Molasses more then just sugar for your plants! Thank you Zen master for the write up.
There are a number of different nutrient and fertilizer companies selling a variety of additives billed as carbohydrate booster products for plants. Usually retailing for tens of dollars per gallon if not tens of dollars per liter, these products usually claim to work as a carbohydrate source for plants. A variety of benefits are supposed to be unlocked by the use of these products, including the relief of plant stresses and increases in the rate of nutrient uptake. On the surface it sounds real good, and while these kinds of products almost always base their claims in enough science to sound good, reality doesn’t always live up to the hype.
The 3LB are pretty well known for our distrust of nutrient companies like Advanced Nutrients who produce large lines of products (usually with large accompanying price tags) claiming to be a series of “magic bullets” - unlocking the keys to growing success for new and experienced growers alike. One member of the three_little_birds grower’s and breeder’s collective decided to sample one of these products a while back, intending to give the product a fair trial and then report on the results to the community at Cannabis World.
Imagine, if you will, Tweetie bird flying off to the local hydroponics store, purchasing a bottle of the wonder product - “Super Plant Carb!” (not it’s real name) - and then dragging it back to the bird’s nest. With a sense of expectation our lil’ bird opens the lid, hoping to take a peek and a whiff of this new (and expensive) goodie for our wonderful plants. She is greeted with a familiar sweet smell that it takes a moment to place. Then the realization hits her. . .
Molasses! The “Super Plant Carb!” smells just like Blackstrap Molasses. At the thought that she’s just paid something like $15 for a liter of molasses, our Tweetie bird scowls. Surely she tells herself there must be more to this product than just molasses. So she dips a wing into the sweet juice ever so slightly, and brings it up to have a taste.
Much the same way a sneaky Sylvester cat is exposed by a little yellow bird saying - “I thought I saw a puddy tat . . . I did I did see a puddy tat . . . and he’s standing right there!” - our Tweetie bird had discovered the essence of this product. It was indeed nothing more than Blackstrap Molasses, a quick taste had conformed for our Tweetie bird that she had wasted her time and effort lugging home a very expensive bottle of plant food additive. Molasses is something we already use for gardening at the Bird’s Nest. In fact sweeteners like molasses have long been a part of the arsenal of common products used by organic gardeners to bring greater health to their soils and plants.
So please listen to the little yellow bird when she chirps, because our Tweetie bird knows her stuff. The fertilizer companies are like the bumbling Sylvester in many ways, but rather than picturing themselves stuffed with a little bird, they see themselves growing fat with huge profits from the wallets of unsuspecting consumers. Let us assure you it’s not the vision of yellow feathers floating in front of their stuffed mouths that led these executives in their attempt to “pounce” on the plant growing public.
And the repackaging of molasses as plant food or plant additive is not just limited to the companies selling their products in hydroponic stores. Folks shopping at places like Wal-Mart are just as likely to be taken in by this tactic. In this particular case the offending party is Schultz® Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food 3-1-5. This is a relatively inexpensive product that seems appealing to a variety of organic gardeners. Here’s Shultz own description of their product.
“Garden Safe Liquid Plant Foods are made from plants in a patented technology that provides plants with essential nutrients for beautiful flowers and foliage and no offensive smell. Plus they improve soils by enhancing natural microbial activity. Great for all vegetables, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs and houseplants including roses, tomatoes, fruits, and lawns. Derived from completely natural ingredients, Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food feeds plants and invigorates soil microbial activity. Made from sugar beet roots! No offensive manure or fish odors.”
That sure sounds good, and the three_little_birds will even go as far as to say we agree 100% with all the claims made in that little blurb of ad copy. But here’s the problem, Shultz isn’t exactly telling the public that the bottle of “fertilizer” they are buying is nothing more than a waste product derived from the production of sugar. In fact, Schultz® Garden Safe 3-1-5 Liquid Plant Food is really and truly nothing more than a form molasses derived from sugar beet processing that is usually used as an animal feed sweetener. If you don’t believe a band of birds, go ahead and look for yourself at the fine print on a Garden Safe bottle where it says - “Contains 3.0% Water Soluble Nitrogen, 1.0% Available Phosphate, 5.0% Soluble Potash - derived from molasses.”
The only problem we see, is that animal feed additives shouldn’t be retailing for $7.95 a quart, and that’s the price Shultz is charging for it’s Garden Safe product. While we don’t find that quite as offensive as Advanced Nutrients selling their “CarboLoad” product for $14.00 a liter, we still know that it’s terribly overpriced for sugar processing wastes. So, just as our band of birds gave the scoop on poop in our Guano Guide, we’re now about to give folks the sweet truth about molasses.
Molasses is a syrupy, thick juice created by the processing of either sugar beets or the sugar cane plant. Depending on the definition used, Sweet Sorghum also qualifies as a molasses, although technically it’s a thickened syrup more akin to Maple Syrup than to molasses. The grade and type of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or beet and the method of extraction. The different molasses’ have names like: first molasses, second molasses, unsulphured molasses, sulphured molasses, and blackstrap molasses. For gardeners the sweet syrup can work as a carbohydrate source to feed and stimulate microorganisms. And, because molasses (average NPK 1-0-5) contains potash, sulfur, and many trace minerals, it can serve as a nutritious soil amendment. Molasses is also an excellent chelating agent.
Several grades and types of molasses are produced by sugar cane processing. First the plants are harvested and stripped of their leaves, and then the sugar cane is usually crushed or mashed to extract it’s sugary juice. Sugar manufacturing begins by boiling cane juice until it reaches the proper consistency, it is then processed to extract sugar. This first boiling and processing produces what is called first molasses, this has the highest sugar content of the molasses because relatively little sugar has been extracted from the juice. Green (unripe) sugar cane that has been treated with sulphur fumes during sugar extraction produces sulphured molasses. The juice of sun-ripened cane which has been clarified and concentrated produces unsulphured molasses. Another boiling and sugar extraction produces second molasses which has a slight bitter tinge to its taste.
Further rounds of processing and boiling yield dark colored blackstrap molasses, which is the most nutritionally valuable of the various types of molasses. It is commonly used as a sweetner in the manufacture of cattle and other animal feeds, and is even sold as a human health supplement. Any kind of molasses will work to provide benefit for soil and growing plants, but blackstrap molasses is the best choice because it contains the greatest concentration of sulfur, iron and micronutrients from the original cane material. Dry molasses is something different still. It’s not exactly just dried molasses either, it’s molasses sprayed on grain residue which acts as a “carrier”.
Molasses production is a bit different when it comes to the sugar beet. You might say “bird’s know beets” because one of our flock grew up near Canada’s “sugar beet capitol” in Alberta. Their family worked side by side with migrant workers tending the beet fields. The work consisted of weeding and thinning by hand, culling the thinner and weaker plants to leave behind the best beets. After the growing season and several hard frosts - which increase the sugar content - the beets are harvested by machines, piled on trucks and delivered to their destination.
At harvest time, a huge pile of beets will begin to build up outside of the sugar factory that will eventually dwarf the factory itself in size. Gradually throughout the winter the pile will diminish as the whole beets are ground into a mash and then cooked. The cooking serves to reduce and clarify the beet mash, releasing huge columns of stinky (but harmless) beet steam into the air. Sometimes, if the air is cold enough, the steam will fall to the ground around the factory as snow!
As we’ve already learned, in the of sugar cane the consecutive rounds of sugar manufacturing produce first molasses and second molasses. With the humble sugar beet, the intermediate syrups get names like high green and low green, it’s only the syrup left after the final stage of sugar extraction that is called molasses. After final processing, the leftover sugar beet mash is dried then combined with the thick black colored molasses to serve as fodder for cattle. Sugar beet molasses is also used to sweeten feed for horses, sheep, chickens, etc.