product review:

A bad seed in scaled-up soil

Photo credit: Travis Lane

I grow cannabis in living soil. I changed my methodology years ago, after a decade of growing with salts, because I perceived a noticeable difference in quality.

I typically grow for my preferences. Whether it is at home or for commercial distribution, I select cultivars I like, and try to grow the very best smoke.

There has always been skepticism from salt growers about living soil, particularly towards systems that aim to use water-only irrigation. When cannabis legalization hit, this skepticism reached a fever pitch, partly as a result of the quality assurance (QA) testing standards that were imposed by Health Canada.

Specifically, there are two tests that can be problematic, and appear to be of questionable value: colony-forming units (CFU) of total yeast and mold, and, to a lesser extent, CFU of total bacteria.

The issue with these tests is that they don’t differentiate between beneficial and problematic mold and bacteria, which eliminates certain cultivation techniques that are relatively commonplace. Their value has also been questioned by scientists. As an example, the Cannabis Safety Institute released a white paper in 2015 written by a group of PhDs and MDs, which included the following recommendation:

“There is no need to test Cannabis for “total yeast and mold”. Total yeast and mold tests detect only a small fraction of the fungal species in the environment, and do not correlate with the presence of pathogenic species. The only pathogenic mold species on Cannabis are types of Aspergillus that must be tested for separately in any case. Molds can potentially be a cause of allergic hypersensitivity reactions, but there is no evidence that these are mediated by smoking. Molds can also be a source of plant spoilage, but these processes can be monitored appropriately by testing for water activity levels, and by visual or microscopic inspection.”

All of this said, these tests are not so crippling for those of us that operate in controlled indoor environments (outside is a different story). We can overcome them by taking precautions and getting rid of certain practices. By eliminating foliars and curing for a longer period, most of the risk is mitigated.

Companies can also choose to pasteurize their product, which eliminates the risk of failing such tests by killing any life present in a sample. Often discussed as “irradiation”, this can be a remarkably contentious subject. My opinion: I prefer to avoid it, but it isn’t that big of a deal. It is commonplace in the food industry. For small businesses, the added cost matters, though.

When Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation first got licensed with a living soil system, it was an indication to soil growers interested in obtaining licences that it was possible to pull it off legally. The hope was that it would open the floodgates.

Well, this never happened. Most still perceived it as an added risk, but when The Green Organic Dutchman (TGOD) in Mississauga declared it was going to do acres of greenhouses this way, I know I was eager to see what they could do.

Getting the weed

I walked into my local shop for a browse, and I was stoked to see some TGOD available.

I have heard lots about their struggles as a business, but I consider one of their primary grow experts a friend, and he is genuinely one of the nicest guys in cannabis. Combine this with my interest in the technique, and I had to check it out.

I paid $43 plus tax and headed home packing some legal weed grown in living soil.

Photo credit: Travis Lane

Everything but smoke

The first thing I noticed when taking the jar out of the box was that it was a weird custom glass jar. I am happy that it was glass and all, but it had a second angled surface on the bottom of the jar that seemed pointless.

I don’t really get it. We have had jars a long time, with many permutations, so what is the need to innovate here? I guess it is nice enough, but it is worse than a standard flat-bottomed jar.

When I opened the jar, my expectations immediately collapsed. The first thing I saw was a big white seed in the biggest bud. Boo.

It smelled stale and a bit sour, like a crisper drawer full of bad vegetables. This was a rough reveal.

It had okay moisture content, but the smell didn’t get better when I busted it up. The buds looked really dark, and the inside was more brown than green when picked apart.

Photo credit: Travis Lane


It burned clean enough, but tasted bad. It was another example of that lingering ashtray and tobacco smoke flavour, and represented nothing I’d identify with cannabis.

The effects seemed to be mildly uplifting. I felt the need to wash my ashtray mouth out with a different joint shortly afterwards, though.

The best thing I can say is that it burned white the whole way, and I did feel a mild stone.

Overall, it was brutal and tragic. I deeply wish this was better smoke. I can only hope that my friend at TGOD is doing okay.

Photo credit: Travis Lane

Unite Organic (L.A. Confidential) by TGOD



This was bad from the beginning. A big-ass white seed was the first thing I saw, and it smelled like it was years old. The smoke was flavorless, leaving an ashtray taste behind. It did burn fine and had some mild effect.