More magic in the garden

In part one I started writing on this same topic but as I looked into it there was too much to include in one issue. As I said it is not that I am especially credulous or gullible. It is simply that I believe we should investigate everything, no matter how apparently insignificant, that may affect the plants in our care and the crops they yield. The effect of the Earth's gravity on plants is obvious so why should it be unreasonable to ask whether any of them are influenced in any way by the moon's, the sun's, or the mass of the whole universe rotating about them?

After all it may not take much wasted effort to just alter the timing or mode of any of our methods to fit in with another view such as sowing by the phases of the moon, or Jupiter! Of course it is wasted only if there is no foundation in the theory, however it could be counter-productive if there is an effect and the theory gets it wrong! We do not fully understand the natural world as it exists in nature but only the bits we examine in the laboratory where they are safe from the influences of all the rest. Each piece is examined in isolation and their influences on each other may be overlooked.

For years I have been fascinated by all horticultural theories; no matter if they turn out to be fallacies if there is still some interest or information to be wrung out of them. Well gently stroking young plants has now been shown to make them stockier, and talking to them or rather breathing on them immensely enriches the carbon dioxide levels around them so why not other things?

Of all the 'magic' I've heard of or investigated one facet seems to be very widely overlooked. We mourn the loss of our wildlife for so many reasons. Of course we now realise some of the complexity of plant and insect interactions, the natural ecology and the distortions in our gardens. We appreciate how different creatures control one another's populations. We have even started to see how all the while they all produce fertility. But we overlook our loss of the bird's birdsong.

As bizarre as it may sound at first hearing the idea of the birds singing may be appreciated by our plants is not new. After all why not? They have evolved together for many millions of years. Why should not the plants hear the birdsong as one of the indicators of spring just as we do? Of course it may be the other way and their bloom indicates to the birds the time to sing. Yet it seems to me possible that (only) when the birds start to sing in the spring then may the plants wholeheartedly start to show themselves too. Perhaps the book Silent Spring was even more prophetic than we first realised...

You may be unconvinced, I am dubious, of such a level of interaction betwixt the birds and plants but in nature such relationships should not be surprising. And the evidence accumulates; this links in with another 'magic' effect. I can well understand how giving the pigs or the chickens a radio or TV may reduce their boredom and improve their yields...but plants? Yet many people claim not only that plants like music but that they like certain sorts of music -rather too commonly sharing the same musical prejudices as the author of the investigation if you ask me!

It seems plants like classical music but are not so fond of rock, reggae or dub, in particular they like mathematical music such as Bach and do not thrive with contrapuntal or broken beated music. It may well be that certain rhythms or sounds of a given frequency could have an effect on plants. It seemed to me too difficult to set up a controlled experiment to compare sets of plants with different music piped to each however it took no effort to play safe with my crops. I have a solar powered radio, which when I am not listening to it still sits with my plants. It does not cost me a penny to run as it quietly plays whenever the sun shines, which is when I guess the plants enjoy it most.

(Incidentally I reckon a solar powered radio can also be a good burglar deterrent as if I leave it tuned to BBC radio four it fades in and out with the brightness of the sunlight falling on it so giving snatches of voices and conversations just as if people were working in the greenhouse.)

Which leaves me wondering whether or not I ought to have a small CD machine playing the sound of the sea for my asparagus and another recording of a tropical jungle for my polytunnel in with the pineapples and bananas..... You see it all could lead so far. One of the strangest possible 'improvements' to swallow is the golden trowel, which in some synchronistic way is also the award a weekly gardening magazine gives as it's prize....

There is much folk lore associated with iron tools and they are often mistrusted near the crops. (Likewise silver knives are preferred for cutting fruit in many old books.) In the middle ages wooden tools or copper edged ones were often recommended not iron ones. Any difference may due be to their magnetic effects, or possibly to an electrical one with the metallic blade creating a circuit in the soil. (or an association with the way iron swords beat the **** out of bronze and wooden ones!).

Certainly early experimenters thought iron or steel may have a deleterious effect and patents were taken out for copper covered steel and phosphor bronze ploughs just before the Second World War. Experiments with these were claimed to give tremendous improvements in yields but it is possible these were attributable to reasons other than just the materials. (see the works of Victor Schauberger and Kurt Lorek) I used a gold plated spoon to pot up one half of a set of tomato plants, I then set it in one of the pots but it made no apparent difference. None the less it is significant that the sacred mistletoe had to be gathered with a golden sickle.

One area in which I find interest are the potions used by Bio-dynamic gardeners. Numbered as preparations 500 to 510 these give the impression of there being about five hundred or more scientifically researched preparations. There are actually but these handful given, apparently off the top of his head, by Rudolph Steiner. Now I do not dispute there may or may not be some efficacy in their use; traditional herbal extracts and dung used as foliar feeds could be of benefit anyway. However what I wonder is the necessity for burying some of them in a cow's horn for a lunar sojourn?

None the less in a spirit of enquiry a cow's horn was duly filled and buried, disinterred, mixed according to the intricate instructions and applied. To be fair I could tell no difference from the plants that were treated with seaweed spray instead. However one aspect of the preparation impressed me; in order to achieve efficacy the mixture has to be stirred continuously backwards and forwards for an hour in either direction. This is rather akin to the process for activating a homeopathic preparation. In any case it would achieve considerable aeration of the water.

Rain is often considered better than spraying with tap water. The rain may be warmer, freer of solid chemicals etc. but it is also much more oxygenated than tap water. So I tried using aerated water made by enthusiastically pumping a half full coffee percolator. This certainly seems to be better for watering plants than water that is not so treated but the effect is most noticeable when watered on to their compost rather than when sprayed on to their leaves. However either effect was about as marked as for the plants simply given a foliar feed of seaweed solution.

Perhaps plants enjoy being tended anyway in a sort of a placebo effect. Indeed when I come back to it it seems to me that the important bit is not the potion but it's preparation and application. I strongly suspect that there is an interaction with the user in a green fingered sort of manner. It may seem eccentric but I have now gone back to sowing by hand again so that each seed is fondled as it is pressed into the earth. Somehow this seems akin to the way I dislike wearing gloves when transplanting or handling plants.

Now as I said at the beginning I am not especially credulous but I hope you'll agree that there are many potential effects neglected by conventional wisdom that could be of great interest to us gardeners if we could just pin them down. Perhaps these articles will have tempted you to try a few experiments of your own. Please let me know if you have any significant results. Anyway until then that's enough ranting from me for this month, I'm off to get my goat's head, bat and broomstick ready for this month's coven.....