Near the end of his new book, The Intelligent Gardener, long-time garden guru Steve Solomon makes a significant point: “There is no place on this planet that remains free of toxic residues.” He then suggests we would be far better off if we quit worrying so much about toxicity and, instead, concentrated on growing and eating nutrient dense food.
I’ve been able to follow, and participate to a degree, in Mr. Solomon’s metamorphosis from expert “organic” gardener to expert “nutrient dense” gardener. Solomon, in my opinion, has long been ahead of the pack as evidenced by his books “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades” and “Gardening When It Counts.” Through his early gardening experiences and from starting the Territorial Seed business he devised his Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) which was an attempt to balance garden soil. COF is still a good way to go for people who don’t wish to go any farther and the formula is easily found on the internet. (Also in The Intelligent Gardener pps. 84-85).
In the last half dozen years through association with Michael Astera’s Nutrient Dense Project and a re-study of the work of scientists like William Albrecht and Victor Tiedjens, Steve Solomon has become a convert to the concept of “nutrient dense.”
The concept of nutrient dense food is pretty simple. The gardener works over time to balance the soil with the proper mix of minerals. The result will be soil that encourages the life forms (worms, bacteria, etc.) that help with soil symbiosis and soil that provides the nutrients plants need to grow properly. Balanced soil will mean healthier plants, resistant to pests. Balanced soil will result in food that is nutrient dense, providing us with the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy.
Steve Solomon spends a lot of time debunking the concept promoted by J.I. Rodale that compost would solve all problems and that by continuing to heap organic matter on a garden a garden would only get better and better. This is not the case as Solomon explains in detail in a chapter titled: SAMOA (The Shit Method of Agriculture). More important is bringing calcium and magnesium into proper balance. When garden soil is properly balanced, according to Solomon, the garden will create its own nitrates.
Balancing calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, sodium and other minerals is the key to nutrient dense food. Getting this balance correct begins with a $20 soil test. Then, with a copy of The Intelligent Gardener in hand, one can use the worksheets provided to come up with a prescription for a custom fertilizer designed for one’s own garden. Solomon’s colleague and co-author, California gardener Erica Reinheimer has developed a website where you can find copies of the worksheets found in Steve’s book. On this same website you will find a link to “OrganiCalc” which allows you, for a small fee, to compute your custom fertilizer prescription on line.
The Lummi Island Grange Gardener’s Network will have a discussion of The Intelligent Gardener at their Febuary 11 meeting: 6:30PM at the Grange Hall.