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This week’s Book of the Week feature is Sea Energy Agriculture, by Maynard Murray, M.D.
From Chapter 4: Sea Energy Technology
The principle of hydroponic farming is based upon the knowledge that essential elements must be supplied to the growing plant in the form of various types of dissolved compounds present in the water supplied to the plant roots. Generally, no soil is used with hydroponic farming so that growing plants are supported for climbing, where applicable, by mechanical means such as wires and frames. Crushed gravel or other inert granular material is normally employed to provide a foundation for the plant’s root system and feeding is accomplished by flooding the roots several times each day.
Heretofore, part of the problem in hydroponics has been the difficulty in determining just what elements were actually essential for growth of a particular plant species. Some 60 elements have now been positively identified in plants with more than one-third identified as essential for complete plant or animal nutrition. Still more elements are on the probable list. About 95 percent of the dry weight of a green plant is composed of the four energy elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Much of the remaining weight consists of the major ash elements, also called macro nutrients, which include phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, boron and chlorine. Less than one percent of the total dry weight is accounted for by trace elements, or micro-nutrients. Although present in very small quantities, these micro-nutrients are just as essential to growth as the elements composing the greater portion of the plant’s dry weight. Accordingly, conventional hydroponic nutrient solutions have usually contained only the macro nutrients although sometimes traces of iron, zinc and copper have been included. Recently the extreme importance of including trace elements in common fertilizers for soil farming has been realized. Though they play a small role quantitatively in the chemical structure of living plant organisms, many trace elements have already been found to be essential to the growth of certain crops.
It has now been discovered that the most effective nourishment can be provided to hydroponically grown plants by supplying all necessary elements in a predetermined ratio in the form of inorganic salts dissolved in water. Surprisingly, this is accomplished by making up a nutrient solution of those elements in substantially the same ratio with each other as the particular elements are found in sea water. Thus, all of the essential nutrients can be supplied in the proper proportions by using a single solution consisting of diluted sea water plus nitrogen. Preferably, these solutions are obtained by dissolving complete sea solids in fresh water to form dilute solutions containing approximately 1,000 to 8,000 parts per million of sea solids.
These results are all the more surprising in view of comparative experiments which have been made using solutions containing equivalent amounts of sodium chloride only. It was observed that, while dissolved sodium chloride solutions are definitely toxic, solutions of complete sea solids containing the same quantity of dissolved sodium chloride can be used beneficially as a nutrient solution for the growing plants. In other words, sodium chloride is necessary for a complete chemical balance.
Generally speaking, any type of multi-cellular plant life can be grown hydroponically as long as the water contains dissolved sea solids. The sea solids can be obtained in abundant supply from naturally occurring sources where the sea water has become trapped in shallow coastal areas and dried to completeness, or it can be manufactured directly by evaporating the sea water. It is essential that the entire mineral content be retained in the drying process so the final product contains all the inorganic elements originally present in the sea water, including the original quantity of sodium chloride.
The hydroponic system of food production can be applied most beneficially in the following areas:
- High income crops such as fresh tomatoes have been outstandingly profitable.
- Where high levels of quality control are desired as in the baby food industry.
- In geographic areas of the world where top soil is seriously depleted, absent, naturally rocky or sandy in texture.
- Plants grown hydroponically use only two percent of the amount of water needed for comparable soil production so that the system is particularly amenable to arid or semi-arid areas of the world.
The research reported in this chapter is in the nature of pilot projects. A tremendous amount of further research still needs to be done, including repeating those items reported herein, to render conclusive the appealing results and provocative trends that have been indicated to date. In my early work, sea water secured from all the oceans of the world with cooperation of the United States Navy and shipped by tank car to Cincinnati, Ohio was used as the basis for the experiments.
In an attempt to develop a stable chemistry in plants and animals, I considered the idea of recycling the sea by using sea water or sea solids as a balanced fertilizer. In the process of developing my plans, I observed an interesting item in the literature, to wit: the quantitative analysis of the elements in the blood has essentially the same profile as the quantitative analysis of elements found in sea water, including the presence of large amounts of sodium chloride. This fact has been surprising to many scientists to whom I have talked who are not primarily engaged in the field of human physiology. The amount of sodium chloride contained in sea water will cause many to question its use as fertilizer because it is well known that salt has been used throughout history as a way to kill plant life on land. As shown earlier, the secret lies in the use of proper quantities of sodium chloride in proper balance with other nutrients, a balance that characterizes sea water and sea salts.
About the Author:
Dr. Murray received his bachelor of science degree in 1934 and graduated from the University of Cincinnati Medical School in 1936. Two additional years of post graduate study in internal medicine followed, then an additional three and one-half years for his specialty, ear, nose and throat. Dr. Murray went on to teach physiology and directed a number of experiments at the University of Cincinnati between 1937 and 1947. At the same time, he attended night school to study law and trained in medical hypnosis under Dr. Mullenhoff. In 1947 he moved to Chicago and established a private practice. For the following 25 years, Dr. Murray practiced his specialty, carried on extensive experimentation in sea solid fertilization, and authored at least 20 articles, which appeared in national and international medical journals. Dr. Murray passed away in 1982.
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