Monday, 6 October 2014
Messy garden might be healthy
Time has flown, and I have been busy. The warmth of spring has prompted the garden to produce plenty of weeds, vegetables and seeds. My garden looks like a jumble of food and flowers. previously when I referred to Thomas F. Pawlick's book entitled "The End of Food" in which he compares the levels of nutrients in pre-green revolution vegetables and the currently available specimens. The mass-production of food under bizarre conditions, much of it "hydroponically", has led to the production of foods that may look "normal", even before any industrial manufacturing, but which are deficient in any number of micro-nutrients that used to be present in the food plants of the past. The green revolution with its addition of superphosphate to soils that became ever more sterile and the development of the varieties of organisms that were suited to this allowed huge volumes of plant material that is loaded with calories but containing less minerals and naturally occurring disease resistance (leading to the use of more pesticides.) As Thomas Pawlick says, when the increase in pesticides overtakes the inherent nutrition of a product, can it still be called "food?" Thomas Pawlick began his investigation when he bought tomatoes that he was able to bounce off his back fence without them breaking and then to keep tomatoes for weeks without them EVER ripening inside, despite the red outer appearance. There are similar tomatoes here. They are grown in glasshouses that cover acres of land. The plants are cultivated for up to nine months by growing them in relatively sterile conditions with nutrients added to the watering mixture, lighting adjusted for optimal photosynthesis, temperature regulated and the addition of carbon dioxide if levels are too low. These plants produce plenty of fruit. Tomatoes are self fertile, needing only movement to allow seeds and fruit to form. These tomatoes are packed into boxes within the glasshouse, loaded onto trucks in there as well and then driven thousands of miles to markets where they are sold to consumers as "fresh" tomatoes. However, the artificial conditions for these plants that may well lead to the lack of particular minerals or micro-nutrients in the fruits and hence in our diets. This does not even take into account the fact that plants which don't need to deal with pests may have different physiology and chemistry and therefore lack some other micro-nutrients/pest repellants that our ancestors had available and that might be of some benefit to us. Humans evolved in an environment with a very different chemical makeup and in which our biology was modified to co-exist with a particular set of nutrients, minerals, pests and even plant hormones and products. My thinking about this began with a comment from Peter Cundall. I had grown silver beet (because it was so easy) in many of the gardens where I had lived (I have moved a lot in the past.) Here in Kapunda, while it grew well, it didn't produce the really thick stems that I like. Peter Cundall mentioned in passing that the "beet family" which includes silver beet (chard) and beetroot, sugar beet and mangel worzel all need boron and it turns out that Kapunda soils are deficient in boron! I added a tiny amount (minerals are often micro-nutrients and excess can be detrimental) and the silver beet (and beetroot) thrived… I had the thick stalks on the silverbeet leaves. This demonstrated to me that tiny amounts of these sorts of elements can make a huge difference. This also made me wonder whether tiny amounts of minerals might also effect animal and human health. I had been having problems growing peas and beans as well. "Everyone" can grow beans, it is said… one of the easiest kinds of vegetables to produce. By this time, I had been reading and I knew that adding minerals willy-nilly could cause problems also. Overdosing is a disaster, and excess minerals are impossible to remove from a garden bed without removing the soil. The soil that I have made from hard red clay (with the addition of compost, manures and straw) has taken a long time, is very valuable to me and I was not willing to risk any disasters. Then I read about rock dust. Soil is made partly from broken down rocks and "new soils" that have not been weathered for millions of years seem more fertile… these are the volcanic soils of some parts of the earth where soluble minerals have not been washed away. My old soil is very weathered and no doubt lacking in more than just boron. I tried rock dust with my peas and beans… about a big handful per square metre and it was a wonderful success. I still don't know jsut what was missing, but apparently the rock dust was able to remedy this deficiency. Monocultures which produce such a huge proportion of our food are very good at giving us the maximum amount of calories for the amount of input, as long as the contribution of stored ancient energy from oil is ignored. Many of these nutrients have been added to the phosphate fertilisers that are used in broad acre cropping, but who knows how many more are missing! The other difficulty with the monoculture production of crops is the abundance of pest opportunities. This is remedied by the addition of pesticides. Prior to the seeding of croplands, the ground is sprayed with weedkilling products. These are not healthy, but aside from the issues of toxicity, the removal of any living material and organic matter from the soil is a separate issue. The ground is made bare and the topsoil exposed. I am assuming that any living thing would be killed. In my garden, it is necessary to cover soil in the summer to save the worms that are my indicators of the health of the micro-organisms that live there. The "healthy" smelling soil seems to depend upon worms and their friends. When I reduce the area that I cultivate in the summer because of the need for irrigation. The "fallow" patches are kept "alive" by a covering of straw. I am not sure what the micro-organisms do in the soil, but I know that the patches that have a healthy crop of worms (and their micro-neighbours) are much more productive when I plant a new crop. When people buy vitamins from the shop, there are some that have added minerals as well. I'm sure that people need the same minerals as the plants do, after all, we all evolved together in some kind of symbiotic relationship in which minerals were as much a part of it as the carbohydrate energy sources. How many of our newer "lifestyle diseases" owe their increased incidence to the inadequate diet and incomplete nutrition that appears to be on the increase and how much does this have to do with the lack of micro-nutrients of various sorts in our own food. This is merely a correlation, not a proven connection. However, I am not sure that the current supermarket selection has much to offer to anyone with a messy, weedy garden in which to forage and in which there is enough food to eat every day.