The Sustainability of Soil-less Grow Media

There is a vast range of growing techniques within the cannabis industry, and Montana is no exception. If you want to think on a grand scale of how cannabis is grown, think of a line with two diametrically opposed methods of growing on both ends. On one end is “Living Soil Growing,” and on the other end is “Hydroponic Growing.” Each of these methodologies of cultivation represents two very different philosophies of how the plant interacts with its environment. Great cannabis can be grown both ways, but one of the fundamental aspects of a Hydroponic system is the use of a “Soil-less” substrate or soil. But what is a Soil-less soil? 

A Soil-less substrate is a form of inert media that supports the plant and its roots as it grows. A traditional soil, like any compost or even the dirt in your garden, is made up of a mix of inorganic material like sand and organic material like decomposing plant matter. In a Soil-less system, you rely on amendments or fertilizer to supply all of the nutrients for your plant. Both methods have ups and downsides but Hydroponic growing is arguably worse for the environment in multiple ways. One of the largest problems with a Soil-less system is its highly wasteful practices revolving around the creation of many of the most popular Soil-less media like Coco Coir, Peat Moss, and especially Rock Wool.  

Coco Coir, which is one of the most popular Soil-less media used in the cannabis industry, is made from the inner husk of coconuts. Coconut trees, which only grow in hot, tropical regions close to the equator, are one of the leading reasons for the burning and destruction of the Amazon. In fact, coconut plantations are one of the largest contributors to tropical forest deforestation in the world. Admittedly, Coco Coir is not the primary reason coconut trees are grown but it is still a byproduct of an ultimately harmful industry. Rock Wool, which is another Soil-less media, is even more harmful to the environment and even potentially the grower using it. Rock Wool is made from molten rocks and slag that are melted and then blown through a series of wind tunnels. This process results in a fibrous material that is commonly used to grow plants in. This entire prosses creates tons of extremely harmful emissions and uses a lot of very caustic chemicals like very strong acids. Even worse, many forms of Rock Wool will slowly break down into very small, extremely thin pieces and can act much like asbestos if it is inhaled, leading to catastrophic health problems. It is a mix of both unsustainable and environmentally harmful production practices along with potential health risks that Soil-less medias present. 

The final nail in the coffin for the environmental sustainability of using any Soil-less growing system is that all the grow media is almost always thrown away after every grow cycle. When growing in a very small scale, like in a personal garden, this is not a very big issue, but when cultivating plants on a large scale and when tons of Soil-less media is tossed every time there is a harvest, this quickly adds to the already massive environmental cost of this entire methodology of cultivation. Great plants can and regularly are grown from both Living Soil and Soil-less system but the added cost to the environment and even your own health are often matters which are never discussed. 

Let us know what you think of our synopsis of Soil-less grow media and their ethics as a cultivation method.



Taylor Ange

Specializations: Extraction Processes Compliance Product development Taylor has maintained a passion for finding unconventional solutions for problems in the biology and medical fields. From a young age, he was heavily invested in the emergency medical industry as an active member of King County Search and Rescue in Washington State. Taylor attended college at the University of Montana as a terrestrial ecology major. As a field researcher and a lab technician with the US Forest Service, he conducted e-DNA testing on fluvial systems in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. In the lab, he conducted mitochondrial DNA synthesis and analyzation which taught him how a large scale science and research laboratory is laid out and operated, along with what control measures are used for both personal and product safety. He has been involved in projects spanning beverage, cannabis fiber and extraction, and clean technology. He has been a part of developing various technologies including carbon dioxide reclamation equipment, hemp bioplastic formulations, and semi-autonomous control systems.

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