We all appreciate the health benefits of eating fresh homegrown veggies, but have you considered implementing techniques to actually boost the nutritional value of the produce that is harvested from your garden? It always seems to revolve around paying less attention individually to plants, and focusing more attention on the soil as a whole and living element! The following post about growing more nutrient dense vegetables is a guest article written by Phil Nauta, who shares innovative vegetable garden tips and ideas over at the SmilingGardener.com website.
Kenny does a great job of writing about interesting veggie gardening tips. I know he and I are on the same page when it comes to wanting to grow food that is full of nutrients, in order to help us and our families and friends be as healthy as possible.
We call it “nutrient-dense” food. It’s relatively easy to grow food, but to grow exceptionally nutritious food takes a little more effort. As I sit contemplating the garden this year, here are 3 main factors I will focus on to achieve this goal:
1. The Soil Food Web.
Here I’m referring to the organisms that live in and on the soil. That includes plants and small animals, but especially beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. While they’re mostly too tiny for us to see without a microscope, they make everything happen in the soil.
They rearrange the soil particles to make it suitable for plants. They even directly feed plants and protect them from predators. That’s why my goal in the garden is increasing the health and diversity of these organisms (if you’re interested, here’s where I discuss why it’s necessary to actively get involved in improving our soil food web).
The main way to accomplish this is through well-made, aerobic compost. Most gardeners know that compost supplies nutrients and organic matter, but just as important is the beneficial microorganisms it brings into the soil.
In the last couple of decades, we’ve also been getting into microbial inoculants such as aerated compost tea and effective microorganisms. They don’t offer the wonderful organic matter of compost, but they do have the advantages of being very inexpensive to acquire and fast to apply. Plus, they can be sprayed onto leaves, where we also desperately need microorganisms.
2. Supplementing Nutrients.
If you’re interested in being as sustainable as possible, you probably like to get as much of your fertility from on-site as you can. Compost is the best for this, and cover crops are useful, too. But occasionally, especially during the first couple years of a new garden, it’s necessary to bring in some organic fertilizers to help out.
In a new garden, the soil is often poor and needs a little help. You can let nature fix this soil over the course of hundreds of years, or you can intervene and make it happen in a few years. That’s why we compost, too. A compost pile isn’t a natural thing, but it does quickly help create more natural conditions in the garden.
So supplementing nutrients includes mineral fertilizers such as calcitic lime and rock phosphate that you only use when a soil test tells you that you need them. It also includes some broad-spectrum fertilizers such as kelp and sea minerals to make sure your plants and soil food web have all of the micronutrients they need. All of these fertilizers help get the nutrients into your food.
3. The Boring Stuff.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fascinating world of compost tea and sea fertilizers and then forget the basics, which are often more important. For example, watering is kinda boring, but providing proper water is more important than any compost or fertilizer because every living organism needs water, nearly every day. That means you have to water the whole soil surface, not the just the plants, because all of the important beneficial organisms need water in order to do their jobs.
It also means mulching the soil with appropriate materials like leaves or straw. Keeping a moist, organic mulch layer is a big goal for me, as is keeping plant cover. As much as possible it’s nice to have a cover crop growing over winter in the vegetable garden, and ground covers in your ornamental gardens.
And then it’s all the other little things: Choosing healthy seed and plants. Planting them properly, in the right location, at the right time of year. Keeping an eye out for pests, which only come when your plants are unhealthy and in need of some care.
Keeping these 3 tips in mind, you can grow food that is much more nutritious than food from the grocery store. It takes a few years to build up the soil and soil food web to the point where it will promote this nutrient-density, but it’s definitely worth it.
Any questions about growing more nutrient dense vegetables? Feel free to ask below.
Phil Nauta is a SOUL Certified Organic Land Care Professional and author of ‘Building Soils Naturally’ to be released by Acres U.S.A. this spring. He has taught for Gaia College and been a director for The Society For Organic Urban Land Care. He holds a Certificate In Organic Landscape Management from Gaia College, a Certificate In Sustainable Building And Design From Yestermorrow, and a Permaculture Design Certificate. He ran an organic landscaping business and an organic fertilizer business before starting Smiling Gardener to teach innovative methods for organic gardeners.
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