In our all too busy human lives probably few of us wonder how the sounds of birds and crickets chirping invigorate plant life, and maybe even our own life. I was reintroduced to this awareness as I listened to the taped sounds created by Dan Carlson as part of his growth product presentation of Sonic Bloom. The tape, containing pulsed sound around 3,000 to 6,000 cycles, is best played between 5:30 and 9:00 a.m. for your plants in your house, greenhouse, garden, or over large fields (Vikhanski, 1989). The plants react to the sound by opening their stomata, the breathing pores on their leaves. Plant reaction to this particular rhythmic sound pattern is so intense that the stomata open an average of four times wider than normal. Carlson discovered this phenomenon while doing research on plant growth at the University of Minnesota in 1972. The difference between Carlson’s recorded sounds and birds’ sounds in the hours of dawn is the difference between a flock of sparrows and a bugle sounding reverie. Natural bird sounds encourage opening as they have done for as long as plants and birds have lived in symbiosis. Carlson’s sounds shoot through the dawn, waking up plants to their full stomatic potential.

Why is this discovery of the relationship of certain sounds and stomatic opening important to growers? Growers have known for a long time that feeding plants with liquid nutrient solutions stimulates growth. For centuries, Chinese farmers relied on manure teas ladled over plants in the early dawn or early evening hours to maintain steady, lush growth. In modern times, both conventional chemical nutrients and organic sprays are laid down by grown spray rigs and airplanes in the early morning while the stomata are most open. The stomata are almost exclusively on the leaves of plants. Their function is to allow carbon dioxide to enter the leaves and oxygen to escape, cooling the leaves. Foliar nutrients enter these open pores. Foliar nutrient sprays also penetrate the cuticle waxy surfaces of leaves (Ashmead, 1986). The mechanism by which foliar nutrients move through plant layers to the plant cell wall is complex, but well documented. When the stomata are opened by high frequency chirping sounds, materials sprayed onto plants are easily incorporated into the plant processes.

Part of this process is that cellular-based nutrients do not stay trapped within the plant. Plant root exudates are feeding mineral ions chemically linked with amino acid/peptide complexes to the microorganisms in the root zone. These microbes are breaking down organic and mineral complexes and making them available to pants. This holistic process is temperature, moisture, light, and air sensitive. Some of the variables in nutrient availability are offset by feeding foliar nutrients while the stomata are most open. Several of the many researchers that have studied Sonic Bloom have noted that foliar feeding with the sound mechanism at the proper time of day allows plants to reach their full genetic potential by removing stress from the growing situation (Spillane, 1989). Noticeably, cool temperatures and low light levels and drought are overcome.

So the sound system opens plants to foliar nutrition. The second part of the Sonic Bloom system is a formulated foliar spray. Carlson settled on a spray which is composed of 55 trace minerals, amino acids, and seaweed. Dr. Alan Kapular, owner of Peace Seeds and director of research for Seeds of Change, a researcher in the field of Sonic Bloom, suspects that much of the phenomenal growth of plants and trees attributed to the Sonic Bloom system is a result of seaweed being made available to the cells of plants. The seaweed contains gibberellins (gib as it is known among California grape growers who have relied on it for years), known to enhance fruit set. Kapular also points out that "in recent years, analysis of the fungi that grow as mycorhiza on the roots of plants have shown that more than 95% of the seed plants that grow on this planet have mycorhiza associated with them" (Kapular, 1987). In his germination tests with Sonic Bloom, Kapular is led to suggest that "a major natural germination process is provided by fungi that provide gibberellins for the germination process of seeds and the stimulation of early plant growth. One suspects that many of our crops have been selected by virtue of their seeds being able to germinate in the absence of the natural mycotrophic fungi and hence the growth and germination." Kapular found that some seeds, the Chinese parasol tree and several rare South American Solanum, germinated only in the presence of Sonic Bloom. Gibberellin nutrients are there in our gardens on some level as a result of plant, mineral, and organic matter and microbe interactions. What Carlson makes available through Sonic Bloom is a flush of nutrients in greater than background amounts.

Garbriel Howearth, the main gardener for the seed plots at Seeds of Change, tested Sonic Bloom while running the test gardens at San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico (Howearth, 1985). His test results show plants maturing up to half a month early, with much greater yields from many plants. Carolyn Ormsbee at Gardener’s Supply Company tested Sonic Bloom and compared it with other foliar, seaweed-based sprays, both with and without the sound system (Ormsbee, 1987). The sound system coupled with the Carlson foliar formula gave far greater yields than other foliar formulations. Neither the sound system by itself nor the spray formula by itself was productive of any higher yield than other sea-based foliar.

The quality of the yield is often spoken of by users of the Sonic Bloom system. That is probably the result of trace mineral availability. Good growing practices require that the grower monitor nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. All background mineral nutrients must also be moving within the dynamic growing system. It is known that when minerals are attached to amino acid chelate, as they are in a seaweed-based foliar spray, there is greater penetration of the waxy leaf coating on plants than would be predicted by simple diffusion (Ashmead, 1986). In chelated form, mineral-amino acid ligand have permeability promoting properties. In other words, seaweed sprays can permeate the cells where other compounds might not. Foliar nutrition is a great tool of compensation, offsetting adverse growing conditions.

Many seasons our gardens and trees try to grow in less than optimum conditions, whether it be in sudden cold, lack of light/heat hours, drought, etc. The combination of seaweed spray for remineralization, which affects harvested stability in fruits and vegetables, and the addition of a growth hormone to stimulate maximum fruiting and yield potential is ingenious. That a sound tape helps make all of this potential a reality is a good use of the technology available in our time.

Work by Kapular and Howearth in which they soaked seeds in Sonic Bloom with and without the sound tape showed that treated seeds in many cases grew to plants with double the yield in the field. Germinations were often faster. In the field, spray applications on these crops three to five times during the early growth to bloom stages generally showed yield increases of from 20-100%.

When discussing Carlson’s sound and foliar formula system, some organic gardener friends wonder about the challenges it poses. For one, is it possible to attract enough or the right kind of birds into a garden area so that plants open their stomata without humanly synthesized recordings?

Is it possible to build garden soils that function with superior levels of fertility without foliar applications? Or are gardeners who want the best and the most from the process in which they have involved bound to yet another set of technologies?

For lunar organic gardeners and farmers still other questions are raised by Carlson’s system. What are the effects of spraying during Moon phases? Are there bird cycles that are in sync with planetary and Moon magnetics? Are the right kind of birds and bird sounds a result of attractive crops? (On my farm when I grow millet, amaranth and other small grains, I attract many more and different birds than I do at other times.) If gibberellins are provided by soil fungi, is there a particular time/cycle where these fungi are more active? Is this one of the limiting factors in planting "out of the season," planting at times other than those established as good seeding times in your particular micro climate?

Sonic Bloom is a gift and a challenge. It is a tool which can be utilized by gardeners to bring about a healing in some gardens and orchards. It should also make us think about natural mechanisms that can and should be stimulated to make gardening and life more enjoyable and more abundant.

-- Llewellyn’s 1993 Lunar Organic Gardener