Hi Friends. Today’s the day I spill the beans on my growing style and give you a bit more insight as to why I do what I do and how I do what I do. It’s far from being a super big secret that I’ve been holding out on you. Over the past few years my blog has evolved from being focused on my home and property repair project, which included my orchard and garden, to being pretty much focused on my fruit trees and veggie garden. So to date, my posts have revolved around what I’m growing here in the desert along with some helpful how-to information. Basically the result of my growing style. Well, it’s high time I shared something with you that is near and dear to my heart.
Before I dig in, let me just start by saying that everyone has their own way of gardening and they may be in a different place in their understanding of the options out there for gardeners today ~ that’s okay and I totally respect that. For me personally, I’m absolutely thrilled when I’m able to share something that really “speaks” to someone and opens them up to something new and wonderful in their garden!
It’s also such an honor to be able to write my blog and share with you my experiences, knowledge and even challenges in both my orchard and garden. I love the fact that a lot of you send along such kind words about what I’m sharing and that we get the opportunity to encourage each other to grow baskets full of healthy nutritious fruits and veggies. That’s what friends are for!
I applaud all of you who are growing even just one edible in your garden and encourage you to keep at it. Who knows… maybe one day you’ll be growing most of your own food, too 😀
What is My Growing Style?
Just like my post’s title hints at… both hubby’s and my growing style is all about growing high brix/nutrient dense fruits, veggies, and greens. The type of gardening method we use is called “biological gardening” which focuses on building the health of the soil and the life that lives within it (a.k.a. soil microflora and microfauna ~ you might know it simply as soil microbes). It also includes nurturing soil aerators such as earthworms and yes, even ants (well, maybe we can leave out the fire ants ~ I have a definite love and mostly hate relationship with them when they take up residence in my veggie garden beds). Using this type of gardening method enables us to meet Our goal… to grow the most nutritious and life-giving food as humanly possible. Some of you may be asking… “what does high brix/nutrient dense mean?”.
Essentially, a high brix/nutrient dense growing style specifically targets growing fruit, veggies and greens with the highest levels of nutrition. This is accomplished by balancing the soil’s mineral content in order to attain a higher mineral content within the plant itself.
The higher the sugar content in a plant, the higher its mineral content and nutritional value
Our high brix regimen focuses on…
- Soil Testing
- Remineralizing and balancing the soil
- Boosting microbial life in the soil
- Growing high quality nutritionally infused plants from seeds
- Fruits and veggies taste and smell better
- Fruit and veggie plants are bigger and healthier
- Higher plant sugars
- Fruits and veggies are heavier (minerals and trace elements weigh more)
- Less insect issues
- Higher ability to resist environmental stresses (i.e., drought, frost, heat, etc.)
- Fruit and veggies have a longer shelf life
Why I Do What I Do
Why do I grow to achieve high brix in fruits and veggies? Sorry to disappoint, but the details I’m about to share with you are far from explaining why I am the way I am. So for now we can all thank God, my parents, and my life experiences for… me 😀
Before we started growing our fruit orchard and veggie garden here in Las Vegas, hubby and I were certainly no strangers to gardening. We started gardening together over 25 years ago and our gardening style has evolved over the years from initially growing conventionally with N-P-K fertilizers and systemic pesticides (yikes!), to a more natural approach without pesticides or chemicals and eventually transitioned into our current way of growing.
Our focus on high brix/nutrient dense growing was intensified a hundred-fold due to major health issues that hubby and I experienced at about the same time. This is when we really started getting into growing the healthiest food we possibly could.
In early 2011, hubby and I came down with a severe case of the flu. For years I had been battling obesity from eating the typical American diet of “quick” convenience foods, which at the time seemed to be the only eating solution for my busy hectic life, and with this state of health, I’m sure, only complicated what happened next. From the get go, I experienced severe breathing issues in which I struggled to take in air. It took several weeks for hubby to fully recover, but my condition continued to worsen and my body became overwhelmed with multiple infections. Barely able to eat, I quickly lost about 90 lbs. A very unhealthy and unavoidable approach to weight loss which took its toll on my poor ailing body. Several months later and multiple emergency room trips, specialist appointments, tests, antibiotics, and allergic reactions later, conventional medicine was unable to diagnosis my illness. That’s when I turned to Integrative Medicine and began to seek out more nutritious healing foods.
Severely fatigued and still barely able to eat, my integrative doctor placed me on a diet that completely eliminated dairy, wheat, gluten, sugar, yeast, chocolate, and processed foods. What was left? Fruits, veggies, limited protein and a few whole grains cooked in a way that I could easily digest… in soup.
At that time, my diet primarily consisted of store-bought fruits and veggies and my recovery was slow and incremental. By late 2013, my strength had improved enough that I was finally able to ease myself back into working my orchard and garden, primarily focusing on growing leafy greens for my soups such as bok choi, tatsoi, collards, kale, beet greens, and swiss chard. When I started to eat most of my fruits and veggies from my own garden, the improvements in my health were nothing short of amazing. I was actually getting better 🙂
So if you haven’t guessed by now, the reason why hubby and I do what we do is… for our health. Pure and simple.
How I Do What I Do
First let me give credit where credit is due. My hubby has been instrumental in helping us to move toward achieving our goal of growing high brix/nutrient dense foods. His behind-the-scene technical skills, additional research on the subject, and physical labor has been instrumental in the success we’ve seen to date. Thank you sweetie… for your support and hard work!
Okay… now for the exciting stuff. Below is the foundation of the biological gardening approach we use in our orchard and garden to achieve high brix/nutrient dense fruits and veggies grow…
When I mentioned soil testing earlier, I could literally hear people shuffling around checking for their wallet. Most people think that soil testing is super expensive and completely steer clear of it. Certainly, if you’re submitting multiple soil samples at the same time and add lots of additional tests to the basic soil test, it can become quite expensive.
A basic soil test can actually be rather reasonable in price and costs around $14 to $25.
The other good news is that it usually only needs to be done at least once a year (2x a year is ideal)
What does a basic soil test provide? Most labs perform what is called a Melich III test (see note below) that reports on things like: soil pH, % of organic matter, and values and/or saturation % for sulfur, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, base saturation % and p.p.m for a handful of trace elements such as Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc and Aluminum. Certainly, enough information to determine your soil’s needs. Some labs offer soil amendment recommendations based on the results of the soil test as part of the cost or at an additional cost. A little later, I’ll explain a much better way to obtain a recommendation, especially if you want to grow high brix/nutrient dense foods.
Two labs I recommend for soil testing (and have used) are Logan Labs in Ohio and Spectrum Analytic in Ohio. As of 7/21/2014, Spectrum Analytic’s S3 soil test costs $14 and Logan Labs’ basic soil test costs $25. Both tests provide about the same information.
Melich III test ~ this test works just fine for raised bed soils using imported top soils and/or compost but the Melich III is insufficient for accurately testing calcareous/high pH soils like our native soil here in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Is a soil test absolutely necessary for high brix growing? Myself personally, I believe soil testing is critical to achieving our high brix goals. I want a clear and accurate picture of how my soil is doing and what the excesses or deficiencies are so I can address them without playing mad professor mixing up a little of this and a little of that. But that’s just me.
Another option is to forgo soil testing and use a one-size-fits-all recipe using soil microbe friendly ingredients like the one that was developed by one of the leading experts in growing nutrient dense foods, Steve Solomon ~ author of The Intelligent Gardener. Choosing this route, a gardener can completely bypass soil testing and source and mix the ingredients as needed. To me, it’s still sort of a shot in the dark approach but it might work just fine for some gardeners.
Obtaining Soil Test Recommendations for High Brix/Nutrient Dense Growing
I mentioned earlier that I would explain a much better way to obtain a soil test result recommendation, especially if the goal is to grow high brix/nutrient dense foods.
First, I wanted to point out something very important about lab recommendations (like Logan Labs or Spectrum Analytic). Though recommendations from a lab can be quite helpful, especially if a gardener uses conventional methods of growing by using N-P-K chemical-based fertilizers and such. Can this type of lab recommendation apply to high brix/nutrient dense growing? Could happen, but I haven’t seen any recommendations that were helpful in my growing situation.
The fact is, most lab recommendations are typically made for commercial applications where minimum inputs are wanted for maximum bulk. Basically, cheap powerful N-P-K chemical fertilizers for quick growth and size. The focus is definitely not on soil health or nutrition.
Here’s an awesome tip! There’s a company out there who is dedicated to helping home gardeners grow better quality foods. The company is called Grow Abundant Gardens and they offer a helpful super-inexpensive tool called OrganiCalc for home gardeners to use to obtain soil amendment recommendations (with a focus on soil health) based on the results of a soil test obtained from an independent lab (such as Logan Labs or Spectrum Analytic).
The gardener simply plugs in their soil test result numbers into the OrganiCalc tool and the tool will display the recommended soil mineral/amendment types and amounts. Super easy. Their recommendations are targeted at growing better quality food. There is also an option to request further discussion of the OrganicCalc recommendations with Grow Abundant for further discussion, if needed (at no additional cost).
To use the OrganiCalc tool, there is an annual subscription cost of $9.50/year. I’ve used this tool myself a few times and I highly recommend it. P.S. ~ I’m not being paid in any way for this testimonial… I just think it’s an awesome economical tool available to home gardeners who aspire to garden biologically. Important note: OrganiCalc is currently only setup to accept soil test results from either Logan Labs or Spectrum Analytics.
Remineralize and balance the soil
Again, the higher the sugar content in a plant, the higher its mineral content and nutritional value. We are so on board with re-mineralizing our soil and strive to do this in a balanced way by adding the amendments in the proper ratio (based on a soil test). Too much of a good thing can be just as detrimental to the soil as not having enough.
- Colloidal Soft Rock Phosphate
- Glacial Rock Dust
- Sea products like Kelp and Sea-Crop (which has 95% of the salts removed)
- Worm castings
Boost soil biology in the soil
Once the rock dusts and amendments are added to the soil, then what? We believe that soil biology (microbes, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, worms, etc.) has such an important role to play in the success of growing high brix/nutrient dense foods.
Some of these hard workers help to break down the rock dusts and other organic matter into a form of food and nutrition that plants can readily take up. Others help to aerate the soil. The consequences would be catastrophic without them.
- John & Bob’s (Maximize, Nourish, Optimize and Penetrate)
- Effective Microbes/ Mother Culture (TeraGanix EM-1)
- High Quality Vermicompost tea
- Mycorrhizae root inoculants
To incorporate all of this healthy goodness into our soil, we avoid tilling our soil by gently mixing the products into the first few inches only. We also incorporate many of these products (in small amounts) into each planting hole as we plant out our transplants and in our custom soil mix that we source and mix ourselves for use in making soil blocks to start seeds.
Brewing up a bi-weekly batch of high quality vermicompost tea and using it as a soil drench is also an important step in our biological gardening regimen and a nice compliment to the TeraGanix EM-1 product. It really helps to boost the soil microbiology within the soil. We make our tea simply using fresh high quality vermicompost, organic unsulfured black strap molasses, unchlorinated water, and a little hydrolyzed fish to help keep the foam at bay. To ensure the highest number of microbes within our tea we use a high quality high air volume pump (30L/min). Rather than using an air stone, we use an air lift for maximum air to obtain highly oxygenated water. You can learn more about this type of brewing setup and how to brew high quality compost tea at Microbe Organics.
We also use a holistic foliar spray that we source and mix up ourselves every 7-10 days to provide plants with the additional nutrition they need during their growing and fruiting stage. Some of the products we use are…
- Unsulfured Black Strap Molasses (OMRI certified)
- Hydrolyzed Liquid Fish (OMRI certified)
- Kelp Powder (OMRI certified)
- 100% Cold Pressed Neem (OMRI certified)
- Effective Microbes/Mother Culture (TeraGanix EM-1)
- Organic OMRI certified amendments and fertilizers (based on the needs of specific plants)
One of the benefits I’ve noticed in our biologically grown high brix/nutrient dense orchard and garden is the fact that there are a lot less pest problems. Why are there less pest pressures with this type of growing method?
- Insects can sense vibrations and recognize different infrared frequencies as being either a potential mate, food, water, etc. Plants that are deficient in mineral content (sugar) vibrate at a specific frequency that is readily recognized by insects as food. Mineral rich (high brix) plants vibrate at a much different frequency due to the higher mineral content. Based on the teachings of Philip Callahan of the University of Florida, a USDA entomologist.
- This is reinforced by the fact that insects cannot digest the rich nutrients/sugars in high brix plants and become sick. Basically, they starve on a healthy plant!
“Insects and disease are the symptoms of a failing crop, not the cause of it.”
~ Dr. William Albrecht
It goes without saying that we still encounter pests in our garden, but our plants seem a lot less prone to infestation and there’s a lot less nibblin’ goin’ on. And, the pests that I have seen are readily picked off by the beneficials and birds in our garden. Except for those nasty bragada bugs… nobody likes them, so we had to intervene with our castille soapy water spray and even at that, they were just on one plant ~ now, I haven’t seen one in weeks. Teamwork at its finest 😀
With all that said, we still do keep things on hand to address any potential pest challenges that may arise. Everything we use in our orchard and garden is safe for microbial/soil health as well as the beneficial insects and pollinators, like the Cellophane Bee (photo above). Using these types of products allows them to continue to thrive and further assist us in obtaining a natural and healthy balance. We use things like…
- 100% Cold Pressed Neem (OMRI certified)
- Soapy water (using either a biodegradable soap or pure-castile soap) (OMRI certified)
- Aromatic Essential Oils (OMRI certified)
- Pepper/wax spray (OMRI certified)
- OMRI approved citrus peel oil extract
- Diatomaceous earth (used very sparingly in targeted applications only) (OMRI certified)
I found a very interesting article you might like to read on the topic of pests and high brix that was written by Oscar Morand from the Permaculture Research Institute.
Growing Nutritionally Infused Plants From Seeds
In addition to everything else we do in our garden, I grow all of our veggie plants from seed. This allows me to start my plants with high quality soil, properly initiate my seedlings into my biological gardening regimen from the get go and ultimately kick-start my high brix/nutrient dense food source. Starting from seeds also allows me access to a much wider selection of plant varieties to choose from. All the things store bought transplants are missing. By avoiding store bought transplants I also side step the possibility of adding unwanted chemical growth enhancers and/or inhibitors, lifeless soil or sludge, pesticides and other chemicals, soil/plant diseases and pests, etc. into my biological life-promoting garden.
Sure, buying and using transplants already potted up is the easiest way to grow a garden, but I actually enjoy growing my own plants from seed. It’s especially rewarding to see all your hard work grow to be a big, beautiful, fruitful plant 😀
Rather than spend money on plastic pots that will eventually add to our landfill problem, I opted to try making my own soil blocks. I absolutely fell in love with soil block making! They are so economical to make and so much better for your little seedlings. The 2” block is quite inexpensive (around $30) and saves money over the long run over buying a constant supply of peat, manure, or plastic pots.
My favorite soil block maker is the 2” block size. When I first started working with the soil block tool, it took a couple of tries to get my technique down, but now I’m a pro. Today, I can easily crank out a full flat of 2” soil blocks in under 10 minutes. That’s 32 blocks total! I usually grow about six full flats of 2” blocks per season. That’s 192 high brix plants, baby!
At transplant I also like to incorporate the following:
- John & Bob’s (Maximize, Optimize, and Nourish)
- Mycorrhizae root inoculant
- Rock Dust (a little sprinkle for good measure)
- In the fall, I also plan on testing a product called Transplant Formula (see below); using this product may allow me to eliminate some of the products above
Though not a requirement for biological gardening, I’m a strong advocate for growing heirloom and open-pollinated seed and believe that it is much healthier for our environment and for our beneficials like bumble bees and bees. It’s also a way to help preserve biodiversity within our gardens and our planet. Some hybrid plant flowers can be difficult if not impossible for our larger beneficials, like bumble bees, to access the nectar and pollen. While some hybrid plant flowers either produce no pollen or are a low-quality food source. Food for thought.
FYI ~ I’m also a huge fan of companion planting and intensive growing, too!
How We Grow High Brix/Nutrient Dense Food On a Tight Budget
Regardless of the type of fruit and veggie gardening method a gardener chooses to use, there will always be some level of investment in the care and maintenance of their garden. Whether the garden is grown using conventional methods such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides or a more natural approach is used such as biological gardening, the investment is always there. I firmly believe the benefits of biological gardening, both for the garden and our health, far outweigh the results produced by using conventional methods.
Is one method more expensive than the other? It depends on what your goals are for your garden. Both conventional gardening and biological gardening for high brix/nutrient dense food can become quite expensive. It’s highly dependent upon the products, tools and plant materials chosen.
Personally, both my husband and I consider our orchard and garden an investment in our health, but we do live on a limited modest budget and simply do not have a money tree growing in either our front or backyard orchards. With that in mind, we take great care in choosing the products we purchase for our orchard and garden and do everything we can to avoid waste. Waste includes using unnecessary excessive amounts of product. The soil testing definitely helps with that.
Believe it or not, most of the items we use are actually quite economical because a little goes a long way in the garden. Even with that said, we’re always on the lookout for great deals and ways to save money so we can continue to invest in our health.
One huge challenge we face here in the Las Vegas area is the fact that quality garden resources are scarce and almost impossible to find. Because of this, most of what we buy are from online sources and finding deals with free shipping is critical for us. Another savings technique we use is to buy in bulk. It’s especially helpful and cost-effective when we’re able to split an order with someone else.
We’re currently trying out a new soil testing lab (at least it’s new for us), who is dedicated to helping both farmers and home gardeners grow high brix/nutrient dense foods. The lab is called International Ag Labs, Inc. and they offer a biological approach to farming and gardening based on the teachings of Carey Reams. The company has a few different websites that can be a bit confusing, so I’ve provided a brief description of each along with a link.
International Ag Labs, Inc. ~ soil testing/consulting (farmers and home gardeners) and product sales to commercial farmers only
High Brix Gardens ~ very detailed informational site for home gardeners about growing high brix/nutrient dense foods
Fix My Soil ~ the local dealer’s website for International Ag Labs product sales to home gardeners
This company is a professional lab that analyzes soil samples using a different approach than most labs as well as providing more details on mineral/trace element data and microbial activity.
International Ag Labs, Inc is the only lab in the country to offer the Morgan Extract (weak acid) test. International Ag Labs believes this test is more accurate than other soil tests and more accurately reveals what the plant can actually utilize from the soil.
The lab also offers a suite of foliar sprays, soil drenches and dry broadcast products formulated specifically for high brix/nutrient dense growing and do provide product recommendations along with their soil test results. They will even mix up a custom blended soil prescription for the specific needs of your soil, if desired (this service is available through Fixmysoil.com). The lab only sells direct to commercial farmers, but they do have a home gardener division and sells through a qualified dealer only. Their product line is quite impressive and has a lot of positive feedback from biological gardening enthusiasts who want to achieve the highest brix and nutrient density possible in the food they grow.
Hubby and I submitted soil samples from our orchard and raised beds to this company a week or so ago and are waiting anxiously for the results.
One of the products that we did decide to purchase from them “before the results were in”, and a lot of high brix/nutrient dense growers are excited about, is called Transplant Formula. This product was a bit on the pricier side, but it should last for a very long time since its application only requires one tablespoon per plant at the time of planting.
- 4 different calcium compounds
- 4 microbial packages to inoculate root systems
- 5 volcanic rock powders with quick acting enzymes
- 4 ‘biostimulant’ carbon sources
We’re still in the process of evaluating this company and their products, so I’m hesitant to recommend them to anyone as of yet. I’ll keep you updated on our evaluation progress. Update (as of 5/31/2015): I will be writing an blog post update soon on this topic ~ so keep your eyes peeled!
Some Awesome Resources
For those of you who are interested in learning more about biological gardening and growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit, veggies and greens, I’ve gathered together a few links and resources for you to start with. I’ve also included a few books in our home gardening library that we find indispensable that you may find interesting as well.
- Dr. Arden Anderson CD ~ both a medical doctor and farmer, he encourages his patients to grow high brix foods to improve their health. His CD is called “The Case for Nutrient Dense Foods, The Case Against Genetically Modified Foods” (Free!)
- Jon Frank, International Ag Labs Gardening For Nutrition 30-Day Course (Free!)
- High Brix Gardens
- Soilminerals (Michael Astera)
- Black Lake Organics (a number of interesting articles)
- The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer
- Nourishment Home Grown by Dr. A. Beddoe
- The Ideal Soil: A Handbook for the New Agriculture by Michael Astera
Hope you found this post interesting and helpful. Certainly, if you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment.
Before I head out into the garden, I leave you with these words of wisdom…
“Optimum health begins with the soil!”