Growing Healthier Vegetables

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Growing Healthier Vegetables
Note: The Smart Gardener team is using this Andesite Mineral Complexin our own gardens and can absolutely see the difference. When we come across a great product (especially one you are not going to find at your local Home Depot or even your local nursery) that we believe in, we want to let you know about it.

Re-Mineralize Your Garden To Grow Healthier, More Nutrient-Dense Plants

volcano-iStock_000007857193Nature has been re-mineralizing the soils of the earth through volcanic eruptions and sedimentation since the beginning of time. Volcanic eruptions scattered valuable minerals from deep within the Earth, while wind, rainfall and rivers helped redistribute them to areas around the globe. Glaciers also played a major role throughout the Ice Age by pulverizing rock and blending it into the Earth’s soil.  Prehistoric plants were rich in minerals due to the abundant supply available in the soil.

However, these valuable minerals have been significantly depleted in most soils over the years due to over-farming, erosion and other factors and as a result, plant life, soil health and bio-diversity have suffered.  Today’s soils contain no more than 16-20 minerals on average compared to 80-100 minerals millions of years ago.  Without these natural minerals, plants become weaker, require more water, produce less, contain lower nutrient levels and are more susceptible to stresses, pest infestation and other issues.  This lack of minerals in our soil also has a direct impact on the quality of the food we consume today.

Minerals And Your Health

vegiStock_000026429668Minerals are the building blocks of a healthy body.  Minerals are present in virtually all of the cells in the body and help ensure that our internal systems function effectively and efficiently.  Minerals help the body build new tissues, balance pH, release energy from food and regulate a variety of other body processes.  The human body needs at least 45 – 60 different minerals for optimal health. However, on average only 8 minerals are available in any kind of quantity in most of the food we consume today – including fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Apsley states that “… that properly grown organic produce, in soils heavily re-mineralized with rock dust, are the key to health and longevity.  These are the only kinds of real foods that satisfy the hidden hunger plaguing the vast majority of people today”.

The good news is – if you are growing your own food, there is something you can do about this: re-mineralize your soil.

Plants Need More Than Just N-P-K

garden iStock_000006815439Although N, P & K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) are important, many growers focus solely on these inputs and overlook many of the 90+ natural mineral elements that are key contributors to plant and soil health. Elements like cobalt, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, carbon, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, iron and others also play a very important role.

Plants produce vitamins, amino acids and varying amounts of fatty acids if they are grown in soils containing abundant minerals.  If the proper minerals either do not exist in the soil or are “locked up” and therefore unavailable to utilize, plants cannot achieve their full potential.  In the case of edibles, this lack of minerals also translates to a lower nutrient-density and lower brix (sugar content) levels in their production.   Microorganisms, which also play an important role in healthy soil, feed on minerals and organic matter to create humus, humuc acid, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and other trace elements.

Re-Mineralization Offers Several Benefits to Your Garden Including:

  • Providing a slow, natural release of elements and trace minerals
  • Improving nutrient uptake of plants
  • Increasing yields
  • Enhancing flavor in edibles
  • Encouraging earthworm and microbial activity in soils
  • Improving brix (sugar content) levels in plants
  • Producing more nutrient-dense edibles
  • Improving resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought
  • Improving Cation Exchange Rates in soils
  • Helping balance soil pH levels

Hand-with-ande-smallSmart Gardener can now help you re-mineralize your soil by offering Andesite Mineral Complex™ – a unique mineral blend containing broad-spectrum essential and beneficial minerals and trace elements.  Andesite is available in three different sizes to suit all types of growers and gardeners.  Click here to learn more or to place an order.

More about Andesite, click here.

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Making your own fertilizer mix

Making your own fertilizer mix

Making your own fertilizer mix has several advantages over buying a pre-packaged mix. That’s why it’s a basic component of Smart Gardener’s approach to organic gardening. Here’s a couple reasons why we like it so much.

1) Simplicity. It makes the whole question of “Which fertilizer do I use?” much simpler. It reduces the amount of boxes, bags and bottles of lots of different fertilizers you have to buy and store.

2) Less costly. It can save you quite a bit of money (as much as 50%), which you can then use for other gardening purposes.

3) Easy. It doesn’t take much time or effort to mix the various materials together, though it can be a bit dusty and the bulk bags are fairly heavy (they usually weigh 50 lb).

4) More flexibility. You can alter the recipe to better suit individual crops and can avoid materials you don’t like (for ecological, ethical or other reasons).

5) Buying bulk and sharing. If you buy the ingredients in the large bags. it’s great for community or school gardens, as well as sharing with neighbors or friends.

Where to buy

Generally the cheapest place to buy your materials is from a farm supply or feed store (a rule of thumb says that it’s cheaper to use materials sold as animal feed rather than fertilizer). If you don’t have a local feed store or farm supply,  then your next option is a garden center. These are set up for home gardeners so everything is in one place and it’s easy to compare materials and prices.

Choosing the ingredients

A complete fertilizer mix will include a source of each of the primary nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as the secondary nutrients (calcium, magnesium and sulfur) and trace elements. The materials you choose depends not only on their nutrient content, but whether your priority is cost, organic purity (the cheaper amendments are mostly waste products from commercial agriculture and may contain pesticide residues or GMO’s) or ethical concerns (we won’t use products from industrial livestock raising).

How much to buy

Some ingredients are used in much greater quantities than others, so if you simply buy one sack of each material you will run out of one ingredient before any of the others. The next time you go to buy ingredients, you will only need to buy those that are in short supply.

Mixing

For convenience you can mix all of the ingredients at once and store it in a cool dry place (though it’s probably best not to store the mix for too long). You can also store them separately and mix as needed. We use the white 5 gallon plastic pails with lids.

The recipe uses proportional quantities so you can use any container (whether a gallon pail or a teaspoon) to make as much as you need. I usually put all of the separate ingredients into a wheelbarrow and mix them thoroughly with a shovel (wear a dust mask as some of the finer ingredients are pretty dusty). It’s not a bad idea to do this over a clean hard surface, so you can recover anything you spill. For smaller quantities, a gardening bucket or pail works well.

Storage

I store the prepared mix in a plastic bin, though you could also use the paper sack the amendments came in. Some of these amendments are edible, so if you have rodent problems you will have to store them in a secure metal or plastic container, otherwise they may get eaten (and you may have a rodent explosion). They also need to be kept dry of course, otherwise they will rot.

Standard Mix

This is a mix of various amendments intended to supply all of the nutrients plants may require. It is usually incorporated into the soil prior to planting. The mix consists of:

4 parts cottonseed meal (this is high in nitrogen and relatively inexpensive)

2 parts colloidal phosphate or bone meal (for phosphorus)

2 parts wood ash or 3 parts greensand or granite dust (for potassium)

1 part dolomitic limestone (to balance pH and add calcium and magnesium)

1 part kelp meal (for trace elements)

Mix these together thoroughly. You can do this all at once, or you can store them separately and mix as needed.

Optional extra:

2 parts of sifted worm castings (This adds microorganisms and micronutrients). I prefer to store this separately and add shortly before using.

Custom mixes

You don’t have to use the recipe above, you can customize it to better suit the crop you are growing. Conventional wisdom recommends giving additional nitrogen to leaf crops, potassium to root crops and phosphorus to seed or fruit crops, so you could add extra of these as required.