We have several termite mounds around our permaculture fruit farm, so naturally I wanted to find out if they were beneficial or detrimental to what we do with the land.

I had a conversation a while back with my friend Chelsea John who shared his termite mound tea ideas with me. You see, the soil of a termite mound is rich in nitrogen (N), Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and Potassium (K).

Dissolving termite mound soil with water and watering plants or a compost pile with it, can increase plant growth, yields and the water holding capacity of the soil due to it’s clay content.

Hold on to your hats, John is on to something here, and it turns out this is all backed up by science too (not to be confused with THE SCIENCE Ô). This is the real deal!!

Coptotermes travians - Artist Impression

Artist impression of Coptotermes travians, termite. Public enemy number 1 in Thailand.

What are Termites?

It turns out termites (Ad) are fascinating creatures, often misunderstood because of their bad reputation for causing damage to homes. But there’s a lot more to them then that! They belong to the order Isoptera, and despite their similarity to ants, they’re more closely related to cockroaches.

Now, there are about 2,800 species of termites worldwide and around 200 species here in Thailand. These little critters thrive in a variety of habitats, including forests, savannahs, and even my fruit farm. Most prefer warm, humid climates, which is why they’re prolific in places like Asia, South America and Africa.

Termites are social insects, living in large colonies that can consist of millions of members. Their growth cycle from egg to adult is quite structured, involving several stages: egg, nymph (with multiple molts), and then finally adult. The colony is structured around castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals, each playing a specific role.

As for their diet, termites are known for their ability to break down cellulose, a major component of wood. This makes them important recyclers in nature, helping to decompose dead wood and enrich the soil.

However, not all termites eat wood; some species feed on leaf litter, soil, or even dung. Their ability to digest cellulose comes from a symbiotic relationship with microbes in their guts, which help break down the tough plant material.

So, while termites might be a headache for homeowners, they play a crucial role in their ecosystems by helping to break down plant material and contributing to soil health. Plus, their complex social structures and growth cycles make them incredibly interesting to study!

In fact if you practise permaculture or are a lazy gardener, termite mounds can be beneficial for growing fruit trees due to the nutrients they provide to the soil.

Termite mound growing around a cocoa tree

What are Termite Mounds?

Now we have established what termites are, let’s look at where they live.

You see, these mounds are not just piles of dirt but complex, engineered structures created by termites. They are primarily made from soil, saliva, and faeces, serving as a habitat for the colony. These mounds regulate temperature and humidity, crucial for termite survival.

Benefits of Growing Fruit Trees Near Termite Mounds

I did some digging around (no pun intended) and found some information on the best fruit trees to plant near termite mounds here is Thailand. These include:

  • Mango (Mangifera indica): This popular fruit tree can tolerate termite infestations and grow well near termite mounds in certain regions of Thailand.
  • Durian (Durio zibethinus): A hardy fruit tree that can withstand termite damage and grow well near termite mounds.
  • Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum): A fruit tree that can tolerate termite infestations and grow close to termite mounds.
  • Longan (Dimocarpus longan): A fruit tree that can grow well on termite mounds in Thailand, thanks to its natural resistance to termite damage.
  • Tamarind (Tamarindus indica): A hardy tree that can withstand termite damage and can grow well on termite mounds.
  • Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus): A hardy fruit tree that can withstand termite infestations and grow near termite mounds.
  • Cocoa (Theobroma cacao): The exotic fruit tree grown for making chocolate. From my observations, a healthy cocoa tree can flourish growing around termite mounds.

On our farm, we have rambutan, mangosteen, longan and cocoa all growing near on directly in or from termite mounds.

I’ve also recently planted some tamarind trees into an old termite mound just to see what happens. I’ll update this post in the months ahead.

We are all aware of the devastation termites can have on a house but let’s now look at the four benefits they can bring to a garden or orchard.

Mangosteen tree growing near a termite mound

1. Nutrient-Rich Soil

Termites break down organic matter within their mounds, resulting in nutrient-rich soil. This fertile soil can provide essential nutrients for fruit trees, promoting healthy growth and improved fruit production.

  • Nutrient-rich soil enhances the overall health of fruit trees, ensuring they receive the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal growth.
  • Improved fruit production leads to a higher yield of quality fruits, benefiting both the grower and consumers.
  • The presence of essential nutrients in the soil can also increase the tree’s resistance to diseases and pests, further supporting its growth.

2. Improved Soil Structure

Termite activity helps to aerate the soil, creating channels that allow for better water infiltration and root growth. This improved soil structure can benefit fruit trees by ensuring adequate water and nutrient uptake.

  • Enhanced soil structure promotes root development, allowing fruit trees to establish a strong foundation for growth.
  • Improved water infiltration prevents water-logging, which can lead to root rot and other water-related issues.
  • Better nutrient uptake results in healthier trees that are more resilient to environmental stressors, such as drought or nutrient deficiencies.

3. Pest Control

While termites may be considered pests in some contexts, they also feed on other insects such as ants and caterpillars. By attracting termites to their mounds, fruit trees can benefit from natural pest control without the need for harmful chemicals.

  • Natural pest control reduces the dependence on chemical pesticides, promoting a safer and more sustainable farming practice.
  • Termites target harmful insects that can damage fruit trees, helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem within the orchard.
  • By supporting natural predators like termites, growers can create a healthier environment for their fruit trees while minimising the impact on beneficial insects.

4. Enhanced Biodiversity

Termite mounds attract a variety of beneficial organisms, such as earthworms and microorganisms, which contribute to soil health. This increased biodiversity can create a more balanced ecosystem that supports the growth of fruit trees.

  • Biodiversity in the soil promotes nutrient cycling and improves soil fertility, creating a self-sustaining environment for fruit trees.
  • Beneficial organisms like earthworms enhance soil structure by burrowing through the soil, aerating it and improving drainage.
  • A diverse ecosystem can help regulate soil pH levels, nutrient availability, and overall soil health, leading to better fruit tree growth and productivity.

taramind tree planted on an old termite mound

Tips for Growing Fruit Trees Near Termite Mounds

Site Selection

When planting fruit trees near termite mounds, choose a location that receives adequate sunlight and has well-draining soil. Avoid planting too close to the mound itself to prevent root damage from termite activity.

  • Proper sunlight exposure ensures photosynthesis, which is essential for fruit tree growth and fruit production.
  • Well-draining soil prevents water-logging, allowing the roots to access oxygen and nutrients more efficiently.
  • Maintaining a safe distance from termite mounds reduces the risk of root damage and potential disruption to tree growth.

Mulching

Apply organic mulch around the base of fruit trees to retain moisture and suppress weeds. This mulch will also break down over time, adding organic matter like rice straw or leaves to the soil and encouraging termite activity near the tree roots.

  • Mulching conserves soil moisture, reducing the frequency of irrigation and promoting water retention for the fruit trees.
  • Organic mulch improves soil structure as it decomposes, providing additional nutrients for the trees and supporting beneficial soil organisms.
  • Suppressing weeds minimises competition for water and nutrients, allowing fruit trees to thrive in a healthier growing environment.

Fertilisation

While termite mounds provide natural nutrients to the soil, supplemental fertilisation may be necessary for optimal fruit tree growth. Consider using organic fertilisers to support the tree’s nutrient requirements while maintaining a healthy balance with the soil ecosystem.

  • Organic fertilisers promote long-term soil health by enriching the soil with essential nutrients and improving microbial activity.
  • Balancing fertilisation with natural soil amendments like compost or compost teas can enhance nutrient availability and support sustainable fruit tree cultivation.
  • Regular soil testing can help determine the nutrient needs of fruit trees, guiding the application of fertilisers to address any deficiencies and optimise tree growth.

Monitoring

Regularly inspect fruit trees growing near termite mounds for signs of termite damage or infestation. Early detection can help prevent significant damage to the trees and allow for timely intervention, if necessary.

  • Monitoring tree health allows growers to identify potential issues early on and implement corrective measures to prevent further damage.
  • Signs of termite damage include hollowed-out wood, mud tubes on tree trunks, and sawdust-like frass near the base of the tree.
  • Prompt action in response to termite infestations can protect fruit trees from structural damage and ensure their long-term viability in the orchard.

5 Fascinating Facts about Termite Mounds

  1. Architectural Marvels: Termite mounds are incredibly structured, often resembling castles with complex tunnel systems and chambers. They are constructed by worker termites using a mixture of soil, saliva, and faeces.
  2. Climate Control: The mounds are designed to maintain a stable internal environment, regulating temperature and humidity, which are crucial for termite survival and fungal cultivation, which some species farm inside their mounds.
  3. Ecosystem Engineers: Termite mounds alter the landscape in significant ways, affecting everything from water distribution and soil fertility to plant growth and animal distribution.
  4. Giant Networks: Underground, the structures are even more extensive, with networks of tunnels that can extend up to 50 meters (164 feet) from the main mound, connecting to satellite colonies and food sources
  5. Hotspots of Biodiversity: Termite mounds are biodiversity hotspots, supporting various plant species on their fertile soils, and serving as home or shelter to a variety of other animal species.

Termite Mound as a Soil Amendment

termites living in harmony with fruit trees

If the Termite Mound won’t go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the Termite Mound

If you are lucky enough to have a termite mound on your land, there are only so many trees you can plant near it. But as we have discussed, using termite mound soil can really rock your garden’s productivity! Here’s why it works and how you can harness its benefits:

As we’ve established, termite mound soil is rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, thanks to the termites’ constant activity and their unique digestive processes. When termites break down materials like wood and leaf litter, they’re not just eating; they’re also enriching their mounds with a mix of enzymes and microbes that can significantly benefit plant growth.

Making Compost Tea

To make a compost tea with termite mound soil, you’ll want to:

  1. Gather the Soil: Scoop up some termite mound soil. A few cups should suffice for a large batch of tea.
  2. Mix with Water: Add the soil to a bucket or large container of water. Generally, a ratio of 1 part termite mound soil to 10 parts water works well.
  3. Stir and Steep: Stir the mixture well and let it steep for a day or two. This allows the microbial life in the termite soil to mix with the water.
  4. Strain and Use: After steeping, strain the mixture to remove any large particles. Use the liquid to water your plants. It’s particularly good for giving young seedlings a boost!

Boosting Compost Pile Fertility

Termite mound soil can also kickstart your compost pile:

  1. Mix into Your Compost: Sprinkle termite mound soil throughout your existing compost pile. This introduces new microbes that help accelerate the breakdown of organic matter.
  2. Turn Regularly: Make sure to turn your compost pile regularly to evenly distribute the termite soil and aerate the pile, which helps the microbes do their job.

 

Enhancing Growth and Yields in Fruit Trees and Vegetables

Termite mound soil can directly benefit your plants:

  1. Top Dressing: Spread the termite mound soil around the base of your fruit trees and vegetable plants as a top dressing. This slowly releases nutrients into the soil.
  2. Mix into Planting Holes: When planting new trees or veggies, mix some termite mound soil into the planting holes. This gives your plants a nutrient-packed start.
  3. Improve Soil Structure: The fine, granular nature of termite mound soil can improve soil aeration and drainage, which is beneficial for root growth.

Using termite mound soil is like tapping into an ancient, natural form of fertilisation that supports plant health and enhances growth. It’s a great way to utilise a natural resource that might otherwise be overlooked, all while boosting your garden’s output and health!

Cocoa tree growing near a termite mound

In Conclusion

Incorporating termite mounds into fruit tree cultivation can offer numerous benefits for soil health, nutrient availability, and pest control.

By understanding the symbiotic relationship between termites and fruit trees, growers can enhance the productivity and sustainability of their orchards.

Consider the tips provided above to maximise the advantages of growing fruit trees near termite mounds or making compost teas from the soil and create a thriving natural ecosystem for your fruit trees.

FAQ

Can all types of fruit trees benefit from being planted near termite mounds?

Not all. Selection depends on the tree species and the type of termite.

Is it safe to plant on active termite mounds?

It is not recommended as it can harm the termite colony and negatively impact the tree’s health.

How do termite mounds benefit fruit trees in terms of soil health?

Termites break down organic matter in their mounds, creating nutrient-rich soil that provides essential nutrients for fruit trees, promoting healthy growth and improved fruit production.

How can termite activity near fruit trees improve soil structure?

Termite activity helps aerate the soil, creating channels for better water infiltration and root growth, which benefits fruit trees by ensuring adequate water and nutrient uptake.

How do termite mounds contribute to natural pest control for fruit trees?

Termites feed on harmful insects like ants and caterpillars, providing natural pest control for fruit trees without the need for chemical pesticides, promoting a safer and more sustainable farming practice.

What are some tips for growing fruit trees near termite mounds?

Ensure proper site selection with adequate sunlight and well-draining soil, apply organic mulch around tree bases, consider supplemental fertilisation with organic fertilisers, and regularly monitor trees for signs of termite damage or infestation to maintain tree health and productivity.

Where can I find more information on this topic?

Agricultural extension services, entomology research papers often found in PDF format, and sustainability workshops can be valuable resources.


 

Do you have fruit trees growing in or around termite mounds? Have you seen better crop yields by applying compost tea? Let us know in the comments below.

Termite Mounds and The 4 Benefits For Growing Fruit Trees

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