Ramblings of a Grower: 7

Hello friends, strangers, and spam commentators. Lets talk about roots today.

Roots are really cool. They hold the plant in place, take in water and nutrients for the plants, they can graft plants together, allowing them to communicate and share, and they can form relationships with bacteria and fungi to further provide for the plants.

One of the things I really enjoy about hydroponics is that it allows you to fully observe a plants root system. Now you’re probably thinking, “they are just roots how different could they be?” Well, I promise you, they are very different.

The lettuce roots are long and flowy, but sturdy. They tend to keep to themselves despite bumping into other plants roots as they grow. And they do not get to be very dense.

Basil roots by comparison and thick, meaty, and short. They form extremely dense clumps right up under the base of the plant, to the point where they are actually hard to get out of the tubes at some points. Because of this fat mound of roots however, the basils, particularly the italian, have a tendency to fall over. But, being basils, they begin to put out new roots all along the length of their stems in an effort to support themselves.

The choi roots are really interesting. In my observations, it seems that no one plant produces a long and thick root system, but more rather that they all form short and thin roots that graft together along the bottom of the tray to coat the whole surface and expand the root system for all the plants. I believe this is what is happening because when I pull choi out of the tubes, very few roots actually come with the plant, and often long strips are left in the tube when I finish harvesting.

Did you know that potatoes are not actually part of the roots? They are a modified stem that grows underground to store the excess energy produces. Did you also know that you can “graft” tomatoes and potatoes together? I say “graft” because what really happens is the tomato plant will grow roots down through the potato plant rather than just grafting together like a tomato/ tomato graft would do. And if you give these frankenstein like plants plenty of sun and nutrients you can get ketchup and fries! (tomatoes AND potatoes!) How fun is that!

If you can ever take a class on plant relationships with microorganisms, I highly recommend it. I took said class in college and it was absolutely fascinating. Many people know that legumes are so called “nitrogen fixers” but many people do not actually know how that works. Legumes are basically five star hotels for bacteria. The bacteria, known as rhizobia, move into the roots from the surrounding soil, and the plant, upon sensing the presence of the rhizobium, begins building a custom suite for the bacteria. The bacteria then move in and reproduce like crazy. From there the bacteria begin to “fix” nitrogen for the plant. In simple terms, they take the nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form of nitrogen that plants can actually use. The “hotels” if you will, can actually be seen on the roots! They form small bumps, or nodules, that you can actually see. Eventually, the nodule will break and the bacteria will be released out into the soil to produce new nodules with another (or the same!) plant.

Plants can also form relationships with fungus! Now I know, fungus is a scary word, no one likes it. But ya know what, everyone invites the mushroom to parties because hes a real fungi! I’m sorry I’ll see myself out.

But really! Plants will form very intimate relationships with fungi that live in the ground and expand their root systems way beyond their own means. The fungi can stretch and reach water and mineral sources that the plant can’t reach on its own and in return the plant provides sugars to the fungi. The fungi provide another means for plants to communicate. Often one fungi could be connected to multiple plants, acting kind of like a plant mailman, moving signals about things like potential threats around.

The evolution behind plants and their relationships is just fascinating. So many things have co-evolved with them and around them. While you may think humans bend to nothing, the reality is we have 100% become domesticated by plants. We provide them with food and water and sometimes shelter and we help them reproduce. We think its for our own gain… a few tomatoes and flowers…. but really the plant is getting way more out of it. It keeps free food, water, land, reproduction, relocation, everything it could ever need. Think about that for a while and tell me your brain doesn’t hurt a bit.

Remember to appreciate everything around you, but especially the roots growing beneath your feet.