I had the opportunity to take some passionfruit cuttings from the arbors of the regional passionfruit expert. He instructed me to apply a root stimulant to create better root strike, which would encourage my cuttings to establish more quickly. Most root stimulants are made of plant hormones called auxins, and so I automatically and dutifully purchased a teaspoon- sized packet of auxin powder and some peat to serve as rooting medium. I trimmed the cuttings back to just a few leaves each and dipped the trimmed stems into the powder, just barely coating the ends and put each cutting into its own peat filled cell. Instant passionfruit orchard! How easy was that?
And then I thought about the grapevine cuttings I’ve been taking. So far I’ve planted about a thousand directly into the soil. And I’ve got at least another 5000 patiently waiting in the nursery to callous up. But there’s absolutely no guarantee that they actually will root, or that the cuttings I’ve put in the ground will actually grow. So I had the genius thought to trial the root stimulant on a row or two of cuttings and in my trance, trudged down to the vineyard, golden packet in hand.
I took the first cutting and thrust it into the powder and as it pulled out, a bunch of powder that had lodged on the bottom bud dusted onto my arm and it began to burn. Really burn. So I ran down to the stream and drowned my arm until the pain abated, and walked back to the pile of cuttings. It was only then that I took a close look at the packet, which of course warned me about getting it on my skin, and I realized that the substance was actually a synthetic auxin, indolebutyric acid! Yikes! Rather than stimulating the growth of these plants with a plant-derived hormone, I was giving them a chemical start! That earns an immediate no in the vineyard. Whatever is watching over this place has prevailed, fortunately. (Phew!)
But I had this plant dusted in hormone and ready to go. Without thinking too hard about it, I pulled back the mulch and prepared to plunge the dusted cutting in. Fortunately the cavorting of a couple of jolly earthworms frolicking around in the newly disturbed mulchy soil, along with the scurryings of assorted beetles and bugs and the leaping of a very quick spider got my attention again, and I thought, wait a minute, am I actually going to put some synthetic acid on these creatures, or near them, or somewhere that they might possibly contact it, as an experiment in viticulture? What the heck am I thinking? That it will wash away? That this piece of ground is in isolation from the rest of this land? Where would this miniscule bit of chemical go were I to put it in the earth? How much would it actually affect the future of the plant, or the soil, or the water, or the world?
Grapevines have rooted themselves in nature without artificial plant hormones for millenia. If I really needed to stimulate the roots, which I really do not need to do, I could trial many other substances near to hand. I’ve an orchard with lemons – lemon juice has acetic acid and that might kick things off. I also have several colonies of bees – and honey has all kinds of acids. Alternatively, I could make a root stimulating tea from willow or poplar, or other easily rooting trees. There are so many things readily found in nature that could serve. But the fact is that this entire vineyard has grown and is thriving without any chemicals whatsoever. This is not the moment for me to begin.
I’ve had a burn and a visual reminder to stop this misguided activity now. The packet is going in the trash. But if I throw the packet in the trash...