A Growing Culture

April29th

Wood VinegarModern research on the use of wood vinegar was first carried out in Japan in the early 1950s. It was reported to be effective against: rosette or green mosaic in wheat, nematode in sweet potato, tobacco mosaic, powdery mildew in leafy vegetables, leaf miner and other insect pests. However, due to the introduction of agro-chemicals and their instantaneous effects, research on wood vinegar took a back seat. Ten years ago, interest in wood vinegar resurfaced as the effectiveness and safety of agro-chemicals were put on the spot. It is now commonly used by Japanese farmers and is also catching up fast in Taiwan and Korea.  

It is estimated that wood vinegar contains more than 300 constituents such as acetic acid, methanol, phenol, ester, acetals, ketone, formic acid and many others. Instead of the specific effectiveness of a certain element, in the case of wood vinegar, various elements work synergistically. Various factors are controlled by the dilution rate of the wood vinegar. It has a bactericidal effect as well as the ability to propagate microbes. It has radicational qualities, which provides a growth inducing effect. But depending on the concentration of the mixture it can also be used to retard the growth of the plant.

The various elements in the wood vinegar work as co-enzymes or catalysts. Various enzymes are involved in reactions such as cell multiplication. The functions of the enzymes are assisted by the elements in the wood vinegar which co-ordinate the reactions and the cell multiplication. Elements that are effective as co-enzymes and catalysts require only a minute amount. It is like vitamins in our bodies. The dosage of some of these elements is effective in the unit of PPM. (Parts per million).

Wood vinegar contains a small amount of nutrients directly taken in by the plants. It also contains very few elements that have the bactericidal and anthelmintic effect. It is neither a fertilizer nor an agro-chemical. Yet when it is correctly applied, it enhances the intake of fertilizers and reduces the damages by various diseases. Wood vinegar enhances rooting, helps in the regulating of the nutrients condition of the soil, and the balance of the microbiological population. The changes in the microbiological population not only greatly reduce the tendency of soil bound diseases, it also increases the vitality of the roots and hence enable better uptake of nutrients.

Wood vinegar had been long known to be very effective against nematodes.  It kills nematodes directly as well as propagates microbes that feed on them. The high acidity, methanol and phenol content have strong bactericidal effect at a high concentration, such as 50 to 100 times dilution. However, microbes propagate well when it is diluted to 200 times dilution. This is mainly due to the effect on the metabolism by its main element, acetic acid. Acetyl co-enzyme is produced by plants and microbes from acetic acid. Through the TCA cycle, acetyl co-enzyme is converted into citridic acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, succiric acid and other elements that are necessary for the plant and microbes. This is the main reason behind the propagation of microbes.
Through foliar application, some bacteria are killed by direct contact and the changes of the microbiological population deter the propagation of pathogenic bacteria.  The acidity on the leaves surface also deters propagation. However, the most remarkable effects of foliar application are the increase in resistance of the leaves against pests and diseases and the increase in the effectiveness of agro-chemicals.

Through foliar application of wood vinegar, the leaves become shiny and darker in color. This is due to the increase in chlorophyll through the effect of ester in the wood vinegar which promotes photosynthesis. This ester also helps in the formation of sugar and amino acids. This also results in a better taste of the produce. The healthier leaves naturally have a stronger resistance against pests and diseases.

Five plant hormones are closely related to the growth and health of a plant. These are: gibberellin, cytokinin, auxin, etherlene and abscisic acid. Etherlene and abscisic acid contribute to the plant’s resistance against diseases and attacks from bacteria. An amino acid called methionine effects the formation of etherlene. The formation of etherlene is reduced by the excessive intake of nitrogen. On the other hand, growth hormones like gibberellin, cytokinin and auxin will be produced. As a result, the size of the plant increases but the resistance against diseases is reduced. The formation of oxidized etherlene from etherlene and the formation of methionine is accelerated by acids. The wood vinegar helps in their formation due to its acidity.

Furthermore, wood vinegar accelerates the process of transformation from nitrogen to amino acids. In other words, nitrogen is effectively transformed into amino acids. This will also stabilize the formation of methionine. As the result, oxidized etherlene is also produced. These processes contribute to higher plants resistance against various diseases.

At 500 times dilution, wood vinegar can reduce the cluster value of water to 1/3. This means that the water is activated and can be easily absorbed by the plants because water with a low cluster value is in a very small mass. Each of these masses will hold one or few mineral elements. These elements can be easily taken into the plants.

The concentration of agro-chemicals or liquid fertilizers can be reduced by 50% if it is diluted in a 500 times dilution solution of wood vinegar due to its higher permeation. This will greatly reduce the use of agro-chemicals. However, it should not be used with alkaline chemicals.

Essay submitted by Steven Leong

9 Comments

  • Comment by Dan Kiprop Kibet — April 30, 2011 @ 10:03 am

    Great ideas here; I think this should replace the industrial chemicals for better and safe foods for us.

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  • Comment by michael richard — May 4, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    Universities and outreach programs have made strides at converting farmers to the production of wood vinegar and biochar in Thailand. The use has really caught on there. Why this article does not mention the potential carcenogenic properties of some compounds found in wood vinegar perplexes me. Certainly studies have revealed the dangers to humans from exposure to these products found in this condensate.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — May 8, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Congrats to AGC for their first contributor outside the U.S, and a thank-you to Mr. Leong for the essays!
    I am somewhat curious what the differences would be between the effects of wood vinegar versus something like cider vinegar. I know they are different acids, but given the concerns expressed by Michael, I wonder if they wouldn’t have similar enough applications? A natural cider vinegar would be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and would promote microbes, while being quite safe. I admit, the one thing I wanted more on from this essay was an explanation of “wood vinegar” and its differences from other vinegars and the process in which it is made. It seems that it is far less common here in the U.S. as I have never heard of it before.

  • Comment by Asher — May 17, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    Thanks for your comments! We will push these questions onto Steven and hope for a response!

  • Comment by nikz5535 — August 5, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    i realyl interested in using wood vinegar for my plant as insecticide..could u make a post about it.. recipe of natural insecticides using wood vinegar and other natural item like neem or garlic maybe helpfull..tq again

  • Comment by teddy kinyanjui — November 8, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

    Is it bad for humans in the end or does it degrade enough to pose low-risk? I have been trying to do this as well in Nairobi for fence post preservative as the ants are veracious! Here are some photos of our Cookswell Kiln https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.609236529117746.1073741911.199734683401268&type=1

    Keep up the great work

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  • Comment by Jenny — January 20, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    Are you able to say where one can purchase wood or bamboo vinegar ? in europe (UK or France) Thank you

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