Nutrient Density for Real
One of the things that we are trying to accomplish with permaculture is to take over the Earth, actually feed ourselves and our animals with the resources available that we can leverage. We all know that 3 main calorie sources are proteins, fats and sugars that is commercial meat, margarine and refined sugar for city dwellers and paddock grazed lamb, full fat butter we made and honey from our beehives.
A permaculturist may target these three things to produce a balanced diet for every being in their care including plants but are we really getting the nutrients that we need? What can we do to increase the nutrients in our produce? What are actual savings behind consuming nutrient-dense produce?
As Colin Austin the inventor of the wicking beds; pointed out that most mass produced food including organics and packaged foods are deficient in essential minerals and phytonutrients (essential complex compounds produced by plants). You can measure this scientifically with a sugar refractometer too. The packaged, carb loaded food combined with the lack of minerals and phytonutrients causes the body to release more insulin to cope with the carb/sugar intake. After a long period of high insulin, your body becomes resistant to insulin. This is diabetes type 2.
Diabetes is just one of those new-age sicknesses that are caused by lack of nutrients.
I see a 3 step holistic approach to fix what is missing.
1- Get Rid of Hybrids, GMOs, Dwarves
You first need to get rid of hybrid seeds, GMO cultivars and dwarf trees. Hybrid seeds do not allow a true brix measurement and seed collection. GMOs engineered at a lab injected with foreign DNA and consumption of these may cause future problems (selective breeding is okay). Dwarf trees are dwarf because the root stock supplies sugars that does not match with the grafted cultivar on top, therefore the tree cannot grow to normal height and the fruit will not have nutrients.
Replace all your vegetable seeds with heirloom, organic seeds. Grow different types than the supermarket. They are better in flavour and nutrients. Collect your seeds from your own produce so that they can acclimatise to your seasonal changes and soil structure. While the plants you are growing get stronger every year, they will better mine the nutrients out of soil, with the help of sun.
Pull up your dwarf trees and replace them with normal size fruit trees preferably heirloom varieties and then you will get the chance of getting the nutrient density you crave and deserve for. You can micro-manage them if you want to keep them smaller by pruning couple of times in a year. A continues plant sap highway without interruption will carry the nutrients to the leaves and the fruit unlike dwarf trees.
If I am going to garden with supermarket varieties, what is the point, anyway. There should be a difference that I would be proud when I picked my green zebra tomato from its branch.
2- Invest in Soil
Feed and protect your soil and the microbiology in it. Prepare your own fertilizers with the things you grow like comfrey, nettle, dandelion, pest fish like carp in rivers, weeds, kitchen scraps, humanure, urine, worm castings and aggressive composting with deep rooted plants and yard scraps. When the cycle of “what comes from the soil must return back to soil” is complete, you will start seeing the benefits. You can find the recipes of liquid and solid manures on the internet easily.
Another way of feeding your soil is to invest in some rock dust. This powdered basalt or granite dust will feed the microbiology and make the minerals available to plants. Only when the minerals are in balance and available, you can get water soluble minerals into the plants and into your body. When you buy soil from garden centres, they work for the first year but they quickly depleted in nutrients. Rock dust tops up the missing minerals for long term.
Mulching is a must as well. If you do not protect your soil, plants won’t be getting the full benefits. You must also create humus and not disturb the soil by ploughing and exposing those critters to sun light.
3- Use Water Wisely
Harvest and use water wisely. Invest in an “under mulch-drip watering system”. The pipes are relatively cheap and save your precious water. I’ve even found free second hand pipes online. With a little controller that works on a gravity fed system, my veggies always have water and the thick mulch on top preventing evaporation. Mulch also keeps microbiology alive, roots will be cool, feeds soil as it breaks down, prevents loss of soil with erosion etc.
If your land is large enough, look into keylines or swales. If you live in a suburban block, harvest rain water in a tank or apply the principles in the book Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster. Make sure you include grey water harvesting elements into your design as it is explained in Art Ludwig’s book called “Create an Oasis with Greywater”.
Once you start doing these 3 fundamental things, your soil will wake up with life in it like bacteria, yeast, mould, fungi, little critters, worms etc. pH will be balanced naturally. Water will be hold in soil. The minerals will be available to plants growing on top providing you and your animals with nutrient-dense produce. When you produce nutrient dense legumes, meat, and honey to feed yourself, you will immediately see the health benefits. Of course it will take time for a city dweller to adapt who embarked on a permaculture journey by buying a piece of land. Your digestive bacteria will take time to adjust and actually completely replaced by this new diet given that you don’t eat packaged food anymore again.
Animals on our land (wild or domestic) and their diet is also our responsibility. If you provide the best food for them, you will get a high quality yield. You can measure this quality using a sugar refractometer in brix. Only a cow who eats 20 brix alfalfa can give you 20 brix milk. Only a chicken who eats nutrient dense fruits can give you nutrient dense eggs. A normal size tree where the sap flows with nutrient dense sugary water can only supply a good source of nectar for the bees and as a result honey will be highest quality. Manure produced from your animals will be high quality too. You are what you eat and this is also true for your animals.
Increased nutrient density will feed your body with the much needed water soluble minerals. Only water soluble minerals can top up your deficiencies, you cannot digest rock or those mineral pills. You know that behind every disease, there is a mineral deficiency. Even plants cannot directly digest rock; they need microorganisms and fungi to help them. The benefits will be a better health for you and your animals, less doctor and veterinary fees, maybe more income by selling these nutrient dense produce, healthy soil that produces better yield, less money spent on fertilizers, a better digestive tract, less carbon footprint, more stabilised seasons and overall happiness.