Electroculture is one of the hottest new gardening techniques, or at least that is what social media wants you to believe when they say things like, “Electroculture gardening is a cutting-edge and fascinating method of plant cultivation”. It has actually been around for a long time and that should be a clue. If it works so well why is agriculture not using the technique? Maybe it is too difficult to implement on a large scale and is best suited to smaller back yards? Let’s have a closer look.
What is Electroculture?
The term electroculture is used very broadly to include both passive approaches (metal stuck in the ground) and active approaches where electricity or other energy forms are applied to plants or soil. The most common method used by gardeners is the passive one, which is the focus of this post.
The method makes use of the natural electromagnetic fields already in your garden to boost soil fertility and stimulate plant growth. It doesn’t require any complex wiring or expensive equipment. You can probably use the stuff that you already have laying around the house and it does not require a power source. Instead you use earths natural energy forces.
There are numerous ways to set up your system and many are discussed online or in the book Electroculture For Beginners, pictured above. In short you take some copper wire, wrap it around a pole, or cone, to form a spiral; the electroculture antenna. You can buy an inexpensive kit with everything you need on Amazon. The antenna is then inserted in the soil near your plants as shown below.
How Does Electroculture Work?
Explanations of how electroculture works tend to be very vague but they go something like this. “Copper wire plays a crucial role in electroculture gardening due to its excellent electrical conductivity. When partially buried in soil, the copper wire creates a conductive pathway that allows the flow of natural electromagnetic energy. This energy interacts with the plants’ root system, stimulating root growth and nutrient absorption.”
Let’s analyze this. Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity – that is why we use it in much of our electrical wiring. Does copper also conduct “electromagnetic energy”? Coiled copper can create an electromagnetic field when electricity passes through it, but it does not conduct the field. In fact copper is the preferred metal for shielding against electromagnetic radiation.
The “energy interacts with plant roots”. Which energy? The electromagnetic field energy, or the electricity that is being conducted by the copper? It is not clear.
Is the electrical energy flowing up or down the wire? I thought the electricity originated in the soil and flowed up. In that case how is it reacting with plant roots?
If you read the various explanations as to how electroculture works you are immediately struck with the fact that none of them are complete, or make perfect sense. Granted they do include some scientific facts, like the fact that copper conducts electricity, but the whole explanation is not logical. Ok, but just because garden writers have difficulty explaining how it works does not mean electroculture does not work.
Is Electroculture New?
A lot of the discussions in gardening circles make it sound as if this is a “new” discovery, but that is far from the truth. “The first scientist who noticed the effects of electricity on vegetation was Abbe Nollet back in 1749″. He claimed that the technique resulted in faster seed germination and quicker movement of water and minerals from roots to the rest of the plant. Other scientists also looked at electroculture from the 1920s to the 1940s, and then interest died away, mostly because the scientific evidence for it never materialized.
The technique was popularized by Justin Christofleau who published the first book on electroculture in the 1920s, and you can read his book here. He developed the electroculture device pictured below, and claimed it was used all over Europe and Canada with great success. Makes you wonder why its no longer used today? His device has a special antenna that you can buy today, but the rest of the device is not included.
In his book, Christofleau describes how the device should be used, “Terrestrial Magnetism and Telluric Currents. — The apparatus must be firmly placed on a post at least 20 feet from the ground, with the horizontal pointer pointing direct magnetic South, and the perpendicular pointer to the sky.” By contrast, todays devices are stuck in the ground and can face in any direction. Maybe that is why modern versions don’t work very well?
The Claims for Electroculture
It is my experience that the validity of a technique usually corelates with the number and diversity of the claims. The more diverse the claims, the less likely it is that any of them are true. Electroculture has lots of claims.
- Better plant growth
- Enhanced nutrient absorption
- Fewer pests and diseases – the magnetic fields repel pests
- Improved movements of nutrient ions in soil
- Improved water uptake by plants
- Interferes with reproduction of certain pests
- Improves photosynthesis and plant metabolism
- Makes plants more resistant to drought, heat, and cold
- Reduces the need for fertilizer
Wow, it does all that and more. The magnetic fields repel pests but there is no mention of them also repelling pollinators? This is a common mistake made by people inventing benefits. They forget that pollinators are also insects and if it affects one, it also affects the other. So you might get big plants, but no fruit?
None of the gardening articles I looked at provided any references to support their claims. I didn’t even find anecdotal data.
What Does the Science Say?
The Passive Method
Plants do use electrical signals for a variety of reasons. A review of some of these systems does NOT mention electroculture or electromagnetic fields.
There are a couple of reviews that have looked at older research and there are some older experiments were electricity is applied to plants with some claimed benefits. Almost all of these studies provide only anecdotal information based on lab or greenhouse work.
Scientists are actively looking for ways to improve plant growth and yield. If they believed that electroculture was a possible solution, there would be a large number of research projects testing the effect of copper antenna in agricultural fields. I did not find such a study.
The Active Method
A 1924 (republished in 2009) review of experiments which applied current to fields of spring grains like barley found “a mean increase in yield of 22 per cent”. Barley and oats are still grown without electricity applied.
A review of the literature in 1984 concluded that, “Electrostatic fields ranging from 100 V m−1 to 800 kV m−1 have been applied to plants under laboratory conditions and in field trials since the 1880’s. Some beneficial effects have been reported (e.g. increase in yield from both cereal and vegetable crops), but the results have been erratic and the electrical conditions leading to definite benefits on a large scale could not be confidently predicted from early studies.”
Some newer work reported, “the biological effects of electric and magnetic field on the early growth of plants are presented using different beans. The electric and magnetic fields are produced using a specially-made test cell. The results indicate that the electric field has an enhancing effect on the early growth of the tested crops, however some morbid state phenomena were observed on some crops. Also, the effect and morbidity rate increases with electric field intensity.”
A team of scientists in China reported that energy fields improved pea seed germination and improved yield. It is important to note that this team did NOT use the DIY electroculture antennas used by gardeners. Instead they used an all-weather triboelectric nanogenerator (AW-TENG) that uses wind and rain drops to generate electricity.
Does Electroculture Work?
Scientists have been trying to find convincing results for 200 years with very little success. The passive method used by gardeners has no scientific support. There is some evidence that applied electricity or magnetic fields might have a positive effect, but none of these results have been convincing enough to result in their use in agriculture or horticulture. Using copper in your garden will probably not harm your plants so if you are inclined, give it a try. But before you report any results, make sure you do three things:
- Do a significant number of replicates
- Use proper controls
- Measure and document your results
If you don’t do these things, your results are just anecdotal information which is Not Worth The Screen It’s Displayed On.