I was doing some research into nitrogen fixing plants in my growing zone and was surprised to see SUGARCANE on the list! I went to wikipedia to learn more..... Apparently it has been shown that a N-fixing bacterium (G. diazotrophicus) can colonize the intercellular spaces of the plant and function there to produce usable nitrogen for the sugarcane.
One of the references points to a research paper published in 2005 in which they got G. diazotrophicus to grow inside several other crop plants (corn, rice, tomato, wheat, rapeseed, and white clover). They did this by germinating the seeds in the presence of this bacteria.
I don't know the extent to which this research has progressed since 2005. Hopefully it has been expanded, but either way this could be a great topic for ambitious permies to explore! The technique seems simple enough to replicate in a home lab. Anyway hope someone finds this intriguing!
We have done so much for so long with so little, that we are now qualified to do the impossible with nothing!
I been to a couple sugar workshops here in Hawaii. Here's what I learned....
Early Hawaiians used sugar cane leaf mulch. They apparently observed that plants grew better when it was used versus not used. As far as it can be determined, early Hawaiians did not use animal products in agriculture, thus no manures. But they did use plant litter of various types.
In the last 10-15 years there has been increased study into early Hawaiian culture. The research is ongoing. One of the things that came to light was that the sugar cane leaf mulch acted not only as a simple mulch, but also contributed more nitrogen to the system than expected. Further research discovered that at a particular stage of growth, the sugar cane leaf fixes nitrogen via bacteria colonies in its cells.
To take advantage of this, the cane leaf needs to harvested at a particular stage. The leaf needs to be mature and ready to die back, but should not be brown. The leaf tip will be browning but the base should still be green.
Now.......this only happens in only Hawaiian sugar cane varieties. Researchers have not seen it happening naturally in non-Hawaiian sugar cane. But of course, the potential is there to transition the process into non-Hawaiian sugar cane. I haven't heard if that has been attempted yet or not.
As far as I've heard, it only occurs in Hawaiian varieties of sugar cane. But here's an interesting note. The repository for sugar cane varieties is in Florida. It has all the various Hawaiian sugar canes growing there. So one could purchase starting material of the Hawaiian varieties if they were interested.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
This is an interesting topic. At one time it was believed that legume, plus a few odd plants here and there, were the only nitrogen fixers. Lately, the list of N fixers has grown—dramatically. There is a corpus of people who suspect that nearly all plants fix their own nitrogen. More accurately they form associations with bacteria and fungi that form these types of associations.
RedHawk is the resident specialist in these matters and he can probably give better information than I can.
There's a lot of cutting edge research going on with bacteria/plant symbiosis. Nitrogen fixing, mineral and nutrient availability, its exciting. It seems to be the main reason some organic/regenerative farmers have been able to work their way to zero fertilizer systems. I keep hearing microbe stuff from both the hightech university/industrial researchers and natural/traditional practitioners. My problem has been trying to figure out who's Jug'O'Bugs I should try first!
And then there is Korean Natural Farming /Jadam methods with their philosophy that's basically: Don't buy anything, don't try to figure it out, just take some excellent decaying leaves, propagate it and start spraying.