Gardener Jeff DIY Auto-Flowering Cannabis, The Soil Food Web, The Underground Fungi Network and more
Jeff Lownfels uses deeply researched science to uncover the best practices in organic gardening. Jeff grows all sorts of things, one of them he is quite exceptional at growing is cannabis, “Cannabis is Just a Plant; They all grow the same way” states Jeff.
Jeff goes over the underground network of fungi and how to attain and maintain it to grow the healthiest organic plants. He explains to us about Auto-Flowering Cannabis and how it is likely to become the “Cannabis of the Future”, and he gives us general best practices.
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Tell us who you are, what you do and, and what you’re here to talk about?
My name is Jeff Lowenfels. I go by the moniker, ‘Lord of The Roots,’ because I have three books out on the science behind organic gardening. I’ve got a fourth book coming out on a brand new plant, which I think is going to become the next tomato. It’s called auto-flowering cannabis. So we should talk about all of those things today.
You Used to go by the Moniker ‘The dirtiest lawyer in America’ Tell Us About That Name?
I am a lawyer by profession. I’m not anymore. I retired, but I was ‘America’s Dirtiest Lawyer‘ because I had a soil book called “Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardeners Guide to the Soil Food Web.” So my friends called me ‘dirty lawyer.’ A little indication of my weird sense of humor.
You had/have a gardening column in a newspaper for 41 years. How did you get into writing?
I came from an extended family of gardeners. My grandfather sold tomato plants in the springtime to pay taxes on his property in White Plains, New York. My father would come home every day and grow food in Scarsdale, New York.
I moved to Alaska, and I was a gardener even as little as you can grow here before global warming. We were growing snow peas, snowball cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, things that you would expect to grow in Alaska. It’s warmed up quite a bit, but nonetheless.
I was also a news junkie. I agreed to write a garden column for the local paper. I’ve been writing a garden column every single week now for 40 Years. I never missed a week. Then in 2006, I came out with the book ‘Teaming with Microbes’. I used to go to The Garden Writers of America Meetings. I would argue about Miracle Grow and what a great product it was. Some of my friends would say, no, you have to be organic.
So, I was convinced that Organic was best the way to go. I went at it with a vengeance. I’m the kind of guy that needs to know the science behind organics. So that resulted in Teaming with Microbes. I was having a meal, and I was looking at a picture of a bunch of women eating spaghetti. I thought, how do plants eat? That first book is about how the food gets to the plant? How does it get into the format for the plant, and how does it get to the plant? The second book is how the plants eat that food and what do they do with it once they get it inside them.
I wrote that one for myself because I had no idea. The third book came out because, in the first book, I mentioned something called microbial fungi. There was so much to learn about them that the subject deserved a full book. So I wrote a third book called Teaming with Fungi. These science-based books have become grow Bibles for all sorts of people.
There is quite a bit of cannabis mentioned in these books. Cannabis is just a plant; they all grow the same way.
Tell us about the soil food web? Living soil for better plants?
Plants take their photosynthetic energy, and they do lots of things with it. And about 50 to 60% of it is used to produce things that they drip out of their root system called Exudates, aka planet sweat. When Plants exudate, they ‘sweat’ through their roots and into the soil. Exudates are full of carbon, and this attracts bacteria and fungi that need that carbon to live.
So the bacteria and fungi are in the risers, that middle area right around the root zone, eating that carbon and having a great time. Along come nematodes, which are little worms and protozoa (those things you studied in high school but couldn’t figure out why). Amoebas, paramecium as well. They eat bacteria and the fungi because they need carbon too. They digest carbon out of bacteria and fungi, but they don’t need everything. So, they poop it out, and all of a sudden, the plant discovers that it’s got nutrients in a usable form.
So, what the plant is doing is it’s attracting its food source to its roots.
But with fungi, two things happen. First of all, fungi are attracted, and they break down food right there using the acids that fungi are known for. They break the food down, and that food becomes available for the plant.
But there’s a special kind of fungi known as a Mycorrhizal Fungi, and the mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the plant. In return for those exudates, it gives the plant nutrients that it goes and gets. Nitrogen, phosphorous, zinc, copper, water, and other things it brings back to the plant in return for the carbon that the plant gives it. 90 to 96% of all plants on the earth have this association. And most people who’ve never heard about it.
If you’re looking at a plant right now, at the root zone, it’s got fungi that are feeding that plant. Those fungi are incredibly important; if they’re not there, the plant doesn’t do well. If you import the right fungi, you can change your ecology from say, a Prairie to a Forrest.
If you’re growing cannabis, there is one specific fungi that does the nutrient work for cannabis. If you know what that is, how to apply it and how it works, bingo, you can apply it to your cannabis, and it will help you grow better, simple as that
That’s in a nutshell what the fungi are. If you happen to be a cannabis grower, get your pencils and papers out – because the fungi you want is now called Rhizophagous Intraradices. Glomas Fungi was the original.
Talk to us about that Fungi, where did it come from? Can you buy it at the store?
These particular Fungi used to be called Glomas was named after the woman who was the first person able to grow a mycorrhizal fungi in a lab. There are about 360 of them that we know of, but only about 15 to 20 can be grown in a lab.
They sleep around. So you can use that Rhizophagous on tomato plants and on lots of different kinds of plants. It happens to work very well, and it’s the only one that works on a cannabis plant. The name change occurred because we used to identify fungi by looking at morphological features of the spore, but now we do it based on DNA. So we reclassified a whole bunch of stuff. Now it’s much easier to identify.
Can you buy it at the store?
Yes. Many people sell it. One company called Bigfoot Mycorrhizal in Boulder, CO. You can buy it at any grow store. If it’s a good nursery, It’ll have mycorrhizal fungi. There are several different brands, but if you want to get the right kind, you have to look at the label, and you have to know what your plant uses.
Are there different strains of the cannabis plant that use different fungi better?
No, not that we know of. When you go and buy from a head shop and not a grow store and you sometimes see 14 different mycorrhizal or a hundred. Well, you don’t need those. You only need the one. Don’t waste your money.
A lot of these mycorrhizal fungi are psychedelic. So they form incredible networks underground that enable plants to talk to each other. This is The Mycelium Network. Mycelium are running – as Paul Stamets, the wonderful mycologist author, talks about – and many of them turn out to be psychedelic. So they are not only connecting trees and plants, but they’re making a connection to humanity as well.
Moving back to cannabis. You are a plant expert. What is it about the cannabis plant that interests you specifically?
I’m 70 years old, and I’ve been growing cannabis since it was called marijuana. It’s just always been a fun plant to grow. Partly because it is a plant where you could exercise your skills. The real reason is that I love the THC and the flavonoids and the cannabinoids, etc. But it’s a fun plant to grow. And so I’ve always tried to grow a couple of plants indoors and outdoors.
I’ve had quite a bit of experience with homegrown. My next book is going to be about auto-flowering cannabis. I believe that these are going to be for the home grower akin to the next tomato.
There’s a wave coming when you will be able to go into your local supermarket and buy a lovely little cannabis plant. Or your nursery in the spring and you’ll buy starts, six-packs of auto-flowering cannabis.
Let me explain what they are. Regular cannabis is a terrific plant. For those of us that have grown it, we know it’s fun. It takes a lot of skill to do it right. It takes a lot of time and effort. Cannabis has a couple of fascinating characteristics that you have to know as a grower. The very first is that they are big plants. You need a big pot to grow these plants, and you need a lot of room.
The second thing is they have a photoperiod requirement, meaning they require a certain number of darkness hours before they’ll flower. It needs 12 plus hours of darkness before it will flower, whether it’s cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica. It’s tough to grow cannabis without a heated greenhouse in the Northern climate. It’s tough to grow it in lots of other places because the 12 hours of darkness can be interrupted by street lights. So these two things, the size, and that photoperiod create quite a problem for the home grower.
In 1903/4, a scientist was wandering around in the Volga River area in Russia, and he sees a bunch of little teeny plants that look like cannabis plants. But they’re small. He collected some of the plants and got the seeds from these plants. The seeds and the flowers were developing before there were 12 hours of darkness. He had stumbled upon what he considered to be a new form of cannabis, which he called cannabis ruderalis.
This is a plant that was evolved from escapees from hemp plantations. They escaped the Northern climates, and they were growing out in the wild. The plants that didn’t flower before 12 hours of darkness came didn’t make it. And evolution developed a plant.
So these didn’t have a photoperiod requirement. They had a genetic requirement to flower instead. People fooled with them a little bit around 1973 (don’t check my dates) and started to get a little bit better with it.
People wanted it to develop a smaller plant that they can grow indoors. And then in 2000 or so a guy did it! He developed an Auto-flowering cannabis plant that flowered with adequate THC content. As a result, you could breed these plans with regular cannabis.
So people continued to breed them. Around 2003, people started selling them on the internet. They were okay; they were decent plants. They grew to be about maybe a foot and a half tall, and perhaps you got an ounce of dope if you were lucky.
Then all of a sudden, there was an explosion about two years ago where they developed to the point where commercial growers were starting to use auto-flowering cannabis plants.
For two reasons: One, they were growing them in between their veg plants and their flower plants, which require different daylights because space didn’t matter! So they could take up the space that was being wasted, and they would flower.
When I say they would flower, they go from seed to harvest in just seven to nine weeks. There’s a second kind of auto-flowering cannabis (really the same kind), they call it super flowering auto-flowering cannabis. They may take nine the 20 weeks. But they can get to be two to three feet high, and you can grow them in a 5-gallon bucket!
These plants now can have a THC content precisely the same as the commercial plants in the 20’s. You can also grow CBD auto-flowering cannabis plants.
They don’t like fussing. They don’t want to be fertilized. You put them in the soil in the same container you’re going to grow them in the whole time. These grow just like tomatoes!
So to spread the word, I wrote a book called “DIY Auto-Flowering Cannabis.” This book is designed for your uncle, your mother, as a Christmas present.
Changing the subject a bit, You spoke briefly about Commercial Growers? What do you see going wrong with commercial growers today?
There are a lot of tremendous commercial growers and people who are dedicated to the art. My philosophy is that you’re growing medicine, and people are putting whatever you’re growing into their systems. So you want to do it organically, and you want to do it cleanly. The first thing that bothers me is anybody who uses pesticides, it’s immoral.
I know you have to save your crop because it’s your living, but it certainly defeats the purpose. The second thing is I don’t like flushing.
There is a big mythological thought about flushing, and I don’t think it makes any sense. I don’t think there’s any science behind flushing. I think it deprives a plant.
I also don’t like people who remove leaves from plants unless they happen to be dead leaves or maybe a day before harvesting and you’re trying to make it easier on yourself.
Removing leaves to get more light to the buds has no science whatsoever and is bad practice. You see these commercial grows with lollipops all over the place. I can’t believe it. It’s just so silly because it removes so much ability of the plant to continue to provide nutrients to those flowers that are growing and fattening up.
There’s a lot of debate in the cannabis industry about all of these things, but the science is right.
Let’s revisit a couple of the things that you mentioned. Talk to us about flushing.
Flushing is something that a lot of hydroponic growers started to do. What it entails is just giving copious quantities of water to your plants without any nutrients, usually the last five to 10 days of the plant’s life. The theory is that providing all this freshwater enables the plant to use up all the nutrients that are in the plant and the flower and that somehow, you get a better tasting bud out of it.
The proof of it is said to be when you light the bud and combust it comes out with a white Ash as opposed to Black ash, which of course, is just completely stupid because it depends on how you apply the heat.
There’s no science behind flushing. All plant cells have membranes, and it takes a lot of activity and a lot of chemistry to make those membranes work. Those membranes not only take in nutrients, but they hold them in. There’s a tremendous waste of time by flushing.
They don’t do it in the tobacco industry. They don’t do it in the Apple industry. It’s just stupid.
You touched on pesticides as well. What are the alternatives to pesticides you recommend?
I always recommend growing organically. If you grow organically and properly, you have far fewer pests infecting your plants. All the cultural practices should be on an organic level. That includes using compost tea as a potential pre-pesticide. Once the plant gets in the flower, I don’t think you should be putting anything on it. I’m not a commercial grower, and I understand this is how people make a living. They can’t afford to lose a crop, but you can’t afford to be harming your patients either. So, it’s not even a question in my mind.
What are some general growing tips?
I think everybody should be using the very best organic soils. Everybody should be using a mycorrhizal fungi when they plant plants. These are the symbiotic fungi that support plants by giving them nutrients, in return for getting carbons from the plant. I think people need to have the best possible sunlight they can to get the best possible products that they can grow. We need to emulate nature as much as we possibly can.
It’s not rocket science. Nature’s been doing it forever. Try to create the most natural environment for your plants and for yourself to grow and thrive.
Whenever you grow, use the best genetics possible. You want to get the most nutrient density out of the food that you grow.
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