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Indispensable Books and Resources
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    by Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    by Eliot Coleman
  • The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    by Gary F. Zimmer
  • The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    by Barbara Damrosch
  • 1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    Organic Insect Control
  • Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.

    The best farming and growing magazine money can buy!

  • Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks
    Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks

    2" Soil Blocker

  • Mini Soil Blocker
    Mini Soil Blocker
  • New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    by Emily Brooks
  • What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    by Tasneem Bhatia, Editors of Prevention







Short journal entries detailing the nuts and bolts of our ventures in growing food at our micro-farm

Entries in nutrient density (7)


Nutrient Density Growing: The Declaration of Seeds

Last week I saw a long-time patient, pregnant with her 2nd child, coming in for follow-up of her blood work.  A working mom, socially conscious, and well-educated on eating locally, sustainably and organically, she was perplexed as to how she could be deficient in magnesium.  In addition to having a CSA share and shopping regularly at a Brooklyn food co-op, she thought she had access to the best foods available.  I’m not arguing that she didn’t - many people have different absorption rates for vitamins and minerals and some have greater or lesser biological needs - but this brought up the point that a carrot is not a carrot.  And my explanation of nutrient dense growing, a ongoing topic in past journal entries, came as a complete shock to this young woman.  “You mean if I eat brussels sprouts that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m getting all the nutrients it’s supposed to have?”

In The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, nutrient density growing is briefly addressed.   Pollan outlines the assumption people make when they buy a vegetable - that a carrot is a carrot, but in fact, it just depends.

“Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida.  Naturally this information discomforted the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research.  Nowadays US agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.  But in an agricultural system dedicated to quantity rather than quality, the fiction that all foods are created equal is essential.”

This is exactly the premise for why and how we grow food here at our micro-farm.  Is it organically grown? Of course it is, but our approach of truly addressing soil fertility is 10 steps ahead of organically certified foods - what people understand as the pinnacle of healthy eating.

Now in the winter season, our efforts are focused towards figuring out what we want to grow this season, crop rotation (a laborious endeavor on a small bio-intensive farm,) and re-evaluation of varieties we liked, disliked and new ones we want to try.  Colorful seed catalogs in hand contrast the white and gray landscape outside bringing back the anticipation of growing again as we’ve physically recovered from the prior year’s strenuous work.  When the day length time in mid February starts to awaken the lettuces and spinach in the high tunnel, we will be in full force again.  For now, it’s all about the seeds.

At our last Nutrient Density lecture, Dan Kittredge focused on the seed as the starting point for producing the most optimally productive and healthiest plant.  The size of the seed can correlate to the best genetic plans for the plant.  This makes a lot of biological sense.  Oftentimes, the runt of the litter, is the sickliest and usually the one the mother rejects by not choosing to feed.  Her Darwinian instincts know that this runt has the least capability of surviving when grown and that this runt, bearing the weakest of her genes,  should not be one to reproduce.  From a human standpoint in infertility treatments, the largest and healthiest looking eggs (or follicles) are selected for intrauterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization.  The male contribution is also important; the sperm that is the healthiest is usually the most motile and the fastest one to the egg wins (how interestingly male!)  Naturally, a combination of the best follicle and sperm will most likely produce the healthiest embryos.  All this logic applies to vegetables seeds as well.  For those that have grown from seed, your packet contains a variety of different seed sizes.  Some are small and some large, some are lighter in weight and some are more dense.  Planting the larger, denser ones will give you better vitality, yield and growth potential.  This is all about getting it right from the beginning.

These are pea seeds. On top, the ones you should plant and below, the ones you should discard

The problem is that seed companies don’t offer you this option.  Mostly because no one is asking for it.  However, Dan Kittredge of The Real Food Campaign, has been interviewing seed companies to try and see if there is a way growers can pay more for the larger size seeds as this will lead to increased yields.  The company that was most open to the idea is one that we often use - High Mowing Seed Company in Vermont.  Johnny’s Seeds and Baker Creek were also open to the idea.  What we all need to do is simply ask for it.  Hopefully en masse.  When there is a demand there will be a supply and if enough of us call and ask, companies will eventually oblige.

Tomato seeds. The larger top seeds are the ones that promise to produce the strongest and most vigorous plants


This is another way to guarantee you have the best access to the best seeds.  Growing high brix crops, aka nutritionally dense plants in optimum soils will produce the strongest plants and thus the healthiest seeds which you can pick and choose from.  Given that 96 percent of the commercial vegetable varieties grown in 1903 are no longer available, seed saving is important for a variety of other reasons.  A great movie that discusses this is Food of the Future by Deborah Koons Garcia.  [See it HERE for free.]  If you’re just starting to save seed like we are, start simple and small with the easiest vegetables to save seed from.  Peas, beans, tomatoes and lettuce are on the beginners list.

Here, the Vigna Caracalla or Corkscrew Vine, a plant that produces a stunningly gorgeous and fragrant flower obtained from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello produced one seed pod last fall which I saved.  Which seeds do you think I’m going to use to grow my next plants?


Click HERE to tell High Mowing Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Click HERE to email Johnny's Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Click HERE to email Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Ther are many seed companies out there, you can make a difference by calling or emailing the company and make a request for the option to purchase larger seed szies. 


Eggplant vs. Flea Beetle: Viva La Aubergine

It’s Fall.  For most people who grow, this is the last stretch for the heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  At this point, I think I’ve eaten enough fresh tomatoes to last me through the winter.  One thing I haven’t grown tired of are eggplants.  I never thought too much of them until I grew them and was forced to find creative ways to cook them; now I’m an addict.  We grew a few different eggplants here but my favorites are a Japanese and Tuscan variety.  The Japanese come in early and continue to produce and the Tuscan Globe comes in later in the summer and are prolific with heavy, strikingly violaceous fruits.

The biggest issue in growing eggplants are keeping flea beetles from making swiss cheese from the leaves.  This annoying poppy seed-sized pest shows up early in the season and continues to eat away the leaves of the eggplant.  I am surprised that eggplant is not considered one of the “dirty dozen” fruits - the vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides even after being washed and peeled.  The list, compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), lists celery, kale, and bell peppers as among the most contaminated.  Obviously, with organic growing techniques this is not an issue.  

Part of our organic practices to reduce pests and disease is to use Nutrient Density growing techniques that address the quality and health of the soil which will then translate to a healthier plant.  The same reason a strong healthy immune system is integral to a healthy human being, the same logic applies for the plant.  Last year our eggplants had flea beetles but the plants were so strong that they could still grow lush and produce a nice bounty of fruit in spite of the bugs.  This year, the flea beetles became more of a nuisance and the plants were not able to compete with them.  They did not succumb to the bugs but they were certainly not the optimum and productive plants we saw last year.  Click HERE  to see an example of plant stress and evidence of how a strong plant is your best defense against disease and pests.  Please note how the plants at the left of the bed received optimal light and are healthy and pest free and how the plants towards the right were partially shaded and have evidence of insect damage to the leaf.  The Nutrient Density growing method can take 3-4 years to really change the mineral and microbial content of the soil so we didn’t expect to see a dramatic change right away.  Every season, we re-test soil and re-amend the soil and much of the amendments take seasons to break down to be utilized by plants and soil microbes.  So what did we do besides watch the flea beetles have a hey day?


In the long term, addressing the soil health should obviate the need for “control” but in the meantime, I’m not going to sit around letting a little army of flea beetles dine on my eggplant.

1. Crop rotation.  This is essential since the adults can overwinter in the soil and in plant debris.   However, if your area is small, you are likely not able to plant them far enough from last season’s planting area. They emerge in the spring waiting for you to put your healthy seedlings in the ground.  If your seedlings are stressed they will take this opportunity to defoliate and kill your plant.  You definitely want the healthiest seedling possible and you don’t want to plant these seedlings too early since eggplants LOVE heat.  Using a row-cover in the spring until the population of flea beetles die down is also helpful.  It’s just a physical barrier between the plant and the environment.

2. Trap Crops - this is more applicable to farms, but the idea is to plant a more desirable plant for the flea beetles to feed on so they leave the eggplant alone.  This includes planting Chinese mustard greens nearby or to interplant radishes like “Chinese daikon” or “Snow Belle.”

3. Manual Removal - There are reports that physically removing beetles can be effective.  The flea beetle is so small that some people report using a small portable vacuum to literally just suck them off the plants.  We have not tried it but plan on doing it next year if continues to be a problem.  Time to find the old Dust Buster.

4. Botanical controls - the last option.  The only one that we would advise using is a very diluted spray of organic neem oil  Apply this only on a cloudy day.

Tuscan "Prosperosa" Eggplant. Note the leaves.


A few of our favorites dishes that use eggplant include a Baba Ganoush, Roasted Vietnamese Eggplant with Scallion Oil, breading and frying the slices of eggplant, grilling slices, and using them in stir-fry dishes.  When laziness creeps in, we bring our Japanese eggplant to our local sushi master, Ume, at Murasaki in Nyack, New York.  The first time we did this, Ume looked at the eggplant thoughtfully, brought them back to the kitchen to broil and minutes later presented us with a simple dish from his childhood in Japan.  How cool is that?  Here’s the recipe he used.  It’s simple and sublime.  It is so refreshing to find a chef that is so excited by the challenge of using local ingredients on the spot.  Murasaki has become one of our favorite restaurants in town and we high recommend it to anyone who enjoys traditional artisanal sushi.

RECIPE: Yaki Nasu (Ume’s Eggplant)

4 Japanese Eggplant
3 Tbs sesame paste
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Dashi (this is a bonito and seaweed broth).  You can substitute with dashi powder which is sold in Asian markets.
garnish with 2 Tbs bonito flakes and/or thinly sliced scallions (optional)

Broil eggplant until soft (5-10 minutes).  Peel off skin and cut into sections
Blend the remaining ingredients together
Spoon sauce over eggplant and garnish with bonito flakes and scallions


Preserving Farmland: America's Top Priority

The Glynwood CenterLast week, the New York Times ran a short editorial entitled "Death of a Farm," on the closing of America’s oldest continually operating farm in New Hampshire - Tuttle’s Red Barn farm.  John Tuttle first started the 240 acre farm in 1632 when he arrived to the New World from England.  Since then, it’s been passed down 11 generations.  To drive home the point of how long ago that was, in 1632, Gallileo was still publishing and was forced, by the Pope, to recant the idea that the earth orbits the sun the following year.  On Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm website, the current Tuttle family cites that the decision to close was borne from an exhaustion of resources including their bodies, minds, hearts, imagination, equipment, machinery, and finances.  Dwindling sales from customers that used to use shopping carts are now spending thrifty using only their hands for what they can afford to carry out.  Implicit in their explanation is the fact that it’s just cheaper to buy your food from the A&P than from a family run farm.  This sad story brought tears to my eyes that quickly dried when I toured the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, NY this week.

Providing me with more Kleenex (or Seventh Generation facial tissue), though this time for tears of joy, the Hudson Valley is now an area that Obama has recognized as one of the 25 places in the country being considered by the government as a top prioroity area for land protection and the revitalization of rural communities.  US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as part of the Great Outdoors Listening Tour, was there to learn from people directly involved in finding grassroots solutions to conserving our lands and waters and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors.  The Rockland Farm Alliance, for which Hook Mountain Growers is now an active member of the Board of Directors for the Cropsey Farm, was represented at the meeting on August 6th, 2010.


The mission of the center is simple: to help communities in the Northeast save farming.  This non-profit center’s values are summed up here:

    “Glynwood believes that the rural working landscape is one of civilization’s highest achievements—that a countryside featuring healthy pastures, productive crops, fruitful orchards, well-managed woodlots, and sturdy barns is aesthetically beautiful and emblematic of thriving communities...Glynwood maintains that farming done in harmony with the natural environment can be both economically viable and environmentally sustainable...Glynwood regards food produced, distributed, and consumed locally as beneficial to human health and community, and to the natural environment.”


Glynwood’s unassuming entrance led us on a road to the main farm.  One must drive slowly and mindfully, traversing a bucolic narrow dirt road within the woods that follows a gentle brook.  Immediately you feel a transformation into a miraculous woodland reminiscent of Thoreaus’s Walden Pond.  We passed by one of the many cottages on the property with one being used as the backdrop to a Christmas photo shoot for the clothing company Aeropostale.  It ‘s August and holiday wreaths and mistletoe were strewn at every doorway.  Not so unusual if Christmas is in...Santa Barbara.  Ironically and sadly, it makes financially more sense to rent out your farm for a photo shoot because it sure brings in more money than selling vegetables.  Past the hoopla we met the venerable Dave Llewellyn, the head farmer at the center for a special insiders tour.  We first met Dave at a lecture he gave at the Young Farmer’s Conference at Stone Barns in December 2009.  His lecture sparked our interest in Nutrient Density farming and changed the way we view the soil and food quality.

Dave grows vegetables in two separate areas: one is 3/4 of an acre and the other is 1/2 acre.  Of course, this doesn’t tell you much about the rest of the farm.  It’s 225 rolling pastoral acres are home to the grazing fields for cows, sheep, goats, chickens and horses.  One horse, named Maggie is even being used as a draught horse!  Beautiful young smiling lady farmers in electric tractors whiz by mowing down paths, man (or woman) the CSA distribution center, and make sure irrigation is working.  Ahh, I think I’ve found paradise.  I find out that their grass-fed cattle and poultry are sold to their CSA members and I wish I lived in the area to take part of this bounty. 

As Dave brings us to the growing areas, he mentions that the Glynwood center is in the process of leasing 15 acres in nearby Garrison, NY, for more growing.  We were a little shocked that they couldn’t find that acreage in their 225 acre center, but Dave pointed out that most of the land is rolling land perfect for grazing (and probably grape growing) but not for vegetables.  We found out that Dave has only been doing this for 10 years, prior to that, he was a law clerk.  He then  founded and managed a now defunct CSA in Mahwah, New Jersey with his wife before coming to Glynwood.  His plans for the 15 acres is groundbreaking.  It’s not just 15 acres for growing, but it’s going to be a model for how one can economically start-up and run a farming operation in the Northeast.  A very important mission since, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of our current farmers are now over 55 years old and the new generation of farmers need to be innovative especially faced with energy, climate and water challenges.  Kudos for Dave and the Glynwood Center for promoting sustainable agriculture in this area on a whole new level.

The recent addition to the center: "A Barn with a Mission"

This recent barn addition will house their first boot stomping Barn-Dance gala on Saturday September 11, 2010 which includes a 3 course dinner with the bounty of the Hudson Valley and, of course, dancing.  This is the chance to “revel in supporting Glynwood’s mission to saving farming.”  So if you were moved by the closing of the Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm in NH, don’t wallow in despair, there are still so many things you can do to promote the movement like spend your dollars at the farmers market or at your local family farm or just even coming to the Gala and better yet, if you can, donate to the cause.  And if you're a local Rockland resident, donating to the Rockland Farm Alliance will help two new community farms come to fruition.


Nutrient Dense Foods: Transplanting and Ensuring Prolific Yields Part 3 of 6

Fennel and Caraflex CabbageSo it’s midsummer, the time around summer solstice, where most of us have planted our summer crops and we’re eagerly awaiting the first tastes of summer: tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and eggplant.  For us here, we’ve been enjoying beets, broccoli, beans, herbs, peas, carrots, fennel, fava beans and kale for some time now but our eyes are on the prize: our fruit laden tomato plants.  After growing, freezing, and canning our own tomatoes we vowed never to eat a tomato out of season and it’s been 6 months now since our last fresh tomato.  Sungolds are the first of our tomatoes starting to ripen and we hover around that plant dreaming of meals where we can showcase these little orange jewels.  But there’s a bit of fear lurking around every time we check on our tomatoes.  It’s a little PTSD from last year’s blight epidemic in the northeast.  I remember the day: July 11th, 2009.  We had the most healthy looking fruit-full tomato plants and the heirlooms with their gigantic beauties were starting their transition from green to yellow and red.  We knew we’d have many hundreds of pounds of tomatoes that we’d hope to bring to the market.  And then it struck, signs of blight in one area of the farm quickly took down 100 of our 120 tomato plants.  We frantically pruned, sprayed the plants with biodynamic equisetum prep, used anything in our means necessary, except fungicides of course, to keep the plants alive and hope that the weather would turn hot and dry which it never did.  Thankfully, we had a great biodiversity of other fruits and we learned to be happy with the 240 lbs we were able to salvage.
Plum Regal Tomato Plants Loaded and Dreams of Marinara Dance in Charlie's Head
This time it’s different.  We have 44 tomato plants instead of the 120 we planted last year.  It is recommended that you do not plant on blight-infested areas for 3 years but since we have such a small operation, that wouldn’t be possible for us.  We decided to limit our tomatoes in the main growing area that was affected and use only highly blight resistant tomatoes like Mountain Magic and Plum Regal and we’d grow our non-resistant heirlooms in the greenhouse and in a small area that was not affected last year.  But it’s also different this time because we're using nutrient dense techniques to increase soil nutrients through drenches and foliar sprays to ensure that the plant is strong enough to resist disease.  This is an absolute corollary to ensuring human health by preventative measures like proper nutrition, exercise and stress management and ultimately a strong immune system to resist diseases like cancer.

We took part in the 3rd series of ND growing with Dan Kittredge at Udderly Wool Acres in Glastonbury CT.  This time it was packed with extremely practical information and field demonstrations.  We were ready to get out of the classroom and get our hands dirty.

Dan measures the electrical conductivity of the soil






Electrical Conductivity

For crops to have access to nutrients needed for optimal growth the soil needs to have the proper electrical charge.  For high brix fruit you need sufficient energy in the soil.  You can measure the soil conductivity with a meter and this is helpful to discern whether or not there is an imbalance in the soil that needs to be addressed.  This is done weekly throughout the season (ideally in the early AM) but it’s most important to do this at transplant time.  Have you ever transplanted something and it sat there for eternity without growing?  I have and it drives me crazy.  If there is low conductivity, it’s a good indicator that there is insufficient nutrition for crops.  You want to see a level of 200 in the spring and 600 when the plant is filled with fruit.  Looking back at last years blight epidemic, there was much less sun which meant less photosynthesis, less sugar feeding the biological life in the soil, and further the constant rain leeched out the soil electrolytes. The high water table then decreased oxygen which asphyxiated the soil biology.  Dan tested his parents (prominent NOFA farmers) soil last year and it showed a conductivity reading of 40-50 in the area of tomatoes.  He did a broad spectrum nutrient drench (minerals, electrolytes, molasses) and the tomatoes survived!  With every transplant we do now, we add a "transplant drench" by the Nutrient Density Supply Company which is a combination of mycorrhizal fungi and microbes, seaweed extracts, minerals and enzymes


Brix Measurements in Plant Sap

In the previous posts on ND growing, brix was a measurement used in discerning how nutrient dense a food was before consumption.   I was referring to the final carrot or fruit, but the sap of the plant's leaves and its brix can be used to determine whether or not the plant is taking up nutrients from the soil and if it is in general a genetically strong plant.  For example, when I was growing eggplant seedlings indoors this spring I noticed that one plant out of 20 sitting in a try was infested with aphids.  None of the other plants were touched which led me to throw out the plant because I knew it was weak perhaps to some genetic variability.  Ideally this should be done before fruit sets and levels should not be below 12.  Early morning is the best time to test and keep a consistent area to test on the plant to minimize experimental factors i.e. the 4th newest full size leaf.  If the measurement is under 12 then it indicates that your plant is stressed in some way and needs your help.

 Squeezing plant leaf sap with a vice onto a refractometer

Beyond this, one can measure the pH of the plant (not the soil, which is typically done) which helps to discern mineral imbalances without having to send off a soil sample for testing.


Farm and Garden Maintenance

Though this may all seem time consuming for the average gardener, it's even more so for the farmer with a larger acreage and even less time.  However, if measurements are made 15 minutes once a week, it's a way to ensure minimal disease (remember insects do not choose to eat strong plants only weak ones), maximum crop yields, and a superior vegetable or fruit in nutrition and in shelf life.  On our microfarm, it can also be quite time consuming as each raised bed has to be treated like a seperate "field'. After the transplant solution, weekly to bi-weekly nutrient drenches to the soil and foliar sprays depending on measurements are done throughout the season.  Foliar sprays are another way to provide plants with nutrition other than through their roots.  Like skin, they absorb nutrition from their leaves as well and the best time to do foliars are at 5 AM or 7 PM (when the birds are out singing).  This way of growning is beyond organic growing.  Though this method of growing is more costly and time intensive to the farmers the viabiliity of seeing ND produce in markets can only be brought there by consumer demand just as the organic food movement did decades ago, it's an important area to explore.  ND food will likely cost more but it's worth it.  It helps when consumers understand the work that goes into their food.  The best way to understand this is to grow your own food, join a CSA and actually get out into the fields and work!  Only then can one really understand and fully appreciate what it takes to bring food to the table.

Farmers doing a nutrient drench in the fields


Nutrient Dense Foods: Minerals and Soil Analysis part 2 of 6

Sci-Fi Mineral Harvester Henry Hudson
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.

What Next?

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