As a kid, I complained bitterly about kneeling in the dirt–yuck!–to weed dandelions. Now that I want to know where my food comes from, planting a garden seems like the best way to find out, even if I do have to do some weeding.
At a recent two-day “Bionutrient Rich Crop Production” workshop in Boston, I learned that successful gardening is all about the dirt–or rather–soil. Healthy soil is alive with a gazillion species of soil fungi and soil bacteria. Just as lack of B12 in your diet can cause poor functioning, even death, in human beings, plants that lack even small amounts of certain minerals will fail to thrive. Plants need the same minerals and trace elements that are essential for human life in order to digest and process fungi and bacteria into delicious food.
“A single tomato plant is capable of yielding 150 pounds,” workshop presenter Dan Kittredge, a lifelong organic farmer and Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association and the Real Food Campaign, said, “but the average yield for a tomato plant in the US is 6 to 8 pounds.”
According to Kittredge, the secret to growing the tastiest, healthiest, most disease-resistant fruits and vegetables is making sure that your soil has plenty of life in it. Most of the necessary elements can be obtained from sea water and stone dust from local quarries. Farmers in any country in the world can access the nutrients needed to create thriving plants. What’s more, incorporating life into soil increases its capacity to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere, which can help reduce global warming.
By getting your soil tested for minerals and trace elements like calcium, magnesium, potassium, boron, copper and manganese, and gradually integrating what’s missing into your soil, you will stimulate healthy plant life, Kittredge says. Proactively drenching your plants with the right nutrient mix and using a foliar spray to feed the plants through the leaf surface on a weekly basis, as well as taking time to continuously observe your plants for specific signs of deficiencies, such as misshapen fruit, dull, yellow, or drooping leaves, and hollow stems, will help protect them from weeds, diseases, and failure.
While I feel like a rain-starved plant that’s just been soaked with all this great information, I’m eager to apply my new-found knowledge to my garden. The goal of Kittredge’s new organization, the Bionutrient Food Association, is to increase the quality of the food supply by helping growers produce high quality crops, educating consumers about nutrient dense foods, and conducting research. In addition to the BFA website, their older site, the Real Food Campaign, is also a great place to learn more.
Now that I’ve got “the dirt” on how to grow weed-resistant plants, I’m hoping I won’t have to weed any more dandelions, but if I do, I promise not to complain.
Dandelion photo by Andrew Hill, foto footprints