There has never been a time in human history when it has been more important to grow your own food. You may think this a gross overstatement, when food has never been more easily available and people more time starved, but it is a fact. It is not really about personal food security in times of uncertainty because, in reality, it would need to get pretty rough before we were unable to purchase food as required. It is not even about the cost savings, although they can be considerable, because similar time invested in your regular job could conceivably be more financially rewarding. There are three key areas that highlight the importance of home food production and they include; family health benefits, physical and metaphysical rewards and child welfare. We will consider each of these in more depth.
Family Health – Escaping the Toxins
The commercial production of food is becoming increasingly chemical intensive. There are many vegetable growers that don’t eat their own produce so we know that something is amiss. The total amount of farm pesticides applied to fresh produce has increased every year since the chemical experiment began a few short decades ago. Ironically, the pest pressure has also increased every year, but many have yet to recognise the unsustainability of this debacle. Children have the greatest pesticide exposure in relation to their body size and several studies have highlighted the accumulation of chemical residues in our children. Cancer is now the largest killer of children and there is a direct and undeniable link between this disease and exposure to environmental chemicals.
The concept of enforceable minimum residue levels was adopted to protect consumers. It is not strictly policed, but this issue of chemical residues in children is more about what happens to these chemicals when they enter the human body. The standard practice from chemical suppliers is to submit research showing that a rat or guinea pig can withstand a certain number of ppm of a particular farm chemical. However, there has been no allowance for the metabolic phenomenon called bioaccumulation. The liver is the principle detox organ that must handle man-made chemicals. Unfortunately, it is not equipped to manage these foreign toxins, so it dispatches them to the fat cells (where they are more isolated from major organs). Here, they slowly accumulate and become time bombs that can compromise immunity and trigger undesirable cellular changes. This bioaccumulation factor was not considered during the evaluation of the safety of farm chemicals. We should all be concerned about these toxins and the solution is to grow our own food or source organic or biologically grown produce. If this is not possible then at least remove the outer leaves of green vegetables and the skins of items like apples, carrots and cucumbers. This will not protect from systemic chemicals, but it is a good start. Another worthwhile strategy involves diluted hydrogen peroxide. If you wash the fresh food in this solution you can oxidise many chemical residues.
Family Health – Reclaiming Nutrition
If you pay a premium and buy organic food you are at least assured that your family will not be ingesting and accumulating farm chemicals. However, you are not always assured that the organic food contains optimum nutrient density. You may not be assaulting the immune system with toxins but you have not necessarily addressed the second part of the equation. This involves supporting the immune system and detoxification system with the nutrients that drive these processes. There is still an idealism and naivety within the organics movement, where growers apply some compost and think the job is done. They do not always do the remineralising and balancing work that ensures nutrient density and forgotten flavours. If you are producing your own food in your own garden you can ensure that this food is both chemical-free and nutrient dense.
There has been an undeniable reduction in the mineral content of fresh produce since the advent of extractive agriculture. In some cases the losses have been quite dramatic and they are linked to a several factors. These include soil demineralisation and the loss of biodiversity in our soils. Soil microbes are key players in the delivery of minerals to plants and their decimation through chemicals, over tillage and neglect, has impacted food quality. However, there is another factor that has seriously affected nutrition and this problem can be avoided if you produce your own food. This issue relates to the loss of nutrition associated with hybridisation. The vast majority of fresh produce now involves hybrid varieties. There is a problem in hybridisation in that there are a set number of genes in the gene pool. When you move some of them from one area to another, to modify specific characteristics, like disease resistance, shape or colour, there is a price to be paid for the manipulation. Something suffers in the overall scheme because you can’t increase the total number of genes and something is no longer being done in the area from which the genes were moved. The green revolution, for example, brought us hybridised, more compact (and easily managed) grain plants, but it also involved plants that could not uptake minerals as well as the open pollinated predecessors. These grains contain over 50% less iron and there are significant reductions in the capacity of these hybridised plants to uptake several other minerals (including calcium and magnesium). Many of these manufactured varieties are actually unable to uptake one mineral. Cobalt is a trace mineral required in small amounts by animals and humans. Amongst other functions it provides the building block for Vitamin B12 and many of us are B12 deficient because our staple food (hybridised cereal grains) are unable to utilise cobalt. The price we have paid for more “desirable” fruit and vegetables is a loss of both nutrition and variety. There are over 3000 apple varieties but we now see just eight varieties on the supermarket shelves (accounting for 95% of sales).
The vast majority of vegetable plants are now hybridised and many of these plants suffer compromised mineral uptake. The only way to escape this substandard nutrition is to source the original open-pollinated varieties for your home garden. It is a rewarding and satisfying experience to grow some of these neglected originals and you may even decide to collect their seed to help preserve plant biodiversity.
Physical and Metaphysical Rewards
Your daily 30-minute walk may burn 500 calories but you did not produce anything else for all of your efforts. Gardening can burn a similar calorie load but you have beauty and a bounty of nutritious food as the end result. However, gardening offers something more that a productive workout. The growing of food has always been sacred because it literally involves communion with God. You are involved, on a daily basis, with the essence of creation. Nature is God and you are now part of the deal. There is a generation of people who have completely lost contact with the source of their food and they are spiritually compromised as a result. Reclaiming your sense of oneness through home food production can offer an awakening unlike any other. If you travel into rural areas in Asia and elsewhere, it is hard not to notice the peace and happiness amongst these people. They have few of the material possessions for which we all strive and yet they are demonstrably more happy and content while working with nature to produce their food. There is a lesson here and it involves a spade, the sweet smell of healthy soil and the music of birdsong on a Sunday morning in spring.
Five years ago, one of my seminar attendees in Victoria was inspired and excited at the completion of the course. He vowed to return home, soil test his garden, make the appropriate corrections and then encourage his children to become involved in the production of food for the family. I pictured modern youth camped in front of their game consoles, developing the most amazing hand-eye coordination ever achieved, but for no apparent purpose (unless, of course, WW3 involves remote warfare). Could these adrenaline junkies possibly find pleasure in gentle, peaceful pursuits, I wondered? Several months later, the father involved contacted me. He was thrilled with the results of his changes. He had offered to pay his children market prices for the fresh food they produced and the experiment had been a resounding success. In retrospect I realise that there are several potential benefits for the welfare of the children involved and they include:
- Encouraging a child to garden is quite possibly the greatest gift from a parent to a child. I was gifted my love of gardening from my Grandfather and I am forever grateful for this passion. I am just as excited about the whole process, 50 years later, as I was at 5 years old with that first row of radishes.
- There is a powerful sense of responsibility, contribution and achievement inherent in the realisation that you may have created half of the food on the plates of your family members.
- It is important to generate entrepreneurial skills. When the child realises that a well-grown row of carrots can produce 20 kilograms of carrots at $3 a kilo, they have already got the down payment for their next game console! (He! He!)
- Developing a spiritual connection with Nature and food production has profound benefits. The child can develop a genuine sense of their place in the scheme of things. There is suddenly more to adolescent life than reaching the next level in the latest digital quest for Alien slaughter.
- Exercise and fresh air, punctuated by fruit and vegetable snacks fresh from the plant, is a contribution to the welfare of any child.
Ten Tips For Beginners or Battlers
If you are just starting out with your food-producing venture or if previous attempts have been less successful than you would have liked, then the following tips are for you:
Check the soil pH of the garden plot – soil pH is a major player in the performance of your plot, as there is a powerful relationship between pH and nutrient uptake. The majority of the home garden soils that we check have a low pH and the crops suffer accordingly. The ideal pH is 6.4 but the pH scale is logarithmic meaning that if your soil pH was 5.4, it is actually ten times more acidic than the 6.4 ideal. This logarithmic nature means that small changes in pH can have a major impact upon nutrient uptake, so this is something that warrants regular monitoring. If you have an acidic soil, then liming will probably be the best corrective. However, in lighter soils, dolomite may be the key to lifting pH and improving mineral balance (as these soils are often deficient in both calcium and magnesium). As a rule of thumb, do not exceed application rates of 5 kg of lime per 10 square metres of garden area in heavier soils and halve that rate in lighter soils.
Cover all bases by applying a complete mineral fertiliser – in the absence of a soil test there really is no way of knowing what minerals are missing from your soil, so it is a good home garden strategy to apply a complete mineral fertiliser which covers everything. This will help ensure that the food you produce should contain all trace minerals and will be truly medicinal. Nutri-Store Gold™ from NTS features exceptional levels of the full range of minerals in a compost base. The compost serves as a microbial inoculum and helps to ensure that the minerals are complexed and plant available. There are also bio-promotants like kelp, humic acid, fulvic acid and zeolite included in the Nutri-Store Gold™ formula.
Apply compost to fire up the soil biology – If you are seeking problem-free gardening then compost becomes an essential. Compost improves moisture retention, enhances soil structure and provides food for earthworms (your greatest ally). It also helps to reduce mineral leaching. The most cost-effective choice is to make your own compost (see last months article on composting), but if you don’t have the time or the inclination, there are several, high quality, luxury composts on the market. Nutri-Store 180® is a proven performer. This unique product is based upon the composting of black coal. It also contains composted cow manure and Soft Rock (phosphate) and it has been generating great results in home gardens and in horticulture for the past 15 years.
Give the seeds or seedlings a kick start – just like breastfeeding a baby, a good start can make quite a difference in terms of creating a vibrant, resilient, problem-free plant. Kelp is like mother’s milk to seeds and seedlings, as it contains the full spectrum of trace minerals from the ocean. Seaweed also features substances called cytokinins, gibberellins, auxins and betaines, which are used by the plant for germination and early root and shoot growth. A natural acid extracted from brown coal called fulvic acid is another proven substance that has nurturing capacity for young plants. NTS offer a unique fusion of kelp and fulvic acid, along with liquid fish, in a product called Life Force® Organic SeaChange™. Organic SeaChange™ is diluted at just 5 mL per litre of water to form a solution to treat seeds and seedlings. Just soak the seedling punnets in the dilution immediately before planting or soak the seeds in the liquid overnight. This is particularly effective for corn, pea and bean seeds but they should be sundried before planting. For smaller seeds it is sufficient to water on the Organic SeaChange™ dilution, immediately after planting.
Apply mycorrhizal fungi at planting – these remarkable creatures burrow into the plant root and then become an extension for those roots. A mass of fine fungal filaments grows on the roots and effectively provides up to 1000% more root surface area. The colonised plant becomes much more resilient and can maximise access to minerals and moisture. Many soils have lost their native mycorrhizal fungi, so there can be tremendous benefits in inoculating seeds and seedlings with this species at planting. NTS has an inexpensive, high-performance blend of mycorrhizal fungi called Platform® that can also be applied to young or established fruit trees, shrubberies, flower gardens and lawns. If your garden is lacking these important organisms you will be very impressed at the transformation following their inoculation.
Mulch the area intended for seedlings before planting – the very best mulch for vegetables and fruit trees is lucerne. This hay has the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio for these crops and it actually fertilises while it mulches. If you are using other mulches like sawdust, woodchip or straw, you will need to apply extra nitrogen to counter for the loss of nitrogen from your soil, as these mulches break down. Mulching encourages earthworms and soil microbes while protecting the surface and reducing the need for watering. It is particularly important during hot Australian summers where your vegetable garden can burn off during a single scorcher.
Feed for growth and flowering – some minerals sponsor vegetative growth and others support the reproductive process. The idea when you are producing vegetables is to try to create the healthiest crop in the shortest time. Vibrant, rapidly growing plants are much less susceptible to pest pressure. The goal of the chemical-free gardener, then, is to feed the plant and soil the right nutrients to achieve this vibrancy. NTS produce a liquid fertiliser designed specifically for vegetative growth (Life Force® Organic Boost™) and another for flowering (Life Force® Organic Blooms™). These liquids are diluted in a watering can and watered onto the crops depending upon the crop cycle.
Feed the soil workforce – soil microbes are your hidden workforce and if you look after them they will look after you. The foods that they like include standard white sugar (applied at one gram per square metre), liquid fish fertiliser, kelp and humic acid. These are important tools for the biological gardener and most of them are available at nurseries and garden shops. The one exception that is rarely seen in these outlets is humic acid. NTS use this material on a large scale in agriculture and they have included it in the Life-Force® Home Range in the form of Life-Force® Instant Humus™. This exciting product involves soluble humic acid granules that are dissolved in a watering can before application. Beneficial fungi love humic acid. In fact, it is the most powerful known fungal promotant.
Don’t over water – it is easy to kill with kindness in the gardening arena. Vegetables become more susceptible to disease when over-watered. As a rule of thumb mulched vegetables should be watered twice a week . If you gradually extend the gap between watering you can actually train them to thrive with a single weekly watering.
Discover foliar fertilising – if your goal is to produce nutrient-dense produce with forgotten flavours in the shortest possible time, then you need to experiment with foliar fertilising. Invest in a backpack with a pressure pump rather than using a small spray bottle to save time, avoid boredom and prevent potential repetitive strain. Aim for the underside of the leaves as that is where the stomates are positioned. Stomates are little breathing holes that suck up CO2 but they also offer a direct route into the plant. In home garden situations it is common to see mineral excesses, which can create problems. These excesses lock up other minerals or antagonize their uptake. Foliar fertilising bypasses the soil lockups and delivers nutrition directly into the leaf. If you select a good formulation, you will be amazed to see the rapid growth, increase in flowering and taste improvements that are the common rewards from foliar fertilising. Foliar nutrition is 12 times more efficient than when fertilising the soil. The best foliar fertiliser on the market for the home gardener is an NTS product called Life Force® Total Cover™ (I am obviously biased, but it’s true!). This advanced formulation includes all the major minerals and trace elements, in a naturally chelated form, along with fish, kelp and fulvic acid. You can watch some seedlings double in size overnight when foliar fertilising with Total Cover™.
You can work hard your whole life and, perhaps, develop a taste for fine foods as you mature, but there is no finer food than that harvested from your own vegetable patch or fruit trees. If you use the guidelines above, this food will have memorable flavours and it will offer maximum nutrition for yourself and your family. Even if you don’t follow these guidelines, this freshly picked produce should be more nutritious than the store bought option, which has been often harvested green, transported across the country and cold stored until sold. Snow peas, for example, lose 50% of their vitamin C within 24 hours of harvest. Enzymes in all fresh produce begin to deplete the moment after harvest. The very best food is that which is harvested immediately before it is eaten and you can only do this if you produce your own food. Reclaim responsibility for your own nutrition and food security. Ensure freedom from toxic residues and insure family health by embracing biological gardening and you may also find yourself a little closer to God.