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Feeding Trees Diluted Sugars

Posted by Karn Piana 
Feeding Trees Diluted Sugars
June 01, 2018 11:52PM
The photosynthetic process metabolizes light from the sun into carbohydrates and lipids which form, along with water, the trophic foundation from which the majority of the biologic web emanates. After contemplating this relationship, the question arises, "What would be the benefit or the disadvantage of adding more of the end result to the beginning?" That is, since mycorrhizae associations are contingent upon sugar secretions, would it not facilitate greater vitality and resilience to supply the fungi with an abundance of these saccharides through a dilute soil drench within the root zone of a tree?

The answer is apparently affirmative of positive effect according to researchers at the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory at the University of Reading. A seven year study (summarized and elaborated upon in this article), seems to indicate a beneficent array of response including reduced transplant stress and increased root development, greatly enhanced resistance to such variables as temperature extremes, herbicide exposure, an excessive presence of salts, and a resulting greater ability to withstand a waterlogged rhizome.

The study deduced that there was a general ubiquity of result amongst sorbitol, sucrose, glucose, and fructose; and therefore the cheapest available sugar source may be used without any loss of benefit. That said, too concentrated of a ratio resulted in cellular damage through osmotic shock and the emergence of pathogenic fungi heralding disease. There were differences among tree species but researchers identified a general optimum formulation of 30-50 grams of sugar per liter of water per square meter of ground beyond the canopy drip line.

Personally, I have applied this drench once to two of our trees as a test. As we have wood chips, additional applications would seem unnecessary and potentially disruptive of equilibrium. The idea was to generate a flush of biology which would be then sustained by the mulch environment. Thus far, the trees appear healthy and vigorous, but I am still horticulturally naive and perhaps unqualified to read the tree with any true depth. My question would therefore be whether anyone here on this forum has an opinion or experience with this process.

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 06/11/2018 11:19PM by Karn Piana.
Wowsa! Just when I thought i was comfortable with the amount of Maple Syrup I can produce off the hill, this comes to my attention; still must not fall for the urge to buy sap or drop 10K on vacuum. It would be nice to get this equation worked out fully to the point that one could calculate an acre application rate given planting pitch. Another would be a dosage at planting to augment mycorrhiZae dips, azomite and what not....

Lakes Region NH @ 1200' or so

393 planted towards a 440 goal mixed apple, pear, plum and apricot...
Re: Front Loading Sucrose Metabolization and Fungal Exchange Through Dilute Feeding
June 05, 2018 09:07AM
Intriguing. But it does remind me of feeding white sugar to honeybees to get through the winter because too much of the honey was removed for the human. Not to mention the Standard American Diet (SAD)! Still, let's give this a go.

Surface applications of lime are best applied with a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. That's achieved in the granular form as those lime pellets are formed with molasses as part of the calcium carbonate coating. The alternative would be a fatty acid-based holistic spray with a charge of blackstrap in order to facilitate both fungal and bacterial action. You will always hear me speak about blackstrap molasses in such applications as the mineral component has value as well.

Now the tree. I have come to speak of "planting a tree" as akin to launching a fungal ecosystem. Nearly everything done to amend the tree hole is to facilitate mycorrhizal colonization. Slow release rock phosphate needs to be solubilized by bacteria and then delivered to root by fungal hyphae. Flood the tree hole with soluble P and the fungal connection will be delayed if not denied (chemical fertilizers are very soluble; refined white sugar strikes me in this same vein.) Biochar is used as a rechargeable battery that can be operated (unlocked) solely by mycorrhizal fungi. The Azomite that I liberally lace into the planting hole soil and atop the surrounding radius are long term source of trace minerals for fungi to proffer to roots in trade for carbon sugar. Humates are unleashed carbon from centuries ago that the biology will use for immediate energy over the course of the first 90 days after planting. That "biology" includes all sorts of bacteria which in turn work in conjunction with decomposition fungi and mycorrhizal fungi.

I suspect the sugar approach assists mycorrhizal bacterial helpers in a similar fashion. The nutrient exchange mechanism of endomycorrhizae is within the root cells. We don't want to interfere with the development of that process. Fungal spores in the applied inoculum must germinate and then enter into this long-standing surrogate root deal by not having to compete with "cheap nutrition" that plants can slurp up through short root straws like soda pop. This charge of sugar seems to be suggesting the opposite, being provided to fledgling fungi while the plant partner comes up to speed as regards photosynthesizing its own sugar carbs to trade. Nature nailed the right pace for this relationship to develop between plant and fungi long, long ago.

I'm certainly not going to add white sugar to planting holes when starting an orchard. I will grant that in a severely depleted soil scenario that sugar might have some value if sufficient compost rich with microbial diversity is not available. But then why not use a prep period with cover crops and fatty acid ground sprays to get biologic juices flowing? Keep us posted if this indeed proves helpful in the semi-arid Southwest, Karn. There's always room for improv to meet the challenges at a particular site.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/06/2018 05:39AM by Michael Phillips.
Thank you for your replies.
Being a novice, I was curious about the role of sugar in various propagating stages of fermenting, brewing, and culturing. Obviously the molasses or brown sugars provide food and from there derived the basis of this question.

By way of salutation and introduction, our approach to tree planting is identical to that which Michael describes sans the use of biochar in the rhizome due to a personal need to further understand how biochar interacts with our alkaline soils. That said, I have been collecting occasional pieces of charcoal from walks in the arroyos and soaking them in fungal/ bacterial inoculants with the intention of creating a kind of carbon candy that I could toss (along with a few pieces of pumice and broken pottery) into the growing layers of wood chips we have brought in. I'll throw a few pieces of indigenous charcoal into the compost, but I am wary of overdoing it.

Most of the trees are planted in an extensive network of interconnected contour swales or similar storm runoff basins. We are at the juncture of three ephemeral arroyos and sit at the base of a large hill in a kind of bowl. The soil is a silty, clay loam without rocks or very much carbon. A very bacterial dominated environment in some areas juxtaposed with healthy native grasses and a thriving pinyon / juniper pygmy forest in a landscape with substantial quantities of water moving through with every significant storm. It is extremely dry, we are at 6400', and we have frequent powerful storms of desiccating wind.

Anyway, I appreciate and heed your recommendations of patience, cover crops, and ground sprays. In my observations of our vicinity, green ground cover here is often correlated to the understory of a tree canopy. We are near a few springs and they are relatively lush, cool places in the midst of a hot, dry, and eroded landscape. The UV factor here is extremely formidable. It cannot be overstated that this is one of the main challenges, both in terms of germinating and establishing plant life and in the form of very severe sun scald which I have noticed is almost ubiquitous in nearby deciduous fruit and legume trees.

Our strategy has been to find the microclimates in the shelter of the junipers and pinyon and expand from these key areas. Thus far it seems to have been successful. This year we have fenced much more area to bar marauding rabbits from decimating our ground cover and have begun to see improvement. I would like to write more about the dry land tree growing strategies in another post in hopes of this subject generating interest and conversation.

Back to the sugar topic: Let's abandon consideration of highly refined cheap white sugars as an input and move forward with the agreement that the best sugar would be organic blackstrap molasses. I had done the dilute feeding of our two test trees with brown sugar as some of the Korean Natural Farming formulations I am interested in specified a dry sugar source for osmosis related reasons but with further inquiry dehydrated molasses would be a great, if not superior substitute.

To quote someone with the handle of jmystro on a forum discussing molasses v.s brown sugar in KNF formulations: " Brown sugar and molasses both come from sugarcane but they’re not nutritionally equal. To make brown sugar, sugarcane is refined to white table sugar crystals which is sucrose (C12H22O11), then a little molasses is added in different amounts to those crystals to create light or dark brown sugar. Sucrose has an adverse affect on microbes like some bacteria because it can dry them out in high concentrations when they come in contact like salt."

"We want to use blackstrap molasses because it’s full of vitamins and minerals and low in sucrose compared to other sugarcane syrups. Sugarcane can be boiled 3 separate times creating three different syrups. After the first boil the syrup has it’s highest sugar content and down south we call this cane syrup. The second boil is darker with less sugar and a bitter flavor. The third boil creates a thick black syrup known as blackstrap molasses and it has the lowest sucrose content while keeping vitamin B6 and the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron plants can actually use."


Another quoted article I came upon while reading more about this was from the great Elaine Ingham, "Bacteria grow well and rapidly on simple sugars to exclusion of any fungus, until sugar concentration becomes extremely high. The simple preservative effect with molasses is the high concentration of sugar. Most organisms cannot grow in the high concentration of sugar. Once a container of molasses is sealed, however, condensate can form on the under-side of the lid if the container suffers heating cooling cycles. As the water drips into the top layer of the molasses concentrate, the sugar content can be diluted enough to allow fungal or actinobacterial growth as a surface scum. Just skim off the surface scum before use in soil, compost, or tea. Do not feed to animals or humans after a surface scum has formed unless you can recognise the organism as non-harmful.

Addition of foods that cause rapid bacterial growth can tie-up nitrate nitrogen so fast, and so effectively that plant growth can be harmed, and even stopped. Bacteria win in competition with plants for N in soil, and thus plants can be killed as the result of lack of N. Of course, the solution to this problem is NOT to kill the bacteria, but rather to establish normal nutrient cycling processes once again. How? Get the protozoa and bacterial-feeding nematodes back to work!"

It is clear that the wholistic system is accurately moving towards a strong and cohesive synergistic vitality and that the nuances of technique and protocol are defined by an evolving search into complex webs of interrelated universal function. Things like wholesale dumping of sugar as a kind of magic bullet to achieve results within a steroidal paradigm obviously reflect a pattern which is but a variation of the one currently employed. Perhaps there is a way to incorporate the addition of sugar into the regimen, but it doesn't seem to fill an actual deficiency. That said, there are still a few mysteries within this topic, at least to me.

For example, to return to Michael's apt apiary analogy regarding the unbalanced exchange of winter honey for white sugar and apply it to a fruit tree, might one draw a parallel with human beings taking the fruit which would otherwise drop to the ground and in part be reabsorbed into the rhizosphere? I'm not intending to draw a conclusion and am honestly asking; if one were dead set on pouring a dilute mixture of sugar water onto a trees roots, might this be one of the better times? Would there be any benefit to doing this? It would seem that fruit fall is a pretty integral phase of life for a tree system.

Personally, I am not going to employ the sugar approach in the future. The operative word for us is establishment. We are building a system and thus far it is working. I really dislike the idea of playing Dr. Frankenstein and initiating unforeseen derailment . We have happy birds, tons of predatory insects, hyphal strands latticing our wood chips, after it rains we have Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus Campestris) and Inky Cap (Coprinopsis Atramentaria) emerge, the young trees are growing and there are seven pears on our Bartlett (we are in year 2).

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico
Re: Feeding Trees Diluted Sugars
June 16, 2018 01:27AM
At the end of my last posting I had concluded, perhaps too hastily, that the risk of unbalance outweighed benefit with regard to the question of the role of sugar additives as a valuable constituent in fruit tree health. The real question, at least for me, has centered on the presence of abscised fruit and leaf litter forming part of the duff below a tree.

While reading about the primordial fruit forests in Kazakhstan, I came across a description of a forest floor carpeted with decaying and fermenting apples. In a wild fruit tree forest ecosystem where pathogens are not artificially mitigated, there is a decaying strata of fermented fruit sugar present that would appear to form a crucial trophic tier in the localized web. The questions I am asking have moved beyond whether or not add sugar, but how bacteria and fungi interact with one another in the arboreal rhizome especially after events which may result in a bacterial population spike such as a ton of fermenting fruit falling to the ground.

To the point, I found an interesting research paper entitled, "An Apple Fruit Fermentation (AFF) Treatment Improves the Composition of the Rhizosphere Microbial Community and Growth of Strawberry Seedlings" by a group researchers who I believe are based in Beijing, China.

The Apple Fruit Fermentation (AFF) broth refered to in the title was made in a manner identical to that employed in Korean Natural Farming for Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ). This technique is freely available online.

I am gradually learning very basic rudiments of Korean Natural Farming (KNF) and am in the early stages of implementing some of the techniques into the agriculture we have begun to establish. KNF utilizes foliar sprays of various local (indigenous) inputs, most of which are fermentations. One of these is something called Fermented Fruit Juice, commonly referred to as FFJ. These inputs are employed during specific growth phases of the plants and FFJ is used, if I am not mistaken, during the transition from growing to fruiting and during actual fruit maturation.

Back to the study: The AFF broth was applied as a foliar spray to strawberries and as some kind of introduction to the rhizosphere.

With the Foliar sprays, there were improvements in fruit quality and disease resistance due to a mild acidity knocking out pathogens. Improved growth, improved photosynthesis, better stress resistance, things of this nature.

The AFF broth applied to the Rhizosphere was described as beneficient, but again, this was for strawberries not trees. And, as Dr. Ingham described, there is a spike in bacterial dominance. Obviously in trees you are going for a super fungal dominate rhizome with extremely high ratios of fungi to bacteria. There is a frequent mention of the AFF used in combination with Bacillus licheniformis. This is a bacterium adapted to alkaline conditions that is being investigated elsewhere for use as an agricultural feather decomposer via fermentation to convert proteins into a digestible form of livestock feed, a super alkaline detergent, and as a dental solution to penetrate through layers of plaque. Evidently the combination of this bacteria in conjunction with a fermented apple broth resulted in significantly more robust strawberries...

The segment of the paper regarding the rhizosphere is what I'm most curious about and the bacterial dominance described is confusing due to the addition of Bacillus lichenformis. As I read about this subject, I encounter a consistent reaction to the addition of sugars in the rhizome in the form of a bacterial spike.

In an established fungal dominate arboreal rhizome to which a natural and cyclical population surge of bacteria is introduced through abscised, fermenting fruit, what is the trophic process that is occurring? Is it something to do with the absorption of now bio available compounds decomposed by the bacteria? Are the bacteria food for protozoa and nematodes?

Here is Dr. Ingham on what protozoa do:
"Protozoa play an important role in mineralizing nutrients, making them available for use by plants and other soil organisms. Protozoa (and nematodes) have a lower concentration of nitrogen in their cells than the bacteria they eat. (The ratio of carbon to nitrogen for protozoa is 10:1 or much more and 3:1 to 10:1 for bacteria.) Bacteria eaten by protozoa contain too much nitrogen for the amount of carbon protozoa need. They release the excess nitrogen in the form of ammonium (NH4+). This usually occurs near the root system of a plant. Bacteria and other organisms rapidly take up most of the ammonium, but some is used by the plant. (See figure for explanation of mineralization and immobilzation.)

Another role that protozoa play is in regulating bacteria populations. When they graze on bacteria, protozoa stimulate growth of the bacterial population (and, in turn, decomposition rates and soil aggregation.) Exactly why this happens is under some debate, but grazing can be thought of like pruning a tree – a small amount enhances growth, too much reduces growth or will modify the mix of species in the bacterial community.

Protozoa are also an important food source for other soil organisms and help to suppress disease by competing with or feeding on pathogens."

Here is Dr. Inham on the role of nematodes:
"•Nutrient cycling. Like protozoa, nematodes are important in mineralizing, or releasing, nutrients in plant-available forms. When nematodes eat bacteria or fungi, ammonium (NH4+) is released because bacteria and fungi contain much more nitrogen than the nematodes require.

•Grazing. At low nematode densities, feeding by nematodes stimulates the growth rate of prey populations. That is, bacterial-feeders stimulate bacterial growth, plant-feeders stimulate plant growth, and so on. At higher densities, nematodes will reduce the population of their prey. This may decrease plant productivity, may negatively impact mycorrhizal fungi, and can reduce decomposition and immobilization rates by bacteria and fungi. Predatory nematodes may regulate populations of bacterial-and fungal-feeding nematodes, thus preventing over-grazing by those groups. Nematode grazing may control the balance between bacteria and fungi, and the species composition of the microbial community.

•Dispersal of microbes. Nematodes help distribute bacteria and fungi through the soil and along roots by carrying live and dormant microbes on their surfaces and in their digestive systems.

•Food source. Nematodes are food for higher level predators, including predatory nematodes, soil microarthropods, and soil insects. They are also parasitized by bacteria and fungi.

•Disease suppression and development. Some nematodes cause disease. Others consume disease-causing organisms, such as root-feeding nematodes, or prevent their access to roots. These may be potential biocontrol agents."


To conclude, how do the members of this forum approach fallen fruit at the base of their trees? I think it's an important part of tree health in a healthy trophic system. In a barren fungicide, herbicide, and insecticide treated orchard floor without duff or wood chips the fruit would obviously be the only food source for rapidly reproducing contagions and harmful organisms. But on a biologically thriving fungal dominate strata, would not the addition of fermenting fruit in some capacity be an essential component of tree and trophic web health? What do you think? Do you leave a little fruit on the ground or do you take it away? If you take it away, do you then prefer to incorporate it into a compost later?

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 06/16/2018 02:10AM by Karn Piana.
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