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Organic Foliar Fertilizer Prepared from Fermented Fruits on Growth of Vochysia guatemalensis in the Costa Rican Humid Tropics
Ricardo O. Russo

ABSTRACT. This note examines the effects of an organic foliar fertilizer prepared from fermented waste fruits on the growth of a tropical tree (Vochysia guatemalensis) under nursery conditions in the Costa Rican Humid Tropics. Results from this single experiment revealed a positive response to the foliar application of this organic fertilizer for seven out of ten evaluated variables. Root fresh weight was the most responsive with an increment of 64% over the control, followed by leaf area (50% plus), leaf fresh weight (48% plus) and leaf dry weight (46% plus). Height, diameter, and stem dry weight were also 21%, 29% and 45% higher (P < 0.05) than the control, respectively. Leaf number, and stem fresh and dry weight were not significantly different between the treated plants and the control. Based on these results, it is concluded that the fermented fruit waste solution may be used as a foliar spray to promote growth of leaf and root biomass in nursery seedlings, and may be a valuable fertilizaRicardo O. Russo is Professor of Forestry and Agroforestry at EARTH University, Gucimo, Limn, Costa Rica (E-mail: Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Vol. 18(2/3) 2001 2001 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. 161



tion resource in organic agriculture after testing its effects on different crops under different conditions. [Article copies available for a fee from The
Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-342-9678. E-mail address: <getinfo@> Website: <> 2001 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS. Organic foliar fertilizer, Costa Rica, Vochysia guatemalensis INTRODUCTION Foliar fertilization has taken relevance, primarily to get a fast uptake of nitrogen and microelements to correct crop deficiencies when an immediate plant response is necessary. Although, the practice should be used to supplement a good soil-applied fertilizer program. As a consequence, a proliferation of foliar fertilizers on the agricultural market has occurred in recent years, but most of these liquid fertilizers are basically chemical and are not able for organic certification approval. There is a shortage of organic foliar fertilizers in the Central American market. Accordingly to this situation, new organic fertilizer materials should be developed as soon as possible to assist the increasing needs of organic products. In the search for sustainable alternatives to inorganic fertilizers, and with the concern to solve some agricultural waste problems, a nursery trial was carried out at EARTH University (Agricultural University of the Tropical Humid Region) to evaluate the effects of an organic foliar fertilizer prepared from fermented waste fruits on the growth of seedlings of Vochysia guatemalensis (a tropical rain forest timber species) after transplanting to nursery bags. MATERIALS AND METHODS Site description: The test was carried out at the forestry nursery of EARTH University, located in Las Mercedes de Gucimo (10E12 North, 83E37 West), Province of Limn, Costa Rica. Mean annual temperature is 26EC, with a minimum of 21EC and a maximum of 30.5EC. Mean annual rainfall is about 3.400 mm. Elevation above sea level of the site ranges 50 meters. Plant material: Vochysia guatemalensis Donn. Smith (Syn. Vochysia hondurensis Sprague) of the Vochysiaceae family, is a tropical canopy tree found from Southern Mexico through Central American countries to Panama and is known under a variety of common names such as chancho, cebo and mayo in Costa Rica, barba chele in Nicaragua, San Juan in Guatemala and Honduras,

Research Note


and white yemeri in Belize. The species grows in elevations from sea level up to 1,000 m, in areas with rainfall from 3,000 to 5,000 mm annually and mean annual temperatures between 24EC and 30EC (Flores, 1993; Stanley and Steyermark, 1949). The growth rate of the species is fast, and the tree grows well on acid soils (pH 5.0-5.5) and degraded areas such as abandoned pasturelands where is used for amelioration of degraded soils by plantations with other native trees (Butterfield, 1993; Russo, 1997). Seeds were collected from local sources and germinated in boxes filled with washed sand in the EARTH forestry nursery. When seedlings reached about 6 cm in height they were transplanted to black plastic bags filled with a local volcanic soil (Andisols), clay loam, pH 5.5, with 4.0% of organic matter, and no fertility limitations. Organic foliar fertilizer: The master solution was prepared from waste fruit (papaya, watermelon, melon, mango, and banana from the campus cafeteria), which was chopped into small pieces (approximately 5 kg fresh weight) and allowed to ferment for a period of five weeks in a mixture of molasses (0.5 L) and water to complete 10 L in volume in a 20 L plastic bucket with cap. After five weeks, debris were screened and the fermented solution was stored in plastic jugs at normal temperature conditions. Nutrient content analysis is presented in Table 1. The analysis reveal a wide variety of elements, with four important minerals present in greatest amounts (N > K > Ca > S) followed by a second group in medium amounts (Mg > P > Fe), finally a variety of trace elements are present in the low range of 0.8-3.4 ppm. Treatments: The experimental design was a randomized complete block with two treatments with 30 replications per treatment, each seedling was considered an experimental unit. Treatments consisted of two groups: A group of 30 seedlings received foliar applications with a dilution of 5% of the master fermented solution in water, which was applied with a 1-liter manual sprayer, every week, 100 ml per plant, for 10 weeks. A control group of the same size was treated with plain water, which was also applied as a foliar spray. After 10 weeks, both groups of seedlings, treated and control, were harvested. Seedling height was measured up to the apical meristem (nearest millimeter), and diameters were measured at the base of the stem with a precision caliper graduated in millimeters. For counting leaf number, only standing leaves were considTABLE 1. Nutrient content analysis* of the foliar fertilizer master solution.
mg/L S Fe 270 18.0

pH 5.76

N 2990

P 112

K 2000

Ca 302

Mg 170

Cu 3.41

Zn 2.48

Mn 2.19

B 0.81

solids % 4.0

*Sample code 2000-4419, National Banana Corporation (CORBANA) Laboratory, La Rita Research Center, Pococ, Limn.



ered, and foliar area was determined by paper gravimetry. Fresh weight of leaves, stems and roots were measured with a precision balance. Dry weights of the same parts were obtained by oven-drying the samples for 72 hours at 85-90EC. Data were analyzed statistically for one factor analysis of variance for repeated measures for each considered variable. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Results showed significant differences for seven out of the ten evaluated variables (Table 2), root fresh weight was the most responsive (+64%) to the treatment, followed by foliar area (+50%), leaf fresh weight (+48%) and leaf dry weight (+46%). The same trend in stimulating plant growth was observed in other nursery seedlings that were routinely sprayed with this organic foliar fertilizer (unpublished). Amounts of the solutions to be sprayed may be diminished given that once a leaf surface is totally wet, runoff and dripping occurs and part of the applied solution fall to the soil. Adjustments will be done in future experiments. The biostimulant effect of the fermented solution on seedlings is not totally understood. It is hypothesized that the presence of free amino acids in the solution as a consequence of fruit protein decomposition may be one of the reasons. Furthermore, amino acid production by bacteria and other microorganisms has been reported (Niederberger, 1989). It is known that foliar sprays of essential amino acids, derived from hydrolysis of casein, are used in agriculture and many commercial firms are currently offering such products. Free amino acids can pass into the plant system when applied on the leaves, and act as cofactors

TABLE 2. Effect of foliar fertilizer prepared from fermented waste fruits on the growth of Vochysia guatemalensis (chancho blanco) seedlings, applied weekly for 10 weeks after transplanting.
Treatment Control (plain water) Fruit fertilizer (5% solution) Increment P equal to Height Diam. (cm) (mm) 23.2 29.9 29% 0.008 3.8 4.6 21% 0.015 Leaf # 12.7 14.3 13% ns LA (cm2) 179.2 268.5 50% 0.009 LFW (g) 4.13 6.13 48% 0.024 SFW (g) 2.56 3.44 34% ns RFW (g) 1.80 2.96 64% 0.011 LDW (g) 0.95 1.38 45% 0.04 SDW (g) 0.77 1.01 31% ns RDW (g) 0.39 0.57 46% 0.035

N = 30 seedlings, LA: leaf area, LFW: leaf fresh weight, SFW: stem fresh weight, RFW: root fresh weight, LDW: leaf dry weight, SDW: stem dry weight, RDW: root dry weight, ns: not significant

Research Note


in enzymic processes of plant; these can boost photosynthesis, and promote nutrient uptake (Jamai et al., 1996; Padgett and Leonard. 1996; Tokeshi, 1997). Another effect could be attributed to bacterial byproduct release during the fermentation process such as thiamin and other vitamins and enzymes, which may act as plant growth biostimulants. At this point it is not possible to distinguish the fertilizer effect from the biostimulant effect. Further nursery and field studies should conducted to better understand and isolate the fertilizer and biostimulant effects, and which one affects plant growth. CONCLUSIONS Based on the observed results, two main conclusions can be addressed: (a) This foliar spray developed at EARTH University from fermented fruit wastes, seems to offer an opportunity to increase plant growth in nursery stock, according to findings from current research and field trials so far; and (b) This product may be a valuable fertilization resource in organic agriculture after testing its effects on different crops under different conditions. REFERENCES
Butterfield, R. 1993. Tropical timber species growth in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica and wood variation of two native species. PhD Dissertation, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. 76 p. Flores, E.M. 1993. Vochysia guatemalensis. Trees and Seeds from the Neotropics 2(2):1-27. Jamai, A., M. Laloi, A. Bourbouloux, M. Valantin and S. Delrot. 1996. Characterization of leucine-leucine transport in leaf tissues. The Journal of Experimental Botany 47 (Special Issue): 1223-1227. Niederberger, P. 1989. Amino acid production in microbial eukaryotes and prokaryotes other than coryneforms. In: Microbial Products: New Approaches. Edited by S. Baumberg, I. Hunter and M. Rhodes. Published for the Society for General Microbiology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Pp. 1-24. Padgett, P.E. and R.T. Leonard. 1996. Free amino acid levels and the regulation of nitrate uptake in maize cell suspension cultures. The Journal of Experimental Botany 47(300): 871-883. Russo, R.O. 1997. La reforestacin con especies forestales nativas como una opcin para recuperar pastizales abandonados en la Regin Tropical Hmeda de Costa Rica. Agro Enfoque (Per) 89:21. Stanley, P.C. and J.A Steyermark. 1949. Flora of Guatemala. Part VI. Fieldiana: Botany 24(6):2-5.



Tokeshi, H., 1997. Germination of citrus as affected by the hormonal effects of effective microorganisms. Fifth International Conference on Kuysei Nature Framing. Abstracts. 23-26 October, 1997. Bangkok, Thailand. P. 10.

RECEIVED: 12/13/99 REVISED: 07/24/00 ACCEPTED: 08/29/00