- Michael Spillane

Even in silence, there is no escape from 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 the frequencies we are exposed to have a dramatic effect on our spiritual and physical well-being.

While the effects of sound on plant health and growth has been the subject of some speculation and scientific research, few have attempted to put that knowledge to practical use. But one innovative pioneer has come up with a system that uses high frequency sound with an organic foliar spray that he says leads to early maturity, greater yields, improved taste, more nutrition, and longer shelf life.

Hunger, or more precisely the problem of world hunger, is at the root of this fascinating new technology. While serving as an Army border guard in South Korea in the early ‘60s, Dan Carlson witnessed a Korean woman placing her baby under the wheels of an Army truck. "I went over to stop her, but as I looked in 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 says, he dedicated his life to helping solve the problem of world hunger.

After leaving the service, Carlson enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study agriculture. There he began extensive research into 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 by the stomata on the leaf surface and are then translocated throughout the plant.

Upon graduation in 1975, Carlson formed his own company, Dan Carlson Scientific Enterprises, Inc., 708 - 119th Lane N.E., Blaine, MN 55434. In 1976, he traveled the country conducting trials with his system, which he began marketing under the name Sonic Bloom.

"Initially people are skeptical," Carlson 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."

The key to unlocking these possibilities is a high-frequency electro-magnetic radiation wave developed from natural sounds. It is similar to the frequency range of many bird calls, such as those made by swallows, martins, and warblers. The sound, according to Carlson, opens the stomata, tiny openings on the leaf surface, allowing the plant to more readily absorb nutrients.

The other factor is a balanced foliar nutrient 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 naturally found in seaweed extracts.

For indoor plants, the tape of classical and easy listening music selections combined with the high-frequency sounds, is played once every morning, preferably between 5:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., when plants naturally absorb dew and nutrients. Plants are sprayed with the foliar solution once a week while the music is played.

The treatment is the same for commercial operations, although the commercial units do not play music, only the high-pitched oscillating frequency. Crops are treated with the nutrient once every ten days to two weeks. A tape player activated by a photocell can be used to turn the sound on in the morning and off at night.

Carson claims that the system can substantially increase both yields and quality at a fraction of the cost of chemical fertilizers. One gallon of the concentrate nutrient will provide 256 gallons of spray, enough to provide five treatments on 4.5 acres of crops.

‘A Safe Alternative’

One of the proponents of the system is Ken Taylor, owner of Windmill Point Farms and Nursery on Ile Perrot, off the southwest tip of Montreal. Taylor is a plant collector, college chemistry teacher and lecturer on chemical-free gardening at McDonald College in Quebec.

Taylor is convinced that his own plants have become healthier since he began using the system in the spring of 1990 and expects "incredible results" over the next few years.

"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 crop production that are safer for the environment," Taylor said.

He believes that the common method of crop production, with is over reliance on chemicals, is producing plants that are unable to meet their capacity for growth. Carlson’s system permits plants to reach their full genetic potential, 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 were conducted on carrots. Last spring, he soaked germinated carrot seeds in the nutrient solution (1/2 ounce per gallon of water) and left them overnight with the cassette tape playing. That crop of carrots was the best he had ever produced. With an average yield of 400 pounds of carrots from each 40-foot row, Taylor decided to try a few more experiments. "I tried it on a batch of acid-loving bog cranberry, grown in containers with peat moss," he said. "No nutrients were added except for the treatments . . . the plants grew like weeds."

The 100 citrus fruits that inhabit Taylor’s sunroom were also subjected to experiments. After treatment, Taylor left the plants outside throughout the summer and fall where they survived temperatures as low as 14 degrees (-10 C). In December, there wasn’t a blemish on the dark, glossy foliage of any of the grapefruit, orange, tangerine, or variegated lemon plants.

More recently, Taylor has been carrying out trials on grass seed germination without the use of soil or fertilizers. The results so far are "extremely positive," he said. The seed was treated and then germinated in metal containers. Within three weeks, the grass had reached a height of six inches.

Improved Adaptability

Carlson says that plants exposed to the recorded sounds and foliar spray not only grow bigger and faster, but are better able to adapt to adverse soil and water conditions. "One of the problems with world hunger," he explained, "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."

Northern growers, who are constantly struggling with a short growing season, can benefit as well. At a conference at McDonald College in Quebec in November 1990, Canadian horticulturalists had an opportunity to examine Carlson’s claims of early maturity and how plants can adapt to new weather and soil conditions.

He told of apple trees grown in cooler climates that produced three times the yield and cucumbers that grew six to a leaf instead of one. They saw slides of strawberries that produced earlier and cauliflower, beets, and cantaloupe that were huge. They heard of incredible yields of corn, cherry tomatoes, and ornamentals.

But the crowning glory was the tale of Carlson’s purple passion vine, which has grown to 1,300 feet and is still thriving in his home after 19 years. The plant usually grows to a maximum of 3 feet. This success gained Carlson entry into the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest indoor plant.

Professor Michael Dickson of the Department of Plant Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario has carried out his own experiments using Carlson’s Sonic Bloom. He said that his tests demonstrated a positive effect of the treatment on vegetative growth, but he would like to see more long-term research and analysis of the product.

"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," he said.

Dickson hypothesizes that the influence of sound frequencies may be felt at the membrane level in the plants. This in turn is measured in increased osmotic pressure (the uptake and translocation of water and nutrients), and cell extension, which are manifested in apparent growth. Of the tests that were carried out at Guelph on soybeans, it was reported that plants grew twice as big as they would normally, requiring only half the amount of water.

Based on these initial findings, Carlson hopes his technique will be useful for farmers in California and other drought-stricken areas. Because of the growing severity of the drought problem worldwide, Carlson would like to see a more concerted effort to research the process. Stuart Hill, professor of entomology at McDonald College, Quebec, agreed: "It would be interesting to see more varied experiments carried out on positive sound frequencies measured against negative sound frequencies."

The agricultural bulletin, Acres USA, has reported on tests done using Carlson’s tapes and foliar spray over the 1985 growing season in the American Southwest. The journal reported impressive results with alfalfa and corn crops. Other tests, carried out at San Juan Pueblo, a Native American community not far from Santa Fe, on peppers, tomatoes, melons, corn, and amaranth produced impressive results. Sonic Bloom was used on ancient open pollinated seeds collected from Central and South America. It was found that the seeds became more productive and retained their resistance to stress. Plants were grown in the Sudan with only 1/14 inches of rainfall and temperatures of up to 135 degrees. Save the Children has distributed treated seeds to nine different African countries, again with impressive results.

Landowner, the bulletin of the Professional Farmers of America, reported that laboratory studies of a variety of plants showed yields of vegetable and field crops were increased by 20 to 100 percent. In Israel, 450 endangered North African varieties of shrubs, fruit, and nut trees are being treated with Carlson’s system and successfully established. It is now in use in 14 countries and all 50 states. One Sonic Bloom grower won an award for the Most Beautiful Vegetable Garden in Colorado last year. But despite the incredible claims of devotees of the product, more development, research, and data is needed to firmly establish its validity as a major breakthrough.

In the meantime, there is no rest for Dan Carlson. Currently, he is working on his 140-acre farm near River Falls, WI, grafting and developing different species of nut trees. "Many of these trees are endangered," he said. "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."

-- The Growing Edge, Spring 1991