Humates, The Critical Component To Soil Fertility

Humates are one of those organic gardening terms that gets tossed around a lot in conversation but when pressed for a description of exactly what they are or how they function in the soil, most "professionals" just get a blank look on their face. If you don't believe me just ask about it the next time you visit your local garden center. They just know that it is a good thing to see on the label of an organic fertilizer or soil amendment.

My hope is that after reading this, you will have a much better concept of what humates are and why they need be a integral part of your soil management program.

Although humates are naturally present in most soils it is a scarcity at best and often not nearly enough is present to support vibrant growth and propagation. While it is possible to grow vegetation in soil that is deficient in a nutrient or trace element, albeit somewhat stunted, without the presence of humates it is not going to produce at all.
In this article, I am going to use the term humates to include the entire of family of related subsets such as humus, humic acid and fulvic acid and humin.

In nature it appears to the naked eye as a dark brown to black substance. It is an organic compound containing large molecules made-up of many similar molecules, hence it is a polymer of very complex structure. For all you chemistry buffs you will understand this better by me stating that it has a molecular weight of 1500, they are nearly insoluble and imperious to water.

The molecules are bound together by hydrocarbon into balls that form large aggregates, which make up the organic portion of soil. Although they have been written about as early as 1786 it is the Russian scientist Prof. Dr. Lydia Khristeva of Kherson University, USSR who is credited with first discovering their beneficial use in a biological system. Khristeva found that by treating them with alkalines, it transformed these large molecules into soluble salts, potassium humate and sodium and in the process, these large chain molecules acquired a ion charge. This ion charge forces the ball to unroll and become biologically active. This unrolling revealed many sub-groups that perform many different functions in the soil.

16 different functions have been discovered (so far) that effect all stages of plant growth and development.

One of these functions is Carboxyl and Phenol these are able to chelate (bind together) complexes of micro-nutrients and transport them through the plant.
Another group is Quinones amazingly these are able to both capture and accumulate solar energy and then release it at precisely the exact moment cell needs it. (How is that for intelligent design?)They also cause water to obtain the same properties as melted glacial ice, what is referred to as structured water which is well documented for it’s medicinal effect on living organisms and plants.

Furthermore the ion exchange is amplified, it enables root systems to develop more rapidly with special ferments that increase the plants resistance to drought and even frost. These ferments also assist nitrogen to be assimilated and they increase the synthesis of chlorophyll , sugars, vitamins, essential amino acids and oils.

Another process that they control is increased cell penetration of nutrients into cells membranes. Senn and Kingman discovered in 1973 that humates increased penetration of potassium ions 100 times and sodium 10 times.

Probably one of the greatest benefits they have for the organic gardener is that they have the ability to chelate heavy metals. In other words they bind together lead, mercury, chrome, cadmium and other heavy metals and prevent them from penetrating the cell walls and harming the plant. If they do not get into the plant, they can't get into you either.

Digging deeper into arachaic research volumes I found that they even have the ability to bond together aluminum and iron ions, transforming them into insoluble compounds. This prevents the damaging influence on phosphates on plants while allowing phosphorus nutrition to enter the cell walls.

I mentioned earlier about the creation of ions when the "ball" is unrolled, it is important to point out that these new ions increase the cation exchange capacity of soil.

They react with potassium, magnesium, aluminum and iron that are present in the soil and form “organo-mineral” bridges that bond particles together and create life sustaining structures for micro-organism to live and propagate. This structure produces resistance to soil erosion and is beneficial in retaining water and air. I have written extensively about the importance of micro-organisms in the soil because of their ability to convert fertilizer into energy for your plants. Can you guess what they need be efficient?

With all the benefits listed above is it any wonder why the scientists mentioned above concluded that “humates are the only effective way to restore the fertility of soil that is emaciated by intense exploitation" ?




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