Lightning & Legumes

Lightning Originally posted 03-29-11

As the past couple of days here in North Texas have become cool and misty, I have been considering an appropriate topic for this post – one that wouldn’t add insult to injury considering it isn’t optimal gardening weather! Being merely at the end of March, I’m afraid we can anticipate a bit more rainy weather before we enjoy consistently warm sunny days. If we are lucky, we can anticipate a good bit of stormy weather this spring.

How can a native Texan, born and raised on the fear of F5 tornadoes, consider stormy weather a run a luck? Because with storms usually comes lightning and lightning brings an essential nutrient to our garden! In general, rain water is superior to tap water for your plants due to its lack of chemical additives and treatment. There is no doubt chemically treated water is a must for healthy human consumption. However, when it comes to plants, they can do without the addition of chlorine and the sometimes excessive amount of hard elements found in treated water. Of course, during drought periods, our lawns and gardens are thankful to receive water of any type!

Specifically, rain water during a thunderstorm is great for your lawn and garden due to the fact lightning “fixes”, or changes, the nitrogen in the atmosphere where it falls with the rain in a form that can be absorbed by plants. Plants typically have obtained nitrogen from the soil through decaying plants in past times and/or applied fertilizer in present times. Although abundant in our atmosphere, plants cannot absorb nitrogen in its gaseous state until it is “altered” by the effects of lightning (with one exception noted below.)

Nitrogen is an essential macronutrient for plant life, as are phosphorous and potassium, all three of which are listed in percentages on a typical bag of fertilizer (N-P-K). As I mentioned earlier, in the natural soil these elements often develop over time from the chemical breakdown of decaying plants, but as you can imagine in today’s ever-growing world, we cannot spare or wait for plants to go through the full dying process before we sow the next crop of much needed food. Thus, came the development and worldwide use of synthetic fertilizers. And thus, this is why it is nice to receive a little free nitrogen from lightning every now and then!

The interesting exception to this situation is that legumes (commonly known as beans, peas and lentils) actually can, through a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria, absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere. Because of this interesting phenomenon, legumes are an excellent crop to rotate into your garden when you believe your soil is getting depleted of nitrogen. As your beans & peas are harvested and the roots of the plants begin to die, some of the atmospheric nitrogen absorbed by the legumes will actually be left behind in the soil in a form that the next, non-legume crop can certainly benefit from.

So, if your garden isn’t growing as well as you’d like but you’d rather not add a bunch of synthetic supplements, just plant a bean and/or pea crop in one quadrant and rotate from season to season. With the addition of a thunderstorm now and then, you’ll be well on your way to possessing naturally healthy soil in no time. Not to mention, if you partake in your legume crop, you’ll be adding an excellent source of protein, fiber and antioxidants to your diet to boot!

Like plants, oftentimes life turns out for the better after we have weathered a storm or two. And when one of life’s storms causes a problem we can’t seem to get past, a simple change or rotation in our routine can make all the difference.

Until next time,


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