If you’re anything like childhood me, thunderstorms may scare you.
However, learning about weather through the years took that once childhood fear and made it a passion and a career for me today. Thunderstorms are amazing and are needed in more ways than you may know, and one of those involves making plant fertilizer originating in the sky.
Now I’m no farmer, but I had a good crop of tomatoes and peppers last year. To real farmers, a healthy soil is key to a good crop yield, and nitrogen is key to healthy soil.
Plants need nitrogen to grow and Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. However, this airborne, or molecular nitrogen is a compound with two nitrogen atoms tightly bound.
Because of the tight bond, plants cannot process airborne nitrogen until a strong bolt of energy separates the two. Lightning literally is and serves as that bolt of energy.
With up to a billion volts of electricity, lightning burns at 50,000 degrees, making it hotter than the surface of the sun. When lightning strikes, it tears apart the bond in airborne nitrogen molecules. Those free nitrogen atoms then have the chance to combine with oxygen molecules to form a compound called nitrates.
Once formed, the nitrates are carried down to the ground by rainfall. There, plants can absorb the powerful natural fertilizer and have any grit and grime washed away.
This is one reason farming is king in areas where thunderstorms are common. The nitrogen-rich raindrops help the soil become prime for agriculture.
The process I just laid out is called atmospheric nitrogen fixation: Lightning creating fertilizer in the sky. A less electrical way to add nitrogen to your soil is by planting beans.
Beans use nitrogen fixation in their roots to fertilize soil. It’s a more dependable way for an area that receives little rain.