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The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook: Foliar Feeding

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your inbox! This week’s feature is The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook, by Philip Wheeler and Ronald Ward. 

What Is Foliar Feeding?

Foliar feeding is a highly efficient method of providing needed nutrients to crops. Research conducted by Dr. Silvan Witwer, Michigan State University, in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1940s, found plants to utilize foliar-fed nutrients anywhere from eight to twenty times more efficiently than those applied to the soil. Their research concluded that trees benefitted from and absorbed foliar fed nutrients even during mid-winter months.


Foliar fed fertilizers seem to bypass problems associated with root absorption, such as nutrient competition, nutrient tie-ups, leaching and soil interactions. Foliar uptake requires the same light, temperature and oxygen variables as does root uptake. It may have a significant effect on lower CEC soils. The mobility of different nutrients once in the leaf varies widely. Whereas all nutrients are initially absorbed extremely rapidly, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and zinc are readily translocated. Calcium, boron, iron, magnesium and molybdenum tend to remain in the leaf after they are absorbed and have little tendency to translocate.

Foliar feeding works best in cooperation with a good soil fertility program. Without the proper soil fertility base to begin with, foliar spraying can have very mixed results. Good sucess could be obtained in certain instances where the right nutrients were sprayed at the right time for the growing plant, yet these would be exceptions to the rule One would expect to see minimal positive results if good fertility programs are not followed. Foliar feeding is not as efficient when it is used as a rescue procedure.

Foliar feeing is intended to strengthen basic fertility (energy) programs. It is used to help swing the plant from growth to fruiting, to alleviate a stressful situation, to counter leaching brought about from steady rains, to give an added push, and to keep the plant’s energy at optimal levels.

How To Foliar Feed

Foliar feeding can be done using a typical boom sprayer with 10-20-gallon nozzles. If possible, it is best to use nozzles which will produce a mist or fog. Plants feed mainly from the underside of leaves through openings called stomata. The plant leaf hairs surrounding the stomata will attract nutrients within fine water droplets. It is possible to purchase nozzles which produce a cone-shaped spray pattern and which also spin the spray upon leaving the nozzle. These have been found to be highly effective.

A new generation of mist sprayers is available which will produce a spray mist and blow it 40 or more feet across the field. Thse sprayers are actually the most cost effective to use because, contrary to logic, the finer the water droplet coming from the sprayer, the more dilute the spray solution can be and still accomplish the feeding task. Mist blowers will work effectively using only one-third or less the amount of fertilizer needed for field or boom sprayers.

Vegetables and orchard growers have long used foliar spraying, however, the major purpose has been to apply chemicals. It’s not unusual for these sprays to be used every one to two weeks. Although most farmers spray toxic chemicals for blight, fungus or insect control, it is obvious that supplementing these toxic sprays with a good nutritional “diet” could be very effective. In fact, many farmers now know that periodic nutritional foliar sprays can not only save a crop but can also make a crop.

When grain is in its early development, for example, it is possible to slice open the growing stem and see, through a ten-power lens, the grains of oats or wheat developing on a head. Prior to their development, a fruiting foliar spray could result in a larger number of seeds being set. After this critical development period has passed, it is no longer possible to influence seed head development in terms of a larger head formation. Now it is only possible to influence how large the seeds will form and how heavy (test weight) they will be. Once the head has formed, foliar sprays will definitely assist in producing larger, heavier grains.

Wheat growers in the Lake Palouse area of Washington have grown 200 bushels of wheat using good fertility and foliar spraying. Their wheat is so good that the farmer can slice a kernel from top to bottom, dividing it in half, and grow two plants from the now split seed.

Learn more about The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook here. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Philip A. Wheeler has worked as the technical advisor and consulting agronomist for Crop Services International in Grand Rapids, Michigan. CSI is a soil testing lab and consulting service operat­ed by Phil and his wife Louisa. He is a national lecturer on biological and sustainable agriculture and its relation to nutrition and health. An amateur dowser, graphologist and meta­physician, Phil also enjoys composting and gardening. He is a member of American Mensa.

Ronald B. Ward grew up in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the age of 9 his parents bought a 50-acre farm 25 miles away from their city home. He obtained a B.S. in park management from Michigan State University; a master’s of divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary; and a master’s in community counseling from the University of Kentucky. After working for and eventually directing the Lexington Central Kentucky Re-ED Program for emotionally disturbed children, Ron returned to his country roots where he was introduced to alternative health and the Reams method of testing urine and saliva.

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