[NAFEX] Boron and other things

Dylan Ford dford at suffolk.lib.ny.us
Mon Apr 2 09:55:50 EDT 2007

Dear NAFEX Folks,

Last year I began writing an article I hoped to place in Pomona regarding
four major new concepts I have learned in recent years about growing things.
I thought all four were important enough to share with this group (and
possibly others), but unfortunately I only got halfway through the writing
when other things came up that took precedence on my time. I do not know
when I will get a chance to finish this, but I thought I would post the
first half now (since it deals in part with Boron, a subject that has come
up recently), and when I am able to write the second half, I'll try to
publish the whole thing in Pomona in the future. I hope others will find
this info as interesting and helpful as I did. It is fairly long.


I will remember 2005 as a year of great learning for me. I am only in the
beginner-stage of taking full advantage of some of these new understandings,
but I am already convinced of their importance to growing non-toxic food
that resonates with life energy, to revitalizing our soils, and to restoring
a sane approach to agriculture and environment.

To avoid antagonizing any of my fruit-growing brethren or wasting their
valuable time, I will provide a friendly warning here: Conventional chemical
growers who think the Organic approach is sentimental Luddite nonsense
probably would be better off reading no further, as this material may tend
to irritate them, and I have no desire to do that.

I have been gardening organically for 35 years, enduring many
disappointments and failures in that time, but always getting nearer the
goal of growing vital, unblemished fruits and vegetables without the crutch
of chemical fertilizers or pesticides of any kind. When I began trying to
grow fruit I discovered that the difficulties I had experienced in the
garden (insects, critters, fungi) were "small potatoes" compared to what I
was letting myself in for now. At this time I also began to have a troubling
intuition that something fundamental was missing from my overall wisdom,
something that wasn't to be gleaned in poring over standard paint-by-numbers
organic texts.

For much of the time that I have gardened I was aware that preceding the
Organic movement in the US of A, there was a more eccentric philosophy
espoused in Europe by a scholar named Rudolf Steiner, who put forth the
notion that what went lacking in modern agriculture was the spirituality,
and the focussed power of the farmer's intent. He acknowledged the existence
and active connivance in the cycles of Nature of a range of incorporeal
entities (elementals, devas, sylphs, etc.,) and forms of vital energy not
(yet) recognized by official science (etheric, astral, etc.,).

He suggested that the whole farm should evolve into a self-sufficient
synergistic living organism, that in time would concede to fewer and fewer
outside inputs. Steiner provided starting-point techniques to remedy
energetic short-comings, and others have elaborated upon his basics;
bringing in astrology, additional preps, homeopathy, dowsing, radionics, and
more; this body of information has come to be called Biodynamics.

Classical Biodynamics requires the concoction (or acquisition) of several
compost-enlivening preparations the making of which involves collecting
select parts of a half dozen common plants (dandelion flowers, stinging
nettles, valerian, equisetum, etc.,) and wrapping or stuffing them into
various sheaths which are buried in the ground over the winter, during which
time they are enlivened and transformed by exposure to subtle energies.

 Steiner's two principle field-sprays are made by packing cow manure and
powdered quartz crystal (separately) into cow horns and burying them as
well. Presumably the archetypal contours of these subtly twisted conical
shells channel energies into the filler-substance. These horns are unearthed
in the Spring, and then, from time to time during the growing season a small
portion of this finished matter (and sometimes others) are stirred in a
specified manner into rainwater to imprint their energy patterns, and
sprayed over the fields in a specific order.

I will leave Steiner's mystifying methods there - to get a grip on this (I
suspect) will take the rest of my life, a prospect which fills me with
anticipation. Even bumbling initial attempts to incorporate Biodynamic
materia and methods into my act has proven to my satisfaction that these (at
first glance outlandish) practices visibly enliven the garden and orchard.
Apparently there are no short-cuts to discovery here, and no exhaustive
step-by-step primary text exists - I have concluded that anybody interested
in finding Biodynamics must undertake their own journey of discovery and

Until my recent enlightenment I had always rejected Biodynamics because what
little I knew of it struck me as so esoteric and arcane, so difficult to
understand and demanding to practice. When I finally decided to take the
plunge and look into it, I discovered an internet discussion-list run by a
farmer named Allan Balliet, called BD Now, and I joined it.

Two years later I suspect that there are as many forms of Biodynamics being
practiced as there are growers using it. It appears to resonate differently
with everyone, and each grower seems to personalize and customize it in
practice. There is a growing worldwide interest these days because of the
success of so many wines that are made from biodynamically-raised grapes.
That is not what I set out to tell about, though, it is merely to credit the
path by which I encountered some of these other things that have also
radically altered my outlook.

I. Silica - The Forgotten Nutrient
          Among many, one generous teacher I encountered on the BD Now list
is a Biodynamic farmer, author and scientist named Hugh Lovel, founder of
the Union Agricultural Institute, a Biodynamic CSA out of Blairsville,
Georgia, who has now moved to Australia, where he is an agricultural
consultant, applying and teaching  Agricultural Radionics, among other

          A.R. deals with the use of a passive energy-pattern broadcasting
device (the prototype of which was invented by one Galen Hieronymous and
substantially modified by Mr. Lovel, who also manufactures and distributes
his version) to influence crop health, growth and protection.
          He refers to his agricultural unified-field theory-in-progress as
Quantum Agriculture, and his version of the device as the Quantum Field
          Drawing upon his wealth of practical experience, his eclectic
education and uninhibited intellect, Hugh Lovel freely  shares his
conclusions about the intricacies of the systems by which plants grow,
interact with the environment, and protect themselves in essays that go
light-years beyond the narrow Conventional or Organic obsessions with N-P-K
+ Lime. He writes,

          "Chemical agriculture is where superstition abounds. Every chemist
worth his or her salt KNOWS how delicate and subtle the chemical equilibria
of biological reactions is, and yet there is the superstition that you can
pour nitrogen, phosphate and chloride salts on the land and burn its organic
matter up, wreck its microbiology, dump toxic chemicals on crops and then
the food will be healthy to eat. It takes mountains of faith - or
superstition - to believe such utter bilge."

          Of his many elegant insights, one that has fundamentally altered
my understanding is the tremendous importance of plants having ready access
to silica in an available form. He writes,

          "Silica provides the capillary action that carries calcium and
nitrogen into the growing tips of plants where cell division and replication
of DNA occur. Calcium, and everything else the plant needs to grow including
water is lifted by silica."

          As I understand it from reading many of his postings, the farmer
must perform a delicate balancing act to get sufficient silica up into his
plants, and any recklessness in this pursuit can lead to tragedy.

          Silica is ubiquitous in the environment, but is not sufficiently
available to plants absent trace amounts of boron to increase its fluidity.
Boron easily rinses from soils where there is insufficient "sequestered
carbon" to grip it.

          As anyone who maintains compost piles finds, the micro-organisms
that break down carbon-rich organic matter require a bit of nitrogen to
effectively populate the heap and efficiently deconstruct the ingredient
materials. That is why piles are properly assembled with an eye to achieving
the expedient proportion of carbon-rich (or "brown") materials and
nitrogen-rich (or "green") materials, roughly 25 to 1. Adequate nitrogen,
abundant but elusive in Nature, is the limiting factor in bacterial
digestion of "brown" organic matter.
          Any applied nitrogen fertilizer in excess of that which can be
readily utilized by the plants inspires a population explosion in the soil
of those same micro-organisms, which results in the squandering of
sequestered carbon, or organic matter.
          Mr. Lovel paints a bleak picture of a the modern agricultural
practicioner locking himself into a self-perpetuating cycle of
ever-diminishing returns, as he dumps nitrogen onto his soils to promote
quick and luxuriant growth, but simultaneously dooms the sequestered carbon.
Without carbon to hold it, the boron leaches away, and without boron the
plant is unable to get sufficient silica to build a strong physical
structure, one that resists insect and fungal attack. In a post he comments,

          "In general insect pests do not have an easy time digesting the
long chain amino acids that go hand in hand with high density, high silica

          The plant is forced to make-do with the resource provided,
(in the form of nitrate), which results in lush, watery growth which in turn
is an invitation to disease and predation. Then to save his crops the farmer
is compelled to toxify his piece of Eden with pesticides and fungicides.
          The enlightened grower's conundrum is that naked boron, even in
tiny amounts, can be toxic to the plants and also to ants and other
indispensible insects that perform vital functions in the soil, so it must
be used extremely sparingly and always be applied with generous buffers of
protective humates such as humic or fulvic acid, or at very least
wormcasting- or compost-tea (and even added sugar), to temporarily bind it
          Mr. Lovel further asserts that potassium silicate -  an industrial
product manufactured (with trace boron) for use in terra-cotta glazes, if
mixed with soluble humate could be a valuable form of amorphous fluid silica
for the grower, but (though it could do no harm, he maintains) is not yet
permitted for agricultural use under current Organic Standards.         He
therefore offers an alternative home-brewed solution which I tried with
first-rate results. Mr. Lovel writes,

          "Here's a recipe. You can use rice hulls (not bran) or bamboo.
Burn these to ash. The ashes will be rich in potassium silicate. Cook this
ash at the rate of 2 or 3 kilos to a 20 litre pot [of water] to make a lye
solution that will be rich in potassium silicate rather than sodium. Strain
this, and while still simmering add a kilo of diatomaceous earth that is as
finely ground as possible. This will be rich in amorphous fluid silica. Also
add a half cup of soluble boron such as disodium octaborate tetrahydrate,
otherwise known as Solubor. Simmer this at least twenty minutes with
stirring, and strain.
          You will have a solution that will be fairly rich in potassium
silicate. Add this to your earthworm leachate [or better, soluble humates]
at a rate of a full cup for every four litres. Water all squash, cukes,
zukes, capsicums, okra and anything else that may be susceptible to getting
too lush, weak, bug-bitten or diseased. For tomatoes double this rate and
use two cups per four litres. These are all natural materials except
possibly Solubor, which is permissible in most organic certification

(A Hugh Lovel cautionary note: boron creates sap pressure in plants, and
young seedlings do not have a large enough vascular system to handle the sap
pressures that are beneficial in their later growth. Get plants up and
running before being too generous with boron.)

          I tried so many new things this year that it is difficult to
assign definite credit or blame to any particular one of them, but here's an
exception: I have 4 four-year-old peach trees in a poor location with
insufficient sunlight, and they have never held their fruit beyond Spring. I
treated the soil around these trees over the winter with Hugh Lovel's silica
broth and a strange thing happened. The trees flowered and began leafing-out
except for several black-tipped branches on one which I assumed had been
          When the flowers on that tree were fading, those black tips
suddenly pushed out green growth and there was a second small flowering (?)
          I think the credit for that must go to the available silica
driving a
stronger circulation of nutrients to branches that the tree was on the verge
of sacrificing. And all four trees fruited heavily and held the crop through
the season.
          Unfortunately all of it was ravaged by curculio and then plundered
by squirrels, problems beyond the scope of silica. I intend to try ziplock
bagging the fruit this year. (I have posted in the interim about that
          As well I must brag of the most beautiful, best flavored and
textured, and least troubled lettuce, tomatoes and some other crops that I
(and several gardeners of my acquaintance) have ever encountered.
          Hugh Lovel has a great many more informed insights and  considered
opinions to share with open-minded growers, some of which I "get" and some
of which I don't (yet), but the silica - boron - humate trinity is one that
added an important new preventive concept to my plant-health and protection
          To find more about Quantum Agriculture (and Hugh's forthcoming
book of the same name) visit: www.unionag.net/.

          (Another Hugh Lovel note: It might be clarified that for plants to
get their nitrogen as amino acids instead of nitrates the nitrogen should
not be present at high levels throughout the soil as modern agriculture (as
well as many organic growers) seek to accomplish. Rather there should be
nitrogen-fixing microbial activity thriving on the feeder roots and ample
calcium throughout the soil to feed this nitrogen fixation as it grows with
the root development of the plant. Then as protozoa and other soil critters
digest the nitrogen fixing microbes and release amino acids the plant takes
these up before they have time to oxidize to nitrates, as otherwise happens
to loose nitrogen compounds in the soil at large.

          What is more, when nitrification occurs in the soil the first
thing it tags and leaches is boron, even ahead of calcium, which it also
leaches. This makes the quality grower's goal one of fostering nitrogen
fixing microbial activity--which can be rich and diverse in the soil--rather
than applying nitrogen in fertilizer quantities. If compost was seen as a
way of culturing rich populations of nitrogen fixing microbes and was
applied as a microbial inoculant rather than an NPK fertilizer, growers
would be miles ahead in the game.)

II. Free-Range Micronutrients

For a long time I have enjoyed the awareness that all of  the water on earth
is always on its way to the sea, (seeking it's own level and molecular
company), an often-interrupted and detoured down-hill journey as it wends
its way back to the earth's deepest connected valleys and canyons, a trip
every drop of it has made countless times before. And as well I enjoy
considering that every dissolved element present in the oceanic soup was
carried to it from the land in run-off to the rivers, and those elements
remained in the sea-mix when the water was drawn-away again as clouds.

For many years I had been considering what a shame it was that seawater held
so much sodium chloride, which as everyone knows is toxic to most plants,
otherwise we could spray the oceans on our crops and restore that lost
mineral wealth and complexity. Since I had an ocean near at hand, last year
I determined to see what would happen if one tried spraying crops with
dilute seawater, but first, just for the hell of it, I did a search on the
internet and discovered that a doctor named Maynard Murray had the same idea
long ago.

In his student years it seemed to Dr. Murray passing strange that sea
creatures presented with none of the widespread and dependable degenerative
diseases of (even closely related) land-lubbers and fresh-water species. He
began in the late 1930s spraying crops with seawater, and later dissolved
sea solids. It turned out that though dilute refined table salt will kill
plants, somehow in natural seawater, with it vast complement of other
minerals, it does not.

He spent nearly forty years performing experiments in hydroponics and in the
field, and demonstrating the higher productivity and the improved health of
the crops and that of the animals that consumed them, and in 1976 published
a book on the subject.

At any rate, I then got some seawater and added a quart and a half of it to
a trash barrel of rainwater (along with some stirred biodynamic preps). It
is hard to say exactly what the effect was, (besides a noticeable increase
in plant vitality and color, but also a harder to explain garden 'moistness'
[?]) but I definitely will always include some dilute seawater or dissolved
unrefined sea salt in my spray regimen.

For more information on Maynard Murray's work see his book, "Sea Energy
Agriculture",  or read sample chapters at  www.ratical.org/ratville/SEA.html

Dylan Ford is the author of the proposal at www.ideaforpresident.com , a
website devoted to an idea that could provide an avenue to address pollution
issues, food safety, social justice, prison reform and healthcare.

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