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Carbon kick start works wonders for plant growth

Society For General Microbiology : 14 June, 2006  (New Product)
Feeding the bugs lurking in potting compost or soil some extra carbon rations to kick start their activity can boost healthy crop growth in an environmentally friendly way, biologists heard at the Society for General Microbiology's 158th Meeting at the University of Warwick, UK.
Plant researchers from Coventry University looked at the role soil micro-organisms play in providing a continuous supply of nutrients to growing crops. Bacteria and bugs in the compost and soil help plants by converting minerals and chemicals in the ground into forms that the crops can easily absorb and use to build healthy cells.

'Plants require continuous nutrients through their life, especially during germination, flowering and fruiting,' says Gracy Sailo of the School of Science and Environment at Coventry University. 'We concentrated on manipulating the activities of helpful micro-organisms in the soil by adding external sources of carbon'.

The carbon usually available in dung and compost is a mixture of different types, some may be available and ready to use by the bugs, and some may require time to break down into mineral form. By adding small amounts of cellulose, a readily available carbon source, to potting compost the scientists hoped to excite dormant micro-organisms in the soil into becoming active and making minerals and nutrients available to the plants.

'This work is important to virtually every household or anyone who is interested in gardening or the kitchen garden,' says Gracy Sailo. 'By adding cellulose we kick started the soil microbial activity. More food led to population growth amongst the soil micro-organisms, which in turn meant more conversion of nitrogen and other minerals into nutrients for the plants. The effects continued throughout the plant's life, giving a controlled continuous nutrient flow'.

The scientists showed that the quality of any plant growing medium, in pots, kitchen gardens, or even fields and farms, can be improved by adding a small source of readily available carbon to act as a trigger which awakens the sleeping soil micro-organisms. They noticed that plants treated with cellulose germinated earlier than the plants without treatment.

'It will be of immense importance in large scale crop production in reducing the input costs of manures and fertilisers, providing a steady flow of nutrients to the plants so increasing their quality, and reducing nutrient loss through leaching or volatisation,' says Gracy Sailo. 'The method is also very environment friendly and could eventually cut the costs of organic food production'.

'Next we want to look at sources of cellulose and how we can make this available to the micro-organisms', says Gracy Sailo. 'Paper is basically made up of cellulose and this would be a cheap and readily available source of carbon. However, if we just add shredded paper to a pot or soil, it would take some time to mineralise'.
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