Growing Nutrient Dense Vegetables
What are Nutrient Dense Vegetables? Certain kinds of vegetables have more nutrients than others, and some people refer to these vegetables as being nutrient dense. That is not what I am talking about. By nutrient dense, I mean the high mineral content for any given vegetable variety.
A nutrient density index can be measured with a refractometer. It measures the sugar/mineral content in units called “BRIX.” It’s an easy process that involves extracting a few drops of plant juice, from either the leaves or the fruit. When BRIX levels are high, the minerals are abundant, taste is superb, shelf life is extended, insect and disease problems are greatly reduced, and the plants are more winter hardy.
You cannot assume that your produce will have a high brix reading, just because it looks good. Only by doing a BRIX test (or other expensive type of nutrient analysis) will you know the nutrient density value for your produce. Here is an example with green beans of why the nutrient density issue is so critical. It was reported in June, 2007 Acres U.S.A. magazine by Jon Frank.
Rating Sample #1 Sample #2
Brix Rating 4.2 6.1
Dry Matter 8.1% 16.6%
Protein 1.75 g 3.34 g
Calcium 70mg 130 mg
Magnesium 30mg 50 mg
Phosphorus 40mg 80 mg
Potassium 190mg 580 mg
Copper 0.1 mg 0.4 mg
Iron 1.3 mg 2.1 mg
Zinc 0.7 mg 2.3 mg
Manganese 0.29 mg 0.35 mg
Obviously, just going from Brix readings of 4.2 to 6.1 made a big difference in nutrition. For green beans, ratings of 4 and 6 would be considered poor and average. Moving up to 8 or 12 would certainly make some additional gains. Much of the commercial, store-bought produce that I have tested is in the poor range.
High Brix readings means greater mineral density; but also (1) greater carbohydrates, (2) increased shelf life, (3) increased insect and disease resistance, and (4) improved taste.
Why is Nutrient Density Important? The nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables is not a new concern. 75 years ago, USDA alerted the public to the declining quality of produce, actually reading an article into the Congressional Record, Senate Document 264. In 1941, the government passed the Public Health Law, which permitted food enrichment. By 1946, we had the National School Lunch Program, derived in part from observations of physical and mental deficiencies in WWII recruits.
In the 1930’s, a Cleveland dentist, Weston A. Price (1870-1948), began a series of investigations. Having observed that teeth 22and oral health problems were increasing in the United States, he traveled to isolated parts of the globe to study the teeth and health of 14 primitive groups untouched by Western civilization. After 10 years of study, he concluded that teeth problems are due to nutritional deficiencies, not inherited genetic effects.
Table 2. Percentages of Teeth Affected by Caries in Primitive and Modernized Groups
Swiss 4.60 29.8
Gaelics 1.20 30.0
Eskimos 0.09 13.0
Northern Indians 0.16 21.5
Seminole Indians 4.00 40.0
Melanesians 0.38 29.0
Polynesians 0.32 21.9
Africans 0.20 6.8
Australians Aborigines 0.00 70.9
New Zeland Maori 0.01 55.3
Malays 0.09 20.6
Coastal Peruvians 0.04 40.0
High Andes Indians 0.00 40.0
Amazon Jungle Indians 0.00 40.0
From Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. 1939.
In comparison to American diets of the day, Dr. Price found that the diets of 13 primitive groups provided at least 4 times the water soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins, from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs and animal fats.
Dr. Price published his research in the book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939. Many consider his treatise the single most important work on human nutrition and dietary health ever written. In 1999, Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig took all of the Price information and published a resource/cook book called Nourishing Traditions. We have this book available for $25.00.
Organic Gardening Practices. The practices and products that you use in organic gardening will be different than what are used in conventional gardening practices. The touchstone practices generally used in organic/eco-agriculture include the use of compost, cover crops, and rock minerals. Other practices are necessary to produce the ideal system and the production of nutrient-dense produce. Certified organic gardeners will be using only products that are OMRI approved.
It’s a mistake to think that the organic/eco-agriculture system is simply an old fashioned farming model. Though it may include older methods, it also includes ecological understanding, close observation, and a concern for the entire plant/soil environment. It’s based on solid research and time tested practices.
Be aware that the general guidelines, practices, and products suggested are not a guarantee to gardening success. The following guidelines and practices are aimed at developing soil conditions that will eventually give high yields of nutrient dense produce.
1. Gradually increase the soil organic matter to 4 or 5 percent.. Have the soil organic matter tested. Most soils will be at the 1-2% level. Increased organic matter will reduce erosion, increase water holding capacity, increase aeration, and provide the plants with nutrients.
A. Use organic matter sparingly and wisely. Add compost before planting every crop, i.e. 2 to 3 times a year. After the first application of about 50 gallons per 100sf (with double-digging); then use about 20 gallons/100 square feet. For high quality compost or vermicompost, use about half the suggested rate.
B. Keep the soil covered at all times. This cover can be a vegetable or fruit crop, a mulch, a nitrogen fixing crop in the summer, or a fall cover crop. This is essential to building up the soil organic matter and in keeping the soil biologically active.
C. Grow crops specifically for deep root penetration and/or specifically for high carbon.
2. Increase the biological activity in the soil. Treat and feed the soil to promote growth of bacteria and fungi. Soil microbes will work tirelessly for you. They are the digestive system, and will feed the crop. Use dry molasses to promote growth of bacteria.
A. Develop deep, well aerated beds. Double-dig and get compost deep into the soil profile. Make raised beds.
B. Use minimum tillage. There is no need for power tools in small gardens. There is evidence that roto-tilling is hard on the beneficial microbes (especially mycorrhizal fungi), and that tilling, especially in heavy soils, can destroy soil structure. Avoid compaction of the garden beds. Do not step on the garden beds. Good aeration in the soil is essential for good biological activity.
C. Keep the soil moist throughout the year. The microbes need moisture to survive and multiply.
D. Add microbes, and products that promote biological activity, e.g. carbon compounds, humic acid, dry molasses, enzymes, fish hydrolysates, seaweed, compost teas, and kelp.
3. Re-mineralize the soil. Start with a soil test.
A. Select the correct fertilizers. Understand the difference between those that promote vegetative growth and those that promote flowers/fruit production.
B. Use only organic (generally slow release) fertilizers. Organic meals like feather, blood, cottonseed, and alfalfa meals are all acceptable, primarily for sources of nitrogen. Hard or soft rock phosphate is a good source of P. Kelp or green sand is a good source of K.
C. Be sure the nutrient levels meet certain levels and certain ratios. Many in eco-agriculture today use the Carey Reams ratios. (We spend two hours on soils, soil testing and and correct fertilization in my Organic Gardening class. Too much to cover here.)
D. Add sea minerals, sea water concentrate, rock dust, Azomite, etc. to get all the micro-nutrients.
E. Strive for soil pH of 6.4. If needed, use a high quality source of calcium carbonate to increase the calcium level and the pH.
F. Use organic foliar sprays for fine tuning of the nutrient needs.
4. Use crop rotation, companion planting, and bio-pesticides for management of harmful insects and diseases. Insects are not attracted to healthy plants. The chemical or synthetic pesticides are detrimental to the soil microbes and are not allowed for certified organic production.
5. Engage the natural energy forces of the cosmos. Use paramagnetic rock as a conduit for gathering energy in the soil to promote increased growth, increased insect and disease resistance, frost hardiness, plus a longer shelf life and improved taste in all the produce.