Top Dress Your Weed Plants To Feed Your Soil
Synthetic fertilisers are convenient, but they leave the soil depleted in the long-run. Top dressing is a regenerative method of feeding plants that restores soil health and promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
There’s more than one way to feed a cannabis plant. Synthetic nutrients provide an instant solution to nutritional deficiencies, however, they don’t do much for the health of the soil. In contrast, organic nutrients provide the complete package, feeding plants and the soil in kind. Top dressing is a technique that involves applying organic nutrients to the surface of the soil. Many cultivators have improved the health of their crops using this simple yet effective method.
IMPORTANCE OF THE RHIZOSPHERE
Pioneering steps in the field of soil science have greatly enhanced our understanding of what is going on beneath the surface. We now know that the root zone (or rhizosphere) is a microcosm of life. It’s home to beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa. These microorganisms make up what soil scientist Dr Elaine Ingham calls the “soil food web”. They play fundamental roles in the health of soil and the plants that grow in it, from breaking down organic matter to deterring pests.
Researchers have compared the rhizosphere with a thriving alien landscape, with a single cubic centimetre of soil containing as much biodiversity as a hectare of above-ground forest.
Unfortunately, modern agricultural practices neglect this delicate system of life. Synthetic fertilisers and tilling are two culprits that have battered and bruised the soil, leading to erosion and the removal of the vital critters mentioned above. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic method of growing plants that tends to the soil food web. Simple feeding techniques—such as top dressing—restore soil health and produce superior quality cannabis plants.
This article will explain what top dressing is, why it’s beneficial, and how to apply it in your garden.
TOP DRESSING WILL BRING NEW LIFE TO YOUR SOIL (LITERALLY)
Top dressing is an ultra-easy way to add sustenance to the soil. It involves spreading a layer of compost or other amendments on the surface of beds or containers. Throughout the growing season, microbes will break down this matter and release a steady and constant flow of nutrients into the soil. By doing this, you’re essentially feeding the soil, which then feeds your plants.
Top dressing is a regenerative alternative to synthetic nutrients and tilling. Conventional growing involves pouring nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus into the soil. This addition is shortly followed by tilling—the act of distributing the soil using a plough or rototiller. Although this method aerates the soil and makes it easier for seedlings to gain a foothold, it decimates the soil food web.
Tilling lays waste to microbial life, shreds beneficial fungal networks, and releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. As a regenerative no-till technique, top dressing achieves the opposite. It allows gardeners to build their soil over the seasons and foster strong microbial communities. Synthetic nutrients will slowly deplete your soil of life, whereas top dressing will result in long-term sustenance. Healthy soil gives rise to more robust plants, larger yields, and higher-quality flowers.
Applying synthetic fertilisers without considering the soil food web is akin to feeding ourselves without considering our own microbiome—a vital element of human health.
In the words of Dr Ingham: “Put your workforce back into place. They don’t need holidays. Just make sure they’re in your soil and feed them. Our job is to make sure there is a diversity of microorganisms, so plants can choose which organisms they need”.
WHEN TO TOP DRESS YOUR SOIL
Growers need to top dress their soil in early spring, before the start of the growing season, because it takes the microbes a while to break down organic matter and release nutrients. By top dressing early, your soil will be swimming in nutrients as your plants enter the vegetative phase.
If you’re working with a simple soil, you’ll need to redress it several times throughout the season. Top dress your beds and containers every three weeks to keep your microbes and plants fed. If you’re working with a complex and healthy soil, you’ll only need to redress it at the start of the flowering phase.
Although top dressing can provide a full spectrum of nutrients, it’s still possible for deficiencies to occur. Because organic matter takes some time to break down, you’ll need to use a fast-acting technique to address them. Compost tea is a speedy and natural way to remedy any apparent deficiencies.
THE BEST AMENDMENTS FOR TOP DRESSING
Growers can choose from a plethora of amendments to top dress their soil. Although these options seem different on the surface, there’s a common thread between them—they’re loaded with nutrients! Let’s take a look at the best options.
Composting is a cheap and easy way to make a nutrient-rich amendment at home. Making compost is easy; all you need is a compost bin and some kitchen and garden waste. Try to maintain a 3:1 ratio of brown:green material. Brown material is high in carbon and includes dead leaves, sawdust, and straw. Green material is nitrogen-rich and encompasses fruit, vegetables, and fresh plant waste.
Once it’s ready, your compost will have a dark brown appearance and be soft to the touch. This material is full of organic matter and nutrients that’ll feed your plants and microbes.
BLOOD AND BONE MEAL
Blood and bone meal are organic fertilisers obtained from cattle. It might seem gruesome, but this is one of many ways nature keeps the soil thriving. Blood and bone meal are rich in the essential minerals phosphorus and nitrogen. The amendment is also effective at repelling mammals such as deer and squirrels.
Kelp meal is an amendment made from a nutrient-rich seaweed. The species contains a massive spectrum of minerals, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, manganese, and zinc. Kelp also contains beneficial hormones and promotes the growth of soil microorganisms.
Worm castings is another term for, well, worm shit. These wriggly creatures are helpful garden allies. They convert kitchen and garden waste into nutrient-dense droppings. Gardeners can raise worms in a “worm bin” for a limitless supply of their excrement. Worm castings are a valuable amendment that contains potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.
Mycorrhizal fungi form a synergistic relationship with plants. They attach themselves to the roots and become an extension of the root system. These life forms are expert decomposers and excrete enzymes to break down organic matter. Plants fuel this process by feeding them sugars, and receive nutrients in return. Some species of mycorrhizal fungi may already exist in the soil. However, growers can inoculate their soil using Easy Roots Mycorrhiza Mix to make sure they’re present.
Top dressing is a simple and effective way to feed your cannabis plants and enhance soil health. Find out which amendments work best.
How to Feed Cannabis, Organically: Top-Dressings, Teas, & More!
So you’re growing cannabis, huh? Right on! Like so many other plants in the garden, cannabis can be as low-maintenance or as pampered as you prefer. Also like other plants, your results and quality of harvest will be dictated by the kind of care you give it. Trust me, we have our hands full over here… We are busy, and don’t have time for elaborate cannabis feeding schedules. For the most part, we feed cannabis like any other plant in our garden! Okay, maybe just a tad more spoiled and fussed over…because we do want the ladies to thrive, after all!
In this article, we’ll explore the various ways we tend to cannabis plants throughout their growing cycle, in an organic matter. This includes some basic routine care tips, and the use of mulch, aloe vera, silica, top-dressings, sprouted seed teas, botanical teas, and foliar sprays to feed cannabis plants.
Before we dive in, I would like mention a couple of things. First of all, we have dabbled with all of the methods explained in this post, but don’t use them all concurrently – or even currently! I simply want to share a variety of options with you. Hopefully you’ll learn a few good tips. Then, you can pick and choose what works best for your plants and your schedule.
Second, if you are new here or haven’t fully explored the blog yet, keep in mind that there are a few important posts already published about growing cannabis! Check them out if you haven’t already:
How to Grow Cannabis: Routine Care Basics
The first and most important aspect of cannabis care starts with the soil it is grown in. Soil composition and quality has a substantial influence over any type of plants growth, vigor, resilience, and overall health. It is in part what feeds cannabis directly, as well as a medium to provide other food sources through. A living, biologically-active soil is best! In essence, stellar soil is what sets everything up for success.
To grow cannabis, we generally build our own soil and then reuse it year after year as recycled organic living soil, following a mostly “no till” philosophy. Our soil blend consists of high quality compost, peat moss, and small volcanic rock, plus worms and several amendments. There are some great bagged soil options out there as well! To read all about this important first step in your cannabis growing adventure, check out this post all about soil, grow bags, amendments, and more. You can find our exact soil recipe there.
Another key factor in basic cannabis care is water. As obvious as it may sound, I think watering practices is where many new gardeners can go wrong! Try to develop a routine. For example, watering 2 or 3 days per week, on the same days when possible. Obviously the routine may shift a little with changes in the weather, and as the plants grow larger and drink more. The goal is to maintain the soil consistently moist. Not soggy and drowning, but not allowed to dry out either. Even moisture will keep your soil alive, and the worms and microorganisms happy!
Speaking of, microorganisms and soil will be most happy if they’re provided de-chlorinated water when possible. For all of our cannabis watering needs, including making the teas described in this post, we either use captured rainwater, or run our tap water through a carbon hose filter like this. You can also set a bucket out in the sun for a day or two, which allows chlorine to dissipate and burn off.
Fabric grow bags are ideal for maintaining a desirable moisture level! A huge proportion of growers use them, including commercial cannabis operations, which say volumes. Fabric pots can dry out more quickly than solid containers, so more frequent water may be needed. On the other hand, they also are nearly impossible to create overly-wet, swampy conditions with. This is just one of the many reasons we love using grow bags for our cannabis.
Big healthy Maui Wowie ladies.
If you can get your soil right, and maintain a good watering routine, your plants should be pretty happy just with that! It is the foundation. The other fertilizers and feeds that we’ll go over are like icing on the cake.
Keep it Natural, Baby
When we first sought out to grow cannabis at home, we talked with a few seasoned growers. They mentioned all sorts of liquid fertilizers or “nutes”, synthetic products, pH-up and pH-down solutions, and fairly extensive feeding schedules – ones that changed throughout the plants growing cycle. Honestly, it was pretty overwhelming and confusing. I am here to tell you that all nonsense isn’t necessary! While there are many, many schools of thought on “the best way” to grow cannabis, and even though I am all about “to each their own” – there is no need to make it so complicated for yourself. If you can grow good tomatoes, you can grow good ganja.
The methods and products that many cannabis growers use, including the types of things mentioned above, require the plants to be “flushed” before harvest. This is the process of withholding any fertilizer and running large amounts of water through the plant’s soil and root ball over and over for several weeks. The purpose is to flush the plant of accumulated salts, chemicals, and unsavory additives – to make it safer and taste better when consumed. When I first heard about this practice, it set off huge red flags for me.
I don’t know about you, but I do not want to add anything to my plants that needs to be flushed out before we use or consume it. Therefore, we have done our homework over the last few growing seasons, and figured out much more natural, organic, and easier ways to tend to our cannabis plants. All of the methods shared below do not require flushing! Most of things we use for fertilizers are certified organic plant materials – plants feeding plants.
Ways to Feed Cannabis, Organically
Aloe Vera & Silica
While I wouldn’t necessarily classify either as a “fertilizer” per se, aloe vera and silica both play an important role in our cannabis care routine. The use of both of these is highly recommended, not only by us – but by the majority of organic cannabis growers you’ll come across! They each offer a plethora of benefits to compliment the rest of your feeding practices.
We include small amounts of powdered aloe vera and silica to every routine watering, tea solution, and foliar spray that we provide our cannabis plants. So as you continue to read the recipes in this article, keep that in mind. I won’t list them each time, but know they’re in there too! Don’t feel that you have to add them to everything as frequently as we do though… even an occasional application will help!
For aloe vera, we use this freeze dried aloe vera powder – mixed at a rate of 1/8 tsp per gallon of water – for both watering and foliar sprays. We do grow and use fresh aloe too, but not enough to keep up with the demands during cannabis season! For silica, we use this product, and combine 1/2 tsp per gallon of water. Read the instructions of the products you choose, as their application rates may differ.
Aloe vera is most widely recognized for its amazing human health and skin healing abilities. However, it also has many health-promoting attributes for plants! Aloe contains dozens of micronutrients, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. It is known to aid in seed germination and root development. Aloe also reduces transplant shock and boosts plants immune systems – making them more resistant to disease, drought, and other stress.
Check out this post all about growing aloe vera, and how to use it to create a fresh soil drench or foliar spray!
In addition to using powdered products, we try to make a fresh aloe vera soil drench for newly transplanted seedlings, trees, and the cannabis plants a few times per year!
Silica is the common cannabis industry term for potassium silicate or silicon dioxide, and is very popular among growers. It is naturally occurring in everything from clay, granite, gravel, sand, diatomaceous earth, and many other forms of rock. It is also found in some plants as well, such as horsetail! You should take care not to inhale its tiny dust particles, which can be hard on the lungs, but great on your plants!
Maximum Yield explains that silica can do the following amazing things for your plants:
- Create stronger cell walls, and therefore larger stalks and plants.
- Increase resistance to environmental stress, particularly against heat stress, cold nights, and drought!
- Increase resistance to pathogens and fungal infections like powdery mildew and rust
- Reduce susceptibility to pests by finely coating the leaves, especially against leaf-sucking insects like whitefly and mites.
- Increase a plants metabolism to produce more chlorophyll, lush leaves, and reduce leaf wilt.
How to Feed Cannabis by Top-Dressing
Feeding cannabis through routine top-dressings is the least time-consuming method on this list, and yields great results! Top-dressing is the practice of adding materials to the top of the soil, around the base of the plant. As the materials break down, get watered in, and are moved around by worms, they in turn feed the plant! Nutrients are delivered more slowly via top-dressing than some other methods however, so this is best used as routine care for healthy plants, not correcting a deficiency. If a plant is showing signs of immediate distress, teas or foliar sprays provide more expedient results.
Top-dressing is our primary method of fertilizing cannabis currently. Our grow bags are heavily mulched with rich nutrient-accumulators. Also, they are routinely top-dressed with things like malted barley, neem, kelp, and alfalfa meal, as described below.
If you choose to utilize a similar top-dressing routine to feed your cannabis, this can be your sole way to fertilize. Meaning, you’ll want to be careful not to overdo it and also apply botanical teas regularly. An occasional tea would be okay, especially a sprouted seed tea or compost tea – as they’re the most mild! Otherwise, I suggest either feeding cannabis with botanical teas OR top-dressings, but not both – particularly when it comes to alfalfa meal. Overuse of alfalfa meal is the most likely to fry your plants out of the bunch.
Feed Cannabis with Mulch
It is best to mulch the top of your grow bag or soil surface area to maintain a healthy soil. We love using biodynamic accumulators that not only provide moisture retention, but will later break down into more nutrients and energy for the cannabis! These plants are especially good at taking up and storing nutrients in their leaves. Some examples of biodynamic accumulators are borage, comfrey, yarrow, horsetail, and dandelion greens. Fava bean greens are also excellent for green mulching, since they’re nitrogen fixers! If you don’t have access to these types of plants, straw or hay will work as mulch – but will not feed cannabis as much as the others. We grow all of these with mulching in mind!
Another popular mulch option is to use an organic cover crop seed mix. Most of the cover crops commonly used are also nitrogen-fixers, as fava beans are. They help draw in nitrogen to the soil. Lightly work the cover crop seed into the top inch of soil when you first plant your cannabis seedling. As it gets watered, cover crop will grow under the canopy of your plant. It becomes a living mulch, and also enhances your living soil food web. As it grows tall, you can “chop and drop” mulch with it. That is when you trim it and leave it in place to decompose as green mulch.
Mulch is important and shouldn’t be skipped, although it won’t be enough to feed your hungry plants on its own. Combine this practice with other top-dressings, or teas!
Top-Dressing with Plant-Based Meals
About once a month, we add a combination of plant-based meal fertilizers to the top of our grow bags. During the plant’s early vegetative state, we primarily use a combination of alfalfa meal and kelp meal. As the plant matures and begins to flower, we then switch to a combo of neem seed meal and kelp meal instead.
All you do is sprinkle a little on the top of the mulch and/or soil, and water it in! Every time the plant gets watered thereafter, more nutrients from the meals are released. Young plants can get by with less food. Larger plants with more roots and foliage (or flowers) to feed will require more.
Top-Dressing Application Rates
|Small Containers (5-10 gallons) & Young Plants||Large Containers (20-25 gallons) & Larger Plants|
|Alfalfa & Kelp||1 TBSP alfalfa + kelp meal each||¼ cup alfalfa + ¼ cup kelp meal|
|Neem & Kelp||1 TBSP neem + kelp meal each||¼ cup neem + ¼ cup kelp meal|
Curious what these things are for?
Kelp meal contains over 70 different vitamins and minerals. It helps promote overall plant health, vigor, and tolerance to stress, pests , and disease. It is also a renewable, sustainable resource – so that’s a huge plus.
Neem seed meal enhances microbial activity, making your soil even more alive! It also strengthens root systems, and can help control unwanted nematode populations, fungus, and soil pathogens.
Alfalfa meal is a relatively high-nitrogen natural fertilizer. It provides a wealth of other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to your plants, including: phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sulfur, boron, iron, and zinc. Alfalfa contains a growth hormone called triacontanol that stimulates root growth. This is why we top-dress with alfalfa more so in the early stages of development. Furthermore, it increases beneficial microbes in the soil and enhances photosynthesis.
While alfalfa doesn’t have a crazy high nitrogen content in comparison to something like blood meal, it is still one that should be applied with some caution. Alfalfa meal has faster-acting nitrogen than the other materials we use, and can therefore “burn” plants if you aren’t careful. It works with the microorganisms in the soil to rapidly break it down, release nutrients, and heat up the soil more than most meals. These attributes make it a great compost accelerator! But also a more sensitive one to apply directly to plants. With alfalfa, we always start on the more conservative end of a recipe, see how the plant reacts, and then can slowly increase its use with time and age as needed.
Top-Dressing with Malted Barley
Another top-dressing that we routinely provide our cannabis plants is malted barley, fresh ground from whole grains. It is applied much like the meals above, simply sprinkled on top of the mulch, but a bit more frequently. We add malted barley powder to our grow bags every week or two.
What is malted barley, and why is it so special? Yes, this is the same stuff that is used to brew beer! Therefore, you can usually obtain organic malted barley from a local homebrew store, or buy it online. In this context, “malted” is used to describe barley grains that have been germinated. Under controlled conditions and temperatures, the wet grains are allowed to sprout… just a little bit. The process is halted when they reach peak enzymatic activity, which makes them ideal for future fermentation – or use in the garden!
The key part in all of this is the “peak enzymatic activity”. Basically, enzymes help plants do everything from photosynthesize, to more readily take up and make use of nutrients and minerals! The use of malted barley provides a lot of the same benefits as sprouted seed teas, so we’ll talk more about the role of enzymes in that below. Also like sprouted seed teas, you really can’t go overboard with malted barley! It is very mild and will not burn your plants.
How to Make Malted Barley Top-Dressing
When you’re using malted barley, it is best used when freshly ground. Therefore, wait to grind the grains until the time of use. We grind them into a fine powder in a Vitamix, but a good food processor or other blender should do the trick!
For smaller pots, around 5 to 10 gallons in size, sprinkle 2 tbsp of ground malted barley on the top of the mulch or soil. For larger pots, such as 15-25 gallon pots, add one quarter cup malted barley powder. When we need to top-dress four large grow bags, we grind up one heaping cup of barley grains, which will result in about ¼ cup ground for each plant as needed. After it is sprinkled on top, water as usual.
Once the malted barley is in the mulch, the worms within our grow bags seriously go crazy! They love to eat malted barley, and move it all around the soil for us. The increased worm activity also helps promote good aeration, even moisture retention, and nutrient cycling – so it is a win-win!
If you choose not to use malted barley on your plants, then I highly suggest using sprouted seed teas! Both provide similar benefits to compliment your other top-dressings or botanical teas.
How to Feed Cannabis with Teas
Let’s talk about three different types of teas you can use to feed your cannabis plants, or your garden in general! These include sprouted seed teas, botanical teas, and compost tea. Of the three, botanical teas are the most strong. Therefore, go easy with them if you are using other fertilizing methods, like top-dressing. Compost tea and sprouted seed teas are more mild, and can very safely be used as a special treat in conjunction with other fertilizing routines.
Sprouted Seed Teas
Sprouted seed teas (SST) are essentially what they sound like! They’re made by pre-sprouting seeds in a jar, blending them with a bit of water, and further diluting that concentrated solution in a larger amount of water. This creates a tea to feed your plants as a soil drench.
The purpose of making sprouted seed teas for your plants is to provide them with unique and powerful plant enzymes. Enzymes are a type of protein, made up of amino acids. They kick-start important biochemical reactions that enable your plants to grow big, strong, lush, and loaded!
“The biological processes that occur within all living organisms are chemical reactions, and most are regulated by enzymes. Without enzymes, many of these reactions would not take place. Enzymes catalyze all aspects of cell metabolism. This includes the digestion of food, in which large nutrient molecules (such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) are broken down into smaller molecules; the conservation and transformation of chemical energy; and the construction of cellular macro-molecules from smaller precursors.
Have you noticed how popular microgreens and sprouts are these days, utilized as a health food? Well, there is a good reason for it! During the sprouting process, enzymes are activated and enhanced far beyond what you find in the raw seed, or in the mature vegetable or plant for that matter. Studies show that a germinated seed (sprout) can have up to 4000 times the concentration of enzymes and antioxidants than the un-sprouted seed. Because of this, you may also hear sprouted seed teas referred to as “enzyme teas”.
Types of Seeds for Sprouted Seed Teas
Various types of seeds can used to create sprouted seed teas! These include, but are not limited to: alfalfa seeds, barley or rye grains, corn kernels, peas, or even mung beans! We prefer to use certified organic seed for our teas, such as these organic alfalfa seeds, this organic barley grain, or these organic corn kernels.
There are many enzymes within each of these germinated sprouts, including A-amylase and B-amylase, cellulase, cytokinins, and more! I won’t get too deep in the weeds with details here, but I’ll just say this: the enzymes produced in sprouted seed teas are going to be beneficial to your plants in one way or another. Some help break down complex nutrients into more simple ones. Others increase the plants absorption and use of those nutrients. Some enzymes help with energy conversions and reactions, leading to faster and fuller growth!
Some growers get really caught up in applying only certain types of teas during the plants different stages of growth. For example, one tea during its vegetative state and others during its flower cycle. We don’t fuss over this too much. Though we do apply more alfalfa-based feedings in the early stages of life, due to the root-stimulating hormone it contains – triacontanol. Otherwise, we feel the plant will naturally draw up whatever nutrients and utilize the types of enzymes it needs most during that phase.
Watering a few tall sativa autoflower ladies with corn sprouted seed tea. This was during our first year growing, before we focused on improving our mulch game!
How to Make Sprouted Seed Tea to Feed Cannabis
1) Sprouting Seeds
To sprout seeds, we use a mason jar and dilute the final tea product in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Therefore, those are the ratios I am going to provide you today – but feel free to scale up or down as needed.
To make a corn, barley, bean, or other seed tea, add 2 ounces of seed of choice to a mason jar. For an alfalfa tea cut that amount in half and use only 1 ounce, or about 2 tablespoons of seed. With the seeds, fill the jar at least half full with clean water.
We love and use these awesome stainless steel screen lids that are especially made for sprouting seeds in mason jars. They make it very easy to do the repetitive rinsing process that is required. We utilize them for sprouting seeds for cannabis, ourselves, and the chickens!
Soak the seeds in water for the first 8 to 12 hours, sitting out at room temperature. Next, dump the water, add fresh water and swirl to rinse the seeds. Repeat the rinsing process once or twice more, then dump the water a final time. Now, the seeds should be damp in the jar, but no longer soaking in water. The purpose is to flush the seeds of potential bacteria, as well as remove the natural sprouting inhibitor that many seeds release.
Continue to rinse and dump the seeds twice per day until they have sprouted a little tail. The time it takes to sprout will vary depending on the type of seed you’re using. For example, corn takes a few days longer than alfalfa or barley. For any seed type, the peak enzymatic activity is within the first day or two of developing a tail, so that is when you want to use it!
2) Mixing & Using Sprouted Seed Tea
Once the seeds have sprouted, add them to a blender with a few cups of water. Blend into a puree. Next, pour this puree into a 5-gallon bucket of de-chlorinated water. You may want to pour the blended solution through a strainer, if you don’t want the seeds to grow where you’re dumping them. We strain alfalfa and corn teas, but don’t bother for the barley.
Ta da! Now you have a sprouted seed tea! Stir it well, and water your plants with it right away. When we make sprouted seed teas, we use them to water our cannabis fully – in place of its routine watering that day. Meaning, we use as much as required to saturate all of the soil.
The process of making sprouted alfalfa seed tea. It is all ready to water with now! The same process is followed for any type of seed, be it barley, corn, or mung bean.
In regards to frequency, you can water your cannabis plants with sprouted seed teas on a weekly basis, or just once in a while as a special treat when you have time. With sprouted seeds teas, you really can’t over do it! They can be used in addition to your routine top dressings or botanical tea applications.
Since they have a lot of the same benefits, we have been doing more malted barley top dressings than sprouted teas lately. But this is only because we are crazy busy, and top dressing is quick and easy. On the other hand, we really enjoy the process and results of making sprouted seed teas, so we still try to make them several times per growing season!
The next type of tea that you can use to feed your cannabis plants are referred to as botanical teas. Botanical teas are made by steeping a plant-based fertilizer meal (or combination of meals) in water. Common combinations include an alfalfa and kelp meal tea, or a neem seed meal and kelp meal tea. It is similar process to making tea you would drink, but on a larger scale. Botanical teas are mostly used in lieu of top-dressing with similar meals, rather than in addition to. Because we primarily top-dress these days, we haven’t been making botanical teas as often.
How to Make Botanical Teas to Feed Cannabis
To steep your fertilizer meals of choice, you’ll need a “tea bag” to contain them in. These paint strainer sacks or nut milk bags work perfectly!
To make a 5-gallon batch of neem-kelp tea, combine ½ cup neem meal and ¼ cup kelp meal in a tea bag. With alfalfa and kelp tea, start on the light side first. For young and small plants, start with ¼ cup of alfalfa and kelp meal each. Slowly increase to 1 full cup alfalfa meal and ¼ cup kelp to use on larger, mature plants.
Add the meals to your tea bag and tie it closed. Dunk it up and down a few times in the bucket of de-chlorinated water to help it get saturated. Next, set the tea solution aside and allow it to steep for about 24 hours. If you can, stir on occasion to increase the infusion. Some folks like to use an air pump and bubbler to aerate their botanical teas. We typically don’t for this application, but definitely do for compost tea!
Once the meals have steeped for 24 hours, pull up the bag and wring it out. Repurpose the spent meals by adding them to your compost pile, spread in your garden bed, or around the base of a shrub or tree! Last but not least, it is time to water plants with the tea. Use it soon after you remove the tea bag. Just as with the sprouted seed teas, there isn’t really a set amount. Simply give it to them as if it were their routine water. Repeat this process up to once every week or two.
The last type of tea that I want to mention here is a personal favorite of mine: compost tea. We make actively aerated compost tea from worm castings to feed our garden every couple of months – not just the cannabis! I recently published an article alllll about aerated compost tea, including step-by-step instructions and a demo video about how to make it. Check out this post to learn more! I am not going to rehash all the nitty gritty details here.
Compost tea provides your plants more than just nutrients. Unlike the other types of teas described today, aerated compost tea is biologically active and FULL of beneficial microbes like bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and more.
I highly suggest making and using aerated compost tea for your garden and cannabis. Like other teas, apply compost tea to the soil in the place of water. Once a month or so is plenty! Compost tea would be most beneficial to use when you are first building your soil, to inoculate it with beneficial microbes! You can also apply compost tea as a foliar spray, which I describe in the referenced post above.
Feeding Cannabis with Fermented Plant Juice
Say what? Another fun and effective way that many organic growers enjoy to feed cannabis plants is by fermenting other plants! The practice of making fermented plant juice, or FPJ, originates within the sustainable agriculture philosophy known as Korean Natural Farming (KNF). Some gardeners and farmers use only KNF practices, and swear by it!
Fermented plant juices are commonly made with already kick-ass, nutrient-dense plants like comfrey, borage, stinging nettle, yarrow, mugwort, purslane, and even aloe vera. KNF emphasizes utilizing whatever is locally available. The young portions of the plants are harvested, mixed with brown sugar to feed beneficial microbes, and allowed to ferment for about a week. That concoction is then diluted and applied to plants as a soil drench or foliar spray.
While we have experimented with fermented plant juice in the past, it isn’t something we do routinely. Therefore, I am not going to go into detail about it in this post, but it is at least worth a mention in case you want to look into it further! We both agree it is something we want to play around with more, so I will likely report back with a dedicated post all about fermented plant juice in the future.
How to Feed Cannabis with Foliar Sprays
One final way that people feed cannabis plants is through foliar sprays. By spraying fertilizers, teas, or other products directly on a plants leaves, they can quickly and readily draw the target nutrients straight into their vascular system.
We honestly don’t use them for feeding cannabis all that often, but I know many people who do. On the other hand, we do give our cannabis plants routine foliar sprays – but more so with the intention of pest prevention and control instead! An article all about pest control for cannabis is coming soon.
Types of Foliar Sprays
One nice and mild option is a kelp foliar spray. Create a kelp meal tea using the same process as explained above in the botanical tea section. The only difference is that you’ll want to scale back the amount of kelp. Only use about 2 teaspoons of kelp per gallon of water. After the tea bag has steeped for 24 hours, pull out the bag, add the tea to a sprayer, and use it immediately on your plants.
Growers often use actively aerated compost tea as a foliar spray, which doesn’t need to be diluted.
Aloe vera + Silica foliar spray is another great treat for your plants. You could also apply each on their own. As I previously elaborated on, aloe feeds plants dozens of micronutrients and minerals, and both help promote disease and stress resistance! We add powdered aloe and silica to every pest control foliar spray as a little something extra special.
If you don’t have access to fresh aloe vera, you can use freeze dried aloe vera powder. More so than fresh aloe gel, a little powder goes an even longer way! This aloe powder from BuildASoil is 200x concentrated. Use ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water for foliar applications. For silica, we use 1/2 tsp of this product per gallon of water. Read the instructions of the products you choose, as their application rates may differ.
There are many other foliar sprays out there! These are simply the ones we are most familiar with.
Applying Foliar Sprays
To apply foliar sprays, a pump sprayer is most convenient. Evenly mist the leaves of the plant until they’re dripping. For any type of foliar spray, it is best to apply them very early in the morning or after sundown to avoid frying the wet leaves in direct sunlight. We generally spray our plants in the evening time.
Furthermore, we do not recommend to apply these foliar sprays directly on to the buds. Not only do you want to avoid putting excess moisture into the buds, which can increase the chances of mildew and rot, but you also don’t really want to be directly inhaling or consuming most of this stuff – organic or not. Therefore, the foliar sprays described above are only applied during the plants vegetative state, and cease once the cannabis begins to flower.
We don’t want to spray this baby!
And that is how we feed our cannabis, organically.
In summary, our cannabis care routine consists of:
- Starting with good, biologically active soil
- Mulch with biodynamic accumulators
- Top dress with malted barley every week or two
- Add silica & powdered aloe vera to regular waterings, as well as mixed into teas and foliar sprays
- Top dress with other meals (kelp, alfalfa or neem) every month – this can be replaced with botanical teas
- Water with sprouted seed tea or aerated compost tea every month or two
- Always maintain a consistent watering routine!
I realize that all of this may not sound extremely simple, especially for a newbie…. But let me tell you, it is less complicated and far more natural than the methods and products many growers out there would recommend. Do not feel the need to implement all of the methods you learned about today! Choose a couple that sound most interesting and doable.
Furthermore, you can use most all of these techniques to nourish all sorts of other plants too! As I said, we treat our cannabis much like the rest of the garden. Organically, and with love.
In closing, hope you found this post interesting and informative. May it help guide your quest to grow quality, healthy, happy organic cannabis at home! If you’re interested in learning more than just how to feed cannabis, check out our articles on organic cannabis pest control – or this one about how to harvest, dry, cure, and store! Please feel free to ask questions, and spread the love by sharing this article.
Explore organic methods to tend to cannabis plants throughout their growing cycle, including how to feed cannabis with mulch, silica, aloe vera, top-dressings, sprouted seed teas, botanical teas, and foliar sprays.