The Media Desk looks at Electroculture
(the way the Desk looks at everything else)

Produced by TheMediaDesk, ©2024
The Media Desk

      If you've been around any gardening online chat groups or even in person coffee shop chat groups. If you've watched any TV gardening segments or listened to a Master Gardener talk show on the radio. If you've seen very many forum posts, or even read any magazine or newspaper articles about home gardening, you may have seen or heard a term that seems somewhat odd: Electroculture.

And the discussion comes to a dead stop for a moment.
      To some, and probably to some reading this article, the entire concept is really far fetched, and while there might be something to it, it's fringe at best, a hoax and fraud at worst, and pseudoscience everywhere in between. (pseudoscience is the term used to describe something that looks or sounds scientifically based, and that can answer to objective testing through the scientific method, but isn't.)
      Electroculture has been in and out of the public consciousness for nearly three hundred years. And as we'll see, the controversy as to whether or not there is any worthwhile benefit to the practice is still as heated as it ever was. And as we go, we'll touch on some of that.
      If you go out into the weeds of both the Internet and such printed material as is available (the Desk was so far 'out in the weeds' on this one it needed a machete to get back, no, we're not kidding, it's out in the truck!), you'll find everything from those that instantly, and totally, reject all evidence and dismiss all discussion of it, and some of those cash a paycheck from the agricultural department at a public university, all the way through true believers... besides those that are selling various types of apparatus to do it, for fun and profit... and at least one country that is heavily investing in a form of it to feed their people. So it isn't just the granola-chewing ex-hippie organic farmer that is doing it.
      It is quite likely some of those same nay saying individuals that said cloning was impossible and that the splicing of jellyfish DNA into a bunny to make it glow in the dark is science fiction.
      See links below for Arbor America's work in cloning trees in Indiana and and article from a few years ago about luminescent rabbits, and a bonus about some 'new' apples.
      So we're going to work our way through this discussion with a somewhat open mind.
Let's move on.

      The term "electroculture" combines the words Electricity and Agriculture.
      Which, on the surface, unless you're talking about putting some new wiring in the shed to run a new shop light and a battery charger for the tractor, is a rather strange combination. And it isn't talking about putting an electric fence around the cow pasture to keep them out of the corn field.
      As the word implies using electrical power to in some way influence crops. Maybe it is talking about using live static electricity from wind and clouds, or maybe even juice from the power company to electrify the soil and the plants in it in some way?
      In short, no. Well... we're going to come back to that later, but the current answer for most gardeners is no. If you ask the question about industrial scale farming in China, you will get a different answer to the last part of that statement:
"Here, we report a wind and rain energy-driven electrical stimulation system for enhancing crop production."
As published in Nature in 2022, see link below.


From 2018
"According to Professor Liu Binjiang, the area devoted to growing vegetation with electricity in China is now growing strong, from 1,000 to 1,300 hectares per year. At this rate, the next 12 months could see up to 40% growth in ‘electro culture farming’."
See more links below for story from China.

      Another massive market for the technique is emerging in India. There's a link below for that as well.

An Historical Look

      There is documentation from as early as around 1750 when electricity was still a scientific curiosity for people like Benjamin Franklin in the US and others overseas, including a friend of and correspondent with Franklin, Pierre Bertholon de Saint-Lazare (1740 - 1800) who wrote one of the early works in this field, De l’électricité des végétaux "The electrification of vegetables" in 1783.
      de Saint-Lazare used large devices that accumulated a high voltage charge, at a very low amperage, and both ran that current through his plants and through the ground they were growing in, and had some interesting results. His book and other documentation is available online, in French. We have so far been unable to find a direct translation of his work into English. But there are a number of others who wrote about him and his research, and they are available in English. In the same period other scientists were working on the same theory, with similar results.

"In the last few years some very interesting experiments in gardening by electricity have been made by Prof. Selim Lemstrom, of the University of Helsingfors."
Bibliographical History Of Electricity And Magnetism....
See page 179 of the document linked below, which also has other interesting references in it.

      Others who tried to duplicate his most spectacular results ended up cooking their plants in their garden, and so wrote everything he did off as nonsense. It never occurred to them that perhaps something was wrong with their own methodology and that de Saint-Lazare was on to something. After all, some properties of electricity and its effects on various things was, and is, poorly understood and are still somewhat baffling. There's a link below to a Media Desk look at the "The Philadelphia Experiment and the Hutchison Effect".

      In the West, the modern definition of Electroculture has narrowed somewhat.
      Today it refers almost exclusively to the use of coils of copper wire, or copper rods, or even other types of metal, in a few different configurations, placed vertically in the soil near growing plants with the intent of improving the health and vitality, and ultimately, the yield of the plant.
      However, in the early days of the practice, some proponents advocated the direct stimulation of the plants, or the soil around them, with electric current, like our French friend from earlier and as is currently being done in China.
      Objectively the results in some of the historical documentation were decidedly mixed. Low doses of current is known to stimulate some aspects of plant development, just as it is known to promote healing in animals after things like knee surgery (as this writer has first hand knowledge of). However, it is a fine line. Too little current has no effect, too much kills the plant... or the patient. See link below for a note from the Cleveland Clinic about medical TENS therapy, which was also science fiction... until it wasn't.

"The idea behind electroculture gardening is that electrical currents and fields can be beneficial to plants. Electrical stimuli have an impact on plants in a variety of ways because they are sensitive to them. For instance, research has demonstrated that electrical currents can promote plant growth, raise seed germination rates, and improve nutrient uptake effectiveness. These principles are used in electroculture gardening to establish the best conditions for plant development."
see Altifarm link below for more.

why do it?

      Some claim that there is a noticeable improvement in the health and vitality of the plants that are within a one meter (three foot) radius of an electroculture rod where their control plants away from the rod show little difference in their status.
      Others, as we'll see in the links below, said it made their plants worse, or there was little change.

      Of course, the true believers will fault their technique or equipment. That their rods were the wrong shape, or the wrong size, or even that it still has that VERY thin anti-corrosion plastic coating on it so it never came into direct contact with the air or soil (some of the copper conductors bought at the hardware store have to be brushed or sanded to expose the metal even after the outer black/white/red insulation is removed). Or that their soil had been contaminated with salt or chemicals... whatever.
      And, truth be told, it may be any or all of those reasons. Or something else entirely.

      Let's look at it objectively. Which is very rare in this field indeed.
      You are dealing with living plants: herbs, vegetables, fruit, flowers, etc. The number and types of variables in an outdoor garden are too numerous to keep track of. Too much or too little of ANYTHING: fertilizer, sunlight, water, soil compaction, warmth during germination, and the plants die. Sometimes overnight.
      If the air is too dry the leaves wither, or if it is too moist they get mildew or rot. A leaf fungus can show up at random, or perhaps something that turns them all rusty brown.
      If the Ph of the soil changes during the growing cycle, say due to acid rain, things go badly. Maybe the soil over there has more sand or clay in it than the soil over here.
      Aphids, root worms, slugs, caterpillars, stink bugs, rabbits, deer... can all hit one plant, and not the next one in the row, and you'll never know why.
      For all of those reasons you cannot put a couple of rods around a couple of plants for a couple of months and come to any reasonable conclusions one way or the other.
      This type of study requires years of trials, with controls, and a consistent effort to minimize any variables that be, and then the results documented. Again, for years. As you can see below in the "" link and elsewhere in 'social media' posts from a number of gardeners and even commercial farmers, either they do not follow up with results, or, they didn't see any change in their plants in a few weeks, so it must be a fraud and really doesn't do anything except waste a lot of copper wire.

      Some gardeners and small scale farmers claim that electroculture works miracles, and have been doing it for years... increasing their yield, makes the plants disease and pest resistant, and giving crops a longer lifespan. And then, there are those that are doing something similar and claiming that it is making a difference on an industrial scale to feed a huge population.
      As with most things in this world, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

      Most likely, it works with some plants better than others. It might make your tomatoes the happiest most productive tomato vines in the history of your state, but when you put it in next to your string beans or butternut squash, all you've done is waste some copper wire. And then in the flower bed, the daisies did wonderfully but the roses died, this year, last year, the roses grew like mad and the zinnias turned brown.

      OK, we are all positively tingling from all this. Now we have to ask if it is simply well-intended hogwash, or is something actually happening?

      That is one of the main central questions.
      And the answer is: Yes, it does have an impact on some plants. But what and why? What is going on? Is the effect electrical, which is implied by the name, or is it chemical, through the introduction of copper to the soil, or perhaps the ionization of the water in the dirt around the roots.
      This guy is a consultant on commercial cannabis farms in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He says it is primarily a chemical reaction between the copper and the soil and the plant.

"When you overlap a copper wire to attract ions, it is called ion exchange. Copper wire is often used as a material for ion exchange because it has a high affinity for positively charged ions, such as copper, zinc, and nickel. When copper wire is overlapped or wound into a coil, it creates a surface area that attracts ions and allows them to bind to the wire or gather within the space...."
.... Place the copper wire around the stalk of your plant a few inches away from the stalk. Overlap the copper wires and secure in place. This device will naturally gather the ions in the area and target them to your plant(s)."
See the 4treesbuilding link below for more.

      The bottom line on the scientific side of things is what you always see at the end of these sorts of articles: "More research is clearly needed."

a Conclusion of sorts:

      All right.
      We've exchanged electrically charged letters in French with Benjamin Franklin. Then we watched the Chinese build a farm where they shock plants, and peasants, into submission. We jogged around an organic garden out west and a cannabis farm in Canada, And we've stocked up on Fibonacci Spiral copper coils from India for our flower bed. What conclusion can we come to besides the 'more research' line we just used?

      Well, that's it.
      Something DOES happen. To SOME types of plants. Under certain conditions.
      And then, again, sometimes, absolutely nothing happens, or worse, the plants involved wither and die. Or even worse.... the plants on this end of the garden are all shriveling up and the ones on the other end are fine, and as far as you can tell, everything is the same, whereas, last year, everything went well for all of the plants in the same row.

      And that is exactly how it appears to work. Even for those true believers.
      Could it be the Power of Suggestion, maybe they are taking a little more special care of their plants with the rods next to them, and, unintentionally doing even slightly less for the others? Or it is because the electricity got to these plants better than the others? Perhaps it is as our Canadian friend says, ions instead of direct electrical stimulation. Or, maybe, all of the above, and it could even be something not even suspected, yet.
      All of the above is possible. Which is why the subject needs to be studied under more academic, even scientific settings than some rural homestead out in the woods.
      Perhaps the Desk should apply for a government grant to go out and plant three patches of hot peppers and then ignore them all summer and see which batch does better. The 'control', the 'electroculture', and the ones with a classic rock radio station playing for them all day and night.
      You never know.

LINKS and Resources:
Outside links will open in a new tab/window. All links were working as of date of original posting.

Some of those topics that were "science fiction" not very long ago:
Arbor America Inc.
"All the benefits of genetic improvement are captured through clonal propagation of the best performing varieties."

The link says what it is about:
(Notice in the story about the monkeys in Japan, number 4, that the altered genes were passed down to the second generation.)

"Arctic Apples: A fresh new take on genetic engineering"

The Cleveland Clinic: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

ELECTROCULTURE related links:
A pro view from an unexpected source:
Growing Vegetables With Electricity: China Is Doing It

Subscription needed to view original article:
"China is making its vegetables grow bigger, faster and stronger ... using electricity" "Scientists hail breakthrough as results of the world’s largest experiment confirm fruit and vegetable output can soar without chemical pesticides and fertilisers"

The original Chinese paper published in Nature in 2022:
"Stimulation of ambient energy generated electric field on crop plant growth"

"Chinese researchers claim electroculture works as theorized"

a fairly neutral view:
Electroculture’ gardening is trending. But does it work?

And a couple of contrarian pieces:
"Expert gardener debunks bizarre new gardening trend"

"Does Electroculture Really Work? My 120-Day Experiment (Photos): "Unfortunately, the results have been less than spectacular.

Their title, not mine:
"Electroculture – rediscovered science or same old CRAP?",electricity%20would%20stimulate%20plant%20growth.

And then you have:
"Updates of our Vegetable Plants using Electroculture"
(which is, unfortunately, very representitive of the non-professional articles you find out there.)

The landmark book published in 1920 by : Justin Christofleau (1865 - 1938)
In English, downloadable for free.

Some historic perspectives
from the BBC: "unusual pioneers of plant derived electricity"

The Altifarm link we mentioned earlier:

From 2023:
Electro Culture Farming: A Revolutionary Method for Increased Yields and Sustainability?

From 1936
"Indian Electroculture: Progress, Prospects And Services In India And Abroad"

And today:
Antenna Guide

And a shop to buy supplies in India, including a "Fibonacci coil winding jig"

Electroculture Magazine:
Electroculture Equipments-An Introduction

On our way out to the fringe of the whole idea we find:
"Electroculture, good vibrations for plant growth Magnetoculture - Energetic agriculture or Electro agriculture

Downloadable as a PDF (warning the file is HUGE!):

Researches Into The Domain Of The
Early Sciences, Especially From The Period Of
The Revival Of Scholasticism, With Biographical And Other
Accounts Of The Most Distinguished Natural Philosophers
Throughout The Middle Ages
They don't write titles like that any more.
Plain Text Copy of the above:
trust me on this one, you DO NOT want to try to print it

from 2021
A Review on Electroculture, Magneticulture and Laserculture to Boost Plant Growth

First live in English about Electroculture with Yannick Van Doorne
having a cup of coffee ready is recommended before you start the video

"electricity when used properly can help increase your growth

And Finally, the Media Desk article mentioned about some electrical weirdness:
An Electric Article: The Philadelphia Experiment and the Hutchison Effect

NOTE: The above article is presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. No tomato plants or copper wires were harmed during the production of the article.