31 August 2023
Welcome to this edition of Reading the Fields. As I often walk through all sets of fields with crops growing, I am so touched by how nature works.
It all starts with the seed planted into the soil and then the magic begins. As those first little leaves emerge, they start to turn green, and the beginning of life shows up. We all know we like to see the lush dark green as that shows us the plant is healthy, but what does it all take to stay healthy and mature with a great harvest? These plants are complex and full of potential. The seed planted in good healthy biologically alive soil, will germinate quickly, and sprout up looking for life. This is when the process of photosynthesis begins. All plants use the process of photosynthesis to grow and function.
First identified in 1957 by biochemist Dr. Melvin Calvin it was discovered how this process works. Photosynthesis is a series of reactions where carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere are converted to create energy (sugars). This is now also called the Calvin Cycle, named after Dr. Melvin Calvin and also was used by the government to build solar panels to harness energy from the sun. The majority of plants use the C3 photosynthesis form which involves producing a 3-carbon compound called 3-phosphoglycerate acid during the Calvin cycle which goes on to become glucose (sugar). Once these “sugars” are formed this will give the plant energy and is used to make cellulose which is a substance used to grow and build cell walls. This is the essence of photosynthesis and is the start of the food chain.
So green is good! The plant is made up of cells and inside these cells are small, specialized parts of the cell called chloroplasts which store the energy of the sunlight. Within the thylakoid membrane (a part of the chloroplast where light-dependant reactions take place) is a pigment called chlorophyll which is responsible for giving the plant colour. This stage of photosynthesis requires light which is absorbed by the plant as it takes in red and blue light and creates the colour green, which in turn gives us green plants. Now that we know this is essentially an important process in the world or else, we would not eat, it helps us understand how critical it is to bring a balance of minerals to the growing plant so we can encourage photosynthesis for growth and yield.
You may be aware that plants need at least 14 essential minerals to grow properly, and each mineral has a vital role to play in the health of that plant.
In the case of photosynthesis, the four most important nutrients are:
- Phosphorus: Responsible for sugar production
- Calcium: Responsible for uptake of at least 7 other nutrients
- Magnesium: Synergist for phosphorus
- Boron: Determines the effectiveness of calcium
Maintaining luxury levels of these four minerals according to leaf analysis has been proven to be a key to achieving maximum potential. A great way to address these minerals in a balanced formula is to utilize foliar sprays. Foliar applications are efficient ways to address the plant's needs quickly and can help increase the plant's yields. Foliars are absorbed through the epidermis and stomata of the plant. These are small openings on the leaves and sometimes on the stem. They in turn control transpiration rates by opening and closing when needed.
Understanding how stomata perform and function is critical basic information for understanding how plants grow and produce. If a plant cannot make stomata, it cannot breathe and therefore is not viable. As stomata function, they close at night to prevent evaporation and then open up in daylight. It has often been said that foliar feeding works best in the AM just when the birds begin to sing. Since one of the key minerals in chlorophyll production is magnesium, it is often a simple and inexpensive option to use a foliar of magnesium sulphate and help a plant ‘green up’ quickly if it has lost its lush green colour. Other minerals are essential as well for plant function.
A very handy tool used in the field is a refractometer and every grower should be using this tool. Another method is tissue sampling and SAP analysis. These tests will certainly help growers fine-tune the applications necessary for balanced nutrition and higher healthy yields. Another simple way to enhance foliars and even herbicides is to add some fulvic acid. This will help the products go into the plant very efficiently and you can reduce the inputs and still get great results. As foliars are applied in balance, they go through the leaves and work their way to the roots as well as stimulating the whole plant on the way. This in turn stimulates plant and root growth.
So, in conclusion, I go back to the saying “We are what we eat, eats”
Feed your plants a balance of nutrition through an array of necessary minerals and watch your plants as they grow strong and vigorous!