Science Mysteries Suppressed Science Secret Life of Plants

Secret Life of Plants

Secret Life of Plants
Catalog # SKU0564
Publisher Distributors
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird


The Secret Life of Plants

by Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird

Exploring the world of plants and its relation to mankind as revealed by the latest discoveries of scientists, The Secret Life of Plants includes remarkable information about plants as lie detectors and plants as ecological sentinels; it describes their ability to adapt to human wishes, their response to music, their curative powers, and their ability to communicate with man.

Authors Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird suggest that the most far-reaching revolution of the twentieth century -- one that could save or destroy the planet -- may come from the bottom of your garden.

The world of plants and its relation to mankind as revealed by the latest scientific discoveries.

"Plenty of hard facts and astounding scientific and practical lore." --Newsweek"

"Once in a while you find a book that stuns you. Its scope leaves you breathless. This is such a book."--John White, "San Francisco Chronicle"

"This fascinating book roams...over that marvelous no man's land of mystical glimmerings into the nature of science and life itself."--Henry Mitchell, "Washington Post Book World"


Chapter 14: Soil: The Staff of Life

Page 217

Despite Carver's prescient observations on how to bring life back to the cotton-debased soils of Alabama by rotating crops and fertilizing the soil with natural humus, the farmers of that state-and those in every other state of the union-have since Carver's death been lured by the promise of large profits to deal with the land, not in a natural, but in an artificial way in order to force from it every ounce of productivity. Instead of exerting patient and tender efforts to keep their soils in natural balance they have been seeking to subjugate nature rather than cooperate with her. Everywhere there are indications that in the process of being raped rather than loved, nature is protesting. If the process goes on, the victim may die of bitterness and indignation, and with her all that she nurtures.

An example-one among thousands-is Decatur, Illinois, a farming community in the heart of the United States cornbelt. As the summer of 1966 was drawing to a close, steamingly hot and sultry, the corn stood in the fields as high as an elephant's eye, promising a bumper crop in every direction, perhaps eighty to a hundred bushels to the acre. In the twenty years since World War II the farmers had almost doubled the land's yield in corn by the use of nitrate fertilizers, unaware of the deadly danger they were courting.

The following spring one of Decatur's seventy-eight thousand townsmen-whose living depended indirectly on the success of the corn harvest-noticed that a cup of drinking water from his kitchen faucet tasted funny. As the water was supplied directly from Lake Decatur, an impoundment of the Sangamon River, he took a sample to the Decatur Health Department for testing. Dr. Leo Michl, a Decatur health official, was alarmed to find that concentrations of nitrate in the waters of Lake Decatur and the Sangamon River itself were not only excessive but potentially lethal.

Nitrate, in itself innocuous to the human physical constitution, can become deadly when converted by intestinal bacteria; these combine nitrate with the blood's hemoglobin into methemoglobin, which prevents the natural transport of oxygen in the bloodstream. This can cause a disease known as methemoglobinemia, which kills by asphyxiation; infants are particularly susceptible to it. Many cases of the mysterious epidemics of "crib death" are now attributed to it.

When a Decatur newspaper ran a feature suggesting that the city's water supply had become polluted with excessive nitrate and that fertilizers being poured on the surrounding cornfields might be the source of the trouble, the story exploded like a bombshell in the cornbelt communities. At the time of the water analysis, farmers were resorting almost exclusively to nitrogen fertilizer as the cheapest, and indeed the only, means to to produce over eight bushels of corn to the acre, an amount dictated by the economics of corn production as necessary to realize a profit. Corn, or maize as it is known in the English-speaking world outside North America, is a heavy consumer of nitrogen, which, under natural conditions, is stored in the soil as a part of its humus, a brown-black material composed almost wholly of decayed vegetable matter.

For countless ages before man began to till the soil, humus was accumulated by return to the soil of vegetation which died and rotted. When man began to harvest crops he saw to it that humus, rich in nitrogen and other elements upon which plants depend, was replaced in the form of animal wastes and straw, the components of barnyard manure. In many countries of the Far East, man's own excrement, euphemistically termed "night soil" by Westerners, is applied to the land instead of being allowed to float away through sewage systems into rivers.

An almost inexhaustible supply of such a natural manure is still available to Decatur in nearby Sioux City, Iowa, America's heartland city on the Missouri River, where millions of animals have been fed and slaughtered and from which they have been shipped to the nation's retail markets for over a half century. A pile of steer manure has accumulated longer than a football field. This mountain of organic waste, which poses a headsplitting disposal problem to the city fathers, could easily be processed into natural soil-enlivening products were anyone interested in saving the soil. Nor is the Sioux City manure pile an exception. Dr. T.C. Byerly, leader of the USDA's waste-disposal programs, states that wastes from livestock operations in the United States are presently equal to those produced by the entire U.S. population and that by 1980 they will double in size.

Instead of returning this natural humus-nitrogen to the soil, the farmers chose to apply artificial nitrogen fertilizers. In Illinois alone the consumption rose from ten thousand tons in 1945 to well over half a million tons in 1966, and is rising constantly. Since the amount of nitrogen applied is more than the corn can naturally take up, the excess washes out of the soil into the local rivers: in the case of Decatur, all the way into the drinking cups of citizens.

End Excerpt

Soft cover, 5.25 x 8, 416 pages