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HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT HOW EVERYTHING LOOKS SUDDENLY GREENER AFTER A STORM? Well, it’s not an optical illusion – IT’S A FACT – lightning did it!

AS DISTANT THUNDER ROLLS DOWN THE VALLEY I thought it was timely to write about the incredible power of lightning and the positive effect it plays on feeding the soil. Farmers love a storm!

Science is like magic – except real.

THUNDERSTORMS ARE AMAZING, striking awe in most of us and fear into some of us – yes, I still want to hide in the pantry – but they are needed in more ways than you may know and, most importantly, create tons of plant fertilizer that drops from the sky when lightning zaps through it.


  • Lightening plays a crucial role in the nitrogen cycle that feeds the earth – and feeds all of us – plants and animals alike.
  • The earth’s atmosphere is 78% NITROGEN but plants can only absorb this chemical in the NITRATE form.
  • Nitrates are considered a ‘super fertilizer’ that helps plants green up faster – they are derived from nitrogen.


  • Atmospheric nitrogen is composed of two tightly bound molecules and because of that tight bond plants cannot process airborne nitrogen UNTIL a strong bolt of energy passes through it and separates the two.
  • When lightning strikes, its incredible power tears apart the bond in airborne nitrogen . WITH UP TO ONE BILLION VOLTS OF ELECTRICITY and HEATING TO 50,000 degrees IT IS HOTTER THAN THE SURFACE OF THE SUN.
  • This phenomenal energy tears apart that nitrogen bond and, combining with atmospheric oxygen, CONVERTS IT TO NITRATES – the form of nitrogen that is freely available to be absorbed by plants through their leaves and their roots. THAT’S WHY EVERYTHING DOES SUDDENLY LOOK GREENER AFTER A STORM – it’s had tons of fertilizer dumped on it. This is called ATMOSPHERIC NITROGEN FIXATION.


  • SO, WITHOUT LIGHTENING, HOW DO PLANTS CONVERT NITROGEN into NITRATES TO FEED THEMSELVES. Simple answer – they don’t. The MICROORGANISMS IN THE SOIL DO IT FOR THEM. That is why healthy soil is so important. Every teacup of soil contains more than ONE BILLION MICROORGANISMS that are busy converting ATMOSPHERIC NITROGEN and decaying ORGANIC MATTER into soluble NITRATES and other essential plant foods – all while you were sleeping?

  • AND THERE’S MORE. You cannot underestimate the valuable role that the vast LEGUME PLANT FAMILY plays in converting NITROGEN, via nodules on their roots, to enrich the soil around them. Think everything from peas, beans and lentils to trees like poincianas and wattles – anything that has a pod-like seed case is a legume. INTERESTING FACT. This is why the pioneer plants around the edge of forests, and Australian natives on degraded soils, have evolved to mostly be LEGUMES – they are making NITROGEN in the soil for their survival – and for later on.

NITROGEN FIXING PLANTS and the NODULES on their roots where they make it.

I’ve tried to get the grandkids to do a flashmob of this story to ‘Grease Lightning’, but I’m still working on that one!