Getting the Most Nutrition from Your Garden

Spiral Ridge Permaculture

Spiral Ridge Permaculture › Cliff Davis and Jennifer Albanese own Spiral Ridge Permaculture, LLC, a family business offering consultation, design ...

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The food world is abuzz with the topic of nutrition and while there are many approaches to optimum health, everyone – raw food vegans, Paleo eaters, farmers or healers – can agree, great nutrition comes from real food.

Our bodies’ requirements for some nutrients are minimal, yet all are essential for us to live in a vibrant state of health. The question is, how nutritious is your food? Sadly, the level of nutrition in our food has been declining due to our industrialized agricultural practices.

This article will outline some ways for you to grow your own superior quality food.

To grow for nutrition, choose your plants wisely. Select a variety to get a wide range of vitamins and minerals. If your garden is small, focus on nutrient powerhouses like the Brassica family (kale, collards, cauliflower, and broccoli), peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus, beets and green peas. Different cultivars can vary widely in their capacity to accumulate nutrients. Take, for instance, lettuce. One leaf of romaine lettuce can have up to twenty times more Vitamin A than a single leaf from iceberg lettuce. Be on the lookout for descriptions in seed catalogs that boast of a particular cultivar’s superior nutrition.

Have you tried growing heirlooms? Many people find that they taste better. More nutrition in the plant equals more vitality and hence, better taste. Modern cultivars have been largely bred for bigger yields, easier harvest, better storage, and ability to be transported. The tradeoff for higher yields is less concentration of essential minerals and vitamins. This is called the dilution effect.

Eat quality food, bursting with nutrients that satiate, and you will find yourself eating less because you are well nourished.

You can maximize nutrient levels in your garden by using dynamic accumulators. Dynamic accumulators are plants that have a propensity toward accessing nutrients not commonly available to other plants. They may have long taproots that mine nutrients from deeper subsoils, like comfrey, or they have an ability to extract nutrients, like legumes converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form other plants can use. These plants make great companion plants and green manures. The leaves can be cut and used as mulch, in compost or in foliar sprays. Many of our so-called weeds are dynamic accumulators, like dandelion and chickweed. Let them grow, or make sure to add them to the compost heap so they can contribute their nutritional value to the end product.

To grow nutrient-dense food, it is essential that the soil have two components: minerals in the right proportions, as well as organic matter teeming with beneficial microorganisms. Most soils are mineral deficient due to erosion, leaching, farming, overgrazing, damage done by chemicals, or the soils were just infertile to begin with. It is likely you will need to add organic amendments, specifically rock and organic minerals. This is called remineralization.

The benefits of remineralization are: humus formation, resistance to insects, disease, and weather, increased storage capacity of soil, decreased dependence on fertilizers, self-adjusting pH, and increased soil biology. Eat plants grown on these soils or eat the animals grazing on these plants and enjoy better health. Why take supplements when you can get the nourishment you need from your food? Organics is a step in the right direction. Add remineralization and you can produce superior quality food right in your backyard.

Wondering if the amazing compost you have been making is enough? Compost has a number of important functions, but it is only as good as the ingredients it is composed of. Composted plant matter grown on mineral deficient soils results in mineral deficient compost. Minerals in the soil need to be balanced, composed of ideal ratios that help the plant reach its genetic potential. A soil test is essential to determine exactly what you need. Think of it as an investment in your health. You will need a soil test from a lab that values the importance of remineralization. The lab can write a soil prescription or you can learn how to do it yourself. My favorite resource for soil remineralization, including information on testing and analyzing is SoilMinerals.com.

Why settle for less? You can now grow the most nutrient-dense food possible for your health and vitality. Eat quality food, bursting with nutrients that satiate, and you will find yourself eating less because you are well nourished.

Stay tuned for a follow up article on how to create compost with beneficial microorganisms that will boost the nutritional value of your veggies even more!

Do you have a nutrient-dense garden? What are some of the guidelines you follow?

Jennifer Albanese runs Spiral Ridge Permaculture with her husband Cliff Davis. They are passionate about healing the environment, making sure people have access to fresh, nutrient-dense foods, and saving our family farms.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thompson