Growing Vegetables with High Brix

Posted by on Jul 9, 2015 in Grow Better Greens Podcast, Nutrient Dense Gardening | Comments Off on Growing Vegetables with High Brix

In Episode 1 we make the case for growing vegetables with high Brix – loaded up with more nutrients per calorie. We also tell you why we feel so strongly about changing the conversation around organic food to be more focused on the available nutrients at harvest time. We dive into using Brix in the home garden to figure out the quality of the food that you’re growing. Lastly, we’ll introduce you to our Backyard Brainstorm – a weekly opportunity to ask other home gardeners to help solve ongoing garden conundrums in our community.

You can listen, or download for later here:

Growing Vegetables with High Brix

Why do we need to start talking about the quality of our food?1:49
Isn’t organic enough?3:00
How do we even measure food quality?7:05
What is Brix exactly?6:00
How reliable is a Refractometer?7:25
Are there other ways to identify low-quality fruits and veggies?10:03
Growing vegetables with High Brix10:55
Backyard Brainstorm: Creating Proper Drainage in DIY Planters19:20

View the full transcription of this episode here.

Why Do We Need to Start Talking About the Quality of Our Food?

Because right now today, we don’t talk about food quality at harvest time enough!

To be fair, we have started a conversation acknowledging that many of the fruits and veggies we eat are harvested way too early giving growers time to allow their veggies to ripen in transit – this includes those labeled “vine-ripened”, by the way!

While the upside is that we consumers are presented with picture-perfect produce, the downside of ripening-in-transit is that we’re also missing out on a slew of nutrients! Plants need time to deliver all of the nutritional goodies into their final fruit and vegetable packages.

To sidestep this issue, many of us choose to purchase local produce. This is a great option, allowing us to boycott flavorless and nutritionally anemic veggies shipped in from afar.

But… it’s just not enough.

Over time it’s become apparent that even properly harvested vegetables grown locally are not bursting with the nutrients that we eaters are counting on.

This is because many nutrients are vanishing from our soils altogether. We simply can’t grow them into our vegetables if they’re not in our soils in the first place. And guess what? If they’re not in our soils and they’re not in our vegetables, then they’re not in us either (enter sweeping epidemics of disease!)

To learn more about nutrients disappearing from our soils, click here to access the pdf America’s Vanishing Nutrients

With so many of us intentionally using food as medicine, it becomes essential to point out that we are at a point where the tools and the knowledge exist to compare and highlight the differing levels of nutrients in our food, side by side.

We can literally determine which leaves, shoots, and fruits in the market bin are the most powerful medicines.

Kale is not good for you because you read it in a magazine. And kale is not good for you because it’s labeled organic or grown by a local farmer;

Kale is only good for you if it actually contains all of its famous nutrients.

And that’s what we as consumers and food growers need to start talking about!

Isn’t Organic Enough?

While the organic label has been the apple of our collective food-as-medicine eye for many years, issues are beginning to arise. Most of these issues are put up for discussion by concerned small-scale farmers who must truly weigh the costs of certification against their passion for growing food in a manner close to their heart.

Growers know that going without the organic sticker nowadays on vegetables is a risky venture. Without one, they’d need to promise us something pretty darn enticing to even get our attention.

I’m not suggesting that growing nutrient-dense food (food with more vitamins and minerals per calorie) is non-organic in anyway, I’m simply saying that farmers are beginning to choose growing vegetables with more nutrient density AS their marketing strategy instead of paying into a ‘certified organic sticker’.

Without the sticker they can’t compete – or can they? If they start proving that they can grow some of the highest value food possible, won’t people want to buy from them?

Well, those are the questions that lead farmers to start scrutinizing what goes into the organic certification process more closely. For example,to be certified organic here in Vermont:

  • If you lease land from a neighboring farm, that farm must be certified organic as well. (Do you know how expensive land is in New England?!!!)
  • Crop Rotation is required. (Not always an advantageous practice to a very small farm)
  • Extensive record keeping. Not everyone can accomplish this.

In fact, organic agriculture has become more of a focus on what not to do than what to do. The people have spoken and we’ve told our farmers what we don’t want. We don’t want foods grown with (or near to) harsh pesticides and herbicides that leave gnarly residues on our foods and contaminate ground water and soil. Awesome.

Except for that we forget to say what we do want.

Don’t worry, according to Oprah, this happens a lot when humans try their hand at communication. Often times when we want to give a business feedback about their services, we can get really loud about what our disappointments are with them, without ever mentioning how they can make it better. Or even better than better.

I told my husband this once when we checked into a hotel room stocked with dirty towels, and guess what? He totally got us free parking for the weekend.

Now it’s time for we consumers to tell those in charge of growing our food that we want way more than organic. So, what do we want?

We want great tasting, nutrient-packed fruits and veggies that store longer!

Wouldn’t that be great?

How Do We Even Measure Food Quality?

So, how can a vegetable farmer prove to you and I that they grow some high quality nutrient-dense food, organic or not?

Well, there are a few methods. Some of them rely completely on our senses, while another is both scientific and accessible.

First, we can taste their produce. Food that’s high in nutrients has an intensity of flavor and often a sweetness to it that signifies that plant sap was moving nutrients through the plant. Sugars in the plant sap are responsible for driving those nutrients to their final destination – hence, the sweetness.

Secondly, we can look at the actual plants! Fruits and veggies that have more nutrients per calorie at harvest time are grown on healthy, disease-resistant plants. It’s one thing to get all weak in the knees over luscious veggies in market bins pedaled by your flannel-clad organic farmer, but it’s quite another to spy those same veggies growing in their crop rows.

Are there bugs chewing the plant leaves? Are the plants moldy, wilted, or suffering from blight?

Seeing the plants that your veggies are growing on can tell you an awful lot about the overall health of the vegetables at harvest.

Healthy plants yield healthy fruits; sick plants don’t. If possible, you should take a look.

And lastly, using a simple hand tool called a Refractometer, we can measure our homegrown, store-bought and farm-sourced produce for Brix.

What is Brix Exactly?

Brix is the measurement of soluble solids in a liquid.

When we’re speaking about edible plant saps and juices, we’re measuring the sugars in these liquids, as well as hormones, proteins, minerals, enzymes and more.

Brix is a measurement of nutrients.

By measuring the way that the light bends through the liquid that we’re testing, a refractometer is alerting us to how much, if anything, our plant juice has going on. Is it primarily water (low Brix)? or are there more soluble solids aka nutrients present (high Brix)?

After taking your reading, you’ll be able to classify most fruits and vegetables as either Poor, Average, Good or Excellent. Click here to access the official Brix chart (Refractive Index of Crop Juices).

How Reliable is a Refractometer?

In my experience, measuring Brix has been both eye-opening and intoxicatingly exciting. Seriously, for less than $30 I can now see with my own eyes the value of my foods!

But Brix can raise eyebrows and here’s why:

A few variables can affect Brix readings. Recent heavy rains will lower your Brix, while long, drawn-out dry spells may intensify readings. Both of these outcomes can easily be accounted for.

What’s more concerning is the false-positive readings that accompany vegetables bred to have high sugar content, such as ‘candy carrots’ and ‘super-sweet corn’. Getting High Brix readings from these varieties doesn’t always guarantee nutrient-density in the vegetable.

There are, however, excellent methods for using your refractometer responsibly, methods which can help you to grow better food than you can buy.

A great starting point for learning about Brix is the second video in our free video series – feel free to sign up below:

Growing Vegetables with High Brix

So, what goes in to growing vegetables with High Brix?

To start, a complete soil work-up done by a specialty lab can alert you to which minerals your soil is lacking (or storing an overload of!) Making sure that the soil you’re growing vegetables in has all of the necessary nutrients at the proper levels is the very first step to growing High Brix food.

Beyond amending your soil with the correct minerals, you can also ‘up’ the Brix in your food by preventing soil erosion, which is the number one culprit of our disappearing minerals! Learning to build and mulch your soil can add value to the health of your plants and to your harvests.

Remember that Brix isn’t just about getting nutrients into your food for you, the eater, it’s also the secret to boosting immunity within your plants so that they can defend themselves against pests and disease!

Other techniques exist as well, such as foliar feeding plants with nutrient sprays (think sea minerals) and drenching soils at plant-root level. To learn more about growing vegetables with High Brix in your home garden, be sure sign up below for our free video series.

Backyard Brainstorm: Creating Proper Drainage in DIY Planters

In this weeks’ Backyard Brainstorm, Jenny asks for help trying to fix her cedar deck planters. although they look great, the constant dripping of water through their drainage holes seems to be aging the cedar deck boards underneath at a quick pace. Type your advice for Jenny into the comments section below and you could win one of our Heirloom Seed Collections for free from Amazon!

Thanks for reading my blog : ) I wish you much success in Growing Better Greens!