While noting that sand culture is “not a new concept,” Jensen says that “with plastics and commercial water-soluble fertilizers now common, it appears to be both practical and economical.” His prescience has been proven true. “There’s lots of sand in the world and we’ve proven we can grow plants in some of the harshest areas in the world,” he says.
Growing plants and vegetables in sand culture is not a new idea, but it appears to be both practical and economical now that plastics and commercial water-soluble fertilizers are so common. It also could be part of the solution to feed a growing human population.
Utilizing materials at hand, the Aztecs used plant roots to lash together rushes and reeds, which they then covered with sand laden with nutrient-rich organic debris dredged up from the lake bottom. Called chinampas, these early sand-culture rafts were home to vegetable crops and flower beds whose roots pushed downward into the water for sustenance. Tied together into floating islands sometimes 200 feet long, the chinampas were often poled close to a market place where shoppers could walk up and purchase fresh produce straight from the garden.
Then Dr. Merle Jensen came along. Jensen, a lauded plant scientist from the University of Arizona who was born and raised on a farm in Washington, is recognized worldwide as an eminent research horticulturist. Jensen’s concern in helping to find new ways to feed an ever-growing population (around nine billion estimated by 2050) made him a missionary of sorts. He has spent a good portion of his lengthy career growing vegetable crops in harsh desert climates around the world, from Mexico and Latin America to Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. His trial-and-error efforts have resulted in new ways of growing nutritious crops in sand. He took agricultural concepts and reassembled them into a form that redefined sand culture to mean growing edibles in sand dunes in arid and inhospitable parts of the world. This is concurrent with Maximum Yield’s definition that the process is “thought to be more efficient than traditional hydroponic methods because sand decreases the risk of botanical ailments such as verticilium and fusarium.”
Also, while sand in its pure state is not an ideal medium for plant culture because of an inability to retain water and nutrients, most natural sand has silt particles and some organic matter (sandy loam), making it one of the cheapest grow mediums because it can be washed easily and recharged with nutrients.
“Sand is an anchor and if you make it plant-friendly, it does extremely well,” says Jensen. Although his comment is a contemporary one, he initially made it back in 1973, the year he supervised building The Land Pavilion for Disney’s Epcot Center, when he prophesied “an exciting future for sand culture.”
For the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, a lack of arable lands didn’t stop them from farming. Instead they exercised their wits and made land of their own in the form of floating gardens along lakeshores and in canals. Although the Aztec civilization ended nearly 500 years ago, many of their agrarian concepts of growing squash and beans in a sand medium can still be found in contemporary culture.
Modern Sand Culture
“There are over 20,000 miles of desert coastline worldwide that, if made habitable, could feed millions of people,” he says. “In most cases, edibles could be seeded directly into leached beach sand and, once growing, be irrigated with constant liquid-feed solutions of commercial-grade fertilizer. Current growth of food production will not keep pace with need unless we extend it into new areas and toward that end, the day will come when the world’s deserts must be cultivated.”
Despite the demonstrated success of crop cultivation in a hydroponic fashion, most of the work done with soilless growing prior to the early 1900s was low-key, consisting mostly of laboratory experiments with specific plants. The standard definition of sand/gravel culture at that time came from Merriam-Webster: “Growing plants in an artificial medium using sand/gravel to support the roots and supplying mineral nutrients in an aqueous solution.”
Thus, he germinated approximately 2 seeds and soon after he planted his green beauties on a secluded creek.
Nevertheless, if you fail to supply your marijuana plants constantly (literally constantly) with water, the sand will simply fail to sustain your plants alive due to the excessive drainage.
#1 – Growing Cannabis in Sand: A Personal Success Story
He didn’t have much time to think or react so he just decided to experiment.
First off, you must be ready to end up with quite diminished yields upon harvesting (if any at all!).
#2 – Pros & Cons of Sand as a Growing Medium for Cannabis
On that note, seasoned cannabis growers are much more likely to reach the point of harvesting anything at all in the case of growing in sand.