Flower Bud Set & Puberty
Master Cho calls the plant phase of blooming and pollination as the Cross-over phase of growth. The Cross-over phase is like going through puberty. An adolescent child may, in a given moment, think, talk, and act like a mature adult. Yet at the very next moment the child may throw a full-fledged two year old tantrum, or get clingy and need mommy. It’s truly a tumultuous time.
We’ve all been there. Plants can get very moody at this stage of life as well. The child is experiencing hormones their body has never produced before and it becomes a confusing time.
Plants are similarly temperamental. The beginning stage of reproduction in plants is like the puberty stage in people. A girl sees many changes in her body before she becomes physically ready to carry a child in her womb. So do plants.
Plants at this stage look plump and juicy as they are building the energy required to produce the next generation. Often the stem that produces the flower bud stalk will thicken before the flowers emerge. When you observe your plants you can see signs of sexual maturity before any flower buds are visible.
The Pattern of the Cross-over Phase
In choosing plant material for KNF inputs, using the Nutritive Cycle, the pattern for puberty calls for the use a flower bud, not the flower. This is a critical stage in plants lifecycles and the entire process is highly regulated by hormones and other biochemicals, with strong bio-feedback loops to stop one stage so that the next stage can begin.
As flower buds develop, the biochemistry of plants is tuned specifically into forming flower buds which will mature into flowers. These are the reproductive structures that enable plants to create the next generation and this process requires a lot of energy, and is vital to the survival of the plant, so it is designed to be precise.
A mature flower signals the mother plant that flower buds have been set. The plant then wants to shut off the development of flower buds at this point and focus energy on maturing existing flower buds into a mature flowers, capable of pollination. This is a feedback loop to force the process of reproduction to move forward.
Using mature flowers for input material at the onset of puberty you can expect flower bud production to stop because the plant will think it has already flowered.
I have experimented using flower material for Korean Natural Farming inputs. By using a Fermented Plant Juice, FPJ, from mature flowers I have seen flower buds already formed drop from the plant, and seen the prevention of flower production halted for many months or until flowering season the next year.
I have even seen flower buds that matured anyway but produced stunted fruit. The stunted effect carried over into the harvest the following two years, after which the mother plant aged out and died, and I am currently growing out the next generation to see if a single small application of FPJ, made from mature flowers, changed the expression of genes into the next generation.
I have not tested every flower for this feedback effect. In fact I have only tested a handful. But I have seen the power that the flower stage has on plant reproduction. The effects have been highly dramatic. I highly recommend testing each flower bud formula on a single plant before using it widely. Keep in mind that this is the general pattern for flowering plants and some plants have different strategies, such as continual flower and fruit development (calling for different management strategies not covered here).
Using Green Fruit vs. Flower Bud
Perhaps this is why Master Cho teaches managing the Crossover stage by using a mixture of plant and fruit juices (FPJ + FFJ).
Cho teaches that instead of using flower bud inputs at the onset of the Crossover, mixing an input for vegetative growth FPJ (such as from mugwort and/or dropwort, as covered in a previous section), with an input made from green fruit. Then, as the flowers bloom and are being pollinated, switching to using just green fruit inputs. As the fruit develops and starts to mature, switching to a combination of green and ripe fruit inputs, finishing off by ripening using a Fermented Fruit Juice FFJ, made from ripe fruit.
By using green fruit in the Cross-over phase you still capture the next stage of the life cycle yet miss the feedback loop that signals flower bud production to stop, as occurs when using mature flowers. Avoiding the use of flower inputs avoids the powerful feedback loop that tells plants to stop flowering, so the green fruit management style overall is safer.
However, this little trick can be used to your advantage. I was taught about using flowers to inhibit flower growth by Master Cho while I was a commercial high-end tea grower. Flowers on tea bushes inhibit the growth of tea buds. The tea buds are what makes the tea so having flowers on the tea bushes reduces leaf bud growth, and therefore tea crop production.
Cho explained that a fermented juice from the tea flowers would inhibit the growth of tea flowers on the bush. He has worked with tea gardens in other countries and this is what they do.
In other words, if you want to try to keep a plant in a vegetative state and want to inhibit flower production, use an FPJ from mature flowers. This works well in tea but other crops like to bolt and might be resistant to remaining in a vegetative state but the method should be useful in many situations.
If you trial this method start small, on a single plant. As I stated before the biochemistry at this stage of life is very specific, and very potent, yet all plants react differently to biochemical stimuli so testing flower-based inputs is vital.
The bud of a banana (called the “banana flower”) is a very easy to use as an FPJ for flower bud development. Banana flower buds, the big, red, heart-shaped structures at the tip of banana bunches, produce a high yield of fermented juice. The undeveloped flowers are layered inside each petal.
Banana is the only flower bud I can recommend from my practice over the years for the flower-set stage, and it is perfectly safe to use on all plants. You can experiment with any flower buds that are abundant in your area, testing each one on a single plant, or use the green fruit management protocol as taught by Master Cho.
Green fruit for this use is defined as a fruit at the stage where the seed structure inside the fruit may or may not be seen, but any seeds present have not started to fill out or change color. The seeds should be almost indistinguishable from the flesh. Any green fruit will do, as long as it is not toxic or have strong chemicals like citrus.
Fruits, by the way, do not have to be picked before sunrise as we do for making inputs for vegetative growth. In vegetative growth you want to avoid the biochemistry present during photosynthesis, when plants turn sunlight into energy. We pick tender leaf tips before sunrise because this is the time of day the biochemistry for vegetative growth is at its peak, as it has been growing all night long. The moment sunlight hits the leaves the plant will change its biochemistry and start to photosynthesis, and this is not the right biochemistry for vegetative growth.
Fruits however, function not for photosynthesis, but for reproduction, and can be therefore be collected and processed at any time of day. In fact their sweetness, which is what we are after with ripe fruit, increases during the day and should be at its peak in the afternoon.
In the flower-set stage, plants in puberty, just like humans, are hormonal and temperamental. At this stage the energy needs are high. Think of how much food a growing teenage boy can consume. In grasses the protein content is the highest just before seed development. This pattern is important to know if you are raising animals and want to feed them plant material with the highest energy and protein levels. It is also important to know if you are growing that plant to consume yourself.
The Cross-over phase of plant growth has the best potential for increasing crop size and yields, but care must be taken so that feed-back loops do not interfere and halt or reduce production or crop size. Use either the flower bud method, using inputs from banana flower buds (or suitable alternates) if available, or use the green fruit mixtures as recommended by Master Cho.