By Dave Nanada, Seed Consultants, Inc.
There are four basic elements which are needed by all plants; Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen. The amount of hydrogen in the soil affects pH and the availability of other elements. The best pH range for most nutrients to be available is from 6.0 to 7.0. Nutrient deficiencies can be observed at both high and low pH values. So hydrogen plays a key role in the development of plants. Let’s look at all of these elements briefly:
• CARBON – All living beings contain carbon. Plants get carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. With the help of water and sunlight, they produce starches and sugars by photosynthesis. Animals and humans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; eat the products of photosynthesis as food and convert carbon into carbon dioxide during respiration and release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
• Hydrogen – As we all know, life cannot exist without water. Hydrogen comes from splitting water (H2O) into hydrogen gas and oxygen. Hydrogen is used by plants which combine it with carbon during the photosynthesis process and release oxygen into the atmosphere which is used by all living beings.
• Oxygen – All living beings need oxygen for respiration. Air contains about 20% oxygen. During the day (or artificial light at night), plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen.
• Nitrogen – Like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, all living beings also need nitrogen to make proteins. Even though air consists of about 80% nitrogen, it cannot be used by plants directly as gas. Many bacteria in the soil convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into compounds that can be absorbed by the plants. Also Rhizhobia on legumes, like those in the root nodules of soybeans, convert nitrogen into nitrates, a form of nitrogen that can be used by plants.