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Recycled Organic Living Soil: There’s No Such Thing as Waste

July 20, 2016

As gardening technology advances, it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of the newest, fanciest methods for growing. Hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics offer cutting-edge approaches to growing our favorite plant.

However, if you’re on a budget, or you don’t feel like you have the chemistry skills to balance the pH of 20 different nutrient solutions, you’re in luck. You don’t need to be a scientist to grow lush, verdant buds.

Non-soil methods rely on constant measurements, precise concentrations and monitoring round-the-clock. That’s because, when growing outside of soil-like media, we’re trying to recreate the natural environment that cannabis thrives in. If we grow in soil, then we can skip a lot of these processes. The soil acts like its own little universe; as long as you take care of the soil, it will do the rest of the work for you. You just need to understand some basics of nature, and let the science take care of itself.

What is recycled organic living soil?

Recycled organic living soil (ROLS) uses nutrient-rich soil to nourish a grow. Minimal, if any, synthetic additives are needed, because the life flourishing inside the plant will create those additives naturally.

If you’re new to professional-scale indoor grows, or if you just enjoy simplicity in your business, then sticking with a soil medium is your best bet. Although hydroponics and aquaponics have their advantages, Cannabis sativa originated in good old-fashioned soil. If you grow your plants in healthy soil, you can still pull off the same kinds of yields, terpene profiles and high cannabinoid levels that you would using a more artificial method.

The ROLS technique exploits a basic fact about plants: Soils are not just dirt. They’re living, breathing ecosystems of their own. If you feed the soil, the soil will in turn feed your plants. You’ll still need to check pH and watch out for leaf burn. But if you do this right, a lot of the headaches will disappear from your grow operation.

Advantages of ROLS

The biggest advantage of ROLS is money. You can recycle and reuse your ROLS over and over and over again. That means less money going into your grow and more money going into your pocket.

The second advantage is ease. Once you’ve got a super-healthy medium, you just need to add to it ever-so-slightly between cycles. If you can’t devote 110% of your time to the grow operation, think about switching to ROLS.

The third advantage is the environment. Using synthetic fertilizers will increase salt deposits into the water supply. Synthetics can also deoxygenate waterways, leading to excess algae growth and killing off hordes of microorganisms necessary to those environments. If you want a clean grow with a clean conscience, ROLS is the only way to go.

Finally, ROLS uses nature’s best tricks to generate the dankest buds. If you’re looking to max out your plants’ terpene and cannabinoid profiles, ROLS will do that for you. Buds grown from ROLS media typically exude potent smells, delicious flavors and heady highs.

How to make ROLS

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for making a ROLS grow. A lot of it depends on personal preference, as well as what works best for your strains. The following guide is a general walkthrough for the ROLS technique. Keep what works best for you, and discard what doesn’t.

  1. Get some good soil. You can start with any of the soils available at a home or gardening store. Understand that although you’re working with soil, the stuff you buy from stores is not ROLS. Most of these soils are heat-treated to kill the microorganisms that live in them. Although that’s great for preventing disease in your grow, it also means the soil is relatively inert. But we can just add some ingredients to this soil to turn it into a lively ecosystem.
  2. Create space in the medium. You need something to absorb water and something to keep air flowing into and out of the media. Luckily, a lot of composting items will do both. Humus is the go-to product. It not only holds extra water—which will keep your soil from getting too moist and molding up—but it also provides tons of nutrients to the plant and helps with airflow. Other products like coconut husk and peat can also do the trick. Many growers swear by rice hulls and lava rock. Don’t be afraid to combine some or all of these (in moderation), if you plan to go heavy-duty.
  3. Load up the fertilizers. If you’re doing true ROLS, you need to do away with all those bottled-up, lab-made synthetics. For ROLS, think about bat guano, earthworm waste or bone meal. Straight-up manure works wonders and will provide nitrogen to your plants for multiple cycles. Mineral sources like gypsum powder can be mixed in—although if you want to capitalize on mineral powders, look into volcanic dust. Natural charcoal (burned wood) that contains no lighter fluid provides microscopic building blocks just like a fire would. As with peat, humus and similar materials, you should combine multiple nutrient/fertilizer sources. Nature never relies on one, and neither should you.
  4. Add protection for your plants. Although ROLS does nature’s thing, nature isn’t wholly benevolent. Things can go wrong with pests, or perhaps the wrong microflora starts to take over your soil environment. That’s why adding things like stinging nettles, a small amount of orange or lemon peels, or even some onions is necessary. These plant products will control the spread of the wrong critters in your soil while encouraging the growth of the good ones.
  5. Don’t forget your compost tea. The lifeblood of every great ROLS mix is the compost tea. The compost is what you’ll continually add to the soil to keep it bustling. Some ideas for compost tea include coffee beans, aloe, straw and egg shells. A lot of this stuff is probably sitting around your kitchen right now—or worse, is decomposing in your garbage.

Never slow your ROLS

Don’t throw those things out! A lot of the waste you produce in your kitchen can go right into your grow operation, reducing clutter in our landfills and providing sustenance to your cannabis plants. That’s where the “recycled” part of ROLS comes in.

In the end, just be sure you’re balancing your ROLS with diverse additions. The more you add, the more bases you cover. So long as the microorganisms in your soil are doing fine, they’ll do most of the biochemical work for you. A healthy soil environment will automatically keep the medium’s pH balance, regulate soil moisture and provide a constant stream of nutrients and minerals to your plant’s root systems.

If you’d like more information on ROLS, check out this article at Vertical Veg, which offers suggestions for one type of ROLS recipe. Remember, every ROLS is different, with components dependent on the grower’s preferences. If you decide to go with ROLS, you’ll likely come up with your own recipe unique to your grow!


By Randy Robinson
Cannabis Cultivation Today articles are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal guidance or advice on grow practices. You should contact an attorney or a qualified cultivation consultant for specific compliance and cultivation advice.

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