Sunday, July 29, 2018

The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Hummus-rich garden soil

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ever wonder why we need added vitamins and minerals beyond what we get through our food?  Over the decades, the food we eat has gone down in nutritional value as the soil has gone down in fertility.  Truly, we are what we eat.  The nutritional value of what we grow is part the type of vegetable it is and a whole lot of what the plant is “fed” from the soil in which it grows.  

It really all starts with the soil.  Plants grow to the lowest constraint.  Like people, plants need a balanced diet with beneficial microbes, minerals and nutrition.  Veggies can't create minerals, but they can take them up from the soil if they are there.  Healthy veggies can take up more from the soil and create more nutrition in the plant.  A healthy plant will have the most nutrition.

Saying all a vibrant, robust vegetable plant needs is NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) is like saying all a person needs is carbs, fat, and protein.  Those things are needed to survive, but you need much more to thrive.  Life is much more complex than three compounds!

When we think of the bouquet of the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy, where do we think this comes from?  We can’t get it from osmosis!  We have to get these from what we consume.

I read a book recently by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer called “The Intelligent Gardener; Growing Nutrient-Dense Food” that does a nice job of giving all the details about how minerals affect the tilth of the soil and the ability of the soil to support healthy, robust plants.  Steve is the guy that founded Territorial Seed Company.  

The minerals and nutrients we should be concerned about are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), sodium (Na), phosphorous (P), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), boron (B), Zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), silicon (Si) and molybdenum (Mo).  There are also other trace minerals that plants and our body needs.  It is a good idea to include Azomite or kelp to your garden quarterly during the growing season to supply the additional trace minerals.  I add 1 tablespoon per plant and water in.

Steve recommends getting a detailed soil analysis at the get-go.  For those just beginning to work with re-mineralization of the soil, he recommends Logan Labs for the testing.  You can get all the information you need on collecting the sample and sending off to the lab at  Steve recommends the standard sample test.  At the moment the cost is $25.  They can also do a particle size distribution (clay, sand, silt) for an additional cost if you have been curious what your garden's soil type is.

When you get the results, Steve has posted a worksheet that you put your results from Logan Labs and it calculates for you what you need for amendments to get your soil super charged for growth and nutrition.  Here is the link:  It uses an acre as the basis.  For those of us doing small space gardening, just divide the number of square feet in your garden by 43560.  This will give you the pounds you need to add to your garden for each mineral on the spreadsheet.

It gives a summary of how to put your soil in balance with a worksheet at the end to enter the results from Logan Labs to calculate exactly what you need to add to your garden to get minerals at optimum levels.  He recommends going slow so as to not get any minerals in excess in your garden.  It is a lot easier to add minerals than take them away!
Victory Garden Poster from WWII
I also liked this spreadsheet from Logan Labs that gives by vegetable type their mineral needs:  This can be handy if you are focused on one type of crop that you want to maximize your yield.

For most of us backyard/flower bed veggie gardeners that grow a variety, Steve’s spreadsheet is the way to go.  You can also do side dressings of amendments specific to certain veggies to give them a boost.  I do this for my fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of minerals which these veggies are susceptible to. 

If the whole spreadsheet thing is just more complicated than you want to worry about, Logan Labs provides a service for giving you what you need to add to your garden.  There is also a listing on the SoilAnalyst web page:  You can use an on line calculator from Erica that costs $9.50/year unlimited usage.  Here is the link:  All you have to do is input the numbers from Logan Labs and it spits out the amendments you need.

If you are applying minerals to mulch and not tilling in, I would recommend to add the minerals in early winter and then a balanced fertilizer in the spring.  This gives time for the minerals to get down to where your roots will be growing in the spring.  

As you prepare your bed in the fall or spring, you should add fertilizer.  For a balanced organic fertilizer, here is what Steve recommends from his book for 100 square feet of garden space:
2 quarts oilseedmeal (soybean, cottonseed, or canolaseed meal)
1 pint feathermeal 
1 pint fishmeal
1 quart soft/collodial rock phosphate or bonemeal
1 quart kelp meal or 1 pint Azomite
1 quart agricultural gypsum

Once you get your soil in balance, you can keep it that way by recycling back what you take out by composting and using a balanced fertilizer.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors  We do a combination of making our own and getting more that we need from a local horse farm.  Just be sure that if you get your compost from someone else that they are not using a systemic herbicide on their fields.  Herbicides don't know the difference between a veggie and a "weed".  

A quick chart showing the loss of minerals and correlation to disease:  Feed your soil, feed yourself.

If all this is a little too much for you, then be sure to add a nice thick layer of compost, use organic fertilizer per instructions on application rate, add Azomite for minerals per the instructions, and cover with mulch this fall.  By next spring, your garden will thank you.

Fall is a great time to put in any new garden beds you have been thinking of so the bed is teaming with worms and ready for planting the spring.  It is really easy to do.  You simply put down cardboard to smother the grass and then use the layers of compost, fertilizer, minerals and mulch.  Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed

Interplant your veggies in your new flower beds and get the added benefit of built in pollinators that come to see your flowers and weed suppression with mulch  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

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