Verdant View – August 2023

Can Photosynthesis Save The World?

If you are looking for the smartest energy source on the planet, then look to plants. They have a cheap, clean and abundant way of creating energy: photosynthesis, which is perhaps the most efficient power supply we know. Plants have perfected the conversion of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into usable fuel, emitting oxygen in the process.

What exactly is photosynthesis?

Photosynthesis is the process in which green plants use sunlight to make their own food. Without it there would be no green plants and without green plants there would be no animals. Photosynthesis is necessary for life on earth.

Photosynthesis requires sunlight, chlorophyll, water, and carbon dioxide gas. Chlorophyll is a substance in all green plants, especially in the leaves. Plants take in water through their roots from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air.

Photosynthesis starts when chlorophyll absorbs energy from sunlight. Green plants use this light energy to change water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and nutrients called sugars. It is this energy that is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The plants use some of the sugars and store the rest in the form of fruits or vegetables.

Why is photosynthesis so important?

Photosynthesis is very important because almost all living things depend on plants for food. Photosynthesis is also important because of the oxygen it produces. Humans and other animals need to breathe oxygen to survive.

Gardeners need to be aware of what photosynthesis is because it is the engine of plants. It is the most important thing that goes on in plants. All leaves, branches, roots, fruits exist because of photosynthesis. The engine of photosynthesis is water.  Water is called forth to leaves through evaporation. Evaporation pulls water from the ground. Most of this water is evaporated out of the plant but a small important part is used by photosynthesis. Plants must have a constant supply of water to photosynthesize. Most of this water comes into the plant through root hairs at the ends of roots. Root hairs exist deeper down in the soil, so deep watering is not just desired, it is essential. The more a plant can photosynthesize, the healthier it will be and the faster it will grow. As a result, most of a gardener’s energy should be directed toward photosynthesis. A gardener should be concerned with keeping as many leaves on the plant as possible. This means no topping off of plants, such as running a mechanical cutting blade across the top of a plant, cutting off half of its leaves. And it means being constantly aware of a plant drooping its leaves (wilting.) This does not necessarily mean the plant is getting too much sun. It means the plant does not have enough water deep down at the root hairs.

Photosynthesis is also responsible for balancing oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen during the process of photosynthesis.

Using nothing but sunlight as the energy input, plants perform massive energy conversions turning 1,102 billion tons (1,000 billion metric tons) of CO2 or carbon dioxide into organic matter, such as energy for animals in the form of food, every year [source: Hunter]. And that’s only using 3 percent of the sunlight that reaches Earth [source: Boyd].

Then there is artificial photosynthesis, a process that attempts to replicate what our plants already know. While artificial photosynthesis works in the lab, it’s not ready for mass consumption. Replicating what happens naturally in green plants is a complex task. Efficiency is crucial in energy production. Plants took billions of years to develop the photosynthesis process that works efficiently for them. Replicating that in a synthetic system takes a lot of trial and error.

Research in artificial photosynthesis is picking up steam, but it won’t be leaving the lab any time soon. It’ll be at least 10 years before this type of system is a reality [source: Boyd]. And that’s a pretty hopeful estimate. Some people aren’t sure it’ll ever happen. Still, who can resist hoping for artificial plants that behave like the real thing?

If this could be accomplished efficiently, perhaps we can reverse the effects that carbon dioxide has on our planet and cure global warming.

What to plant in August

It is still warm and rainy during this month. The viveros have marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, phlox, cleome and kniphofia (red hot poker), as well as other treasures such as cyclamen and penta. You can still plant the hot weather veggies as it won’t be cold until late October and most take 60 to 90 days to mature. You can plant artichokes, both Globe and Jerusalem, anytime from July to November. Do plant celosia, snapdragon, phlox, petunia and stock seeds now. Also Gloriosa lily, which is easy to grow and is an exotic, climbing lily-type flower. Last chance to prune your poinsettias for Christmas bloom. Keep up with weeds, fertilizer, pest control and deadheading. Cut back your herbs. They’ll just keep growing. Freeze or dry what herbs you don’t use. Think of seeds you will be starting in September. Your gardening friends are excellent sources of seeds and cuttings. The garden pests are out in full force. Keep an eye out for them and deal with problems at once, before they get out of hand.

A special “gracias” to Brad “Mulch” Mowers for his green wisdom and thumb.

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Francisco Nava
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