BRAVE NEW WAVES - Michael Spillane

Even in silence there is no escaping sound. People, plants and animals are surrounded by natural and artificial vibrations 24 hours a day, every day. Whether we choose to listen or not, poets, musicians and scientists have long been voicing their theories that frequencies have a dramatic effect on our spiritual and physical well-being.

In the latter half of the 1900s alone, the advent of using music to spur cows and chickens to greater production has been accompanied by the introduction of mood tapes for restoring the human soul and learning tapes to be listened to while asleep. Sonic Bloom is only the latest entry in the sound sweepstakes. But don’t count it out yet. This idea of using nature’s sonic waves to enhance plant growth and generate greater yields is proving to have remarkable potential.

Sonic Bloom is a fairly straightforward operation. All growers have to do, is expose their plants to a combination of oscillating high frequency sound, which is available on tape, and a nutrient spray. According to Dan Carlson, a plant scientist and the originator of the product, continuous application will lead to early maturity in plants, greater yields, improved taste, more nutrition and a longer shelf life. "Sonic Bloom is sound aiding the absorption of an organic foliar nutrient by a plant," says Carlson. "The more you spray the plants, the more productive they become, resulting in indeterminate growth.

The frequency used is a high frequency electromagnetic radiation wave developed from natural sounds and is similar to the frequency range of many bird calls, such as those made by swallows, martins, and warblers. The effect it has is to open up the cells on the leaf surface, allowing the plant to more readily absorb nutrients. In Sonic Bloom, the same frequency is used on all plants.

The other factor in the Sonic Bloom equation is a precisely balanced foliar spray that contains no harmful elements and is derived from seaweed. The spray is composed of 55 trace minerals and amino acids, as well as gibberelic acid, a plant growth enhancer that is found naturally in seaweed extracts, but not usually found in other fertilizers.

A Positive Report

One of the proponents of Sonic Bloom is Ken Taylor, owner of Windmill Point Farm and Nursery on Ile Perrot, off the southwestern tip of Montreal. Taylor is a plant collector, college chemistry teacher and lecturer on chemical-free gardening at Macdonald College in Quebec.

"We’re going to see incredible results with this product over the next few years," says Taylor, who is convinced that his plants have become healthier since he began using sonic Bloom in the spring of 1990. "Sonic Bloom is a safe alternative to the use of chemicals, and combined with traditional fertilizers such as manure and compost, can provide a blueprint for carrying out methods of plant and crop production that are safer for the environment."

Taylor believes that the common method of crop production, with its overreliance on chemicals, is producing plants that are stressed out, in other words, are unable to meet their growth capacity. "Sonic Bloom exploits the full genetic potential of plants," he says. "Remove the stress from plants by influencing the way they absorb nutrients and they will become more adaptable and pest and disease resistant."

Taylor’s initial trials with Sonic Bloom were conducted on carrots. Last spring, he soaked germinated carrot seeds in the nutrient solution (1/2 oz. of solution for every gallon of water) and left them overnight with the cassette tape playing. The next morning, after planting the seedlings outside, he left Quebec on a month-long trip. On his return, he discovered his neglected carrot plants outgrowing the weeds.

That crop of carrots was the best he had ever produced. With an average yield of 400 pounds (180 kg) of carrots from each 40-foot (12 m) row, Taylor decided to conduct a few more experiments. "I tried the product on a batch of acid-loving bog cranberry, grown in containers with pure peat moss," he says. "No nutrients were added except for the treatments with Sonic Bloom. The plants grew like weeds."

The 100 citrus plants that inhabit Taylor’s sunroom were also subjected to experiments. After treating them with Sonic Bloom, Taylor left the plants outside in their containers throughout the summer and fall, where they survived temperatures as low as –10 degrees C. In December, there wasn’t a blemish on the dark, glossy foliage of any of the grapefruit, orange, tangerine or variegated lemon plants, which were already bearing fruit.

The Origins

Hunger, or more precisely the problem of world hunger, is at the root of the Sonic Bloom story. While serving as an army border guard in South Korea from 1961-63, Dan Carlson witnessed a Korean woman placing her baby under the wheels of an army truck. "I went over to strike the woman, to stop her, but as I looked into her eyes I realized that she was acting out of desperation, that she and her child were starving to death." From that moment on, Carlson claims, he dedicated his life to helping solve world hunger.

After leaving the service, Carlson enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study agriculture and horticulture. There he began extensive research in plant growth stimulants. His breakthrough came in 1972, when he discovered that certain sound frequencies stimulated plants to absorb more nutrients, which are taken in through the stomata on the leaf surface and are then translocated throughout the plant.

In 1975, upon graduation, Carlson formed his own company, Dan Carlson Scientific Enterprises, Inc., in Blaine, Minnesota. In 1976 he traveled across the United States, conducting trials with Sonic Bloom. After confirming its success, he started selling the treatment by mail order and through word of mouth.

"Initially, people are skeptical," he says. "But once they use the product, the results speak for themselves. We’ve had offers to sell out, but the hunger problem is my main concern, and we’re starting to see real possibilities."

Carlson claims that plants treated with Sonic Bloom can adjust to almost any soil condition and will grow twice a big with only half the water requirement. "One of the problems with world hunger," he says, "is that people are trying to grow food in semi-arid regions with marginal soils. Now we can establish food-producing plants in these regions that will adapt to the conditions."

An example of this are the spines on cacti, which are in fact leaves that have evolved to reduce water loss in the plant. The ability to speed up the evolutionary process whereby plants learn to survive under specific conditions is at the heart of Sonic Bloom. Carlson calls this geometric progression.

For Canadian Growers

Geometric progression will also benefit northern growers, who are constantly struggling with a short season climate. At a conference at Macdonald College in Quebec in November, 1990, Canadian horticulturalists had an opportunity to examine Carlson’s claims of early maturity and how plants can become acclimatised to new weather and soil conditions.

They listened to him tell of apple trees grown in cooler climates that produced three times as many apples as usual and cucumbers that grew six to a leaf instead of one. They saw slides of strawberries that produced earlier and cauliflowers, beets, and cantaloupes that were huge. They also heard of incredible yields on corn, cherry tomatoes, and ornamentals.

The crowning glory was the tale of Carlson’s purple passion vine (Gynura sp), which has grown to 1,300 feet (396 m) and is still thriving in his home after 19 years. The plant usually grows to a maximum of three feet (1 m). This success gained Carlson entry into the Guiness Book of World Records for the world’s largest indoor plant.

Widespread Success

After 15 years on the market, Sonic Bloom is finally gaining public recognition. So far, however, very little long-term research has been carried out on Carlson’s plant growth stimulator by an major academic or scientific institution.

Professor Michael Dickson, Department of Plant Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, has carried out his own experiments on Sonic Bloom. Although his tests demonstrated that the treatment influenced the vegetative growth of plants in a positive way, Dickson believes that some of what Carlson says is remarkable and beyond genetic limits.

"I would like to see more verified data supporting his claims and serious, long-term research and analysis of Sonic Bloom," says Dickson. "Without such controlled research, there’s no real basis for the claims. There are a host of other environmental variables, such as soil conditions, annual rainfall, temperature, to name a few, that have to be put into the equation."

Although still skeptical, Dickson hypothesizes that the influence of sound frequencies is felt at the plant’s membrane level. This in turn is measured in increases in osmotic pressure (the uptake and translocation of water and nutrients), and cell extension, which in turn are manifested in apparent growth.

Stuart Hill, Professor of Entomology at Macdonald College in Quebec, echoes Dickson’s call for concerted research. "It would be interesting to see more varied experiments carried out on positive sound frequencies measured against negative frequencies," says Hill. "There should also be comparisons made between the Sonic Bloom nutrient spray and other seaweed-based, high-concentrate sprays."

Carlson, for his part, would be happy if researchers carried out comprehensive experiments on his product, and has offered free Sonic Bloom treatments to any university that is willing to undertake the research, keep him informed, and issue him with a copy of the results. However, there have yet to be any takers.

In the meantime, Sonic Bloom is passing the test in such far-flung locations as Israel, the Sudan, New Mexico, and the American Midwest. Growers in 14 countries are successfully experimenting with Carlson’s product to improve their production of alfalfa, peppers, melons, corn, amaranth, and to establish healthy stands of rare and endangered trees and shrubs.

Sonic Bloom is available for operations ranging in size from large farms and nurseries to home gardens. The kit for smaller gardens, which retails for US$85, consists of the concentrated nutrient and a cassette tape of classical and New Age music selections, throughout which is embedded the high-pitched, warbler-like frequency. A 20-oz. spray bottle to dilute the nutrient is also included.

For indoor plants, the tape is played once every morning, preferably between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., which is the time when plants naturally absorb dew and nutrients. Plants are sprayed with the foliar solution twice a week while the music is playing.

Larger kits are also available for outdoor garden and greenhouse use. Depending on the size of the garden, a large sprayer may be required for a more efficient application. For the commercial grower, tractor mounted units can be leased on an annual basis at a cost of US$150.

The treatment is the same as for indoor plants although commercial units do not play music, but only the high-pitched oscillating frequency. Crops are treated twice a week to start, then once or twice a month after that. One gallon of nutrient will provide 254 gallons of spray, which will cover a 60-acre farm.

There is no rest for Carlson. Currently, he is working on his 140-acre hardwood nut farm near River Falls, Wisconsin, grafting and developing different species of nut trees. "Many of these trees are endangered," he says. "My job is to produce thousands of nuts per tree. If I can turn these nuts into seedlings to produce nuts the second year, the trees aren’t going to be endangered for long."

Devotees of Sonic Bloom attest to its enormous potential in plant preservation, reforestation, farming, and nursery and home gardening. While the scientific community hedges its bets on a breakthrough in gardening technology, Dan Carlson and many other gardeners are optimistic about the future of his product and the bounty of their crops.

-- TLC . . . for plants, Spring 1991