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Using No-Till Living Soil Outdoors. What To Do, & What Not To Do.

Using living soil in a no-till application can be done outside, or inside. Jump on Instagram and you will see thousands of successful gardens in warehouses, greenhouses, and in open fields outside. There are however caveats to no-till living soils use when used outside vs. inside. It does need to be treated a little differently, but with the right care, your outdoor no-till living soil will perform well for many seasons.

When growing inside your temperature, humidity, and water intake will be steady. Outside this is a different story. Temps are going to fluctuate wildly, humidity could be all over the place, rain will be something to battle with, and the UV from the sun will have to be dealt with. Taking all of those things into consideration is the first steps to being successful in your outdoor no-till garden.

Keeping your soil at the proper moisture level is the key to having a successful outdoor living soil grow. You need to factor in rainfall, and how much sun/UV you are getting. In the early season outdoors in the Southern US rain can be a bitch. You need to adjust your watering based off of this rain fall. Later in the season in most places in the US, it will rain toward the finish of the season. Again, you will need to adjust your watering based off of the amount & how often it rains.

The other major factor that rain will bring for you to deal with, is leaching of nutrients from the soil. Indoors, when watered properly, there is not any issues with leaching of nutrients. Outdoors is a completely different story. Since rain will leach out vital nutrients, you will need to replace the nutrients throughout the season. Where as indoors we only top dress after we harvest, outdoors it may be a good idea to top dress a couple of times throughout the season.

If you are in area where rain isn't as prevalent, like the High Country in the Rockies, then this is less of a factor. However in a place like the High Country you have to factor in the UV from the sun. The intense UV at high elevation will roast tomato plants, and dry out your soil at an accelerated rate. Couple this with extremely low humidity, and watering becomes a daily occurrence, and sometimes twice daily. Again the same issue with leaching needs to be paid attention to. This is less of a factor in the high country though as you are going to supply most of the water yourself via irrigation.

The color of your container is an important factor to how your soil performs as well. At 7500' a black container will fry your plants. Your soil will get so hot, that it doesn't matter how much you water. Using shade cloth will help this out a lot. I prefer tan containers for all outdoor applications. I will say that in early spring, and fall, a black container at high altitude will help to keep your soil warmer than a tan container, but in the dead of summer, its going to prove a pain in the ass. It's just easier to use a tan container. That way you can cut out at least one variable, thus making your life a little easier. Building cedar raised beds may be the best long term thing you can do for your garden. However the cost can be extremely high.

I have grown to absolutely love me some motherfucking shade cloth. Up here in the Rockies it is a life saver. I personally use 30% shade cloth, and it serves multiple purposes. Firstly it cuts down the UV. This makes it so that you can grow a bigger variety of plants without them roasting in the sun. I crush tomatoes up here, which is a tough thing to do when not using a greenhouse. Shade cloth also helps to keep temps down in your garden. This will in turn slow the evaporation of moisture in your soil, which makes it so you have to water less. Watering less helps to save a resource, and slow any leaching you may have in your soil. The number one overall life saving purpose of shade cloth is hail protection. Every single garden up here gets wiped out almost every year. Mine never does because the shade cloth catches the hail. I have a successful garden every year, and run my irrigation for only 30 minutes per night. Up here I also get away with only top dressing once per year. It's the laziest gardening I have ever done.

In areas where spring rains are common, and leaching is an issue, I would suggest top dressing after your first month of steady rains when using a new soil. A heavy, thick layer of mulch, paired with some cover crop, will slow down the erosion, and leaching from the rains. However, it won't completely stop it. Once your season really jumps off, and the rain has passed, another application later in the year of a top dress blend is not a bad idea. The size of your plants, temps, humidity, and rain fall, all dictate if this is necessary.


If you are trying to grow 10' trees, then a second application would be advisable. If you are just trying for some smaller plants in 20 gallon containers, then you could get away with the early spring application. Indoors our soil has enough nutrients to last a full cycle with water only if you wish to grow that way. Outside, I would say one extra application of top dress, with some liquid fish, kelp, aloe, labs, ffj, etc.. would be more than adequate for most people.

For an organic trick to help retain moisture in your soil you can mix in some bentonite clay. We've all seen those little clear balls in commercial soil that retain moisture, bentonite clay is the organic version of this. In areas that get little to no rain fall, mixing bentonite clay into the soil can help slow evaporation, and save water. Add in a cover crop, and a thick mulch, layer, and you can save a lot of water naturally. I wouldn't advise it in places that get a lot of rain. There's no need for it in that instance.

If you are planting straight in the ground, a lot of the things I said won't apply to you. You will however need to make sure your soils nutrient profile is balanced, and that there is plenty of organic matter to aid in soil health, and slow down erosion. Cover cropping, and mulching are still advised for direct ground planting, but leaching will be less of an issue assuming your soil is healthy, and balanced. Doing a yearly soil test for in ground applications is the best way to make sure your plants get everything they need. Unlike potting soils, field soil may take multiple seasons to balance. Adjust what you can, and wait and see what the results are before you go overboard. I have seen people take 3 to 4 years to take dried up dust bowl looking shit, and turn it into that dark rich earthly smelling soil we all love. Be patient, you can do it. Long term, the cannabis industry will grow in the ground because the cost of it really can't be beat.

Once your season is over, protecting your soil from the elements can be an important part of getting a jump start on next season. You can read about winterizing and re-amending your soil in this previews blog post
https://www.redbudsoilcompany.com/blogs/the-redbud-blog/how-do-i-winterize-re-amend-my-no-till-living-soil-containers-beds

As always there are no hard set rules. Experiment, experiment, experiment, and see what works best for you. Pick a couple of containers, and try out different inputs, watering techniques, shade cloth, etc, to see if they help overall performance. What works well for one person won't necessarily work well for another. And remember, spend more time in your garden then you do on YouTube, and you will be amazed, at the results. :)
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