By Wil Wilson

If you’re even slightly interested in gardening or cultivation, it’s likely you’ve heard the term “living soil” or heard about “no-till” gardening methods. Simply put, living soil refers to the community of microbes and fungi living in soil that work together to break down organic matter, which in turn provide nutrients for the plants. With recent advances in agricultural science and ecology, a better understanding of the food webs and life within soil has arisen, along with new methods for creating ideal conditions for plants to survive.

While the practice of cultivating beneficial organisms is by no means a new concept, living soil has been steadily becoming more popular with cannabis growers. Proponents of living soil-grown cannabis claim it produces higher yields and healthier plants coupled with better appearance, taste, and smell. Living soil is also a more sustainable option for growers who want to save money and resources rather than spending cash on expensive growing mediums.

The science behind living soil can seem overwhelming at first, and new research is coming out every day about soil biodiversity. Fortunately for those interested in learning more about living soil, there are some really great books already available. The awesome thing about most of the books I’ve come across on the subject is that they cover the (literal) microscopic details of microbial soil ecology while also providing practical information about creating a thriving soil ecosystem.

One book that has received a lot of attention recently is The Living Soil Handbook: The No-Till Grower’s Guide to Ecological Market Gardening by Jesse Frost, living soil expert and host of Farmer Jesse’s No Till Market Garden podcast. Jesse is an organic, no-till vegetable farmer based out of Kentucky, and as such, most of this book is about outdoor, organic farming for food crops. While this is not a book directed at cannabis growers, the topics presented in this book cover the fundamentals of soil science that any cultivator will find useful. Jesse goes over the science of his philosophy of “touch as little as possible” and provides methods for cultivating healthy, biodiverse soil.

If you are looking for a guide specific to organic home cannabis cultivation, True Living Organics: The Ultimate Guide to Growing All-Natural Marijuana Indoors by The Rev is considered essential reading for growers at any level. In this guide, The Rev gives an overview of how to turn an existing grow space into an organic grow space, how composting and soil mixes can improve plant health, and even provides information on creating organic nutrients and pesticides. This book is also loaded with pictures and diagrams, making it a practical guide for indoor cultivators looking to switch to an organic medium.

For deeper insight into the science behind living soil, author Jeff Lowenfels has written extensively about soil biomes in three separate volumes: Teaming With Microbes, Teaming With Nutrients, and Teaming With Fungi. Each book in the series covers different aspects of soil ecosystems coupled with practical advice for how gardeners can take advantage of what nature has already provided. Collectively these three books have become the backbone of living soil knowledge and are considered essential reading for anyone interested in organic gardening.

Teaming With Microbes explains the soil food web and how gardeners can cultivate beneficial microbes with composts and mulches. The second book in the series, Teaming With Nutrients, gets into the chemistry behind the nutrients that plants need and how plants actually absorb and use nutrients. The latest entry in the series, Teaming With Fungi, explores the symbiotic relationship that all plants have with mycorrhizal fungi and how gardeners can benefit from an understanding of this partnership. Throughout these three books, Lowenfels paints an elaborate picture of what is happening in the complex ecosystem within living soil while also providing a useful application for this knowledge.

Many of the books mentioned here either do not mention cannabis cultivation or go deeper into the subject than the average cannabis grower may need for practical application. While that may be the case, reading more into the subject can only improve our understanding of what our plants need. Living soil is proving to be a preferred method for cultivating healthy crops with a holistic approach to providing nutrients. As cannabis cultivators, we all strive to produce a crop that is sustainable, safe, and ultimately enjoyable.