these take time to become available to your plant and must be properly planned in advance these include Guano Kalong Bat Guano which can be added as a top dressing or made into a tea and Ecothrive Charge.
Microbial products have a huge effect on organic growth rates and final yield as they help all the nutrient inputs to be broken down and absorbed by your plants. We recommend regularly using Ecothrive Biosys and Mammoth P to keep your army of microbials topped up and fighting the good fight!
We hope this gives you a little taster into some of the organic methods and products that are available, keep an eye out for future blogs and information on the subject as we add it to the website. And if we can help with any advice at all feel free as always to pick up the phone or call in and we can have a good chat about all things organic.
Take care, stay safe and keep on growing!