This is one of the biggest questions we get, as in typical cannabis production small containers are the norm. Anywhere from 3 to 7 gallon is standard, and when you jump up to a 10 gallon container people think they went huge.
When using no-till living soil we suggest to not use anything under a 25 gallon container to flower in. A 30 gallon is optimum for indoor production, but 25's will work just as well. For the new comer to no-till growing this seems to shock all of them. They think this is such a giant sized container, and that it's unnecessary. They feel like they can use a 5 gallon container and crush the game, when in reality this couldn't be further from the truth.
Some of the many reasons why we use such large containers with No-till living soil
As the name states, our no-till living soil is indeed living. It's kind of the entire point of the system. That being said, the objective is to keep as much soil alive as possible. It's pretty much standard now in no-till gardens to use fabric pots. They provide aeration to the roots, and act as a mechanical barrier for pest protection. They do however also leave a dried out ring around the container of soil that is not optimally moist. This limits the life in that area of the soil, and the usefulness of that soil to the plant.
Let's use a 5 gallon container as an example. Say you are using a 5 gallon fabric pot like a smart pot for your flowering plants. If you factor in the outside roughly 2” ring around the entire root ball that is mostly dry, how much soil is actually alive and usable inside the container? It would measure roughly the size of your fist. So when you think you are going to kill the game with a 5 gallon container just remember that you are growing in roughly a fist size of living soil.
What this does is make it so that you have to water way more often than necessary just to get a decent crop. You will also be using more water than we use in larger containers. The containers are going to dry out faster, and the level of nutrients held in such a small amount of soil will make it so that you are supplement feeding with teas, lactic acid bacteria serum, fermented fruit juices, aloe, coconut, fish, kelp, etc... Basically you have turned what is suppose to be a mimicking of mother nature into a fucked of wanna be hydro grow where you are force feeding your plants to keep them producing because they used up all of the nutrients in the container the first couple of weeks of life.
When you jump up to those larger size container like 25's and 30's, all of this changes. I have ran 5 gallon pots next to my 25 gallon pots, and the 25 gallon pots took the exact same amount of water as the 5's did. So by simply going to a bigger container we just helped to save a finite resource as well as saving ourselves work. In a 25 gallon plus container that is properly amended you can feed as little or as much as you like. Not so in a 5 gallon container. You will be married to feeding your plants constantly to keep them thriving. With a larger volume of soil that is alive, say a little bigger than the size of a basketball in a 25 gallon container, it has a better ability to retain nutrients, and increase it's water holding capacity.
When you factor the labor savings, water savings, nutrient savings, and then you scale this up to say a 5000 plant grow, how much time and money did you just save by switching to a larger container? That's one of the main benefits of no-till living soil. It is sustainable and regenerative, which means the bottom line of your business will increase from doing something that is better for the earth. If that isn't the best sales pitch for your business I don't know what is. Making money from doing something that is beneficial seems all but lost these days.
I have personally tested containers from ½ gallon up to 30 gallon and if you have the patients and know what you are doing, you can grow in almost any size container. Once you try to flip into that 2 cycle, 3rd cycle, and beyond, that's where you will see the large containers way out perform the smaller ones. The smaller containers all but become useless after a certain point. Which defeats the purpose of trying to run no-till living soil. We want to get years out of our soil, and with small containers this proves to be an extremely difficult task.
More recent on the market Grass Roots Fabric pots has come out with a line of living soil containers and beds. They have a liner built into part of the outside of the pot, that traps moisture, and increases the amount of live soil that is available for your plant to live in. They are touted as increasing yields by increasing the amount of usable living soil. So if a 25 gallon regular container had a little larger than a basketball size of living soil, a 30 gallon with the liner could easily double of more the amount of live soil available. For such a simple concept it can really help the longevity of your no-till soil.
This sounds good and all, but that's a lot of damn soil to buy
We here this a lot. People want to do 5 gallon containers, and run it as no-till and think they will save money by not going big. In all reality you are going to cost yourself way more in the long run. After you get 2 or 3 cycles out of those containers you are going to be in for some major work to keep that soil healthy. Maybe on a small scale as a home grower it would be a more manageable task, but once you scale to commercial, you just shot yourself in the foot. Ironically you will blame it on the soil somehow even though you are the one that wanted to be cheap and not listen.
If you want to get years of high quality terped out cannabis or hemp production your very best route is to use a container that is 25 gallons or larger. There is really no question to this. You can think you hacked the system , but there are those of use that have been doing this way before it was cool, and we know what the end result will be for you.
What about soil beds, I see a lot of guys on instagram using soil beds
Using soil beds in no-till living soil is a pretty ideal situation for most. The amount of soil available for your plants is more than enough, which will support biological life, worms, arthropods, micro-arthropods, fungi, as well as have aplenty of water holding capacity and nutrient retention over the long term. With the right setup you can also crush yields with soil beds. You have the option to use a bunch of smaller plants and cut down your veg time to next to nothing, or increase veg time and decrease the amount of plants in case plant counts are an issue.
Grassroots also makes living soil beds in any size you need. Like previously stated this gives you even more living soil to grow in, and make your plants healthy, happy, and yielding well, all while being terped the fuck out. Because it is all about the terps right?
The only down size I personally ever see with soil beds is that they are extremely heavy when they have been filled and the soil has retained all of the water you have been giving it. You can setup your rooms around this so it's not an issue for you, you can also use casters on 4 x4 soil beds and they are movable, with a little effort from a few people.
So what do you recommend for my grow?
It all depends on what you want to achieve, and the size of your grow, and budget. For the home grower 25 and 30 gallon containers are ideal. They can easily be moved by one person, and they can be fit into standard size tents evenly. This size of the container is roughly 2' x 2' so you can fit 4 of them in a 4' x 4' grow tent, or 8 in an 4' x 8' grow tent. When you want to clean, they can be lifted and moved by one person, and with the use of a small dolly they can be rolled around with ease.
Grow beds in a small home grow are done everyday. They are however a more permanent setup, that may not work for everyone. They will produce very well over the long term, and are worth the expense if you have the ability and space to use them.
In commercial setups soil beds will provide a large amount of soil for the “bigger roots equals bigger fruits” crowd. When it comes to a commercial setup the bottom line is always a consideration. Investors want to make a profit, and the business depends on the amount of yield you get. Unfortunately this is where the “how many pounds per light” crowd came from. In all reality, how many pounds per light of boof mid's doesn't equal anywhere near the same as a lesser yield of high terpene no-till cannabis. One is Bud Light, and the other is Dom Pérignon. There really is no comparison.
Alternatively, to cram as many plants as you can into a flower room, 30 gallon containers on dolly's are hard to beat. They can be managed by one worker, and you increase how much soil, and how many plants can be put into one room. By building your room out so that there is an exit on each side, you can use 30 gallon containers on dolly's and leave only one row open. You start the day on the side with the open row, and as you work throughout the day the plants shift to the open side. You will end up on the opposite side of the room with the open row available now on that side to start the next days work.
No matter the size or scope of your garden, the number one thing I would suggest is to never skimp on the size of your containers. The best part of growing is that there are no hard answers. I have seen hundreds of different styles of setups, and all of them were thriving. Do your research, test out products, and see what works for your situation. Always remember, that just because they are on YouTube, doesn't make them an expert, and if they say they are an expert, or master grower, run. None of us are experts, as ultimately mother nature is the one in control.