How Plants Repel Insects – an Observation of Monarchs, Brix and Nutrient Dense Plants

I will always remember this day, as my first day actually witnessing a practical understanding of the Reams Biological Theory of Ionization and the Trophobiosis Theory of Francis Chaboussou.

Before sharing with you my experience, I would like to introduce myself and where I stand at the time of writing this article. My name is Oscar Morand and one year and a half ago my main occupation was being a city boy in the middle of Geneva, Switzerland. My focus has always been in science and the connections between them. In December 2011 I left Europe for Australia, and I spent six months there, immersing myself in permaculture. Nature brought into my life the chance to meet Geoff Lawton and David Holmgren, with whom I spent time. After the Australian trip I returned to Europe, and afterwards went to Jordan to the Greening the Desert – The Sequel site. I am now staying at the PRI Kotare Village, New Zealand (Koanga Institute), on the land of the Kotare Village, created by Bob Corker and Kay Baxter. Here I have learnt about many beautiful things; having such a vast amount of knowledge and understanding at my disposal, I could freely dive into the subjects that I love. This is kind of new to me, to actually grab a book, a pen and some notes and tell myself: “Here we go, Oscar, let’s study!” And then, pure pleasure, spending hours and hours gaining knowledge and building practices for now and the future, valuable and ethical stuff, things that resonate with my inner being, where afterwards I am like, “Yeah! This stuff is great, I want more!” And I dive again, into the realm of satisfying, self-action transformational learning. I spent time in the gardens and also did the 10-week Natural Building internship, gathering skills in so many different practices that I will not list them here. But what stays on my heart is that this is a place where people can decide to be free of the “have-to” and be intentional about what they truly want to do.

Thank you so much to Kay and Bob, for allowing a space where my body and my mind can experiment freely. The article that follows shows an aspect of one of my learning journeys, gathering different kinds of theory and knowledge into something that, I hope, makes sense.

While having a wander in the garden with Jai, we found ourselves contemplating our fellow earthen inhabitants — the monarch caterpillar. Their beautiful black and yellow-striped bodies, crawling on the swan plants and munching the green leaves, invite anyone to just sit and slow down to the rhythm of nature. And so we did.

We were in the Koanga main seed garden, at the Kotare Village. In front of us were a couple of garden beds, let’s call them bed n°1 and bed n°2, and at the end of each bed there were some swan plants for the monarchs. Our gaze was focused on bed n°2: there the monarchs were plentiful and very active, eating vast amounts of the plants, the leaves, the fruits and the stems, leaving near to nothing behind. How hungry and devoted they were to accumulate large quantities of energy for their transformations.

But after a little while of looking at this specific bed, my attention was caught by the plants next door, on bed 1, and what a surprise! The beds, two plants each, looked pretty similar, but on bed 1 the monarchs were a lot less numerous and the amount of leaves still on the plants was far greater than on the plants on bed 2. And the most surprising fact was that even if it was 2pm, even if the conditions were exactly the same than the “excited” monarchs of bed 2, these “bed 1” monarchs were mostly dormant, and a few were moving very slowly. I even tried to poke one on the antenna (peace upon him) and almost no reaction. As a good scientist I needed a reference point, so I went to poke a “bed 2” monarch and there the reaction was huge: the monarch moved all around and I could feel how annoying it must have been.

Another observation was their manure. And yes, I did spend some time observing very closely the output generated by our monarch friends, and again I got two different results between bed n°1 and bed n°2. On bed n°2 the manure looked almost the same colour as the stem of the swan plant: a light green colour. But after looking at the monarchs’ packets of fertilizers on bed n°1, it was different. The colour was a lot darker: a dark green. To be sure what I was noting on the excrements of these insects I stood there for some time, comparing the manure from different caterpillars on the same plant, and still the same conclusion: the bed n°1’s manure is darker than the bed n°2’s manure. Here is a picture of bed n°1’s “output”.

A third observation was the number of chrysalides on each bed. The swan plants were at the very end of the bed and the rest of the bed was planted with lamb’s quarter. It looked like the monarchs were moving to the nearby lamb’s quarters to begin their chrysalises. And, logically, bed n°2, where they were the most active, had the higher number of monarch caterpillars ready to begin their journey as magnificent butterflies.

This information can be summarised as such:

Now that I have shared with you my observations, I will try to explain why the same insects at the same moment have such different behaviours, through the knowledge that I gained by my study of the Reams Biological Theory of Ionization, and the work of great scientists like Phil Callahan, Dr. Arden B. Andersen, and Francis Maboussou.

My very first step towards the understanding of what was happening was to grab a refractometer and take readings of the swan plants in both beds.

Refractometer? Let’s explain a little bit:

The refractometer is a tool which measures the refractive index of a liquid. When light rays shine through the liquid they strike the carbohydrates, salt and other molecules depending upon the type of calibration used. When the light rays strike the molecules, they bend or refract. The greater the calibrated molecular concentration of the liquid in question, the greater the refraction. (1)

And the molecular concentration of the plant is:

… the concentration of sugars, vitamins, amino acids, proteins, hormones, and other solids dissolved within the juice of the plant which is measured in BRIX (ratio of the mass of dissolved solids to water).(2)

The Brix unit that the refractometer gives is basically the mineral content of the plant; thus, the higher the refraction, the higher the mineral content, the higher the nutrient-density of the plant.

It is really a beautiful tool that allows each one of us to assess the nutrient density of our plants, which is a perfect reflection of the health of our soil. So the BRIX of the swan plants were as follows:

  • 12 for the swan plant on bed n°2, the bed with the excited caterpillars
  • 18 for the swan plant on bed n°1, the bed with the dormant caterpillars

What we can conclude based on these observations is that the plants on bed n°1 have a higher nutrient density than the plants on bed n°2. This may shed some light on the fact that the manures of the monarchs on bed n°1 with a BRIX of 18 were darker than the ones on bed n°2 with a BRIX of 12. The higher the nutrient density of a plant, the higher the nutrition of it, the higher the amount of minerals per caterpillar’s mouthful; thus, the higher the mineral concentration of the monarch manures and, therefore, the darker the poo.

Alright, this makes sense but it still doesn’t explain why their behaviour was so different depending on which plant they are feeding on, and also why there were fewer monarchs on bed 1 than on bed 2.

First, let’s look at why the monarchs were more attracted by the plants on bed n°2 — the plants that have the lower BRIX reading, of 12.

If I think about universal patterns, I can observe — and it has been observed by a lot of other human beings — that the complex process of Nature allows the most adaptable to survive and, on the other hand, the less adaptable to be devoured. For life to happen a creature is born, then needs to harvest energy in one way or an other, reproduce and die thereafter to be consumed, or biologically decayed, by an other form of life — all of this in an infinite web of interdependence and endless cycles of birth and death. This is the guidance by which life is able to evolve towards more complex forms of life. If it weren’t the “sick” that were annihilated but the “healthiest”, the result would be a world covered by non-functional plants, animals and microorganisms. It just doesn’t make sense!

That’s the reason why we are able to see: lionesses pack-hunting herding animals and getting the slower ones, those that are too young, old or sick; plants thriving where there is a healthy soil food web and others dying on soil without life; and insects developing pesticide resistance, enabling them to survive in high chemical environments compared to other insects, who just die.

This can partly explain why the monarchs are packing themselves on n°2’s plants. Nature follows the path of least resistance, trying to achieve the highest ratio of energy returned for energy invested. It will always first recycle the less functional, allowing the most adaptable and healthiest forms of life to perpetuate themselves.

For us humans, the difference between a healthy horse and a sick one is obvious, but what about plants? What about plants that look exactly the same to our naked eyes? How are the monarch caterpillars able to select the plants with the lower BRIX readings? Here is the answer, lying in the work of an amazing man:

Dr. Philip Callahan of the University of Florida, a USDA entomologist, explains that insect antennae are actually like small semiconductors, and, as they are coated with wax, are also paramagnetic structures. They receive various wavelengths in the infrared spectrum. Once the information is received, the insect’s brain determines whether the frequencies correspond to a mate, food, water, or something else. Everything emits infrared radiation, and each thing has its own specific range of vibration. The vibrational frequency of all the component parts of a thing makes up its composite vibrational frequency. This is what the insect receives and processes.

If a plant is in perfect or near perfect health (mineral balance), it will vibrate at a given composite frequency. If there happens to be a mineral deficiency, it will vibrate at a slightly different composite frequency. If there is a serious deficiency or several deficiencies that make that plant unfit for animal or human consumption, it will vibrate at a significantly different frequency that the insects know as food, hence an insect infestation. This phenomenon is easily proven. Grow a plant, a potato for instance, according to the program that is laid out in the next chapter of this book, and also grow one according to conventional practices. Keep track of the sugar (BRIX) readings and notice which plant is devoured by insects and which is not. Once the quality of a crop surpasses a given level, there will not be an insect problem with it because the crop will not vibrate at a composite frequency corresponding to the insect’s food. (3)

Amazing isn’t it? The insects are able to sense, to capture the vibrations of their environment and process it to determine if it is food or not. Now we understand why there were more monarchs on the plants of bed n°2 than on those of bed n°1. The plants of n°2, with a BRIX reading of 12, have a lower composite vibrational frequency than the plants of n°1. Not only that, but I suppose that the BRIX of bed n°1’s plants are high enough to not be considered as proper food by the insects.

But there were still a few caterpillars on the swan plants of bed n°1, remember? The ones that were dormant, as if the plant had poisoned them. And guess what? That is what happened or, more exactly, it is a kind of indigestion from the too-high-to-digest mineral content of the plants. Dr. Arden B. Andersen explains:

Insects get sick from healthy plants because they cannot handle the rich nutrients present in those plants. Further verifications of energetic communication can be found in the writings of Robert Becker, Vlail Kaznacheyev and Phil Callahan. (4)

This statement leads me to the Trophobiosis Theory of Francis Maboussou, an agronomist of France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. The Minister for the Environment in Brazil, Jose Lutzenberger, reformulated this theory in a simple statement: “a pest starves on a healthy plant.” (5) The idea is there, but let’s explore the theory a little bit more. Kay Baxter pointed me towards an article by John Kempf (6) where he beautifully explains what is actually happening inside the plant.

Basically insects and pathogens have a less complex digestive system than higher animals and humans. And through their field study his team observed different stages of plants’ health. Each one corresponds to an increase in the overall health of the plant that affects the way it functions, the way it behaves. The product created by the plants will tend to complexify, which results in the inability of simpler organisms to have the digestive capacity to process the available components of the plants. For all this evolution to happen the plant needs primarily efficient photosynthesis through adequate quality and intake of air, water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. And afterwards, it will need a healthy and active soil food web developed in the rhizosphere (the digestive system of the plant) to support it:

  • During the first stage there is the production of simple sugars, food for insects and disease pests, then the process evolves and goes towards the production of complete carbohydrates resistant to soil-borne pathogens.
  • In the second stage the plant, having this symbiotic relationship with the soil food web, forms complete proteins resistant to larval insects.
  • The third stage sees the abundance of energy being stored as complete lipids resistant to air-borne pathogens. This is only possible through the support of a well functioning soil food web.
  • And, finally, the fourth stage opens us to the creation of “complex plant protectant compounds”, built by the presence of the elevated lipid levels. The plants create these phytoalexins, which are part of a wide diversity of PSMs (plant secondary metabolisms). These PSMs act as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and also produce digestion (enzyme) inhibitors, resistance to beetles and various other insects occurs. (7)

Agri-Dynamics Director Jerry Brunetti says,

The plant hormones, gibberellins and abscisic acid are also terpenoids (diterpenes) and some of the diterpenes act as phytoalexins, which are molecules whose production is triggered by an infection or predation. Thus the phytoalexins’ chemistry is strongly anti-bacterial or anti-fungal. (8)

In his work, John Kempf stops at the fourth stage but doesn’t state that the evolution process stops there.

I don’t know what specifically inhibited the voracious hunger of the monarchs. By referencing the work of Francis Maboussou, John Kempf and others I just want to highlight that in life and Nature there reside some powerful evolutionary processes. Even if I am unable to precisely determine if our swan plants have reached the fourth stage or went further, I can only guess that the monarch caterpillars began to be affected by the overwhelming health of the swan plants at 18 BRIX.

This does mostly answer the questions raised by our observations of the monarchs, but doesn’t end the story. From our perception the plants stopped producing food for insects, fungi and bacteria and began to produce healthy human’s food as soon as the general vibrational frequency of the plants increased.

All this is very new for me and I recommend reading the article by John Kempf – you can find the reference in the notes below. I don’t know about you, but inside me it creates even more questions than answers. What does it really mean to have a crop destroyed by insects? Does it mean it is not meant for human consumption? What can we do to increase the health of our soil? Are we designed to digest stage 1 plants or more complete ones? But also, how healthy can a plant become, and how can we achieve the best quality crops? And, finally, how healthy can we become if we have the opportunity to eat only the most nutrient-dense plants?

A last observation would also be, why do these two garden beds, next to each other, have such different BRIX readings? Here at the Koanga Institute we give it our all to remineralise the soil into a healthy and living super-organism. We add a wide range of inputs, in the form of minerals, pre-composted fertilizers, liquid fertilizers, biofertilizers, compost teas and, obviously, compost. All this work is done by hand, where an uneven application of any fertilizer is very probable. We also use the Grow Biointensive method of John Jeavons and follow a strict rotation in the garden beds. With this information we can see that our two beds have probably not had the exact same treatment in the past. And I am grateful for that, allowing me to deepen my knowledge through deep observations.

Too conclude, this is a win-win situation for both species: the monarch caterpillars and the swan plants. The monarchs that have the most accurate ability to sense their vibrational environment are able to direct themselves to the plants with lower mineral content, therefore being food for insects, which allows the monarchs to thrive. And the swan plants with the higher mineral content, hence, the healthiest, are the ones that will set the greatest number of seeds, being untouched by the insects, to perpetuate their lineage and even reinforce it.

I would like to acknowledge the fact that it is a win-win situation not only for the two but also for the greater whole, including, for example, the microorganisms thriving in the rhizosphere of the high BRIX swan plants, and us, human beings, receiving these gifts from Nature.

How wonderful and miraculous Nature is? The more I study it, the more amazed I am by its inherent tendency to be perfect.

P.S.: Thanks to Ashly Dyck for her patience and the time spent on editing.

Further Reading:


  1. Dr. Arden B. Andersen, The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture, page 84
  2. Albert Bates, The Biochar Solution,
  3. Dr. Arden B. Andersen, The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture, page 50
  4. Dr. Arden B. Andersen, Science in Agriculture, page 251
  5. Jose Lutzenberger, quoted in “Trophobiosis Theory: A Pest Starves on a Healthy Plant” by John Paull, ELEMENTALS ~ Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania # 88 2007, web.
  6. John Kempf, “Crop Health Transitions,” Acres U.S.A. November 2011, Vol. 41, n° 11, page 22
  7. John Kempf, “Crop Health Transitions,” Acres U.S.A. November 2011, Vol. 41, n° 11, page 22
  8. Jerry Brunetti, “Plant Seconday Metabolites,” Acres U.S.A. December 2011, Vol. 41, n°12, page 60



16 thoughts on “How Plants Repel Insects – an Observation of Monarchs, Brix and Nutrient Dense Plants

  1. Thank-you for this clearly written, practical and thought provoking article, it encourages me to delve into the ‘BRIX’

  2. Thanks for this informative article, another proof of the perfect balance of biodiversity! We, humans have to learn more to be concious of not destroying our planet!
    Please add me to hour email list, if there to continue learning.

  3. Great article, Thanks for sharing!It gave me new insights and understanding for observing pests and plant health,
    Linking sciences is what is is about to understand the complexity.
    Thanks for giving another of such examples and inspiration to finally get a refractometer : )

  4. Great article, Oscar Morand, well written and full of references for further readings. Thank you for writing it!

  5. “Nature follows the path of least resistance, trying to achieve the highest ratio of energy invested for energy returned.”

    I believe it should be the opposite – highest ratio of energy returned for energy invested.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. And I totally advice anyone to get a refractometer, definitely.

    @Richard: Thank you so much! I can’t believe I did such an obvious mistake. And even now I must admit that it took me a little time of thinking to figure out which one was in the correct ordre…
    Thanks again for this review, I will try to correct that as fast as I can. And if there is anything else don’t hesitate to inform me, it is the best way to improve ourselves, peer-to-peer review.

  7. It is always pleasure to watch our students, interns and apprentices come forward with new realisations. To become more informed. Oscars observations,research and analysis have opened up a new path in front of him, and he is enthusiastically taking it.
    Good on you Oscar, we are proud of your transformation. Good luck on your journey Love Bob and Kay PRI, Kotare Village, NZ

    “It is not enough to be well intentioned, we need to become well informed” – Bill Mollison

  8. Nicely done, Oscar. I especially liked the way you phrased the evolutionary effects, with the plant growing on better soil, able to resist predation and setting more seeds.

    It seems the next obvious step would be to have a laboratory test the soil where the plants are growing, so you can see which mineral balance is behind the high Brix. The Mehlich 3 test is what I recommend.

  9. Excellent Oscar, really enjoyed reading it and I appreciate the time taken to give the references so we can continue our own studies and follow in your foot steps.

  10. After reading the art8icle I get the impression that you believe that both swan plants are identical and it has something to do with the soil mineral balance that created the difference. Just as likely is genetic difference between the two plants, just like people. plants are all unique, similar, but unique.

    I you get the chance to read ‘the natural way of farming’ by Mansunoba Fukuoka it may open your perspective to how much of nature can never be understood. In this case you specialise in soil, so you assume soil has caused the difference, a person who specialised in plants may assume it is a difference in the plants. When in fact the differences are far beyond the scope of measurement and understanding.

  11. @ Andy: Thanks for your comment Andy! And I definitely agree about the uniqueness of each plant, of everything and it is a very valuable point that I will add to my article.

    Same, same but different. And I did read the natural way of farming, the first book I read about agriculture (even if it is from far not the only subject this book talk about).

    Each plant is unique, each soil is unique. And the more I learn, the more I realize how nothing I know, which is a wonderful feeling. And at the same time I am aware that with little actions I can make a difference. For myself I found my passion into focusing my creative energy towards the improvement of our soils.

    Thanks for opening even more my sense of observations.

  12. @Michael Astera

    Soil test rocks!

    I didn’t mention it on the article but the gardens have all had a Reams soil test and have shit loads of minerals & inoculants added to them regularly. This is the the why of the high brix plants.

  13. @Michael Astera

    I have a few question about the Mehlich 3 test, I learned about this test today for the first time. If you don’t mind me asking them to you, could you contact me at oscarmorand (at) I tried to find your mail adress but didn’t succeed and I feel like having this conversation in private would be more appropriate.

    Thank you very much.

  14. Counter intuitive! So, humans living on sugar soda, donuts, and chips, are, well, dormant. But why are so many drawn to these high sugar foods?

  15. We generally see this phenomenon in organic agriculture, that healthy plants naturally repel insect feeding damage, and high brix is generally associated with this. Insects are recyclers, and see plants that are weak and ready for recycling for feeding, and avoid the healthy, robust plants that will go on to reproduce. It’s part of the natural balance. Yet, in the interest of science, it would be interesting to follow your monarchs through to emergence and reproduction to see if the few specimens that tolerated the high mineral diet gained any reproductive advantage over the more generalist feeders. An important corollary of the principle that diversity gives stability is to respect the differences and see how they play out over the long term.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *