Monday, July 6, 2009

10º Brix Cantaluope, 17º Brix Peas

A major goal in my growing my own vegetables is increasing the Brix, which is a measurement of the nutrient-density. Brix is also something you can taste! For example, a cantaloupe I just purchased smelled fairly decent in the store. With high hopes for a tasty melon, I actually bought it and brought it home, despite past experiences with store-bought melons. I peeled and chunked up a bowl of the melon, pulled out a fork to taste a bite, and… yuck. Wet Nothing. No Taste.

So I got out my pocket refractometer and squeezed a drop of juice on the lens. It measured 10ºBx. The Brix chart is divided into values for Poor, Average (grocery-store), Good, Excellent, and Disease/Insect-free (for the plant). The numbers for cantaloupe are 8= Poor, 12= Average, 14= Good, 16= Excellent and Disease-Free. So, my store-bought cantaloupe measured between Poor and Average. No wonder it tasted like Nothing!

By contrast, I measured my home-grown peas just now. They measured 17ºBx!! The spread for peas on the Brix scale is 8, 10, 12, and 14. They taste just as wonderful as they measure, AND the plants are disease/insect-free.

So what’s the difference? Soil. Plain and simple. Well, perhaps not quite so simple. Conventional agricultural wisdom lists a whole slew of numbers of what the soil needs to grow stuff. Dr. Carey Reams, Professor Albrecht and others have differing opinions, with results borne out in taste tests, nutrition analysis, crop yields, and visible evidence like pests, disease and weeds.

One of the several elements needed in soil to produce high Brix is calcium, but there’s a trick to it. My soil tests indicated a high level of calcium, yet the Brix on most of my vegetables last year was marginal. All the soil calcium in the world does absolutely no good unless it can be broken down into a form the plants can use (available calcium). Soil microbes do the bulk of this work, but they need something to work with other than just the locked-up calcium in my soil, although they will convert that too, over time.

To get higher Brix this year, I have started applying soft rock phosphate (SRP, a colloidal phosphate, and a natural source of calcium and phosphate in a form plants can use). Most rock phosphates are hard rock phosphates, and will simply not do the job. I found a nearby organic supplier who carries Cal-Phos (SRP) in 40 pound bags and I apply it in each planting hole.
There are other SRP sources, but that's what's available close to me.

(The local market farmer who supplies my free-range eggs buys thousands of pounds of Cal-Phos from the same supplier, for his fields. He is able to grow high Brix grass for his dairy cows and poultry, and he reports his family’s milk has very high Brix.)

There’s more to high Brix than just available calcium, of course. I will be adding to the basic information about improving soil and Brix over the next few months. Stay tuned!

Download a Brix Chart

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