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Commercial Synthetic Fertilizers vs Hippy Juice

Yes that header is inflammatory. It was meant to capture your attention and incite a passionate response.

My dilemma is that I have not seen convincing evidence that one method of providing for our plant’s nutritional needs is actually better than an other.

There is always a strong emotional response when I ask this question, but I want to know if there is solid data that goes beyond the anecdotal.

I have been acidifying water to lower the alkalinity to acceptable levels and using commercial fertilizers like 18-6-18 with supplemental micros for the production of bedding plants for 35 years before entering the Cannabis industry. My plants have always seemed quite happy with the care I gave them. I have no hangups with switching to alternative methods I only want to understand if its really necessary or just opinions.

Thanks for you feedback


I think I can say safely, opinions.

In being around a huge variety of grows, and seeing the different variety of products used, and then with non commercial products…

Each of then give an array of results. Most lean one way or another, or mirror each other.

You will find that many growers stick with what they feel is best, and roll with it as its always worked for them!

Its farming… really! If your grower has a handle on what their growing, and how they’re growing it, then I am sure they can dial in what they have, and keep improving on it!:cowboy_hat_face:


I have the same feeling about fertilizers. I always liked peters 15-16-17 with micros. We also hand mixed our main fertilizers because we need to lower the pH and buffering capacity of our water.

I use to help a friend who was 100% organic in the early 1990’s. It was always a pain to get a consistent mix. I knew how many ppm of NKP at end of the hose, we wanted.

We both compensated by using a composted bark mix. I used one of the old metomix 550 blends. My friend mixed his own.

My chemistry was better than my friends but he would give me his old laying hens dressed and cleaned. Good trade.


My concern is cost. I like Michigan Mix but at $40 a bag for 3 five gallon pots it goes quick so I started going to lowes and making my own “super” oil with a mixture of compost and top soil with some of the michigan mix. I am about to load up the pots again and studying super soil recipes and fine tuning the recipe with more amendments. The bottom line in my grows is I did not see a big difference in yields with either method and controlling the environment is a bigger challenge.


How much fruit & vegetable production that makes it to the supermarket is grown with hippie juice versus synthetic fertilizers? I haven’t researched it but I’m certain the majority of the worlds population is feed with food that is given synthetics.


I suspect the percentage of citrus grown with synthetics is well above 80% of the total domestic production.


We actually designed volume based not per lb


Our first client 9yrs ago was Dole fruits organic division in Georgia. They bought our amendments not our blends


The bottom line is plants don’t know the difference. The plans just see a salt.

The question is of ecology and economics is a different one.

I have seen as many bad uses of organic furilizers as I have bad uses of chemical based.

Do you have deep feelings about the cost of the source?

Find a fertilizer that you like and use it.

I like changing my fertilizers both based on time of year and stage of growth.

I would like to see some work done on Calcium and dry weight. I know some work was done in field production. I suspect there is a also a relationship between tricolombs and dry weight.

The choice of growing media is as important as fertilizer.



Nitrates are nitrates, regardless of source.


If you want legitimate data, look at Organic yield research for annual plants. Yields tend to be lower for Organic and higher for conventional. The only crops that I have seen data where Organic comes close to conventional is in perennials, mostly fruit trees/bushes, but not all of them. Organic only beats conventional on a few crops. Most annuals are somewhere between 10% and 70% yield gap, with most falling between 20% and 40% yield gap.

My anecdote from having gone 2 years on a large scale Organic and 1 year as conventional, my fertilizer costs were about 10% of Organic and my per plant yield is about 20% greater, which is in line with most scientific observations on Organic vs convetional yield. I did inject some microbes mixed with fish emulsions and molasses, and I had about 5% organic matter at the beginning of the year. My estimate was about 80% conventional and 20% organic sources of nutrients.

Next year will be more of a hybrid than this year. If my cover crop grows well enough, I should be about 60% conventional and 40% Organic for nutrient source. If my cover crop doesn’t grow well, I may buy some compost and still be around 80/20.


If you are dead set on Organic, I recommend looking into chilean nitrate. Our springs are cold here, and Organic practices require enough heat to get microbes working. Chilean nitrate, aka sodium nitrate, aka natural nitrate of soda, is allowed for Organic production (it is a mined nitrate). It is fairly reasonably priced, and immediately available to plants. It always seems to be on the chopping block for OMRI certification since it goes against the idealism of Organic, but it is a natural substance. It did have regulations loosened in 2012, it used to only be allowed up to 20% of the total nitrogen input, I believe that restriction has been lifted, provided you continue to improve soil. It can really help get early growth going, if your climate is a bit cooler.

I will says that I believe improving soil is very important, but so is the economics of production. You can’t have ecologically sustainable production, if your business isn’t financially sustainable as well. When it comes to soil, I believe it is possible to have your cake (improve your soil) and eat it too (use mineral fertilizers to aid growth). Provided I can continue to maintain 5-10% organic matter, and continue to remineralize, my soil is better off than it was before I started cultivating it.


there are also market powers that can promote an organic growing culture, imo.

if the booze and cig industry are any examples, people will want natural products and the market for alternative focused consumers might be growing.
American spirits, pack for pack, may (may, cause i have no revenue data :D) cost more to produce but the margin from the market niche they carter to prob offsets the additional production costs. Similarly, there will be people wanting that organic, touched-by-an-angel stuff in their lives. The problem, imo, comes when growers focus on that single market niche without planning their future overhead or maintaining a reliable revenue flow to support their business.


True, there will always be a market for craft/Organic, but if beer is any indication of cannabis, that share will be small with many competitors. I believe, nationally, craft beer represent 12% of all beer sales (20% in urban areas), with something like 3500 competitors. Personally, I am on the commodity side where nobody seems to care about Organic (yet?), and there is no price benefit. To remain Organic would be idealism on my part, costing me in the neighborhood of $100,000 in potential revenue. I believe that it is possible for me to be a steward of my soil, while not losing revenue, but losing the “Organic” label.


Lol not sure what is meant by ‘Hippy Juice’. I googled it and it’s actually an alcoholic beverage recipe. . :wink:

Perhaps you are referring to microbial tea, which multiplies the effects of compost and has been shown to produce stronger, healthier plants. Some growers like to use mycorrhizal fungi to facilitate soil root web; or trichodermal fungi, which help to solubalize salts among other benefits. Others will add silica, kelp, molasses, amino acids, fulvic or humic acids, silica or sulphur to their teas or just add them to their NPK. Lots of hydro products contain these ingredients as supplements to their synthetic salt NPK.

So while these options exist, none are exclusive of the other. You can use your Peters 15-16-17 but still add teas and supplements to the mix. Teas are seen as adding expense and effort, but now powdered microbes and large scale brewers that integrate with fertigation systems have changed all that. There is also the question of indoor v outdoor. It’s definitely harder to follow ‘organic’ approaches indoors, and if you do lighting is critical.

The answer to the question seems to hinge on the meaning of the word ‘organic’. Your reference to Hippy Juice underscores how the synthetic fertilizer industry has been successful in turning ‘organic’ into a punchline - even in the MJ world. The perception is that tree-hugging stoners who don’t care about money or quality will waste their time on worthless elixirs that don’t actually work as well as good ol artificial stuff. (Because seriously, who knows more about growing things? Mother Nature or Big Ag? (lol))

So, what is the meaning of ‘organic’ growing (to me)?

  1. Using biology (microbes) in grow media (*living soil would fall into this category)
  2. Using fungi
  3. Using plant-based, carbon-based, plant available nutrients and supplements
  4. Using supplements to aid in nutrient uptake and regulation
  5. Employing diversity in terms of both microbes and nutrition
  6. Using inputs that are benign on the water supply and environment
  7. Using biochar and soil amendments to conserve water and encourage biology in grow media

Why is it better?:

  1. It produces a healthier plant. Most proponents of synthetic approaches don’t consider the linkage between nutrition and pest management. How susceptible are your plants to mold, mildew, mites, etc? Do you apply pesticides to deal with those problems? A healthier plant is more resistant to all kinds of pests, while your synthetic plant is too weak to even hold it’s buds up and can’t defend itself against outside attackers. If you’re producing a medical product, what kinds of pesticides are you spraying it with?
  2. A healthy, happy plant is more productive! How much are you producing in terms of pounds per light or pounds per plant? When done right, an organic grow is not only more productive than synthetic, but less expensive.
  3. Cost per pound can actually be lower
  4. Uses less water and fewer nutrients
  5. You can reuse your grow media. This is a big one! Look at how the entire grow industry goes through so much media because after 1 cycle it has so much salt it can’t be used again.

The data hasn’t been gathered yet, and federal legalization will have to happen before that can be done. We find that some growers are satisfied with what they are doing now, where other growers are interested in improving. No matter what your approach (in life and in growing), there’s always an opportunity to take your craft to the next level. In many cases, adding some ‘organic’ techniques and inputs can help you get there. Hit me up if you want to know more.


If you’re talking indoor, potted growing, it seems about 80/20 organic/inorganic is where the commercial Cannabis industry is at for maximizing quality and quantity while minimizing cost, with microbes being a must. Outdoor, or in the ground in a greenhouse, a microbial farming approach is best, which I would consider beyond the legal definition of organic. Realistically though, if you can maximize your brix levels, and keep the micronutrient levels in the plant tissue balanced, it doesn’t matter how you grow, although my money is on there being dozens if not hundreds of components in a living soil system that contribute to overall health of the plant that we are years from understanding.


I wouldn’t trust these data. Organic vs inorganic studies rarely focus on the rhizosphere, which is what needs to be tended in an organic system for optimisation. I think the next decade will demonstrate that you can reduce inputs and increase yields by focusing on the plants microbiome. For background, I was a researcher in plant systems for a land grant University where I got to meet Dutch farmers who had to adapt to strict pesticide restrictions and Koreans who’ve been farming with beneficial organisms for centuries. The Dutch growers found lower instances of disease when switching to organic chelates, far offsetting the cost with the resulting yield increase. The Koreans I talked to found bringing in inorganic pesticides and salts inevitably lead to increase pest pressure over time so they live with the low rates of disease that they see every year without trying to eradicate.


Bunts “Modern Potting Composts” is a great, must read. For both organic and inorganic growers.

Being a good ethical grower is finding the correct balance for you.

What level of product do I want to produce? Do you want to be the top shelf premium or do you want to produce an everyday table item? There is room for everyone. As an industry we are in our infancy. We need to learn from the best examples in parallel industries.

For me, I need to put food on the table, house over our heads, edjucat the next generation and I need to leave this world better than I found it.

We found for glasshouse production that we needed to uses a mix of organic and inorganic practices to be competitive. This was the 1990’s. I think a commercial grower today has a lot more options to choose from.


Personally, I don’t trust anecdotes. :man_shrugging:

If you have some data/studies to back up your claims, I’d be interested in reading it.

Census data shows that most crops yield less, I contend that cannabis falls in the category of crops that perform more poorly in strict Organic systems.

A 20% per plant yield increase with 25% reduced space from an increased stocking rate, is enough evidence for me. I did put 600 yards of compost on 2 acres over 2 years to increase tilth. My soil was heavy, it is much lighter now. I do believe tilth is important in any system.


Absolutely in the field organic material is king. We used annual rye one year and red clover in off years. Helps both Ag crops and horticulturel.

We also found calcium was a big restictor on growth so everthy got its yearly dolomitic lime pelletized.

In Kansas at the time 13-13-13 was the best cost per pound. Cost does change enough every few years it’s worth recalculating.

It’s funny that I view cannabis as an Ag crop outside and a finicky Greenhouse Plant inside. The inside growers are learning great lessons from both worlds.