Podcast The Real Dirt

Living Soil: Organic or BS?

Organic just means grown in the ground for some people, while others are strict with their organic inputs. It’s vital to know where your raw materials come from to really understand the impact of these materials. Just because it’s on the list someplace does not necessarily mean that it’s the best for the world.

To help us understand what organic living soil means, on this episode of The Real Dirt, we have Colin Bell, researcher and microbiologist at Colorado State University and co-founder of Mammoth Microbes and Growcentia

He also shares how Mammoth P helps growers and farmers improve plant health and quality and increase yield while reducing environmental impacts.


Soil is living soil period. Everywhere in nature, and it’s the foundation of all life on Earth. It’s a biology interaction that cycle nutrients and cycle every bit of energy that flows from below ground to above ground, into the atmosphere and back into the soil. So it’s a really interesting concept of the foundation of life. And it’s the movement of energy that facilitates all of the life on Earth. – Colin Bell


Download The Episode Companion For This Episode

Some Topics We Discussed Include

5:18 – The inspiration behind Mammoth P
20:17 – What is organic?
22:21 – What it means to be Omri Certified
28:02 – What living soil means to Colin
35:19 – The environmental impact of Mammoth P
38:49 – The quality of products that comes out of organic or living soil
49:25 – Living soil and cannabis in the next few years

People Mentioned / Resources

Connect with Colin Bell

Connect with  Chip Baker

Transcript

Chip Baker: Once again, it is The Real Dirt, and I’m Chip. Thanks for joining me today on The Real Dirt. On today’s dirt, we’re going to talk about one of the topics really close to my heart and palate, and that’s organic ganja. That’s right many people talk about it. Many people think that ganja should only be grown organically, and many people have this perception that it’s always organic. There are even other perceptions that the materials people put into their cannabis are organic. Well, that is a hot button word. It means a lot to some people; it just means grown in the ground. To other people, they’re very strict about all their organic inputs. It can’t have animal products in it all. Other people just take the straight California organic inputs or the armory organic inputs and use that list. 

But you know, it’s more than just a list of inputs. Growing organically is really almost like a religion to some people. They really take it hard. They stand on a soapbox, they preach organics, but they might not know everything about those organic inputs. And I really think it’s important to know where your raw materials come from to realize if it is a stripped mined mineral or stripped mined guano to realize the impact, the footprint that we have on obtaining these materials just because it’s an order organic list someplace does not necessarily mean it’s the best thing for the earth or the best thing for us or the best thing for the world. 

So I really urge each and every one of you to read the list of ingredients that are on the so-called organic products; really look at the labels. Don’t just get fooled by something where organics organics organics is in the title to fool you into believing that it’s actually an organic product. Read the list; if you can pronounce everything on the list, it’s probably pretty good. Google it, man. Look it up, see what’s really in there and ask some questions. 

 Today, I have Collin that’s joining me from Mammoth Nutrients, Mammoth Microbes, and we talk all about organics living soil and what that really means to him and me and the world around us. We sell a tremendous amount of the mammoth p at our store, Cultivate Colorado and in our store, Cultivate Oklahoma. If you haven’t stopped by either one of those locations, if you’re in Oklahoma stop by, we’re on 10th, and Meridian says hi to Chris there. I’m often there in the afternoons. Say hi to me as well; introduce yourself. And if you can stop by in Colorado, stop by in Denver or Stapleton and give Jacob or Darryl or Jimmy a ring and tell him how much you like the store or if there’s any product that we don’t might carry, ask him to carry it for you. We love talking to customers. We love talking to people about growing, and it’s really a big part of our quote-unquote businesses to actually talk to growers and people. So stop by the shop Oklahoma City or in Denver, and we’d be glad to chat with you about organics living soil, hydroponics, aeroponics, whatever you got, whatever you’re doing. We really tend to like it all. 

So sit back, roll up the largest joints you can out of your friend sec, fire it up and listen to yet another episode of The Real Dirt with Chip Baker. Hello again, this is Chip from The Real Dirt, and on today’s dirt, I’ve got Colin Bell, co-founder of Mammoth P. How’s it going, Colin?

Colin Bell: Man, this is going great. Great to be here, and thanks for having me on today.

Chip Baker: Man, I’ve been really looking forward to this show. Colin is the co-founder of Mammoth P, and Mammoth P is a product we sell in our store, Cultivate Colorado. This is gonna kind of sound like an infomercial, but it’s not really. Collins is not paying me at all to promote this product right now. This is one of the best products in our shop. We sell this to gardeners and people as a supplement, additional microbes for their soil. Colin developed this through research at Colorado State University. So it’s not just your average startup. Colin, tell me how this kind of came about how you figured out what Mammoth P was or the direction you were going to go out to make this product?

The Inspiration Behind MAMMOTH® P

Colin Bell: Yeah, appreciate that. So, we were researchers, soil microbiologists at Colorado State University, and we had spent years understanding and studying plant-microbe interactions and ecosystems and nutrient cycling, and both natural and in agriculture settings. So we understood microbes and how they interact with the plants to maximize their success very, very well. At some point in our career, we’re trying to kind of reflect on the impact we’re making, [inaudible] making a huge impact the way we thought we could. And so we start thinking about ways that we could apply our knowledge, apply our science to start really making something that would bring value to farmers and to cultivators. And that was the inspiration that led to ultimately to mammoth P. 

We selected the microbes from Mammoth P because we identified processors as being a really interesting element that not only was super important for plant growth and success and the yield and all these interesting things, but it’s also kind of sticky and hard to deliver. And we knew that if we developed a really robust microbial consortium or group of microbes that could do that, it would probably bring a lot of value to farmers across the world. 

And with that in mind, we started working on this product or this challenge and came up with this ultimately with the product that we now have to market Mammoth P.

Chip Baker: So you know, the interesting thing about phosphorus and is it’s a mobile nutrient. It doesn’t go anywhere once you put it into the soil. As soon as you start to talk about it like this, I immediately think commercial agriculture is like, oh, you’re just releasing the nutrition that’s already in the soil back to the plants to some degree. It’s really brilliant when you think about it, I mean, the NPK is already there in the soil, and it’s just how do we use nature or microbes to produce it? Or to release it, so to speak?

Colin Bell: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. We can think of these microbes is actually like minors, and there are those nutrients available in the soil in all agricultural settings in many cases that are immobile or not bioavailable bound up in the mineral soil and microbes, we know this, they mineralized and released these nutrients naturally. And so we thought we could actually create products that would do that better than just the natural endemic microbes and soils, and that’s where we came up with the idea to start making these biostimulants or microbial products to help do that. 

Chip Baker: You develop this in Colorado. When you first came out with this product. We were talking about this earlier when you first came out of this product in 2016, it shoots up my shop, and I had no real idea who you guys were, but we get a lot of homespun products, a lot of brand new products and we looked at it, and it’s got this Tea colored look to it. There was some stuff floating in it. And we’re like, man, oh, no, maybe it works. I don’t know, maybe somebody buys it, but immediately people started buying it. 

I even thought that you guys were, you know, artificially having people to call me or buy the product because it was just so dramatic that people are just buying this stuff. And it was just literally flying off my shelves, and I know your salespeople, they came to us, and we’re like, I don’t know what you guys are doing, but we weren’t really doing anything. I mean, my god Jimmy up there, he loves organic, he loves biology. Jimmy Catchings, if you’re ever up there in the Stapleton store, ask to speak to Jimmy. He pushed it for sure, but man, it’s about the quality of the product. If it sells like that, then it’s gotta work.

You know, I appreciate you are sharing that, and that’s kind of what I thought. I was a scientist. I’m not typically a business guy. I’m a pretty smart guy. And I’ve learned a lot since I started this company but what I wanted to do, and this wasn’t about a business, that’s the deal. This was about making something super cool that farmers would use, and growers and cultivators would use. It was only after we validated the technology through a lot of trials. And a lot of r&d money that we realized, hey, this works good. Now we need to figure out how to get in the hands of growers and farmers. 

And so making something that worked really, really, really good first was to go, and it wasn’t about, hey, we need to turn some profit. It wasn’t about we have a business here that we needed to sustain; It was a research project. And that allowed us to do the diligence that we needed to create the right technology. And then, like you said, we knew that if it worked really well, we would create customers out of it. And so we got the product in the hands of growers as much as we could, and we just wanted that feedback and that data from them to validate that they were seeing good results and that’s really how Mammoth P started; was grassroots getting products to answer growers and letting them see the results in themselves. That’s how we that’s how we started.

Chip Baker: That’s really interesting to me. I’ve said this over and over again, like, when you’re in business or when you have a product, and I’ve brought over 20 products to market, many of them haven’t survived. A handful of them still is still being sold or manufactured by my company or others. But when you go into with the attitude of I’m going to make this awesome product, I’m gonna really contribute to the world in some way. Man, they turn out way better than when you say, oh, man, the ROI on this product is incredible. I’m going to be able to turn so many units over such big time, and it’s blah blah blah my investors are going to be so happy with me, and we’re gonna all make so much money. I want to be driving Formula One car on recreation for the week. It just doesn’t work out the same.

Colin Bell: For sure.

Chip Baker: When you’re thought about, it is the money of its listeners and growers. This is a great lesson in life right now. Listen to this. When you go out and look in your crop, think about how good it is or how good you want it to be or how good it’s going to be. Get the mindset of how much money it’s going to make you out of there. It’ll do better for you. It’ll grow better for you, you have better quality, and you’ll make more money. The money just shouldn’t be the first real thought.

The money shouldn't be the first real thought. - Chip Baker Click To Tweet

Colin Bell: Isn’t that such a great lesson? I’m glad that this is coming out of this conversation. It should be about the impact and quality and purpose, and I think if you have those lined up as an individual or as a company, everything else comes. But you have to get that right, and thinking about money first is in my experience, a distraction, and maybe even a conflict of interest. 

Chip Baker: Well, you know, interestingly, you have a startup; this isn’t an independent business, but you started in the university. You were funded by the federal government to develop this product, and then you took it to the private sector. 

Colin Bell: Yeah, that’s right. That’s how I made a living is I got grants from the federal government and sometimes from the state. And it allowed me to conduct research as [inaudible], a research scientist, that’s what you call it. And so we ground and ground and ground just trying to get grants so we can feed ourselves and do what we love to do research. Ultimately, this idea was very attractive to big government funding agencies or wrote a grant, and we were awarded, and that fund allowed us to switch our lab from a basic or fundamental science lab into an applied science lab at Colorado State University to start working on applied science which led to the development of this technology Mammoth P.

Chip Baker: you guys put like a million dollars into research, you said that figure earlier? That’s a significant amount of upfront capital that many startups and people with great ideas just don’t have. I brought many products to the market, and we have to experiment in real-time in the marketplace. You have to bring a product to the market, see if the package works, see if the packaging works, see if the palette works, see if the product works, see if the directions work, but you were really able to fund all this ahead of time through our tax dollars. 

Chip Baker: I think that’s a great way, the great thing [inaudible] man, right, this is incredible. No, no, no, it’s true. Because it really is creating an economy. And I’m sure the economy that you guys have created with your product and with the people’s gardens have far exceeded the million dollars that the federal government put into it.

Colin Bell: Oh, yeah, I think that’s right, for sure. It is actually an interesting point at the university. Our job was researching, learning, and making cool stuff. And so that’s all there was to it. The business side aspect which you are way ahead of me on the learning curve was all new for me. So starting a company and getting people and getting a team and scaling up production and all that stuff was a fun new learning experience. And I know you’re an innovator and you’re a problem solver, and I pretty much am too. And so those were very exhilarating and fun projects. 

But as soon as you get it onto the business side, everything’s expensive; times expensive, people are expensive, materials, everything adds up. And you don’t think about any of that stuff at the university when you’re just making and you’re innovating. It’s just part of the deal. And so it’s a very different mindset for sure. 

Chip Baker: I started my most recent soil-plant right outside Denver, growers potting soil. We ran about, oh man, probably about 150 pallets of materials before the machine was calibrated correctly, each one of those pallets that represent $700 in retail sales. It was a significant amount of money to put into it just for a product that we’d never be able to sell.

Colin Bell: That was probably a little painful for me, wasn’t it?

Chip Baker: I’ve gone through it before, so I expected it, but the guys working with me, Darryl and Moe and Brent, those are my top guys out there. If you ever see those guys out on the street, listeners mentioned to them how much you appreciate them making quality potting soil because they do it all. They were a little disheartened by it. My CFO was disheartened by all of the packaging and all the raw materials that we basically dumped into a hemp field next to us. You just kind of have to do that to make sure that your packaging is right. Make sure all the pallets are stacked right to make sure all the bags are filled right, and it’s hard to just do it at a small volume. You got to make a product.

Colin Bell: Yeah, and those details are all super important. As you well know, I remember when I first had a vac or a fermenter of Mammoth, and like, well, now I need to find bottles, and I need to find closure, and I need to find labels and fillers and all these details. [inaudble] It’s a trial and error for all that stuff.

Chip Baker: When I sold Royal Gold, I was cleaning up, and I looked in a closet that was upstairs in the old office, and there was $30,000 worth of bad labels.

Colin Bell: Wow.

Chip Baker: Just labels that didn’t work, that were bad products, that’s something spelled right that the state called me out on, that the state laws changed over it that wasn’t UV resistant, they’re weren’t water-resistant, that didn’t have a slip coating on whatever it is. It was just, over time, you just accumulate it, you know.

Colin Bell: it’s incredible cost of doing business, but man, that’s a lot of dough.

Chip Baker: Oh, it is. And you know, as a startup business, it was a lot. If all came at once, it wouldn’t have worked out for me, but it was like a little here and a little layer. You know, go be in business for ten years, and it happens—the same thing with you. I’m sure it took you a moment to figure out how the right cap to put on it or the right sealer inside the cap or the right machine to put the cap on.

Colin Bell: For sure. It’s funny that when you’re there, you’re like nothing else matters until I get this closer and this cap figured out because I need to cap and then as soon as you find it however long it takes, there’s this next, the list of 10 priorities that you’d have to do as you’re scaling up that stuff, I know you’ve done this before. It’s just such a fun thing, but you’re like okay, closures. I became obsessed about closures. I became obsessed about bottles. I became obsessed about fillers and all these details, and you just grow and grow, and then it kind of repeats over time as the business gets bigger, and you start over, and you scale to that next level. 

Colin Bell: It’s really fun. I kind of love manufacturing or that aspect of problem-solving. But there’s nothing but an opportunity to learn and grow. I’ll tell you that much. 

Chip Baker: You’re a dynamic person to be a researcher, developer, the product as well as you want to build it and see it work right too. It’s usually two different mindsets. So hey, you know, I think it’s the perfect time for us to take a break. Let’s take a little break. We’ll sit back, you’re in the airport, so you won’t be able to pop any, but I’ll roll three or four joints, and then I think then we’ll be back. How’s that? 

Colin Bell: Perfect.

Chip Baker: I’ve been there. I’ve been stuck inside my grown with the problem that I could not solve. I’ve Googled it; I’ve Reddit it. I’ve searched the internet up and down to the farthest galaxies of the worldwide web but nary answer. But you have something I didn’t have. You have Cultivate Colorado and Cultivate OKC. Our friendly staff, both in Denver and in Oklahoma City, can answer almost any cultivation question for you, whether it’s how do I hang my lights above my plants? What type of bulb do I need? To what my plant efficiency is or how to use a certain pesticide? 

We’ve got the answers because literally, we have the experience. We’ve been helping growers throughout the country, but specifically in Denver for the past ten years, solve their problems. If you’ve got problems to solve, or maybe you’ve got answers to problems, or maybe you just need that latest, newest, hottest light or nutrient, drop by one of our several locations in Denver, or in Oklahoma City. Check us out online at cultivatecolorado.com or cultivateokc.com. That’s right. Come grow with us, man. We’re here to help you.

And we’re back. Oh, man. I tell you that was, well, an incredibly long sponsor break, back in the 70s. I wonder what they did when they let the record play too long is they were out back smoking weed. Now we can just pause and come back whenever we want. We’ve been talking about Mammoth P, and we’ve been talking about microbes, but really why I wanted you on the show was to talk about living soil, organics and you know that the future and commercial technology. 

What is Organic?

We see organic in so many places these days. Sometimes It’s just marketing and labeling. Sometimes it’s for real. Many people scoff at the term and think that you’re just paying more money for an avocado that’s organic as opposed to one that’s not and farmers often smirk at it because they live in areas with huge pest issues and is like the only way they can grow vegetables is with pesticides. And so they scoff at it a little bit but uh, man, let me ask you this question like, like, what’s organic mean to you? If I just said, if we were just walking in the whole foods aisle and you saw organic tomato, well, what would go through your mind,

Colin Bell: man, for me, without looking at the definition of organic or kind of having this tainted opinion of the loopholes of organic certification and whatnot. Organic, to me, meet naturally derived, and I feel that there are only processes or products used for that particular product that again are naturally derived. What I think about more than anything else when I think about organic is wow I’m not going to be eating pesticides today; that’s honestly as a consumer me what comes through my mind.

Omri Certified Products

Chip Baker: Me to 100%. Now Hey, when you see something called organic cannabis or hemp or weed, what goes through your mind?

Colin Bell: I think just using natural processes I go my next definition defaults to, you know, we have Mammoth P that’s organically registered. It’s an organic, Omri certified product. What that means to get something Omri organic certified is the products that go into the products that go into your product, all have to be organic and organically certified. So there’s a legacy or a history a generation of organic products that are into organic products that are, again, organic products that you’re using for your formula that you’re making a product with. And so that just is that it’s natural. There’s a lot of controversies, I guess with some people around the term [inaudible]

Chip Baker: There are many definitions of it, man.

Colin Bell: That’s right. That’s right. 

Chip Baker: It really is a difficult one in our store, Cultivate OKC we have a huge demand for organic and living soil products. That’s primarily the reason I’m doing this episode is because so many people have been talking to me about it. I’m not judging, or but I am stereotyping some people, I guess, you get the super vegans that come in, and it’s got to be strictly organic. You know, they’re usually well informed. They read the labels, and they want it to be strictly organic for the most strict organic regulations in the world.

Organic and living soil is it really can be one of the most cost-effective ways for growing. Not only is it less expensive to put the inputs in your soil, but you can reuse your soil. - Chip Baker Click To Tweet

Colin Bell: When did that start? When do you think that really started where it got to that level.

Chip Baker: Man, a big part of it was the marketing side of it when people started calling stuff, organic with an X organics. And people started to really think about it because there’s the other portion of the customers that come in is they see just the term organic, or some version of that term, organics, organics, organish, organic, and they think it’s organic. And that’s good enough for them.

Colin Bell: Yep. Yeah, I think that’s right. You know, when we launched Mammoth, and I wasn’t the guy after– I trained a small team how to scale Mammoth in the fermenters. I went out and started selling just like the first outside sales guy for a company like a co-founder would be, and it didn’t seem like Denver at the time, and since early 2015 was into it, as much as they are now. And so it’s changed a lot from 2015 to today is what I’m getting at.

Chip Baker: I experienced the same thing when we came to Colorado to open up our stores in 2009. I lived most of my life up in Northern California in Humboldt County. And man, organic, people know what it is, people talk it up, people call you out for not having organic produce or organic cannabis because they can see it because there’s such an experience with it. They’ll make fun of you for using blue juice, which is a nickname for synthetic fertilizer. Blue juice, right? 

When we came to Colorado, and I bought the same type of stuff we would buy at a store, I mean, we would sell at a store in California, and none of that shit sold. Bat guano, humic, folvite, nothing sold. Fishbone meal, I thought I was going to sell 50-pound bags of fishbone meal and feather meal, and nobody’s buying it. Nobody bought any of that stuff until after the pesticide regulations came into play.

Colin Bell: That’s interesting.

Chip Baker: Soon as that happened, people started using the term “Oh, I grow organic.” And you talk to him about it, and he’s like, well really they just spray organic. They only use organic spray. But honestly, I think it just like it crept into their psyche through the vocabulary. And man I sell organic products now in Denver.

Colin Bell: Isn’t that crazy? You’re gonna love this. I used to say when at when I started working in the shops and like going shop to shop and no one really cared about organic, quite frankly. And they cared about making sure they maximize yield and quality was kind of there at the time. And Mammoth P does that, and so we did get some adoption, and they see results there. But on the side, I would joke I was like, Man, this is the gateway product that’s gonna start people of this synthetic growers onto the organic track because it was an organic product, but [inaudible] microbes, and it was a microbe a product that was compatible with the synthetic rollers also. 

 And so it did take off in Colorado. And it’s funny though when I started opening up Washington and Oregon in particular, which was right around late 2015, early 2016, you walk into a shop and that first question they ask you, is it organic? And if it wasn’t, they just asked you to leave. And so [inaudible] Colorado, they didn’t carry out west coast all the way. It’s such a different vibe. It was a fun learning experience for me. 

Chip Baker: Now, Boulder, though, is a hotbed of organic living soil growers up there, though. That’s where they quote-unquote all are.

Colin Bell: For sure. Yeah, there’s a lot, and it’s even picking up. I was in college in Canada, not that long ago. And there’s a facility that’s building out a million square feet right now, and they’re trying to do the whole facility, literally with living soil. Can you believe that? 

Chip Baker: No. Wow, man. No, that’s awesome, man. That’s great. 

What is Living Soil?

Colin Bell: It’s totally cool. So, living soil. What is living soil mean to me? Do you want to hear my definition? 

Chip Baker: Yeah, yeah, he did a perfect gateway, let’s go.

Colin Bell: So, living soil, it’s the same thing to me is the soil food web. And that’s kind of how we study it in academia or in school in microbiology, and it’s quite simply I think of living soil or soil, in general, is the same thing. Soil is living soil period, everywhere in nature, and it’s the foundation of all life on Earth. It’s a biology interaction that cycle nutrients and cycle every bit of energy that flows from below ground to above ground, into the atmosphere and back into the soil. So it’s a really interesting concept of the foundation of life. And it’s the movement of energy that facilitates all of the life on Earth. 

It’s just not the below ground components that contribute to living soil because there’s above-ground life and plants in particular, that interject into this and the [inaudible] my professor, my major professor a long time ago he used to always say this, he does like, don’t ever forget Colin and he would shake his finger and get all kind of nostalgic. He’s like carbon is the currency of life on Earth, for everything and below ground too. 

 And think about plants. If a plant grows into the soil, it actually interjects carbon into that mineral substrate, where there’s sand to play, body material, and all these things, and the only biotic or biological interaction at that particular scenario is plants. But plants they suck carbon from the air and incorporate it into their biomass, and they scored a lot of that carbon through their bodies or through their plant material, the shoots into the roots and supported out into the soil, adding carbon not only through growth but through [inaudible] or liquid sugars into the soil. And the plants take up everything else that it needs to grow every element from soil. And we were kind of talking about this earlier, the elements in the soil are very hard for plants to take up. And it’s the life in the soil that helps liberate those nutrients to make them available or bioavailable for plants to take up. And so there’s that exchange of micro life in the root zone that cycles those ions that plants can take up and grow and the general cycling from above-ground plant material to below ground microbial Recycling is what I think about in this ecosystem process that is basically founded on living soil. And there’s so many levels of biology and living soil that all starts with the microbes to bacteria and fungi, which are the microscopic organisms that do all the fine level nutrient cycling, creating enzymes cycling nutrients from unavailable forms into bioavailable forms so they can take up nutrients and so plants can take up nutrients. But then there’s that next level of Protis and nematodes, which are small, almost microscopic worms and mites, and the larger arthropods, the spiders and the centipedes, and earthworms and all these things that have layers of trophic layers chip and so that means food web, where below ground in many cases bacteria and fungi are food sources for these nematodes are these mites. They come in shrunk down, and then they recycle the microbes into food material that they deposit into the soil, creating nutrient-rich sources, or organic food sources kind of like composting that plants saying can take up but these still need the microbes to cycle those nutrients and transform those elements from longer change into smaller bioavailable change. 

Chip Baker: Wow, man, that was almost psychedelic and the way you explain that. I was sitting there, floating through time and space there for a moment.

Colin Bell: It’s actually an interesting scale conversation. Yeah, was that too much? 

Chip Baker: No, no, no, it was perfect. It was perfect. 

Colin Bell: Come back to us, Chip. Come on back.

Chip Baker: Let me take this of [inaudible] grass hold on. You know, living soils are thrown out there so much. So many people mention it or say it, or they don’t understand what it means. Wow, you just explained it as simple as can be anybody listening episode or repeat the words you say, and they will sound like a boss, that’s for sure. But the thing that I identify with living soil, you’re feeding the soil with biological life. All the answers are already there. You just have to add biological life to break it down and feed it back to the plants. Millions of years of evolution have already developed this process. 

I sell seabird guano, bat guano, feather meal chickens, I sell all this stuff, and I see the environmental impact of it. I try to talk people out of buying bat guano even the bat guano is a great product man. Oh, man, the plants just love it. You got a strip mine to get it. You gotta take an ugly excavator or dozer, and dig a hole in the ground and destroy bat habitat. The same thing with seabird guano, and the same way with humic acid or gypsum or TMI and all those great, great mined minerals that the organic community loves so much. They’re mostly strip-mined. And the beauty of living soil and biology and microbes is while you get to use far less of those strip-mined products if you had the right biology if you really nurtured your soil, so your plants can absorb the nutrients, right?

Colin Bell: Absolutely, absolutely agree.

Chip Baker: It’s such a– when we say organic, it means so much it does mean bat guano. It also means soy protein isolate. And both of those things are really two weird products when he talked about the world and How did we get the soy protein isolate? Oh, we took some organic soybeans, maybe. And you ran it through a chemical process and isolated them by their molecular weight. But that’s organic, right?

Colin Bell: Yeah, exactly. It’s a little suspect [inaudible] actually breaks it down.

Chip Baker: and it works great, man. [inaudible] soy protein isolates, incredible amino acids, incredible nitrogen source Don’t get me wrong, great vegan product, and back to bat guano — great, great product but like there are a cost and an impact of developing that stuff. Without giving any trade secrets, like when you make Mammoth Microbes, what’s your environmental impact? Why do you make this stuff? You’re not mining anything.

The Environmental Impact of Mammoth P

Colin Bell: That’s a really good point. So this is near and dear to my heart. Sustainability is another loaded word that not everyone loves because there’s a lot of definitions. What I think is in sustainable practices is figuring out how you can be meet your needs today while not hindering the ability of your next generation to meet their needs, so you try to give more than you take away. And that’s one thing that I love about microbes as they grow. We can scale them so effectively. 

And you can use natural sources to grow. There’s an example. There’s a couple of companies out there that actually take what food waste from localities, and you can actually ferment the waste food and create agriculture products about that. And so I think that’s one very interesting example of waste and we’re turning it into something that we’re using to grow food. For microbes, you know, we give away more than we take away. We use real natural forage that continues to grow, and we just extract nutrients to create interesting foods source. 

For the microbes and we grow them up. And so it takes a lot of equipment. And so if you think about the energy that it takes to run our facility and the equipment and that fermenters, you have to take a look at all those things to really see what kind of footprint you’re leaving. But as far as taking away from the environment, what we do is, I would say, very sustainable. 

And this is interesting. That’s why also if you think about the use of microbes in agriculture, it’s even more interesting because there’s a lot of things that are added to soils that never get used, they build up year after year after until a really harsh environment in the soil, where microbes actually combine that you can add microbial biostimulants and reduce fertilizer inputs and allow the microbes actually mine and deliver those residual soil nutrients to your plants, reducing chemical fertilizers input. So that’s a huge impact in itself. 

Chip Baker: The impact we make here is important to say. I’m a 25-year vegetarian. I try to only eat organic food in my life. I try to only consume organic cannabis. It’s not possible for me to do 100%, and I’ve been on the soapbox in the past, right, and you have to do organic you. It’s got to be chicken shit and kelp, and that’s it and sustainable ingredients. But like I have grown, and I’ve seen so many other people like be successful and contribute back to the world. It is part of clear intention. And when we talk about organic or living soil, many people just want to grow better weed, and they think that’s how that happens too. 

Colin Bell: For sure. 

The Quality of Products That Comes out of Organic or Living Soil

Chip Baker: So hey, let’s talk about like the quality of the product that then that comes out of, of organic or living soil.

Colin Bell: This is true, isn’t it? So I’ll start this with a story, and I’ve done business with folks growers all over the world and in South America [inaudible]. I’m going to tell quickly in Uruguay some wonderful guys won, they have a team and a shop Urugrow way down there, and they love organic next and [inaudible] loves organic growing, it’s just in their culture. And they were doing a test they’re like okay, Colin, here’s what we’re gonna do. We have the same photo or the same room half the room synthetic half the room is completely organic. And we want to see how much different these practices would yield as far as the quality and the structure of the final product. 

And at the end of that grow, they look like completely different strains, quite honestly, the quality and that terpene and the potency. Everything on the organic side was far superior to the synthetic side. And it was hydroponic to be fair enough. It was a hydroponically grown synthetic row. So there’s a lot of different practices. And I think that there’s a way to balance and maximize nutrient delivery along with adding the organics and the microbes that you need to enhance the delivery of nutrients to maximize your plant’s ability to express its phenotypic potential. What I like to call it, which means maximize not only yield but the quality for which that plant was bred. And we can get there through a balancing act, but I see a lot more quality in terms of the overall flavor, smell the aroma in organic or organically intended at growing practices. Do you think that’s true from your experience? 

Chip Baker: I think the best weed I’ve ever had and the best tomatoes and the best watermelons have all been organic 100%. I also no I have an organic watermelon at my house half-eaten right now because it doesn’t taste worth anything. And with cannabis, I see people that care more about it being organic than they do about making it a quality product. And that takes a little bit more than just putting in organic inputs. 

 I think if you’re a chef in the garden, man, you are going to have awesome organic or living soil products. If you’re not a chef, if you don’t quite know what you’re doing, or if you do know what you’re doing, but you can’t quite do it, man, a little synthetic, little synthetic nutrients even go so far to make the product look better for those people. I see this all the time people come in and one of the problems with living soil, here’s one of the big problems living soil is to get it to grow well you really need to like develop a heavy root system. You need to spend time and vege, right you need to really grow a good healthy root system then the plants will thrive, they’ll eat all the nutrients there’s enough nutrition and the containers, but then the containers are so big and most people over dump organic product in it, don’t use microbes biology or compost tea to help break stuff down that they can’t flush out the product so to speak. Their end product will ash hard. It will lack ash. 

I’ve been seeing this for years. This isn’t a one-off this is, and I’ve been guilty of it too. It’s like you want it to grow well, so you overcompensate by putting five pounds of fishbone meal per yard – you only need two. And you got to dump a bunch of nitrogen in it too to keep it green that whole time, so you’re putting in a feather meal and chicken shit and bat guano and man they grow great that way and look great that way and I see that, but I also see that the smell and flavor and the taste of organic are really good living soil, it might not look at that look that people want in in the dispensary, right? But man the taste and then like terpene profiles just incredible. 

I also see outside in greenhouses, organic techniques being far more effective, and the sun and the natural environment just to the natural environments where all these products are supposed to be anyway, inside it’s a little harder to do it. But man, if you’re a chef, if you’re an Iron Chef, you’re cooking that shit. It was great. You got the best-seared monkfish, liver around, but nobody else can. They could taste where the [inaudible]

Colin Bell: Really. I think it’s true. Yep. To understand the dynamics, and I think in organic systems, you have to figure out how to utilize your biology. The maximum nutrient availability because if you don’t have the biology, you go bind into those organic or part carbon, organic use, by definition, carbon is the carbon base, and carbon loves to hold on to ions. So just stay bound. And you have to break down those carbon chains that have the nutrients, attach them in order for the plants to take them up. And so you can really deprive nutrients if you don’t get to prove your plants and nutrients. If you don’t have that right balance of Biology, again, cycle nutrients just like it happens in nature. 

Chip Baker: Another thing I’d like to say about organic and living soil is it really can be one of the most cost-effective ways for growing. Not only is it less expensive to put the inputs in your soil, but you can reuse your soil. It’s Not just a one time purchase; the nutrient delivery system is so much easier if you’re just giving water. As soon as like you’re giving synthetics or even bottled organic nutrients then you have to deal with pump and pump and your propeller spinning and the pump clogging and your drippers clogging your filter clogging and if it’s just water, and all your inputs are already in the soil, and then you just– are giving it five liters of Mammoth P that won’t clog the drip system. You don’t have to worry if you clean out your filter. Like that was great, right? Like it really does. It works great, and outside it works incredibly. Man, some of the most cost-effective growing techniques, the synthetics, they cost money, man and 100% cost money.

Colin Bell: That’s right. I appreciate you saying that. What made me think of this, you know, there’s a couple of things with organic living. There’s a process and over time that you have to kind of just embrace. You’re not going to come right in and start off and have a super thriving living soil. It’s a time function, and there’s a little bit of a learning curve once you dial it in, it’s golden. But it does take a while, I think, and you have to understand the biology and the and the elements that you’re putting in there and the release of those elements and the time of the release to understand how to really balance everything out. 

You're not going to come right in and start off and have a super thriving living soil. It's a time function and there's a little bit of a learning curve once you dial it in, it's golden. - Colin Bell Click To Tweet

There’s a hemp farmer in Colorado, and he grows the soil, and he’s amended it over time, but mostly he just grows in soil. And All he has is the Mammoth P like you said because he knows that nutrients are there, he just needs a little bit of a microbial catalyst to release them because they’ll bind up into the soil mineral exchange pretty easily. And so making sure you understand how to add the life or when you need to live for the biology is one of the key cruxes to maximizing your success in the organic systems.

Chip Baker: Thing about organic farming outside anyway. And inside, it’s a little different base, you can do all kinds of ways, but you’re building soil, you come into your soil, you put some inputs, you’re either green manuring, or you’re adding gypsum or feather bone meal or whatever your organic input in it. As the years go by, your soil gets better. You monitor your soil, you do soil tests, you add what your chemist tells you to had, you had what your soil advisor tells you to add, and the soil just gets bigger. So there’s this one-time input costs that might be high at the beginning, and you know, we help people in Colorado do this all the time. 

 I’ll say it’s common for people to spend five to $10,000 on an acre to amend their soil organically in Colorado. And interestingly here down in Oklahoma City or Oklahoma, what we’ve done down here, they’ve been like $2,000 and 1500 dollars an acre. It is just because the soil is different, you know, but once you do that, then you can just maintain what you have added biology, add additional nitrogen inputs, add additional calcium inputs and it’s just so cost-effective and simple and easy, but you don’t have to go back to the grow store you don’t have to come to me to buy some more general hydroponic which is my business. I sell grow more, I sell General Hydroponics, and I talk to everybody about it. I’m not trying to talk myself out of business, but it is important for us to think about the sustainability aspect and what we’re really doing out here in the world.

Colin Bell: [inadible] I don’t, I don’t grow plants, and he grew plants don’t get me wrong. But he said I grow soil, let my soil grow plants. So I’m focusing on that soil and soil health and aspects of making healthy soil is the foundation again, not only of farming but of all life. There’s no soil, no plant in nature that doesn’t interact with a living soil interface. It just does it. It couldn’t survive if it didn’t. And agriculture has gotten away from that because a lot of us as medics actually limit the biotic interactions and so coming back to that makes a lot of sense now.

Organic Living Soil and Cannabis in the Next Few Years

Chip Baker: absolutely. You said at the best calm he just said at best. So hey man, do you have any predictions of the future like what does the future hold for organic living soil and cannabis. What do you see happen in the next few years?

Colin Bell: I’ll tell you in the cannabis or in general agriculture, this movement is going to continue to grow and it just has the biology and using biology in agriculture, in general, is the largest, quickest growing agriculture segment across all crops, and The reason is because chemical fertilizer has failed agriculture and I heard that said from some really interesting people in the agriculture space first, and I’m kind of quoting that and the reason is I explain fertilizers work you know, they work NPK work you add NPK to the soil, and your soil substrate and you have plants, plants respond, and they’ll grow. 

But at some point you can’t keep on adding fertilizer and get more grow, you get an adverse effect. And in agriculture, what happens and we’ll talk about this as you add these nutrients bind up and so farmers have been trained to add more and add more and add more and what’s happened now Yeah, well, you know what, they’re not growing more we’re growing less. There’s more buildup in the soils, and up to 70% 50 to 70% of the chemical fertilizers they use mag filter are being delivered to the plants, the plants aren’t taking them up. They’re bound in the soil, or they’re being lost in the water columns. And that’s a serious challenge. And the counter to that is biology. And even the large agriculture companies, they’re starting to buy up a bunch of biological company arms that Monsanto bought a couple of years ago for hundreds of millions of dollars are all looking at them. Because these are all chemical companies that know that their technologies failed agriculture, and they’re having to turn to biology, that bridge that gap to keep on growing food to feed the world. 

This is the movement. It’s a movement we’ve seen in cannabis. When I was starting to sell Mammoth in Colorado, no one really understood microbes are the couple products on the shelf. There’s micro ice on the shelf, and now everyone’s talking about the microbes. And this has happened in a five year period. So it’s an incredible, incredible time to be a microbiologist, and it’s an incredible time to be understanding microbiology. For frackers, I’m sure you can. You need to grow incredibly, you know I said in Canada I met this one group, awesome group organic cannabis growers and they’re grown big up there. A million square foot that they’re trying to convert. They’re building out specifically for living soil cannabis cultivation. It is incredible.

Chip Baker: Well, Colin, I’ll say that we don’t grow tomatoes anymore.

Colin Bell: We don’t say tomatoes anymore.

Chip Baker: Man, it’s been great chatting with you today. I’m glad you were able to give me some time in between your flights and you traveling all over the world to study and talk about biology and microbiology in our soil. I hope this has been as educating to my listeners as it has been to me, and it’s also really been inspiring, man. I’m really going to pick up my organic game. My living soil game. Yeah, man. Just turn more people on. You’re doing a good thing for the world. Man.

Colin Bell: I’m back at you. I really appreciate it, Chip.

Chip Baker: Hey, thanks for joining me. I really hope you enjoyed that episode with me and Collin. We got a little off-topic there, but well, I don’t really know Colin that well, but after this episode, I feel like I do. If you’re interested in living soils in organics, there’s tons of YouTube. There’s tons of Instagram out there. But you know, the best thing you can do is open up your heart, open up your lungs, build some good organic soil. We recommend using growers high porosity soil blend as your base and smoke it for yourself, man grow up yourself and be realistic about what you got going on. 

Just because you put a bunch of effort into it doesn’t mean it’s the best. But you know what, if you slow down and you watch what’s going on, eventually, it will be the best. So stay tuned for other episodes. If you liked this episode and others, please download it at The Real Dirt Podcast on iTunes. You can also check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and wherever else podcasts are sold. And hey, as I say, stop by the shop. Say hi, I’m down in Oklahoma City these days. Sometimes I’m in Denver, but we’d love to see at a Cultivate Colorado or Cultivate Garden Supply in OKC.

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