Cannabis growers are discovering a secret weapon of experienced gardeners – and Mother Nature herself – in the form of insect poop.
Also known as frass, this natural soil enhancer is said to trigger plants’ autoimmune response by exposing them to chitin. The results of this self-defense mechanism is an overall healthier plant, along with resistance to disease and pests, according to frass sellers.
“I love frass and would not grow without it,” said Danny Sloat, a grower with AlpinStash in Colorado, who has been growing cannabis since 2009 and using frass for two years. “It helps stimulate the plants’ version of an immune response, which naturally increases plant health and vigor. In cannabis, this increases cannabinoid and terpene content. The consumer would notice a better overall product. One that smells and tastes better with a strong but well-balanced high.”
For the past six months, Sloat has been using OrganaFrass, a Canada-based company geared to developing frass specifically for the cannabis industry. Russell Cole, OrganaFrass’ CEO, said that in addition to the fecal material of insects, his company’s products also include insect exoskeletons, larvae castings and a well-balanced macro- and micro-nutrient profile for cannabis crops to thrive.
“The addition of the exoskeletons and larvae [castings]help to increase levels of chitin, which trick plants to thinking they are being attacked by predators, triggering the plants’ autoimmune system,” said Cole. “This bodes well for cannabis producers as the result of this trigger leads to a magnification of terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids, trichomes, oil production, stronger cell walls and greater plant chute biomass.”
OrganaFrass’s insects are fed an all-vegan, organic diet, including vegetables, cactus and wheat bran. Their insects include a couple of species of crickets, several types of worms and a variety of fly larvae.
“We are researching and developing the best feeds to promote the best benefits for cannabis,” said Cole. “We focus on feed that is 100 percent organic and from vegan sources as this keeps heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other pathogens in check.”
Though OrganaFrass is not technically a pesticide or fungicide, Cole said the results of the chitin include helping prevent insect predators and pests from harming cannabis crops while helping promote the growth of beneficial insects and microbial matter in order to maintain a healthy soil food web.
“Frass has been a part of Mother Nature for ages, but when looking at the history of its more commercialized form, it was the farmers surrounding the reptile insect feeder producers … that helped to build the wave of excitement behind this niche product,” Cole said. “These farmers were provided the product at no cost, as it was a nuisance and an added cost for the insect producers to have to dispose of.
“Now that cannabis cultivation has taken shape with heavily audited [quality control]processes in place, frass has been [more scrutinized than ever before]by regulatory bodies and quality teams at the top licensed producers.”
Sloat said that while he hasn’t noticed many growers using frass, that might be changing.
“I’d say that it’s uncommon at best. More folks are learning about the benefits though and so its [use]is growing,” he said. “There are a number of products out in the market these days, which claim to do things like increase terpene content. However, many of these products do so with hormones or other plant growth regulators. Frass does this in a natural way and sustainable way, so for me it’s a no-brainer.”