In this Grow Guide, we’re going vegan!
If you’re ready to go a step beyond organic cannabis cultivation, let me introduce you to the veganic movement.
What is Veganics?
Veganics is exactly what it sounds like — the vegan version of organic farming. Veganics is a method of growing cannabis with organic inputs not derived from animals.
Organic farming relies on living soil and compost teas made with micronized herbs, guanos, worm castings, and manures — effectively eliminating harsh fertilizers, chemical salts, and pesticide sprays from the garden. Veganics takes organic cultivation one step further, eliminating any inputs derived from animals (the guanos, the worm castings, and the manures).
Instead, veganics relies on nutrient-rich plant power.
Often times, veganics can reduce overhead costs. It depends on your situation, but if you have land to cultivate crops for nutrients and space to compost on a large-scale, then you can produce all of your plants’ food on your land. This would easily turn your farm into a completely sustainable, closed-loop operation!
Many organic farmers use animal-derived products such as blood meal, bone meal, and fish emulsion. However, the source of these inputs are often commercial livestock operations where the animals themselves are not organic — in fact, these animals are unhealthy and pumped full of antibiotics. These chemicals transfer through the blood and bone, technically making those inputs non-organic, or even humane. One option is to raise livestock yourself or source organic livestock from a local rancher. However, an easier option is to eliminate these animal-derived inputs completely.
And don’t worry, with veganics there isn’t a compromise in yield! Veganic farming provides the same exact nutrients to your crops as organic farming does, the only difference is the origin of the inputs. Many argue veganic cultivation actually yields more than organics, and produces a cleaner, more flavorful smoke.
The Origin of Veganics
The veganic method was founded in the 1940’s by farmers looking for an alternative to manure because they believed livestock to be the cause of desertification (depleted, unhealthy soil).
Maye Bruce, Rosa Dalziel O’Brien and her son Kenneth are the founders of the veganic philosophy that all started with compost. In her book, From Vegetable Waste to Fertile Soil, Maye Bruce explains the process of modern-day composting — creating a potent fertilizer with just vegetable and yard scraps. Maye Bruce introduced this idea during a time when livestock manure was the standard fertilizer, so creating an equally nutritious alternative out of veggie scraps was pretty revolutionary.
Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien talks about the simultaneous emergence of veganics and veganism in a 1980’s magazine article titled Veganic Composting and its Role in the Early Vegan Movement. Kenneth explains, “When these pioneers broke away from the mainstream of vegetarianism and formed a separate and distinct group the word “vegan” came into being. The word was obtained simply by contracting the word ‘vegetarian’. We Dalziel O’Brien’s, on the other hand, called our compost, and the system of gardening built upon it, ‘veganic’ – a compound of VEgetable and orGANIC, which both described the way the compost was made and distinguished it from traditional organic manures, which are wholly or partly composed of materials of animal origin.”
Recently, a cannabis-specific veganic nutrient line, Vegamatrix, was released to the market. Created by industry figure, Kyle Kushman, this nutrient line aims to bring the veganic philosophy into the world of indoor cannabis production.
“Traditional habits die hard, but in gardening veganically, we are regaining our ancestors’ original independence from domestic animals, whose presence in large numbers on the land is detrimental both in terms of pollution and to the environment as a whole, for where herds are kept the natural tree cover disappears or is vastly reduced.” – Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien
Implementing Veganics in the Garden
Okay now that you know all of the benefits and history of veganics, you’re probably wondering how you can use it!
Well, like all agriculture, it starts with the soil. In order for veganic cultivation to truly thrive, the soil ecosystem must thrive. This means an abundance of soil microbes (bacteria and fungi) must be present for the soil web to remain in balance. To create a microbe-friendly environment we are going to rely a lot on organic matter — organic matter in teas, organic matter in the soil, organic matter as mulch. Organic matter can be anything from dry leaves to grass clippings to moss — if we were talking straight organics we would include manure and worm castings but since we’re all about veganics today organic matter would just be any kind of plant waste. All this organic matter will provide food for your soil microbes, which in turn will create nutrients for your plants.
Bat and seabird guano are staples in an organic farming regiment — bat guano is very nitrogen-rich (great for the vegetative state) while seabird guano contains high levels of phosphorus (necessary for flowering). Eliminating these animal-derived inputs means veganic farmers need to find plant-based amendments for their sources of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Nitrogen-rich plants include alfalfa, nettle, spirulina algae and kelp. Each of these amendments can be found in bulk at grow stores or can be grown on your land if you want to really lower your bottom line. You can create all kinds of nutrients with these amendments — you can mix them into your soil mix or you can create a potent compost tea which you can use to soil-drench or foliar-spray.
Phosphorus and potassium are two of the necessary building blocks for the flowering stage — they give your plants that boost to create big, dense buds. Finding plant-based phosphorus and potassium is a little harder than nitrogen but it’s definitely possible. Burdock root, rhubarb, and wild yam root are great amendments that can be found at specialty grow stores or online. Fruits such as apples, peaches and plums are also amazing sources of phosphorus and potassium that can be used to make a rich compost tea.
If you don’t want to make compost teas, there are pre-made veganic tea mixes available such as Natural Mystic from Dragonfly Earth Medicine or OG Tea’s Veganic Special Sauce.
Many cannabis farmers are used to growing with a nutrient line, premixed packaged nutrients specially made for each stage in the plant’s life. If you’re new to growing and want to try out veganics there are a couple high-quality nutrient lines that you can try.
I highly recommend checking out Dragonfly Earth Medicine. Their entire amendment line is made with the highest quality, organic herbs, although they don’t label or market their nutrients as veganic. What I love about DEM is that they are transparent about what is in their amendments, and their entire philosophy revolves around beyond organic, sustainable cultivation. Lush Roots is their vegetative tea blend, it combines all kinds of beneficial bacteria and fungi with kelp, alfalfa, and stinging nettle. Fat Flowers is their flowering stage “superfood brew” that contains more beneficial bacteria and fungi with wild yam, burdock root, turkey rhubarb, horsetail, raw cacao, and volcanic ash. Natural Mistik is one of our favorite amendments at the TKO Reserve farm, it’s a superfood foliar spray for your plants that they absolutely love — it’s a mixture of kelp, nettle, alfalfa, noni fruit, horsetail, lavender, calendula, rosemary and a diverse range of beneficial bacteria. You can see a whole list of their products on their website.
Kyle Kushman’s Vegamatrix line is a traditional bottled nutrient line. Unlike Dragonfly Earth Medicine, the specific ingredients of each Vegamatrix supplement are not listed on their website. They organize their products like your average bottle line — Grow, Bloom, Boost. They also have a potassium-phosphite finisher, an enzyme-rich microbe brew, an amino acid boost and a kelp-rich supplement.
To Wrap it all Up…
As you can see, there are many different ways to approach veganics. It doesn’t have to be black and white either — some farmers choose to forego manures and guanos but keep worm castings while still calling themselves veganic. In my opinion, it’s all about researching your sources — making sure they are humane, organic and cultivated sustainably (and preferably locally).
I hope this intro to veganics opens your eyes to the variety of cultivation philosophies and methods there are in the agriculture world. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with plant-based nutrients, especially if you have the space to grow your own nutrients! We didn’t have time this year but next year at TKO we are dedicating some big garden plots to nutrient crops and I’m really excited about it.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with veganics in the comments below!
Check out some more Grow Guides on beyond organic cultivation: