Fixing Nitrogen... and what else?

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by milifestyle, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    the Legumanacea family fixes nirogen in the soil - anyone who has picked up a gardening book would probably know that.

    Does this plant family or any other plant work in a similar way to convert gases into any other form OR mineral.

    Is there a plant, for example, that is naturally high in Boron and can leach sufficient boron for surrounding plants (either through root systems or the decaying plant).

    Alfalfa and Tomatoes are tolerant of high boron levels, if these plants can be grown in areas with Boron approaching toxic levels, could they assist in reducing boron build up naturally allowing boron sensitive plants such as citrus to be planted ?
     
  2. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I didn't expect there to be boron in the atmosphere, but I googled "atmospheric boron", and it would seem that there is :)

    But I think the issue here is not so much about airborn minerals so much as minerals in the soil, and the accumulation of them by plants etc. If you google "boron accumulation", you'll find heaps of articles including the tendency for algae to accumulate boron. This one looks pretty interesting regarding boron accumulation and bacteria:
    https://ijs.sgmjournals.org/cgi/reprint/58/1/286.pdf
     
  3. Speedy

    Speedy Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Messages:
    233
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yes, there are actinorhizal host trees.
    they form symbiotic relationship with Frankia spp. ,actinomycetes that fix atmospheric nitrogen into the roots of the host trees.
    There are trees from 8 families that are known Actinorhizal hosts
    About 25 genera and over 200 species
    some of the better known examples are
    Casuarina spp.
    Ceanothus spp.
    Elaeagnus spp.
    Hippophae rhamnoides
    Alnus spp.
    Shepherdia
    Myrica spp.
     
  4. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    You ask about converting gasses, and I'm guessing you mean the air we breathe, rather than you live near an exhaust vent of some sort? :)

    boron is water soluble, so if it's in the soil, it's in the water. Aquatic plants absorb the most boron out of water. Humans are exposed to boron through diet, from drinking water, and from some consumer products including soaps and detergents, body building supplements, bottled water, fertilizers, pesticides, preservatives, and cosmetic, oral hygiene, eye care, and deodorant products. I assume that means we pee it out as well. :)

    Isn't it important to remember that we are supposed to have very small levels of trace elements in the soil? Trying to change the level of only one or two chemicals is like trying to live on vitamins. We need a "stew" of ingredients with all of the components of a healthy soil "diet" to work together to keep the bigger picture in balance. And if there were some kind of toxic levels we can search on Bioremediation, and find what plants will absorb the most and probably take them off the property all together. I'm not sure how long this would take though.

    I don't have time right now, but it might be interesting to find out what soil bacteria does to high levels of boron :)
     
  5. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I'm looking at boron only as an example.

    I'm looking more at the benefits of crop rotation in perfecting soil structure by removing high levels of a bad (boron in the example above) minerals etc.

    I'm also wondering if plants that have developed a natural tolerance of herbicides could be used to clean previously heavy loaded soil from excess chemical residues. Growing tolerant plants would theoretically remove residues from the soil, wouldn't it?

    I'm wondering if the plants would be a filtration system between soil and air ?
     
  6. Speedy

    Speedy Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Messages:
    233
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Fungi are great at detoxifying soils.
    Organic mulches naturally favour the growth of fungi.
    Fungi produce enzymes that break down perststent organic compounds eg. cellulose and lignin

    Most toxic chemicals applied to soil are organic compounds.
    eg. DDT, Dieldren, 24D, Glyphosate etc. and the fungi can use these enzymes to break these toxic organic compounds apart into benign compounds.

    growing plants and slashing to leave them on the surface will promote fungal growth.

    If it's heavy metals (eg. As, Cd, U, Pb etc.), thats a different thing.
    they can't be broken down.

    there are two approaches to this problem

    one is to bind them into organic compounds that pose less of a problem eg building humus ,
    which is what we want to do with most of our soils anyway,
    can lock up some of the heavy metals

    the other approach is to use Bioaccumulator organism - plants or fungi
    Grow them on the site and then remove them from the system and dispose of them.

    in the case of excessive Boron, given that it has a negative charge,
    it wont be adsorbed to humus or clay colloid and can be leached from the upper layers of the soil.
     
  7. Jonathan Byron

    Jonathan Byron Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2010
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The fungi are very important in making insoluble phosphorous available to living organisms - they secrete enzymes and acids that break down the phosphorus in rock, and they concentrate it and move it through the soil.

    Simply going from a monoculture of shallow-rooted annuals to a polyculture that includes deep rooted plants will increase levels of many nutrients in the soil. Shallow rooted annuals simply can't access as much of the soil -- shrubs and trees will capture nutrients from below and pump it up to the leaves and branches, and these get returned to the top soil. This is noticeably true for potassium, which is not held by the soil or organic matter ... potassium leaches deep when there is adequate rainfall. Deep rooted polyculture is much more efficient at cycling potassium, and can move us from a deficit of that mineral to an abundance.
     
  8. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2008
    Messages:
    2,215
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    36
    From memory I think molds are useful at breaking down residual chemical compounds in the soil. I seem to remember one study that looked at using sawdust along old fence-lines as the sawdust encourages molds. I had a look for it but couldn't find it. I'll keep an eye out for it.
     
  9. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0

    Just to be sure we're talking about the same thing, boron that is absorbed by plants is absorbed from the soil by plants as a borate mineral, a negatively charged ion (anion). That means plants don't take the boron out of the air, even if it's present.

    But because that borate dissolves so easily in water the aquatic plants can uptake it. But most likely it would be the land plants sucking up the borate from their roots, and then you'd have to take that plant off the property so it wouldn't break down, thereby releasing the boron again into the soil. If the soil has extreme levels of boron, then the drinking water ought to have it as well, that would require filtration and taking the filter off the property.

    Just because a plant is tolerant doesn't mean you want to eat any food it produces. Then you'd get the boron from the food, which I'm assuming you don't want.

    Here's a study that found these plants to be effective at lowering boron levels. But, again, you'd need to remove the plants off the property, and where would you put them where they wouldn't break down and put boron?

    Estragalus incanus L. (no common name), Creeping saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata R. Br. L.), Old Man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia Lindl. L.), Indian mustard (Brassica juncea Czern L.), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb. L.), canola (Brassica napus L.), birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.), and kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.). In Experiment I, all five plant species, especially Indian mustard, accumulated and lowered soil Se concentrations more effectively when grown in selenate-treated soil than selenite-treated soil.

    https://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=3109856


    I'm wondering if the plants would be a filtration system between soil and air ?[/QUOTE]
     
  10. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yeah, i'm pretty sure we are reading from the same book... I'm just reading from the front and the back at the same time...
     
  11. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I guess I'm not understanding what you mean about gasses. Are you wondering if there's a plant that can uptake boron out of the soil and send it off into the air? that would mean that the plant that is uptaking a solid can turn it into a gas and release it without dying. Plant needs to break down (die) in order to release solids like trace minerals and even nitrogen, which is always and only a gas. As their cell walls degrade, the substances are released. If the nitrogen doesn't have a carbon to cling to, such as in composting, it goes up into the air. Trace minerals find their way back into the soil around the plant. But the boron the plant uptakes isn't in gas form, plants can only take up the borate, so if it's in the leaves, stems and fruit, the plant would have to be physically removed from its location so when the plant breaks down, the boron wouldn't be released back into the soil.
     
  12. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    "Gases" meaning air, but with the added "etc" to mean "Environment"

    "Filtration System" meaning...

    "As a plant grows it draws water containing nutrients and minerals from the soil".

    Theres an old kids science test where you can cut a flower and put it in a vase with food coloring and can see the food coloring entering the flower as it drinks the water. If you put more water in the vase, the food color mixture gets weaker to the point the flower has changed colour and there is clear water in the vase.

    The flower in this exmple has filtered the food coloring from the water... theoretically.

    With this example in mind, if we grow a plant naturally tolerant of a mineral or herbicide will that plant drink water containing nutrients and the toxic level of mineral or herbicide it is naturally tolerant of, reducing the level of the substance in the soil? i.e. the plant has filtered the chemical from the environment - Assuming of course, as you referred to, the plant was removed from site and allowed to breakdown elsewhere.
     
  13. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Probably the flower in blue water is a good example, because, yes the flower uptakes the water with, say, the blue dye in it, but the water it's in is still blue. It can only uptake a certain amount. Plants that uptake boron can only uptake a certain amount. So it hasn't completely filtered the dye out, it's just removed some.

    "The environment" includes the soil and the air, so it hasn't removed it from the environment. It's still in the plant, the plant is still in the environment. If you send the plant into space you might get it out of the environment, but with my luck it would fall back to earth, burn up and the boron would survive the burning! ha!

    but....if the fungus that does a bioremediation on boron actually changes the boron, and when the fungus breaks down it leaves behind something else it turned the boron into, that could be different. here's a study from Elsevier, one of the largest scientific publishers in the world, about fungus and bioremediation of carbon/chromium/boron treated wood:

    Abstract - Fungal bioremediation of copper, chromium and boron treated wood as studied by electron paramagnetic resonance

    "In future years, problems concerning the disposal of waste copper/chromium-treated wood will increase significantly. One of the environmentally friendly options of dealing with such treated wood is through bioremediation with copper-tolerant wood decay fungi in order to recycle both the wood fibers and the heavy metals. To study changes during the bioremediation process, Norway spruce (Picea abies) samples were vacuum impregnated with 5% CCB solution. Some samples were also impregnated with copper or chromium solution of the same concentration as in the CCB preservative. Following conditioning of the samples, they were then exposed to two copper-tolerant brown rot fungi, (Antrodia vaillantii, Leucogyrophana pinastri) and two copper-sensitive brown rot fungi, (Gloeophyllum trabeum, Poria monticola) for a period of 4–8 weeks. After exposure, the samples were cleaned of the mycelia and leached with water or 1.25% ammonia solution for 4 days. The concentrations of Cr and Cu in the leachates were determined. After the leaching process, the samples were studied using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). The results obtained showed the important role oxalic acid produced by the decay fungi plays during leaching of the metals from the treated wood. Furthermore, it was also found that though excretion of oxalic acid is necessary for the leaching of metals, it does not fully explain fungal ability to decay copper preserved wood."

    Of course, we can't leach our soil with ammonia, but it does look like the oxalic acid is playing a role here. You don't want high levels of oxalic acid, either, but it does look like fungus may be the way to go to treat overly high levels of boron in the soil.
     
  14. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    So we couldn't grow a crop in one area to remove a high level mineral and harvest the crop to an area deficient in that mineral and build up the soils fertility in that area ?

    Seems that would make more sense than sending it to outer space...

    There are many desert areas in Australia and other continents that we could build up by relocating the right minerals and nutrients to those locations.
     
  15. Jonathan Byron

    Jonathan Byron Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2010
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    >> So we couldn't grow a crop in one area to remove a high level mineral and harvest the crop to an area deficient in that mineral and build up the soils fertility in that area ?

    Yes, that can be done, and is. But a permaculturist would usually not be very interested in moving large amounts of plant matter long distances. That is left to the organic gardeners, or the scientists trying to remove toxic levels of a compound as part of a clean-up. A permie would rather have the design eliminate the need for the work.

    Two permaculture ideas come to mind: guilds and stacking.

    A guild is a set of organisms that do better together than on their own.

    Stacking involves combining and linking different ecological functions.

    Guilds work by linking up different functions - in terms of nutrition, one plant is better at nitrogen fixation, another at concentrating metals, another with phosphorous, etc. Over time, if the plants are grown together, they benefit each other - one plant drops phosphorus rich seeds, and most of that element goes into the soil for all. Guilds also make use of other things - one plant likes sunshine, the other thrives in that plant's shade, etc.

    Of course, that doesn't mean that every soil has every nutrient. My soil is almost pure sand, and amendments (organic or otherwise) do help. The first principle I consider when thinking about amendments is whether it damages the soil ecosystem or improves it. If it improves the soil ecosystem, then I start asking questions related to efficiency (cost, work involved, etc).
     
  16. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Relocating, these days, is not very green. If we have to use gas and create pollution to move things around, it's not in the planet's best interest :) I was being a bit facetious with the space example, just because boron isn't really going to go anywhere.

    In the mid-1900s - wow that sounds so historical, yikes! -- there was a huge movement to make the deserts fertile and productive, to fill in wetlands, to reroute huge masses of water to create cities and bring way more people into an area they weren't prepared to be in, and utterly change these landscapes because they were thought to be "bad", "deficient", "ugly," "too harsh" and they became tragic failures. Tragic mostly because these kinds of zones on the Earth are crucial for the survival of the ecological balance that exists there. A desert is a productive and well-balanced landscape of its own. Just because tomatoes won't grow there, doesn't mean we should change it. Just because we don't like dust storms and no rain, doesn't mean it isn't a healthy and crucial biozone of its own. Just because swampy areas breed mosquitoes we don't like and can't put houses on, doesn't mean we should remove their ability to filter and clean water before it flows into the ocean,create food and protection and breeding zones for migrant birds, etc.

    California is a major tragic example of each of these. If you ever get a chance to see the history of the Salton Sea, it almost makes you want to cry when you see how man has destroyed a crucial part of the state, and it's now so concentrated with salt water that it's leaching into nearby areas, killing the flora and fauna. It's not going to stop, there will never be enough money to clean it up.

    The coast of California has filled in the crucial wetlands of rivers and creeks on their way to the ocean that clean up the water,just to build houses, and so now the pesticide, salt and pollutants go straight into the ocean, species are becoming extinct, biodiversity is shrinking. Los Angeles cannot support its own population, it shouldn't be that big. It entirely depends on a water supply that has been routed away from Colorado and Northern California, hundreds of miles away, which means Mexico doesn't get that water, period. Some farmers in central California have lost their water supply because it's going to LA, which has the power structure. California is the 7th largest agricultural economy in the world. When farmers can't grow food in California, parts of the world go hungry. We're not talking 10 large grain growers can't grow wheat this year. There's a horrible dried up river bed going through Mexico with loss of landscape/animals/life all along it, and their loss of agricultural. There are political water wars that are so deeply destroying the power structures of the state, not to mention another huge lake on the border of California and Nevada, Mono Lake, that is losing water and its salt levels are becoming toxic.

    Isn't Permaculture trying to help existing soil improve, make soil be as productive as it can be, not utterly change it. Once we understand that all the different types of landscape on this planet are viable and linked in to every other landscape zone, they are working together as living, breathing biozones, we will know not to change them. the plants/animals/insects that thrive in soil with boron in it, aren't having any problems. It's only humans who seem to think too much boron is bad. If you are stuck with land with too much boron and you absolutely must farm in that soil, you can't walk away, then your crops need to be boron tolerant and not dangerous to the folks you sell that crop to. Otherwise, it shouldn't be farmed. Let Nature do what it does, and farm elsewhere where there won't be dramatic changes and possible planetary harm :)
     
  17. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,442
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    and, milifestyle, I wasn't being critical of anything you suggested, I just wanted to remind us and explain the concept of live and let live that has really only been acknowledged and understood in the last couple of decades :)
     
  18. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I was using the macro to hilight a point.

    The same principles could apply within the Micro-Environment.

    Also, considering the macro, if we start regenerating an area on its fringe and move out nothing needs to be transported. It just takes time.
     
  19. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Using boron as an example:

    So. Australia is practically the only place in Oz that has excess boron, and it negatively affects barley crops. When the barley was tested, it also had increased concentrations of sodium and chlorine, and decreased concentralions of calcium. It was found (or at least suspected), that the boron toxicity was associated with soils that had too much sodium (salt). Since raising calcium levels to the best levels for the type of soil, it would 'open' the soil so both the salt and the boron could be washed out with a reasonable amount of rain.

    Using plants to remove certain materials (bioremediatino) from the soil is another way. For boron, the best plants found so far are Astragalus incanus L., Atriplex semibaccata (creeping saltbush), Atriplex nummularia (Old Man saltbush), Brassica juncea (Indian mustard ), Festuca arundinacea (tall fescue), Brassica napus (canola), Lotus corniculatus (birdsfoot trefoil), and Hibiscus cannabinus (kenaf).

    But what do you do with the plants that have absorbed the excess boron? Unless the soil has been accidentally contaminated with the material (boron, in this case), it is likely that all the surrounding area also has toxic levels of the mineral. Using petroleum to move the plant material to another location isn't always very practical. But what about burning the (dried) plant material and gathering up the ash, and sending that to an area that is deficient in boron? Even permies use mail now and again.

    Moving away from boron, there are certain elements that can't be removed with the use of plants, like heavy metals as pointed out above. Let's use lead as an example, as it's common around older buildings where the soil has been contaminated by flaking lead-based paints. Bioremediation is not currently useful for removal of lead, BUT the uptake of lead into edible plants (mostly leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale) can be significantly reduced by raising an acidic soil to have a pH of 6.5 to 7. Since in the case of lead, the lead isn't taken up by fruit trees, nut trees or shrubs like berry bushes -- the main contamination of plants like those is in the dust on the surface of their fruits, which can be washed off. With root crops, just peeling the vegetables will remove most of the lead contamination.

    PurplePear will be grinding his teeth when he reads this, :cool: but the best way to find out if you do have soil excesses or deficiences is to have soil tests done and find out.

    Sue
     
  20. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2009
    Messages:
    2,456
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    Farm manager/ educator
    Location:
    Hunter Valley New South Wales
    Home Page:
    Climate:
    warm temperate - some frost - changing every year
    In fact Sue I agree with most of what you say. Using pH to lock up nutrients has been around for younks and Bill even talks about it in the design manual if I remember right. And washing too is a great way of removing lead from the surface of leaves.
    Surprise!!
    Excess boron could be mediated back to make borax and circulate as a enviro friendly cockroach deterrent.Excess lead may certainly have some great use as well.
    The best way to find out if you have deficiencies in your soil is to see what grows well there and grow that. Conventional agriculture would have tests and bring in stuff to "solve the problems" but permaculture works with the existing system and with nature do assist through good design.
     

Share This Page

-->