For those who are fans of science fiction reading, often a space traveler will find themselves stranded on a remote area devoid of what the traveler requires to sustain life. Our traveler will then tunnel to the center of the planet it lands on, harvest the raw minerals in the rock and then construct anything it needs using only these minerals, and a very sophisticated computer, as well as some imagination on the part of the reader.
There is some truth to these stories though. For those of us who remember the periodic table from high school chemistry, the thought of reciting these minerals often leads to immediate nausea and abdominal pain. However, with a little attention to a few of the important minerals, we can increase the yield of our plants as well as the nutritional quality of what we are feeding those who eat our food.
In the last entry on Nutrient Dense Foods, I began the introductory explanation of how most produce, organic or not, is not necessarily high in nutrition as measured by vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and anti-oxidants. The first place to address in our pursuit of increasing the nutritional content of our food is to look at the growing medium - SOIL. Soil has become so empty and depleted that the plants that grow from this soil do so but are nutritionally compromised and are then susceptible to disease, short storage lives, and they taste like substandard produce. This is the second in a six-part series as we embark on learning and incorporating this nutrient density farming technique as we attend a course led by Dan Kittridege of the Real Food Campaign.
Anyone who has been among animals knows that they have an intuitive nature. Your dog may start getting excited way before you pull up to the driveway or even your street. We know of a NYC cat named Ichabod who started howling at his owner when a space heater was plugged in and minutes later it blew up. Animals seem to also know what’s better for them. A Hudson Valley farmer present at the Nutrient Density Growing conference stated that he once tried feeding his pigs the same type of feed he usually does however he used a GMO (genetically modified) variety and they refused to eat! The same could be said about bees as well and may indicate one possible reason for colony collapse disorder, the phenomena of disappearing bees in North America. According to Arden Andersen, soil scientist and physician, bees will preferentially go to flowers with a BRIX measurement of 7 or higher. BRIX, as discussed in previous posts, is an easy measurement performed with a device called a refractometer, that correlates with nutritional quality and density of the plant or fruit. For a bee to pollinate a lower BRIX flower, it will expend more energy to make the honey than the bee is receiving from the lower BRIX pollen. If only we had access to that intuitive nature, than we could stand before the produce section in the supermarket and know what to preferentially select to eat! In the meantime, we can start with purchasing a refractometer and testing the produce ourselves or to buy from farmers who employ these techniques.
A lot of people tell us that they don’t have luck growing bell peppers, or that they are inundated with pests like slugs, or that their attempts at gardening seem to produce much less than the effort given. Our first advice is to TEST YOUR SOIL. For example, gardeners who use only compost to enhance their soil will uniformly find it to be deficient in Calcium and Magnesium. Before learning about Nutrient Density Growing, we were and still are, Eliot Coleman disciples. Compost was everything. But if you think carefully about this, compost only has what it was made from. If you are making your own compost and you are using the remains of vegetable plants, grass clippings, and table scraps and coffee grinds, your compost will only have the nutrients that are the breakdown products of these additions. Calcium is the king or queen of all minerals. It is absolutely necessary to have enough Calcium to ensure that the plant will have strong cell walls in it’s leaves and roots which will then provide the plant with the defense mechanisms to avoid being overtaken by disease and pests. Calcium stimulates soil microbes and earthworms, and is the primary base for other molecules to react with. It is essential for overall plant health.
How to Test Your Soil
There are a variety of labs that you can send you sample to for roughly $25. We use International Ag Labs and Logan Labs. For $15, you can use Cornell University Labs though they employ a “strong acid” test rather than a “weak acid” test which we believe to represent a better indication of what’s actually available to the plant. What we recommend doing if you have multiple raised beds like we do, is to take multiple samples from different beds to get an overall picture of what’s going on. If there are several different locations you grow on and want to analyze than it makes sense to do them separately. For example, it makes sense to test soil that grows berries separately from the area where you grow your annual vegetables. Once you get the results back, you will have an idea of what deficiencies and excesses you have and how to remediate it. Oftentimes, the labs that test your soil offer an analysis for for $25 and will recommend the amount of minerals that will be necessary to replete your specific size growing area. Your other option to avoid the extra test cost of “recommendations” after the analysis is to contact the companies that sell the rock salts and minerals, tell them your square footage, and have them make suggestions based on your soil results. Lancaster Ag, Nutrient Density Supply Company, and North Country Organics are some of the reliable companies you can consult.
The next entry in this series will focus on more specifics on the use of brix measuring, transplanting and direct seeding into your garden bed and using foliar sprays, measuring pH and electrical conductivity in the soil and nutrient drenches through the growing season. The goal we have, and hope you have as well, is to achieve the maximum biologic vitality in the food you grow which then translates to the maximum biologic vitality of your body.
Farmer Pam MD and Charlie, Wheelbarrow Operator