Organic Soil Growing 101

Discussion in 'Organic Cultivation 101' started by Randy High, Dec 12, 2006.

  1. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Brix?

    What is Brix?

    More to the point is What is HIGH brix? Brix seems to be a way to tell how well an organic soil is doing. As it relates to Marijuana, flavor and quality are the end results. Much more needs to be done in this area but if you are interested read on.


    History of Brix

    Professor A. F. Brix was a chemist in the 19th century. He was the inventor of the refractometer, and the concept of Brix. The orchard and vineyard owners were so pleased with his work they all got together and decided to name it after him. Now some people still use the refractometers that he invented twenty years after his findings of brix. A refractometer is used to find the amount of sugar in a fruit.

    Source :


    Brix is a term popularized by Carey Reams. When used on plant sap it is primarily a measure of the carbohydrate level in plant juices. The instrument used to obtain a brix reading is the refractometer.



    Food Crop Brix Reading Limits - David Menne

    Plant sap contains nutrients which feed it, and determine its health and resistance to disease and stress. This is often measured using a Refractometer, as Brix, which equals the % Dissolved Solids in the sap.

    A high Brix sap has a reduced Water Activity [ratio of sap to pure water vapour pressures], with a corresponding reduction in freezing point [frost resistance - each additional Brix unit protects by a further 0.5 C], as well as a proportionally greater tendency to retain moisture [heat wilt resistance].

    Higher Brix levels prevent bacterial and fungal infestations - and thus storage life. While temperature, pH etc can influence if and how fast organisms will grow, Water Activity may be the most important factor. Brix sap levels in excess of 12% also generally ensure against sap-sucking insect infestations.

    But most importantly - high Brix provides proportionally greater nutritional content of the food; and ensures good old-fashioned, true nature-ripened flavour, especially where the Refractometer shows a diffuse or spread reading, indicating a variety of complex dissolved plant proteins and flavour components in good measure.

    Source :


    This is a new area of interest to me. Let me drag out the highlights of what is above as I see it applying to marijuana.

    "Plant sap contains nutrients which feed it, and determine its health and resistance to disease and stress". A function of how well your organic soil is doing in relationship to the genetics you are growing. Not all genetics can take advantage of a High Brix promoting enviroment.

    "But most importantly - high Brix provides proportionally greater nutritional content of the food; and ensures good old-fashioned, true nature-ripened flavour, especially where the Refractometer shows a diffuse or spread reading, indicating a variety of complex dissolved plant proteins and flavour components in good measure. "

    I experienced a watermelon like smell when I harvested last season and the same F1 seeds didn't provide that smell before in previous season's grows, I really wondered why the sap smelled that good! At first I thought it was simply that I put Honey in my fish and coffee brew I fed them and that is partly right. Somehow the soil functioned really well with all the microbes and fungus doing their thing.

    So that started the quest.

    The keys to High Brix is a healthy soil. Minerals are needed. Primary nutrients are needed secondary nutrients are needed. Organic materials are need.

    It's not easy to get a grip on but what he writes sounds reasonable. Here is a page on 8 steps to High brix

    I can see I'm more Questing with this topic then FAQ'ing Yet its a good one.
  2. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Azomite?

    What is Azomite?

    Plant Nutrition is part decaying matter and it's products and part mineral uptake.

    Azomite is a mined rock that provides maybe all the minerals needed.


    An Organic Fertilizer full of Minerals & Trace Elements

    Azomite is the name of a special rock in Utah. Early this century geological prospector Rollin Anderson found deposits of montmorillonite clay in a valley south of Salt Lake City. U.S. Bureau of Mines analysis showed the clay is similar to Chilean/Peruvian caliche rocks from which much of the world's nitrate was mined. Anderson ground montmorillonite as fine as possible, then put it in his garden. Results were amazing and nearly immediate. Minerals in Azomite Organic Fertilizer are necessary to optimal metabolism in living things. Ground to dust, trace minerals are small enough to pass through cell walls of organisms.

    Source :


    I see that it can be used as a top dressing so those of us who find this late can relax.

    I see it's 5 bucks as well... Man...


    Azomite Micronized (2 lb)

    Trace Mineral Amendment This natural fertilizer (described in Secrets of the Soil as "rock dust") is actually an ancient deposit of aluminum silicate clay and marine minerals. In use for over 50 years as a source of available potash (0.2%) and over 50 trace minerals, including calcium (1.8%), sodium (0.1%), and magnesium (0.5%). Apply at .25-2 tons/acre, or .25-2 lb/10 sq ft. Use as an annual top dressing on citrus trees, where soil pH is 6.5 or lower, at 5 lb/tree, or 15 lb on blight-stricken trees. Azomite can also used in animal feeds at a rate of 0.5% of feed mixture, as a trace mineral supplement and a natural anti-caking agent.

    Source :
  3. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Greensand?

    What is Greensand?

    Greensand is an olive-green colored sandstone rock which is commonly found in narrow bands, particularly associated with bands of chalk and clay worldwide; it has been deposited in marine environments at various times during Earth history, such as during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

    Source :


    Greensand, an organic source of potassium; about 7% potash plus 32 trace elements, is found at nurseries, some garden centersand online.

    It is best mixed in the soil but, I'm sure it will top dress alright.

  4. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Blood Meal?

    What is Blood Meal?

    In our choices of Nitrogen fertilizers Blood Meal is one of the fast ones.


    Blood meal is dried, powdered blood used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. It is one of the highest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen and if over-applied it can burn plants with excessive ammonia. Blood meal is completely soluble and can be mixed with water to be used as a liquid fertilizer. It usually comes from cattle as a slaughterhouse by-product. It may also be spread on gardens to deter animals such as rabbits, or as a compost activator.

    Source :
  5. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Bone Meal?

    What is Bone Meal?

    Bone meal is a mixture of crushed and coarsely ground bones that is used as an organic fertilizer for plants and in animal feed. As a fertilizer, bone meal is primarily used as a source of phosphorus.

    Source :


    Bonemeal is a product created from the waste resulting from the slaughter of animals, especially beef cattle, by meat processors. It is a white powder made by grinding either raw or steamed animal bones.

    This results in a product that contains the same nutrients necessary for the production of, and maintenance of, bone in both humans and animals.

    The composition of bonemeal can vary. Phosphorus, in the form of chemical compounds related to phosphates, makes up 20–30% of the powder.

    In addition to its mineral content, depending upon the amount of tendon and muscle left on the bones, bonemeal can be a fairly good source of protein.

    The nutrients typically present in bonemeal include the minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as traces of other elements.

    Source :


    I use it mixed in the soil and also as a top dressing.
  6. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Feeding the Soil?

    What is Feeding the Soil?

    Feeding the Soil is laying a layer of materials down on a Organic soil alive with microorganisms that use nitrogenous and carbon rich materials to feed on.

    When we are not growing in the soil we can add materials and "recycle the soil."

    In Farming and outdoor gardening many methods are used including cover crops.

    Indoor gardeners can still manage a healthy life cycle of the soil with a little work.


    if we act on the time-honored adage "feed the soil," we will discover that applying compost and growing cover crops are sustainable, effective, and inexpensive ways of building fertile soil and growing healthy crops.

    Gardeners who improve soil in this manner work in harmony with nature's complex cycles where the remains of decaying plants and animals are broken down and reabsorbed by living plants and animals. This circle of birth, death, and rebirth is the basis for all life on our planet.

    Source :

    Feeding soil is a necessity for healthy plant growth

    By Ron Vanderhoff

    Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Every gardener eventually succumbs to this fundamental principle.

    Soil is alive. These are the three most important words to understand if you're going to have a successful garden. Many of us grew up in an era when we understood soil as just a sterile, lifeless accumulation of bits of rock, minerals, mud and other unknowns. We all thought that the more sterile and lifeless, the better. As gardeners, we mistakenly believed that soil just held our plants upright. It was our applications of fertilizers and chemicals that we sprayed and spread that were the source of healthy plants. And there are still those among us who cling to the ritualistic applications of expensive fertilizers, sprays and synthetic cure-alls in a never-ending attempt to sustain the garden.

    But we now know that healthy soil is teaming with millions, even billions, of unseen organisms. Since we cannot see the majority of these organisms — beneficial but microscopic bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa — we sometimes forget how essential they are. Earthworms, sow bugs, springtails and more are all present in healthy living soil, as are beneficial forms of nematodes and mites.

    Rather than discourage life under our feet, we know that these organisms are essential to a soil's fertility, structure and health.

    It is the invisible life in our soil that converts organic matter into nutrients, improves soil structure and wards off pests and disease.

    Remove these organisms from your soil and your soil will compact, lose nutrition, lack aeration and harbor root diseases.

    So, all but a few gardeners still living in the dark ages now know that soil is alive. From a plant's perspective, the more alive the better.

    What can a gardener do to create and sustain soil that is living?

    A living soil begins by not killing it. As gardening consumers, we are subjected to an onslaught of marketing messages that subtly "teach" us how to behave in our gardens. Here's a list of don''ts, a few ways to kill healthy, living soil.

    Do not use systemic insecticides applied around roses or any other plants. This is a very inefficient way to control pests but a very effective way to kill your soil life.

    Source :


    There are ways to boost populations of these microorganisms.

    But the basic don't is to not use chemical fertilizers.

    I believe that a living soil manages itself but we make the rules.

    I'm hijacking something here and I'll post the source but here are 4 rules.

    1. Understand (through testing & observation) and balance the soil, giving attention to its chemical, biological, and physical components.

    2. Balance soil chemistry and provide crop nutrition using a balance of soluble and slow-release materials, and a monitor the pH.

    Do this by top dressing with organic materials and feeding the soil with liquid organic nutrients.


    3. Manage tillage to control the decay of organic materials while optimizing soil aeration and moisture levels. This applies to turning under materials. For us this means mix the top dressing up and into the soil gently so as to not disturb the roots but to rotate materials closer to the moisture and the feeding microherd

    4. Feed soil life with green manure crops and other sources of organic matter. This is top dressing and when recycling or building the soil.

    Select materials that create good structure and nutrition.

    Hijack source :

    --- End of Hijack.

    It may be a serious move but if we have a soil that is recycled season after season it may pay to have a sample analyzed.

    Knowing the state of things can help us manage our long term soil.

    This site is an example of how to take and where to take a soil sample.

    The bonus of a soil that has been around many seasons is Humus.


    Humus is a word actually used for two different things, which are both related to soil and thus get used interchangeably.

    First, in earth sciences "humus" (see is any organic matter which has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain essentially as it is for centuries, or millennia.

    Second, in agriculture, "humus" is often used simply to mean mature compost, or natural compost extracted from a forest or other spontaneous source for use to amend soil.

    The process of "humification" can occur naturally in soil, or in the production of compost. Chemically stable humus is thought by some to be important to the fertility of soils in both a physical and chemical sense, though some agricultural experts advocate a greater focus on other aspects of nutrient delivery, instead. Physically, it helps the soil retain moisture, and encourages the formation of good soil structure. Chemically, it has many active sites which bind to ions of plant nutrients, making them more available. Humus is often described as the 'life-force' of the soil. Yet it is difficult to define humus in precise terms; it is a highly complex substance, the full nature of which is still not fully understood. Physically, humus can be differentiated from organic matter in that the latter is rough looking material, with coarse plant remains still visible, while once fully humified it become more uniform in appearance (a dark, spongy, jelly-like substance) and amorphous in structure.

    That is, it has no determinate shape, structure or character.

    Plant remains (including those that have passed through an animal and are excreted as manure) contain organic compounds: sugars, starches, proteins, carbohydrates, lignins, waxes, resins and organic acids.

    The process of organic matter decay in the soil begins with the decomposition of sugars and starches from carbohydrates which break down easily as saprotrophs initially invade the dead plant, while the remaining cellulose breaks down more slowly.

    Proteins decompose into amino acids at a rate depending on carbon to nitrogen ratios.

    Organic acids break down rapidly, while fats, waxes, resins and lignins remain relatively unchanged for longer periods of time.

    The humus that is the end product of this process is thus a mixture of compounds and complex life chemicals of plant, animal, or microbial origin, which has many functions and benefits in the soil.

    Earthworm humus (vermicompost) is considered by some to be the best organic manure there is.

    Benefits of Humus

    The mineralisation process that converts raw organic matter to the relatively stable substance that is humus feeds the soil population of micro-organisms and other creatures, thus maintaining high and healthy levels of soil life.

    Effective and stable humus (see below) are further sources of nutrients to microbes, the former providing a readily available supply while the latter acts as a more long-term storage reservoir.

    Humification of dead plant material causes complex organic compounds to break down into simpler forms which are then made available to growing plants for uptake through their root systems.

    Humus is a colloidal as substance, and increases the soil's cation exchange capacity, hence its ability to store nutrients by chilation as can clay particles; thus while these nutrient cations are accessible to plants, they are held in the soil safe from leaching away by rain or irrigation.

    Humus can hold the equivalent of 80-90% of its weight in moisture, and therefore increases the soil's capacity to withstand drought conditions.

    The biochemical structure of humus enables it to moderate – or buffer – excessive acid or alkaline soil conditions.

    During the Humification process, microbes secrete sticky gums; these contribute to the crumb structure of the soil by holding particles together, allowing greater aeration of the soil.

    Toxic substances such as heavy metals, as well as excess nutrients, can be chelated (that is, bound to the complex organic molecules of humus) and prevented from entering the wider ecosystem.

    The dark colour of humus (usually black or dark brown) helps to warm up cold soils in the spring.

    Source :


    There are the nutrients that are provided by organic materials but we must also provide minerals.

    So far Azomite seems to be top dog.

  7. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Kelp?

    What is Kelp?

    For us organic gardeners we use liquid kelp or kelp meal but below is a general definition of kelp; something we read less about when focused on gardening. After that I will focus on the kinds of kelp products we have available to us.


    What Is Kelp

    What is red, brown, green or blue-green, comes in 1700 varieties and waves gracefully from side to side? The answer is seaweed.

    The main groups of edible seaweed are classified according to their predominant color.

    Kelp's Nutritional Analysis

    Brown seaweed

    Seaweeds are used principally in human food, animal food, fertilizer and nutritional supplements. The nutritional supplement most readily found on health food store shelves is a brown seaweed named kelp. Kelp is a principal source of iodine, but that is only a part of the story.

    Kelp contains almost every mineral and trace mineral necessary for human existence. It also contains amino acids and vitamins.

    Marine plants, such as the brown seaweed plant that is the source of kelp tablets and powder, live and flourish because of sunlight and the nutrients so plentiful in the sea.

    The brown seaweed group is usually found in cold waters, although a number of varieties are harvested in the warmer waters of the Pacific off the coast of California. So fantastic is their growing ability, deriving nutrients only from the sun and surrounding water, that when they are harvested four feet from the surface, they grow back within ten days. Because they completely cover rocks between high and low tide, they are sometimes called rock weeds. The best known of the brown algae are the kelps. They generally grow in enormous beds just below the surface of the water. Seaweeds do not have any roots. They cling to rocks with grippers, called holdfasts, which are strong enough to take the battering of even the fiercest storms.

    In 1750, an English physician, Dr. Bernard Russell, burned dried kelp and used it successfully as a treatment for goiter, a condition caused by a malfunctioning of the thyroid gland. In 1862 a Dr. C. Dupare successfully used kelp as an aid to treat obesity. These uses depend on the iodine content, which kelp contains in natural form.

    Iodine is said to benefit the body in other ways, in addition to promoting the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. It helps provide energy and endurance, and relieve nervous tension. Because iodine promotes circulation, particularly to the brain, it contributes to better nourishment and to clear thought. Iodine also helps to burn food, so it is not stored as unwanted fat.

    Red seaweed

    This grouping is usually a deep-water variety, up to 200 feet below the surface. Red seaweeds prefer shadier locations and warmer water than the brown variety. The color is probably because of the subdued light that barely reaches the deep waters. Irish moss is the best known of the red variety.

    Green seaweed

    This form of seaweed is closest to the green leafy vegetables with which we are familiar. In fact, one species is called sea lettuce. Green seaweed grows not only in the salty seas but also in fresh-water lakes and rivers. They are much smaller than the brown and red varieties, ranging in size down to the one-celled organism. Some green seaweed even grows on trees on land.

    Source :


    Most of us will buy a bottle of liquid kelp of some type. Yet, there are different types we can choose from and even kelp meal for "feeding the soil."

    From our garden friends down under : Australia


    Seaweed is a wonderful fertiliser, a great soil builder and an excellent compost activator. All in all, seaweed is terrific stuff for the garden. There's a long tradition of seaweed being used as a fertiliser to improve crop production. For example Celtic and Scandinavian farmers have put it onto their fields for centuries.

    Kelp is one of many different types of seaweed. One type is powdered kelp. It is convenient for adding to the garden. And what is it about seaweed that makes it such a good fertiliser? Seaweed contains complex carbohydrates and these really get the soil humming with life. This has two really important functions for the garden. Firstly, it stimulates the microbial fungi in the soil and these assist plants in their uptake of nutrients. They also assist in defending plants from soil borne diseases. So adding seaweed fertiliser helps crop protection, and plant nutrition

    Of all the fertilisers, seaweed has the broadest and most balanced range of nutrients, to promote early flowering and cropping and increases the sugar content of fruit. All in all, it's very good stuff.

    An extract from seaweed is Algin. It's sold in the shops as agar agar. Add it to water and make a liquid paste. Pour it onto the soil and it acts like a natural wetting agent. Excellent for sandy soils.

    Land plants have cellulose, which thickens their cell walls and allows them to resist gravity, and they can grow upright. Seaweed is supported by water and has no need for cellulose. In a compost heap, that means seaweed breaks down really quickly. It activates the compost heap. But powdered kelp works just as well.

    Seaweed also comes in a liquid form, so spray it on plants and they take in the food directly through leaves. Just ensure it's diluted as recommended, because it's really strong stuff and can burn seedlings and roots.

    Another benefit of using seaweed fertiliser over time is it acidifies and adds iron to the soil, which is great news if you are growing acid and iron hungry plants like gardenias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons. It's great on native plants as well. If you use seaweed fertiliser on native proteaceae, like banksias and grevilleas, just make sure that it hasn't been fortified with phosphorous, because that can do some harm.

    Seaweed contains natural plant hormones, so it's really useful in preventing transplant shock whenever you move a plant around the garden. It's also useful for improving the germination of seeds. For example peanuts, which have a large seed, should be soaked for 24 hours in seaweed fertiliser for a good germination rate. Seaweed also helps to improve the thickness of plant cell walls. This makes them much more resistant to pest and disease attack and also improves frost resistance.

    Source :


    In my searches I have found two types one being considered the premium liquid kelp

    Bull and Ascophyllum kelp.


    Cold-processed liquid kelp Enzymatically digested, concentrated liquid extract of California Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), harvested from kelp beds in the Pacific Ocean off the Northern coast of CA. Freshly harvested kelp is rapidly processed at low temperatures, using naturally occurring enzymes isolated from the kelp, to digest and liquify the chopped kelp into a dark liquid extract. This cold water enzymatic process preserves all the very important hormones, auxins, giberillins, enzymes, proteins, vitamins and minerals found in Bull Kelp, which is internationally recognized for its high concentration of active compounds that greatly stimulate the growth and productivity of plants. Product is then stabilized with the addition of natural humic acids which have been digested with enzymes and mixed with the kelp concentrate. Contains 21% solids.

    Source :

    Cold Processed Kelp from pure, fresh, Norwegian Ascophyllum kelp, this product is about twice as potent by weight as heat-processed kelps. Contains 18% solids, 30 ppm abscissic acid (ABA), 40 ppm cytokinins, 70 ppm indole acetic acid (IAA), plus very high levels of vitamins and minerals. Particularly effective when combined with other foliar materials such as fish products

    Source :


    I can't imagine my garden without kelp to be honest..
  8. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Manure?

    What is Manure?

    So you thought Poop Is POOP when here's the Low Down... :)


    Good poop, bad poop

    What is good for the goose, is not always good for the gander.

    There are a few manures that should not be used, primarily those of meat eaters. According to Cornell University, "Homeowners should not use any manure from dogs, cats, or other meat-eating animals, since there is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans."

    The most common sources of manure are horses, cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry.

    Below is a guide showing how manures measure up, nutrient-wise.

    While all animal manures are good sources of organic matter and nutrients, it's impossible to make a precise analysis, mostly because bedding materials vary so much. For example, manure with straw or sawdust will have a different nitrogen composition than pure manure. But it's useful to know whether the manure you're using is rich or poor in a particular nutrient such as nitrogen. chicken manure organic fertilizer

    As you review the list, don't be misled by the N-P-K numbers that suggest manure is less powerful than chemicals. It is actually far better because it contains large amounts of organic matter, so it feeds and builds the soil while it nourishes the plants.

    This is one of the primary ways that organic fertilizers have a leg-up on chemical ones.

    Still, many gardeners can't resist comparing the numerical amounts listed below with what they read on packages of synthetic fertilizers.

    Unfortunately, the values of manure and organic fertilizers in general, are often based on the relative amount of nitrogen (N), phosphoric acid (P) and potash (K) they contain. While these are important elements, "it is misleading to make a direct comparison between farm manures and chemical fertilizers on the basis of the relative amounts of N-P-K," says Jerry Minnich, author of Rodale's Guide to Composting.

    Just like we need to eat to maintain our health, soil needs continual replenishment of its organic matter to decompose into humus.

    Humus helps create a rich, moisture-retaining soil and makes nutrients available to plants.( For more organic gardening tips, read the current issue of my UpBeet Gardener newsletter.)

    How common manures measure up

    Manure Chicken Diary cow Horse Steer Rabbit Sheep

    N-P-K 1.1 .80 .50 .25 .15 .25 .70 .30 .60 .70 .30 .40 2.4 1.4 .60 .70.30 .90

    Source :


    All Manures should be composted when used indoors. The exception might be teas made with an air stone and air pump..

    Steer Manure is very high in salts and should not be used IMO.

    There is a difference between Steer and Cow.

    Another manure I like is Guinea Pig.

    One thing I wish to say.. If you get pets to collect poop you better treat them good. I do not wish to suggest a means to their end if you know what I'm saying.

  9. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is NPK?

    What is NPK?

    There are many sources for information on NPK and I point out that these basic ions, as it would seem, are common to Organic and chemical fertilizers.

    To an Organic gardener it's how we get there that matters.

    Fertilizers that have high numbers for NPK usually are not organic ones.


    What does N-P-K stand for?

    N = Nitrogen 4-1-1

    Nitrogen is the first major element responsible for the vegetative growth of plants above ground. With a good supply, plants grow sturdily and mature rapidly, with rich, dark green foliage.

    P = Phosphorus 4-1-1

    The second major element in plant nutrition, phosphorus is essential for healthy growth, strong roots, fruit and flower development, and greater resistance to disease.

    K = Potassium (Potash) 4-1-1

    The third major plant nutrient, potassium oxide is essential for the development of strong plants. It helps plants to resist diseases, protects them from the cold and protects during dry weather by preventing excessive water loss.

    Source :
  10. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Trace Elements?

    What is Trace Elements?

    Definition of trace elements

    Definition as written by paulgrow:

    Minor mineral nutrients that are needed by all plants in extremly small or trace amounts. In order to be useful, these micronutrients must be available in the soil in which the plants are grown. Too little of one or more of these produces deficiencies resulting in plant disease

    Source :

    Trace Element

    Boron (B)

    Calcium (Ca)

    Copper (Cu) .

    Iron (Fe) .

    Magnesium (Mg)

    Manganese (Mn)

    Molybdenum (Mo) .

    Sulphur (S)

    Zinc (Zn)

    Source :


    You will find trace elements in things like kelp, Greensand and Azomite as well as others.
  11. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is BalckStrap Molasses?

    What is BalckStrap Molasses?

    I have yet to find one source to cover it all but this is amazing.

    I am trying to share the news here.

    I bow to Profound for his sharing of a The Three Little Birds (3LBs)



    Sweet Organic Goodness - Magical Molasses

    There are a number of different nutrient and fertilizer companies selling a variety of additives billed as carbohydrate booster products for plants. Usually retailing for tens of dollars per gallon if not tens of dollars per liter, these products usually claim to work as a carbohydrate source for plants. A variety of benefits are supposed to be unlocked by the use of these products, including the relief of plant stresses and increases in the rate of nutrient uptake. On the surface it sounds real good, and while these kinds of products almost always base their claims in enough science to sound good, reality doesn't always live up to the hype.

    The 3LB are pretty well known for our distrust of nutrient companies like Advanced Nutrients who produce large lines of products (usually with large accompanying price tags) claiming to be a series of "magic bullets" - unlocking the keys to growing success for new and experienced growers alike. One member of the three_little_birds grower's and breeder's collective decided to sample one of these products a while back, intending to give the product a fair trial and then report on the results to the community at Cannabis World.

    Imagine, if you will, Tweetie bird flying off to the local hydroponics store, purchasing a bottle of the wonder product - "Super Plant Carb!" (not it's real name) - and then dragging it back to the bird's nest. With a sense of expectation our lil' bird opens the lid, hoping to take a peek and a whiff of this new (and expensive) goodie for our wonderful plants. She is greeted with a familiar sweet smell that it takes a moment to place. Then the realization hits her. . .

    Molasses! The "Super Plant Carb!" smells just like Blackstrap Molasses. At the thought that she's just paid something like $15 for a liter of molasses, our Tweetie bird scowls. Surely she tells herself there must be more to this product than just molasses. So she dips a wing into the sweet juice ever so slightly, and brings it up to have a taste.

    Much the same way a sneaky Sylvester cat is exposed by a little yellow bird saying - "I thought I saw a puddy tat . . . I did I did see a puddy tat . . . and he's standing right there!" - our Tweetie bird had discovered the essence of this product. It was indeed nothing more than Blackstrap Molasses, a quick taste had conformed for our Tweetie bird that she had wasted her time and effort lugging home a very expensive bottle of plant food additive. Molasses is something we already use for gardening at the Bird's Nest. In fact sweeteners like molasses have long been a part of the arsenal of common products used by organic gardeners to bring greater health to their soils and plants.

    So please listen to the little yellow bird when she chirps, because our Tweetie bird knows her stuff. The fertilizer companies are like the bumbling Sylvester in many ways, but rather than picturing themselves stuffed with a little bird, they see themselves growing fat with huge profits from the wallets of unsuspecting consumers. Let us assure you it's not the vision of yellow feathers floating in front of their stuffed mouths that led these executives in their attempt to "pounce" on the plant growing public.

    And the repackaging of molasses as plant food or plant additive is not just limited to the companies selling their products in hydroponic stores. Folks shopping at places like Wal-Mart are just as likely to be taken in by this tactic. In this particular case the offending party is Schultz® Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food 3-1-5. This is a relatively inexpensive product that seems appealing to a variety of organic gardeners. Here's Shultz own description of their product.

    "Garden Safe Liquid Plant Foods are made from plants in a patented technology that provides plants with essential nutrients for beautiful flowers and foliage and no offensive smell. Plus they improve soils by enhancing natural microbial activity. Great for all vegetables, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs and houseplants including roses, tomatoes, fruits, and lawns. Derived from completely natural ingredients, Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food feeds plants and invigorates soil microbial activity. Made from sugar beet roots! No offensive manure or fish odors."

    That sure sounds good, and the three_little_birds will even go as far as to say we agree 100% with all the claims made in that little blurb of ad copy. But here's the problem, Shultz isn't exactly telling the public that the bottle of "fertilizer" they are buying is nothing more than a waste product derived from the production of sugar. In fact, Schultz® Garden Safe 3-1-5 Liquid Plant Food is really and truly nothing more than a form molasses derived from sugar beet processing that is usually used as an animal feed sweetener. If you don't believe a band of birds, go ahead and look for yourself at the fine print on a Garden Safe bottle where it says - "Contains 3.0% Water Soluble Nitrogen, 1.0% Available Phosphate, 5.0% Soluble Potash - derived from molasses."

    The only problem we see, is that animal feed additives shouldn't be retailing for $7.95 a quart, and that's the price Shultz is charging for it's Garden Safe product. While we don't find that quite as offensive as Advanced Nutrients selling their "CarboLoad" product for $14.00 a liter, we still know that it's terribly overpriced for sugar processing wastes. So, just as our band of birds gave the scoop on poop in our Guano Guide, we're now about to give folks the sweet truth about molasses.

    Molasses is a syrupy, thick juice created by the processing of either sugar beets or the sugar cane plant. Depending on the definition used, Sweet Sorghum also qualifies as a molasses, although technically it's a thickened syrup more akin to Maple Syrup than to molasses. The grade and type of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or beet and the method of extraction. The different molasses' have names like: first molasses, second molasses, unsulphured molasses, sulphured molasses, and blackstrap molasses. For gardeners the sweet syrup can work as a carbohydrate source to feed and stimulate microorganisms. And, because molasses (average NPK 1-0-5) contains potash, sulfur, and many trace minerals, it can serve as a nutritious soil amendment. Molasses is also an excellent chelating agent.

    Several grades and types of molasses are produced by sugar cane processing. First the plants are harvested and stripped of their leaves, and then the sugar cane is usually crushed or mashed to extract it's sugary juice. Sugar manufacturing begins by boiling cane juice until it reaches the proper consistency, it is then processed to extract sugar. This first boiling and processing produces what is called first molasses, this has the highest sugar content of the molasses because relatively little sugar has been extracted from the juice. Green (unripe) sugar cane that has been treated with sulphur fumes during sugar extraction produces sulphured molasses. The juice of sun-ripened cane which has been clarified and concentrated produces unsulphured molasses. Another boiling and sugar extraction produces second molasses which has a slight bitter tinge to its taste.

    Further rounds of processing and boiling yield dark colored blackstrap molasses, which is the most nutritionally valuable of the various types of molasses. It is commonly used as a sweetner in the manufacture of cattle and other animal feeds, and is even sold as a human health supplement. Any kind of molasses will work to provide benefit for soil and growing plants, but blackstrap molasses is the best choice because it contains the greatest concentration of sulfur, iron and micronutrients from the original cane material. Dry molasses is something different still. It's not exactly just dried molasses either, it's molasses sprayed on grain residue which acts as a "carrier".

    Molasses production is a bit different when it comes to the sugar beet. You might say "bird's know beets" because one of our flock grew up near Canada's "sugar beet capitol" in Alberta. Their family worked side by side with migrant workers tending the beet fields. The work consisted of weeding and thinning by hand, culling the thinner and weaker plants to leave behind the best beets. After the growing season and several hard frosts - which increase the sugar content - the beets are harvested by machines, piled on trucks and delivered to their destination.

    At harvest time, a huge pile of beets will begin to build up outside of the sugar factory that will eventually dwarf the factory itself in size. Gradually throughout the winter the pile will diminish as the whole beets are ground into a mash and then cooked. The cooking serves to reduce and clarify the beet mash, releasing huge columns of stinky (but harmless) beet steam into the air. Sometimes, if the air is cold enough, the steam will fall to the ground around the factory as snow!

    As we've already learned, in the of sugar cane the consecutive rounds of sugar manufacturing produce first molasses and second molasses. With the humble sugar beet, the intermediate syrups get names like high green and low green, it's only the syrup left after the final stage of sugar extraction that is called molasses. After final processing, the leftover sugar beet mash is dried then combined with the thick black colored molasses to serve as fodder for cattle. Sugar beet molasses is also used to sweeten feed for horses, sheep, chickens, etc.

    Sugar beet molasses is only considered useful as an animal feed additive because it has fairly high concentrations of many salts including calcium, potassium, oxalate, and chloride. Despite the fact that it's not suitable for human consumption and some consider it to be an industrial waste or industrial by-product, molasses produced from sugar beets makes a wonderful plant fertilizer. While humans may reject beet molasses due to the various "extras" the sugar beet brings to the table, to our plant's it's a different story. Sugar beet molasses is usually fairly chemical free as well, at least in our experience. Although farmers generally fertilize their fields in the spring using the various arrays of available fertilizers, weed chemicals (herbicides) are not used for this crop due to the beet plant's relatively delicate nature.

    There is at least one other type of "molasses" we are aware of, and that would be sorghum molasses. It's made from a plant known as sweet sorghum or sorghum cane in treatments somewhat similar to sugar beets and/or sugar cane processing. If our understanding is correct, sorghum molasses is more correctly called a thickened syrup rather than a by-product of sugar production. So in our eyes sorghum molasses is probably more like Maple Syrup than a true molasses.

    In the distant past sorghum syrup was a common locally produced sweetener in many areas, but today it is fairly rare speciality product that could get fairly pricey compared to Molasses. Because sorghum molasses is the final product of sweet sorghum processing, and blackstrap and sugar beet molasses are simply waste by-products of sugar manufacturing, it's pretty easy to understand the difference in expense between the products. The word from the birds is - there isn't any apparent advantage to justify the extra expense of using sorghum molasses as a substitute for blackstrap or sugar beet molasses in the garden. So if you find sorghum molasses, instead of using it in your garden, you'll probably want to use it as an alternate sweetener on some biscuits.

    That's a quick bird's eye look at the differences between the various types and grades of molasses and how they are produced. Now it's time to get a peek at the why's and how's of using molasses in gardening.

    Why Molasses?

    The reason nutrient manufacturer's have "discovered" molasses is the simple fact that it's a great source of carbohydrates to stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms. "Carbohydrate" is really just a fancy word for sugar, and molasses is the best sugar for horticultural use. Folks who have read some of our prior essays know that we are big fans of promoting and nourishing soil life, and that we attribute a good portion of our growing success to the attention we pay to building a thriving "micro-herd" to work in concert with plant roots to digest and assimilate nutrients. We really do buy into the old organic gardening adage - "Feed the soil not the plant."

    Molasses is a good, quick source of energy for the various forms of microbes and soil life in a compost pile or good living soil. As we said earlier, molasses is a carbon source that feeds the beneficial microbes that create greater natural soil fertility. But, if giving a sugar boost was the only goal, there would be lot's of alternatives. We could even go with the old Milly Blunt story of using Coke on plants as a child, after all Coke would be a great source of sugar to feed microbes and it also contains phosphoric acid to provide phosphorus for strengthening roots and encouraging blooming. In our eyes though, the primary thing that makes molasses the best sugar for agricultural use is it's trace minerals.

    In addition to sugars, molasses contains significant amounts of potash, sulfur, and a variety of micronutrients. Because molasses is derived from plants, and because the manufacturing processes that create it remove mostly sugars, the majority of the mineral nutrients that were contained in the original sugar cane or sugar beet are still present in molasses. This is a critical factor because a balanced supply of mineral nutrients is essential for those "beneficial beasties" to survive and thrive. That's one of the secrets we've discovered to really successful organic gardening, the micronutrients found in organic amendments like molasses, kelp, and alfalfa were all derived from other plant sources and are quickly and easily available to our soil and plants. This is especially important for the soil "micro-herd" of critters who depend on tiny amounts of those trace minerals as catalysts to make the enzymes that create biochemical transformations. That last sentence was our fancy way of saying - it's actually the critters in "live soil" that break down organic fertilizers and "feed" it to our plants.

    One final benefit molasses can provide to your garden is it's ability to work as a chelating agent. That's a scientific way of saying that molasses is one of those "magical" substances that can convert some chemical nutrients into a form that's easily available for critters and plants. Chelated minerals can be absorbed directly and remain available and stable in the soil. Rather than spend a lot of time and effort explaining the relationships between chelates and micronutrients, we are going to quote one of our favorite sources for explaining soil for scientific laymen.

    "Micronutrients occur, in cells as well as in soil, as part of large, complex organic molecules in chelated form. The word chelate (pronounced "KEE-late") comes from the Greek word for "claw," which indicates how a single nutrient ion is held in the center of the larger molecule. The finely balanced interactions between micronutrients are complex and not fully understood. We do know that balance is crucial; any micronutrient, when present in excessive amounts, will become a poison, and certain poisonous elements, such as chlorine are also essential micronutrients.

    For this reason natural, organic sources of micronutrients are the best means of supplying them to the soil; they are present in balanced quantities and not liable to be over applied through error or ignorance. When used in naturally chelated form, excess micronutrients will be locked up and prevented from disrupting soil balance."

    Excerpted from "The Soul of Soil"

    by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie

    That's not advertising hype either, no product being sold there. That's just the words of a pair of authors who have spent their lives studying, building, and nurturing soils.

    Molasses' ability to act as a chelate explains it's presence in organic stimulant products like Earth Juice Catalyst. Chelates are known for their ability to unlock the potential of fertilizers, and some smart biological farmers we know are using chelating agents (like Humic Acid) to allow them to make dramatic cuts in normal levels of fertilizer application.

    One way to observe this reaction at work would be to mix up a solution of one part molasses to nine parts water and then soak an object which is coated with iron rust (like a simple nail for instance) in that solution for two weeks. The chelating action of the molasses will remove the mineral elements of the rust and hold them in that "claw shaped" molecule that Grace and Joe just described.

    As we've commented on elsewhere, it's not always possible to find good information about the fertilizer benefits of some products that aren't necessarily produced as plant food. But we've also found that by taking a careful look at nutritional information provided for products like molasses that can be consumed by humans, we can get a pretty decent look at the nutrition we can expect a plant to get as well.

    There are many brand's of molasses available, so please do not look at our use of a particular brand as an endorsement, our choice of Brer Rabbit molasses as an example is simply due to our familiarity with the product, one of our Grandmother's preferred this brand.

    Brer Rabbit Blackstrap Molasses

    Nutritional Information and Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: 1Tbsp. (21g). Servings per Container: About 24. Amount Per Serving: Calories - 60;

    Percentage Daily Values; Fat - 0g, 0%; Sodium - 65mg. 3%; Potassium - 800 mg. 23%; Total Carbohydrates - 13g, 4%; Sugars - 12g, Protein - 1g, Calcium - 2%; Iron 10%; Magnesium 15%; Not a significant source of calories from fat, sat. fat, cholesterol, fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

    The How's of Molasses

    Undoubtedly some folks are to the point where they are ready for our flock to "cut to the chase." All the background about molasses making and the various kinds of molasses is good, and knowing how molasses works as a fertilizer is great too, but by now many of you may be thinking - isn't it about time to learn how to actually use this wonder product?! So this section of the "Molasses Manual" is for our birdie buds who are ready, waiting, and wanting to get going with bringing the sticky goodness of molasses into their garden.

    Molasses is a fairly versatile product, it can serve as a plant food as well as a an additive to improve a fertilizer mix or tea. Dry molasses can be used as an ingredient in a fertilizer mix, and liquid molasses can be used alone or as a component in both sprays and soil drenches. Your personal preferences and growing style will help to decide how to best use this natural sweetener for it's greatest effect in your garden.

    We will try and address the use of dry molasses first, although we will openly admit this is an area where we have little actual experience with gardening use. We've certainly mixed dry molasses into animal feed before, so we're not totally unfamiliar with it's use. Folks may remember from our earlier description of the various kinds of molasses that dry molasses is actually a ground grain waste "carrier" which has been coated with molasses. This gives dry molasses a semi-granular texture that can be mixed into a feed mix (for animals) or a soil mix (for our favorite herbs). Dry molasses has a consistency that was described by one bird as similar to mouse droppings or rat turds, (folks had to know we'd fit a manure reference in here somehow).

    The best use we can envision for dry molasses in the herb garden is to include it in some sort of modified "super-soil" recipe, like Vic High originally popularized for the cannabis community. As we admitted, the use of dry molasses in soil mixes isn't something we have personal experience with, at least not yet. We are planning some experiments to see how a bit of dry molasses will work in a soil mix. We believe that moderate use should help stimulate micro-organisms and also help in chelating micronutrients and holding them available for our herbs. The plan is to begin testing with one cup of dried molasses added per 10 gallons of soil mix and then let our observations guide the efforts from there.

    Another option for molasses use in the garden is it's use alone as a fertilizer. The Schultz Garden Safe Liquid Plant Food is a perfect example of the direct application of molasses as a plant food. Garden Safe products are available from a variety of sources, including Wal-Mart. Although we consider them overpriced for a sugar beet by-product, Garden Safe products are fairly cost effective, especially compared to fertilizers obtained from a hydroponics or garden store, and they can serve as a good introduction to molasses for the urban herb gardener.

    Here are the basic instructions a gardener would find on the side of a bottle of this sugar beet by-product - Mix Garden Safe Liquid All Purpose Plant Food in water. Water plants thoroughly with solution once every 7-14 days in spring and summer, every 14-30 days in fall and winter. Indoors, use 1/2 teaspoon per quart (1 teaspoon per gallon); outdoors, 1 teaspoon per quart (4 teaspoons per gallon). 32 fluid ounces (946ml). Contains 3.0% Water Soluble Nitrogen, 1.0% Available Phosphate, 5.0% Soluble Potash derived from molasses.

    In our own experience with Garden Safe Liquid fertilizers, we've used a pretty close equivalent to the outdoor rate on indoor herbs with some good success. Our best application rate for Garden Safe 3-1-5 ended up being around 1 Tablespoon per gallon ( 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons). Used alone it's really not a favorite for continuos use, since we don't see Garden Safe 3-1-5 as a balanced fertilizer. It doesn't have enough phosphorous to sustain good root growth and flower formation in the long term. It's best use would probably be in an outdoor soil grow where there are potential pest issues. Animal by-products like blood meal and bone meal are notorious for attracting varmints, so Garden Safe sugar beet molasses fertilizers could provide an excellent "plant based" source of Nitrogen and Potassium for a soil that's already been heavily amended with a good slow release source of phosphorous, our choice would be soft rock phosphate.

    Blackstrap molasses could also be used in a similar fashion, as a stand alone liquid fertilizer for the biological farmer who needs to avoid potential varmint problems caused by animal based products. But, we really believe there is a better overall use for molasses in the organic farmer's arsenal of fertilizers. Our suggestion for the best available use, would be to make use of the various molasses products as a part making organic teas for watering and foliar feeding.

    Since many of the folks reading this are familiar with our Guano Guide, it will come as no surprise to our audience that molasses is a product we find very useful as an ingredient in Guano and Manure teas. Most bat and seabird guanos are fairly close to being complete fertilizers, with the main exception being that they are usually short in Potassium. Molasses is turns out is a great source of that necessary Potassium. As we learned earlier, molasses also acts as a chelating agent and will help to make micronutrients in the Guano more easily available for our favorite herbs.

    A good example of a guano tea recipe at the Bird's Nest is really as simple as the following:

    1 Gallon of water

    1 TBSP of guano (for a flowering mix we'd use Jamaican or Indonesian Bat Guano - for a more general use fertilizer we would choose Peruvian Seabird Guano.)

    1 tsp blackstrap or sugar beet molasses

    We mix the ingredients directly into the water and allow the tea mix to brew for 24 hours. It's best to use an aquarium pump to aerate the tea, but an occasional shaking can suffice if necessary and still produce a quality tea. We will give you one hint from hard personal experience, make sure if you use the shake method that you hold the lid on securely, nobody appreciate having a crap milkshake spread over the room.

    Some folks prefer to use a lady's nylon or stocking to hold the guano and keep it from making things messy, but we figure the organic matter the manure can contribute to the soil is a good thing. Using this method we feel like we are getting the benefits of a manure tea and a guano top-dressing all together in the same application. If you prefer to use the stocking method, feel free to feed the"tea bag"leftovers to your worm or compost bin, even after a good brewing there's lots of organic goodness left in that crap!

    We also use molasses to sweeten and enrich Alfalfa meal teas. Our standard recipe for this use is:

    4 gallons of water

    1 cup of fine ground alfalfa meal

    1 TBSP blackstrap or sugar beet molasses

    After a 24 hour brew, this 100% plant-based fertilizer is ready for application. Alfalfa is a great organic plant food, with many benefits above and beyond just the N-P-K it can contribute to a soil mix or tea. We do plan to cover Alfalfa and it's many uses in greater detail soon in yet another thread. We prefer to mix our alfalfa meal directly into the tea, but many gardeners use the stocking"tea bag"method with great effectiveness, both work well, it's really just a matter of personal preference.

    The alfalfa tea recipe we described can be used as a soil drench, and also as a foliar feed. And foliar feeding is the final use of molasses we'd like to detail. Foliar feeding, for the unfamiliar, is simply the art of using fine mist sprays as a way to get nutrients directly to the plant through the minute pores a plant"breathes"through. It is by far the quickest and most effective way to correct nutrient deficiencies, and can be an important part of any gardener's toolbox.

    Molasses is a great ingredient in foliar feeding recipes because of it's ability to chelate nutrients and bring them to the "table" in a form that can be directly absorbed and used by the plant. This really improves the effectiveness of foliar feeds when using them as a plant tonic. In fact it improves them enough that we usually can dilute our teas or mix them more "lean" - with less fertilizer - than we might use without the added molasses.

    Of course it is possible to use molasses as a foliar feed alone, without any added guano or alfalfa. It's primary use would be to treat plants who are deficient in Potassium, although molasses also provides significant boosts in other essential minerals such as Sulfur, Iron and Magnesium. Organic farming guides suggest application rates of between one pint and one quart per acre depending on the target plant. For growing a fast growing annual plant like cannabis, we'd suggest a recipe of 1 teaspoon molasses per gallon of water.

    In all honesty, we'd probably suggest a foliar feeding with kelp concentrate as a better solution for an apparent Potassium shortage. Kelp is one of our favorite foliar feeds because it is a complete source of micronutrients in addition to being a great source of Potassium. Kelp has a variety of other characteristics that we love, and we plan that it will be the topic of it's own detailed thread at a future date. But, for growers that cannot find kelp, or who might have problems with the potential odors a kelp foliar feeding can create, molasses can provide an excellent alternative treatment for Potassium deficient plants at an affordable price.

    That looks at most of the beneficial uses of Molasses for the modern organic or biological farmer. Just when you think that's all there could be from our beaks on the topic of molasses, that molasses and it's sweet sticky goodness surely have been covered in their entirety, the birds chirp in to say, there is one more specialized use for molasses in the garden. Magical molasses can also help in the control of Fire Ants, and perhaps some other garden pests.

    Molasses For Organic Pest Control

    One final benefit of molasses is it's ability to be used in the control of a couple of common pests encountered in gardening. The most commonly known use of molasses is it's ability to help control Fire Ants, but we've also found an internet reference to the ability of molasses to control white cabbage moths in the UK, so molasses could be an effective pest deterrent in more ways that we are aware.

    As we said before, there are several references we've run across refering to the ability of molasses to control Fire Ants. Since we're not intimately familiar with this particular use of molasses, and rather than simply re-write and re-word another's work, we thought we'd defer to the experts. So for this section of the current version of the Molasses Manual, we will simply post a reference article we found that covers topic in better detail than we currently can ourselves.

    Molasses Makes Fire Ants Move Out

    By Pat Ploegsma, reprinted from Native Plant Society of Texas News

    Summer 1999

    Have you ever started planting in your raised beds and found fire ant highrises? Are you tired of being covered with welts after gardening? Put down that blowtorch and check out these excellent organic and non-toxic solutions.

    Malcolm Beck1, organic farmer extraordinaire and owner of Garden-Ville Inc., did some experiments that showed that molasses is a good addition to organic fertilizer (more on fertilizer in the next issue). When using molasses in the fertilizer spray for his fruit trees he noticed that the fire ants moved out from under the trees. "I got an opportunity to see if molasses really moved fire ants. In my vineyard, I had a 500 foot row of root stock vines cut back to a stump that needed grafting. The fire ants had made themselves at home along that row. The mounds averaged three feet apart. There was no way a person could work there without being eaten alive! I dissolved 4 tablespoons of molasses in each gallon of water and sprayed along the drip pipe. By the next day the fire ants had moved four feet in each direction. We were able to graft the vines without a single ant bothering us."

    This gave him the idea for developing an organic fire ant killer that is 30% orange oil and 70% liquid compost made from manure and molasses. The orange oil softens and dissolves the ant's exoskeleton, making them susceptible to attack by the microbes in the compost, while the molasses feeds the microbes and also smothers the ants. After the insects are dead, everything becomes energy-rich soil conditioner and will not harm any plant it touches. It can be used on any insect including mosquitoes and their larvae.

    Break a small hole in the crust in the center of the mound then quickly!!! pour the solution into the hole to flood the mound and then drench the ants on top. Large mounds may need a second application. Available at Garden-Ville Square in Stafford, it has a pleasant lemonade smell.

    According to Mark Bowen2, local landscaper and Houston habitat gardening expert, fire ants thrive on disturbed land and sunny grassy areas. "Organic matter provides a good habitat for fire ant predators such as beneficial nematodes, fungi, etc. Other conditions favoring fire ant predators include shading the ground with plantings, good soil construction practices and use of plants taller than turfgrasses." He recommends pouring boiling soapy water over shallow mounds or using AscendTM. "Ascend is a fire ant bait which contains a fungal by-product called avermectin and a corn and soybean-based grit bait to attract fire ants. Ascend works slowly enough to get the queen or queens and it controls ants by sterilizing and/or killing them outright."

    Malcolm Beck also did some experiments with Diatomaceous Earth - DE - (skeletal remains of algae which is ground into an abrasive dust) which confirmed that DE also kills fire ants. He mixes 4 oz. of DE into the top of the mound with lethal results. According to Beck, DE only works during dry weather on dry ant mounds. Pet food kept outdoors will stay ant free if placed on top of a tray with several inches of DE

    1Beck, Malcolm. The Garden-Ville Method: Lessons in Nature. Third Edition. San Antonio, TX: Garden-Ville, Inc., 1998.

    2Bowen, Mark, with Mary Bowen. Habitat Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas. Houston, TX: River Bend Publishing Company, 1998.

    As we had also mentioned earlier, while researching the uses of molasses in gardening, we also came across a reference to it's use in the control of white cabbage moths. Here's what we found on that particular topic.

    "I came across this home remedy from the UK for white cabbage moths.

    Mix a tablespoon of molasses in 1 litre of warm water and let cool..

    spray every week or every 2 weeks as required for white cabbage

    moth..they hate it..and I think

    it would be good soil conditioner as well if any drops on your soil..

    It works for me...but gotta do it before white butterfly lays

    eggs...otherwise you might have to use the 2 finger method and squash

    grubs for your garden birds..

    "nutNhoney" wrote in message

    > To the kind soul who posted the tip for spraying members of the cabbage

    > family with a molasses solution, thank you so much. Today, I noticed a

    > white moth hovering around my brussel sprouts. I quickly made up a

    > solution of molasses and rushed back to the garden to spray. The moth

    > did not land! It seemed to be repelled by the molasses. I sprayed the

    > broccoli too for good measure. I think I will spray again for the next

    > few days. If it keeps the cabbage caterpillars off, I will be so happy.

    > Thanks again!"

    So there you have it, not necessarily straight from our mouths, but simply one more potential use we've discovered for molasses, with at least one testimonial for it's effectiveness. As we said before, the use of molasses as an foliar spray, in addition to it's potential use as a pest deterrent, would also serve to provide some essential nutrients directly to our plants, and would especially serve as an effective boost of Potassium for plants diagnosed with a deficiency in K. Healthy plants are more resistant to the threat of pests or disease, so molasses really is a multi-purpose organic pest deterrent.

    Last Bird's Eye Look At Molasses

    You've heard a lot now about the sweet sticky goodness of Molasses in the garden, but have we mentioned yet that some folks even view Molasses as a health food?

    One of the 3LB's had a grandmother who would take a swig of molasses twice every day as a part of her health regimen. We don't add that as a random fact, but mention it because there's an interesting little story attached . . .

    Grandma was driving down the road one day, oblivious to her surroundings, when she was struck with the remembrance that her morning molasses had been forgotten. Most folks wouldn't have had a solution for this problem at hand, but we have to tell you that this is a lady who traveled with a small bottle of molasses in her purse!

    So Grandma grabbed the brown bottle of molasses from her purse, and proceeded to uncap it and take a gulp as she drove somewhat uncertainly down the road. Chance would have it, that as she performed this somewhat delicate action, she was observed by an officer of the law weaving down the road. Officer LEO observed Grammy directly as she lifted the small brown bottle to her lips. Of course in that day, beer didn't come in an aluminum can, but instead was distributed in little brow bottles that looked quite similar to the molasses bottle Grandma had just swigged. We don't need to tell you where the law enforcement officer's mind went.

    Putting two and two together to equal an apparent and immediate danger to the community in an act of wanton disregard for the law, Officer LEO flipped his vehicle around in a 180 turn, flipped on his lights, and began to pursue Grandma. This was a lady we never were quite comfortable letting children ride with, but it was also a day and age before there were many laws allowing intervention to remove the license of an elderly person no longer competent to drive.

    So, we will just say it was a little while before Grandma noticed the red flashing lights in her rear view mirror. After all she'd been busy putting her molasses away in her purse and watching the road ahead of her, not looking back behind. It probably didn't help that Grandmother's first instinct was also to believe that the flashing lights behind her were really meant for someone else.

    It certainly didn't occur to Grandma that all of her actions worked to confirm in Officer LEO's mind that he was dealing with an intoxicated old crone with an apparent total disregard for the not only the law, but also other's safety. And we probably don't need to tell you that he wasn't feeling particularly kind or generous when Grammy finally did pull to the road's shoulder. As the officer finally approached her car, prepared for trouble from some kind of inebriated old crone, Grandmother came hobbling from her own vehicle a bit unsteadily due to her advanced arthritis.

    Fortunately we can report that the final ending was happy, without too much unnecessary drama. After verbally demanding the officer's intent, and then producing the offending brown bottle for the officer's inspection, grammy was supposedly heard to say, "Good lands officer, do you really think a woman of my standing in the community would EVER imbibe an alcoholic beverage while driving? Well I NEVER! . . . And didn't your mother ever tell you that molasses is good for you?"

    Well folks, there you have it, the "Molasses Manual" by the three_little_birds. If your Mother's or Grandmother's didn't tell you about the sticky goodness of molasses, you've heard all about it now from the three_little_birds. Like our Guano Guide was designed to be a fairly comprehensive look at manures, we hope this look at soil sweeteners gives folks a thorough look at the uses of molasses in their garden. Hopefully now everyone knows the how's and why's of the uses of this sweetener for the soil.

    It looks like the last thing to add is the where's. If you are of the theory that your local hydro shop owner isn't rich enough yet, then please by all means go and purchase an expensive carbo load product, but don't complain that the three_little_birds didn't warn you that it's likely little more than Blackstrap Molasses. Hey, spending it there keeps the money recirculating in the economy and is preferable to burying it in a hole in the backyard. However, if you are a grower who wishes to be a little more frugal, there are certainly cheaper alternatives.

    We've been known to recommend the complete group of Earth Juice fertilizers as a convenient and effective line of liquid organic fertilizers for home herb gardeners. We've grown using all thier products including: Bloom, Grow, Meta-K, Microblast, and Catalyst (Xatalyst in Canada! ) Many other's here at CW also report great success and satisfaction with their products. Well, if folks look at the ingredients in Catalyst, one of the first things they will see is molasses. There are some other goodies in there like kelp, oat bran, wheat malt, and yeast, but we're thinking that molasses is the main magic in EJ Catalyst.

    Another choice for obtaining your garden's molasses is Grandma's source. It's pretty likely you can find molasses on the shelf of your local grocery store. For folks living in an urban area this may very well be the best and most economical choice for molasses procurement. But if the folk reading this live anywhere near a rural area, then the best and cheapest source of all will be an farm supply or old fashioned animal feed shop. Your plants don't care if your molasses comes out of a bottle designed for the kitchen cupboard, or a big plastic jug designed for the feedlot, but your pocketbook will feel the difference. Blackstrap molasses for farm animals is the best overall value for your garden, and it is the molasses option we most strongly endorse for your garden.

    Although we do our best to post accurate and complete information, we also know that our collective intelligence on a topic far outstrips our individual knowledge and experience, and therefore the collective knowledge and experience of the entire community here still. We also know there are always questions we haven't anticipated. So we welcome your questions, we encourage comments, and we sincerely hope for useful additions. We even welcome criticism, as long as it's constructive.


    P r o f o u n d

    Source :


    Use Unsulfured.BlackStrap You will find it at healthfood stores.

    Best of growing to ya!
  12. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    Using sugars of any kind : a warning.

    Using sugars of any kind : a warning.

    I have a simple understanding on the effects of sugars and the microorganism populations so bare with me. This is what I understand to be true.

    Corrections are welcome!

    Some gardeners use sugars of some type in some ways.

    I am one who has used Honey and now blackstrap molasses.

    The words of wisdom are that plants do not feed on sugars.

    The soil microorganisms normally get their sugar from plant roots.

    This is is a part of the life activity of the soil. A part of the life processes of the plant.

    By adding external sources of sugars we then steal from the roots the work microorganisms do and some oxygen from them as well.

    The benefit side of this seems to be a boost of microorganism populations who have to turn to the greens and browns in the soil when the sugar fest is done.

    This seems to provide more nutrients faster and a boost in growth in the case of blackstrap.

    Honey only seems to boost microorganisms a little.

    I know nothing about other sugars except I have read two people have used white and raw sugar.

    Also sugars will ferment! This takes oxygen away from roots.

    So when using any sugars consider what you are doing. Are there enough greens and browns there for the microherd?

    Is this a boost to what is already there or have you just fed the soil with a layer of compost or the like?

    I have mixed honey into my feeding mix of Fish emulsion, kelp and my personal choice brewed coffee. Not a large amount but some. I have not had problems but, I have a planter box / comunity grow so the amount of greens and browns is a lot.

    Now I am trying molasses but I am using the same caution; moderation and feed the soil this when I wish to boost microorganism populations.

    I do not feed the plant sugar I feed the soil.

    Remember our goal is to harvest a robust flavorful bud! We want to support the natural processes not distroy them.
  13. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Rock Phosphate?

    What is Rock Phosphate?

    Hard-rock phosphate:

    This mineral powder contains 20 percent phosphorous and 48 percent calcium, which can raise soil pH — avoid it if your soil is already alkaline. It breaks down slowly, so use it to build the long-term supply of phosphorous in your soils.

    Soft-rock phosphate:

    Often called colloidal phosphate, soft-rock phosphate contains less phosphorus (16 percent) and calcium (19 percent) than hard-rock phosphate, but the nutrients are in chemical forms that plants can use more easily. This powder breaks down slowly, so one application may last for years in the soil. It also contains many micronutrients.

    Source :
  14. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Foliar Feeding?

    What is Foliar Feeding?

    Foliar feeding is just that: feeding your plants through the foliage. When nutrients are applied directly to the leaves, they are absorbed quickly into the plant through the stomata, tiny mouth-like organs on the leaves that facilitate nutrient intake and gas exchange.

    Foliar Feeding Basics

    Stomata are located primarily underneath the leaves, especially in the sun-loving plants. So when you spray, be sure to get underneath the plant's leaves.

    Allow some spray to drip onto the soil to nourish microorganisms and plant roots.

    Never spray during the heat of the day, as the magnification principles of the water droplets can burn the leaves which are not receptive at this time anyway because the stomata are partially closed.

    Early mornings and evenings (an hour or two after sunrise and an hour or two before sunset) are best. We prefer evenings because this gives the nutrients to the plant during its nighttime respiration period when the stomata are most active.

    For large applications, a backpack sprayer is often used, but a hand-held pump sprayer works well for most jobs.

    Source :


    We can use a small spray bottle to spray mixes on our plants.

    It would be wise to remember that what we spray on we might smoke so we should stop all foliar feeding well before harvest and rinse with water a couple three times to be sure.

    Myself I basically use liquid kelp only.

    I believe the soil is the place to get the real nutrients but, to be fair here if you have a nutrient deficiency Foliar feeding can help but it is a bandaid till the soil is fed whet it needs IMO.

    The upside looks like it can be a real benefit to clones and seedlings who have small root systems.

    It will help plants having a hard time in some soils and it can ease transplant shock.


    Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor,

    Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University

    The Myth of Foliar Feeding

    “Fertilizers sprayed on the leaves of trees and shrubs are more effective than soil applications”

    The Myth

    Recently, I received an email from a professional colleague whose clients often ask about foliar feeding

    as a method of fertilizing plants. As he says, “All the water soluble fertilizer companies advertise the practice all the time.” What, he wondered, was my opinion of the practice?

    Foliar feeding involves spraying the foliage of target plants with water-based fertilizers. The logic for the practice is based on scientific research from the 1950’s, which demonstrated that leaves can take up minerals through their stomata, and in some cases through their cuticles.

    This research is consistently cited in the argument that foliar feeding is 8, 10, or even 20 times more effective than traditional soil application. In assessing the advertised claims for foliar feeding of shrubs and trees,

    I had particular questions that are answered in bulleted lists below (all bullets are directly from marketing media):

    (1) What are the advantages of foliar feeding over soil application?

    • Immediate results

    • Prolong bloom

    • Increase crop yields

    • Increase storage life of food crops

    • Boost growth during dry spells

    • Increase cold and heat tolerance

    • Increase pest and disease resistance

    • Maximize plant health and quality

    • Help the internal circulation of the plant

    (2) When should one use foliar nutrients sprays?

    • When the soil is too cold for conversion of nutrient elements into usable forms

    • When it is at least 72°F

    • Any time except when it is too hot or too cold

    • Transplant time

    • Bloom time

    • When a quick growth response is desired

    • After fruit set

    • Every 2-3 weeks

    • Any time of stress

    • As long as the plant has leaves that aren’t dormant

    • When the soil is deficient in nutrients

    (3) What time of the day, and in what quantity, should you apply foliar fertilizers?

    • Early morning

    • Until it drips from the leaves

    • There is no improper way

    (4) How long will material last on the leaves?

    • 24 hours

    • 1-2 days

    • Four weeks

    (5) What nutrients are critical components of foliar feed fertilizers?

    • Nitrogen

    • Phosphorus

    • Micronutrients

    (6) Apart from commercial formulas, what should homemade mixtures contain?

    • Seaweed

    • Compost tea

    • Natural apple cider vinegar

    • Blackstrap molasses

    • Fish emulsion

    • Baking soda

    As one company states, “In our opinion, foliar feeding is by far the best approach to use to insure maximum growth, yields, and quality by overcoming limitations of the soil and its ability to transfer nutrients into the plant.”

    The Reality

    If these laundry lists look more like a multiple choice test rather than solid information, it’s not surprising Foliar feeding is yet another agricultural practice best suited to intensive crop production under specific soil limitations rather than as a landscape management tool.

    Source : Chalker-Scott/Horticultural Myths_files/Myths/B&B root ball.pdf


    I think the Dr ^^^ make the point well ; " Foliar feeding is yet another agricultural practice best suited to intensive crop production"

    That's what we have. It's what we do most of us anyway.

    I wouldn't worry too much if I am using organic fertilizers to foliar feed some clones but you could easy kill them with chemical fertilizers.

    I should add, that when I feed my soil I have no fear of getting my fish mix on the plants or their stalks.

    But again I see this as a extra and not a replacement for a healthy soil.

    I also welcome input for this page from those who have experience in mixes they spray and what it does for them.
  15. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni



    I have tried to present a collection of information that will be useful to The Organic Gardener

    If I have erred I need to know.

    Hell I might even have a thing or two flat out wrong.

    Please contact me or the moderators of to get things corrected.

    Your help is appreciated.

    I wish to spread the news not missinformation.

    Randy High December 2006
  16. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Microorganisms?

    What is Microorganisms?

    I often use the terms microbes, microorganisms and microherd to mean the same thing

    The populations of beneficial life in the soil.

    The soil is a habitat for a vast, complex and interactive community of soil organisms whose activities largely determine the chemical and physical properties of the soil.

    But what are they?


    A microorganism or microbe is an organism that is microscopic (too small to be visible to the human eye).

    The study of microorganisms is called microbiology.

    Microorganisms can be bacteria, fungi, archaea or protists, but not viruses and prions because they are generally classified as non-living.

    Micro-organisms are often described as single-celled, or unicellular organisms; however, some unicellular protists are visible to the human eye, and some multicellular species are microscopic.

    Microorganisms live almost everywhere on earth where there is liquid water, including hot springs on the ocean floor and deep inside rocks within the earth's crust. Microorganisms are critical to nutrient recycling in ecosystems as they act as decomposers

    Source :

    Mycorrhizal fungi are a group of soil fungi that infect the roots of most plants.

    The fungi is not a pest or parasite as it supplies the plant with nutrients like phosphorus, copper and zinc, as well as increasing water availability.

    The plant supports the fungus with carbon in the form of sugars. This symbiotic relationship does not affect the plants, as they produce excess carbon. In fact, lack of water and nutrients is more often the limiting factor to plants' growth and establishment.

    Mycorrhizal fungi are found in most environments, although their importance is greater in more extreme environments, where nutrients and water may be limited.

    There are very few plants that do not form mycorrhizal associations at all, although most can grow without it. In plants that have been infected by mycorrhizal fungi, the fungus is actually the chief method of nutrient uptake, not the roots.

    There are several types of mycorrhiza, the type that we are interested in are by far the most common and are called arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM).

    This type of mycorrhiza is invisible to the naked eye but forms a fine mesh through the soil. They enter the cells of the roots where they form branched arbuscles within these cells, this is where the exchange of nutrients and carbon occurs.

    Source :

    Lacto Bacilli

    One of the major workhorse beneficial indigenous microorganism used in natural farming is lacto bacilli. This particular beneficial microorganism is popularly used in composting that specifically arrest foul odors associated with anaerobic decomposition. Lactic acid bacteria thrive and feed on the ammonia released in the decomposition normally associated with foul odors.

    So if you need to decompose or ferment wastes less foul odors, lactic acid bacteria is the specific bacteria to use. Its application in organic farming is enormous.

    Source :


    I see there is a web site that can provide the reader a solid resource on the subject.

    That looks better than anything I can present here.



    Dr. Teruo Higa

    Professor of Horticulture

    University of the Ryukyus

    Okinawa, Japan


    Dr. James F. Parr

    Soil Microbiologist

    Agricultural Research Service

    US. Department of Agriculture

    Beltsville, Maryland, USA

    International Nature Farming Research Center

    Atami, Japan


    For many years, soil microbiologists and microbial ecologists have tended to differentiate soil microorganisms as beneficial or harmful according to their functions and how they affect soil quality, plant growth and yield, and plant health.

    As shown in Table 1, beneficial microorganisms are those that can fix atmospheric nitrogen, decompose organic wastes and residues, detoxify pesticides, suppress plant diseases and soil-borne pathogens, enhance nutrient cycling, and produce bioactive compounds such as vitamins, hormones and enzymes that stimulate plant growth.

    Harmful microorganisms are those that can induce plant diseases, stimulate soil-borne pathogens, immobilize nutrients, and produce toxic and putrescent substances that adversely affect plant growth and health.

    Source :
  17. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Humus?

    What is Humus?

    Humus is a word actually used for two different things, which are both related to soil and thus get used interchangeably.

    First, in earth sciences "humus" (see is any organic matter which has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain essentially as it is for centuries, or millennia.

    Second, in agriculture, "humus" is often used simply to mean mature compost, or natural compost extracted from a forest or other spontaneous source for use to amend soil.

    The process of "humification" can occur naturally in soil, or in the production of compost.

    Chemically stable humus is thought by some to be important to the fertility of soils in both a physical and chemical sense, though some agricultural experts advocate a greater focus on other aspects of nutrient delivery, instead.

    Physically, it helps the soil retain moisture, and encourages the formation of good soil structure.

    Chemically, it has many active sites which bind to ions of plant nutrients, making them more available.

    Humus is often described as the 'life-force' of the soil. Yet it is difficult to define humus in precise terms; it is a highly complex substance, the full nature of which is still not fully understood.

    Physically, humus can be differentiated from organic matter in that the latter is rough looking material, with coarse plant remains still visible, while once fully humified it become more uniform in appearance (a dark, spongy, jelly-like substance) and amorphous in structure. That is, it has no determinate shape, structure or character.

    Source :

    Modern day, high density agricultural operations, including tillage, irrigation, fertilization and multiple cropping, deplete organic matter in the soil, and most importantly, the humus component of soil organic matter.

    Organic matter is divided into two main categories:

    organic residues, i.e., plant material, manures, etc. in some stage of partial decay, and

    stable soil humus.

    Stable soil humus, a small percentage of total soil organic matter, is the end product of organic matter decomposition when performed under anaerobic, or oxygen free, conditions, beneath the soil surface.

    The resulting organic structures can be hundreds of years old and are considered a slow renewable resource.

    Organic residues formed at shallow depths add little, if any, to the reserves of stable soil humus.

    Soil scientists tell us that stable soil humus is categorized into three distinct fractions.

    These fractions are typically found in nature in a balance consisting of 50 percent humins, 10 percent fulvic acids, and 40 percent humic acids.

    The thousands of individual organic structures within each of the classes are considered the “active ingredients” within soil organic matter.

    Soil productivity is enhanced when these components are found in abundance as they are in naturally high organic soils.

    Source :
  18. Randy High

    Randy High Organic Alumni

    What is Worm Castings?

    What is Worm Castings?

    Worm Castings are simply worm poop!

    They are harvested and make for a wonderful soil conditioner.

    ( see composting for an entry on vermiculture )

    Vermicompost (also called Worm Compost, Vermicast, Worm Castings, Worm Humus or Worm Manure) is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by some species of earthworm.

    Vermicompost is a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer and soil conditioner.

    The process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting .

    The earthworm species (or composting worms) most often used are Brandling Worms (Eisenia foetida) or Redworms (Lumbricus rubellus).

    These species are only rarely found in soil and are adapted to the special conditions in rotting vegetation, compost and manure piles.

    Composting worms are available from mail-order suppliers, or from angling shops where they are sold as bait.

    Small-scale vermicomposting is well suited to turn kitchen waste into high-quality soil, where space is limited.

    Source :

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