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Pine Oil Revisited by Cindy Rea

Back in the January/February 2003 issue of Maximum Yield I wrote an article titled “Pine-ing for Organics.” The article explored some of the benefits of using pine oil extracts for various applications in hydroponics and conventional gardening practices. With today’s heightened environmental awareness and the exponentially growing demand for organic produce, farmers have been forced to look for economical, earth-friendly products to aid in the production of viable crops. Many have turned to pine oil- based fertilizers for a solution.

Since its introduction into the horticultural market, growers using pine oil-based fertilizer products have witnessed increased yields with less crop damage due to contamination from toxicities or pest infestations. This “across the board” success has been observed by professional glasshouse growers, field crop farmers, turf farmers, and hobby gardeners using various cultivation techniques. Soil and hydroponically grown produce have shown improved crop health and earlier harvests.

Pine oil is an organically extracted botanical stimulant that is used in fertilizers for its nutritional and protective properties. Pine oil is extremely effective for horticultural applications because it possesses a high nitrogen level while being a major pest deterrent. This 100 per cent water-soluble extract integrates easily into existing fertilizer programs, whether they are mineral-based or completely organic.

Pine oil has been used for many years in household and commercial cleaning products. It contains powerful disinfecting properties while being non-toxic and ecologically safe. The pleasant smell actually helps to eliminate, not just mask, other lingering odours.

The diversity and purity of pine oil-based liquid organic fertilizers has come to the attention of the greenhouse industry, with particular interest being given to hydroponics applications. Its benefits make it a valuable contribution to hydro-organic horticulture. It can be used as a foliar spray without fear of over spray toxicity. It is totally safe, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly. The natural organic components that make up the pine oil-based fertilizers allow plants to rapidly absorb and utilize the available nutrients and micro nutrients, resulting in increased growth and shortened growth cycle.

Though the pine oil fertilizer has a very distinct pine odour, tests have shown that there is no discernable trace of odour or flavour when it is used right up until harvest. The fact that it won’t promote algae is a bonus to the hydroponics grower.

In any grow room the best way to control the spread of disease is through cleanliness. Sterilizing tools and equipment between crops will help reduce the risk. Removing old, dying, or decaying vegetation from the room is crucial. Pine oil’s disinfectant quality ensures that tubes, pumps, and trays are kept clean and free from unwanted contaminants.

Tests conducted in China in 2001 on one particular fertilizer whose primary active ingredient is pine oil found that strawberry plants treated with this product were one to two centimeters (0.4 to 0.8 in.) taller, had more leaves, and produced better fruit compared with plants grown under conventional cultural practice. Of particular interest was that plants suffered less fruit rot, including anthraconose rot and gray mould caused by Botrytis cinerea when treated with this product — common problems encountered in a high-humidity grow room or greenhouse.

Drs. Ting Zhou, Chris Youn, and Rong Cao, researchers with Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada, Food Research Program in Guelph, Ont., did extensive field trials on strawberries, western pumpkin, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and corn using the liquid organic pine oil fertilizer, and compared the results to a standard plot. The results varied from a 28.3 per cent increase in yield for the western pumpkin to a 0.4 per cent increase in cucumber, with regular use.

One of the major attributes of pine oil is its protective qualities. When used as part of a regular feeding regime, the pine oil fertilizer enters the root system, promoting strong healthy root growth. Healthy roots mean healthy plants! Strong, healthy plants are far less susceptible to attacks by predators and fungal disease, they are better able to withstand temperature fluctuations, and they are generally more tolerant of any adverse conditions.

Significant results have been witnessed using the liquid organic pine oil fertilizer in eradicating many common greenhouse infestations: red mites, aphids, whiteflies, fungus gnats and shore flies, thrips, and botrytis. The need for sulphur may be eliminated because the pine oil has been shown to totally suppress diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, alternaria, pythium, rust, and other foliar diseases.

Research scientist Raj Utkhede of Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada confirmed liquid organic pine oil fertilizer “inhibited the growth of all 4 pathogenic fungi (Botrytis cinerea, Pythium aphenidermatum, Fusarium oxysporum, Didymella bryoniae) that caused the diseases on cucumbers and tomatoes in laboratory experiments. It also showed promise in controlling Botrytis stem canker of mature cucumber plants under greenhouse conditions.”

In hydroponics the pine oil organic liquid fertilizer can be used as an additive to help boost nitrogen during the vegetative period while providing ongoing protective maintenance. This is especially beneficial when used in the treatment of mother plants. The protection acquired by the mother will be transferred to new cuttings, ensuring them a healthy, viable start. This is of major importance because systemic root diseases will be passed from the mother to her cuttings.

Nitrogen is not normally recommended during the flowering cycle; however, the protective benefits provided by pine oil may outweigh any adverse effects. Controlling moulds, mildews, pathogens, and pests right through to harvest is a challenge to many growers.

Studies are ongoing at Guelph University and Ohio State University on producing consumer-safe crops and post-harvest crop protection. Pine oil was proven to be an environmentally friendly, non-toxic plant defender, growth stimulator, and liquid organic fertilizer that will have a positive impact on agriculture.

Since its introduction into the horticulture market, pine oil has received very positive consumer feedback for foliar and fertilizer applications. It has also been used successfully as a growing medium conditioner. Researchers are eagerly testing new cultivation possibilities for pine oil; the potential is limitless.

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Click here to read the first article published in Maximum Yield Magazine, Pining for Organics.