Remineralize Soil to Grow Nutrient Dense Crops

According to the tests, you may have optimal soil, but are you really growing nutrient dense crops? Ben and Penny Hewitt delve into the realm of bionutrient farming, starting with remineralization of the soil.

| February 2015

homestead pasture

Ben and Penny Hewitt live with their two sons on a 40-acre homestead in Vermont, where they raise various livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens, and grow vegetables and fruit.

Photo by Ben and Penny Hewitt

Where does the family end and the homestead begin? The Nourishing Homestead (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) explores Ben and Penny Hewitt’s small homestead in Vermont as they embrace a life nourished by good food, hard work, and loving family. They use “practiculture,” a multitude of practical skills and philosophies from growing nutrient dense food to soil remediation, wildcrafting, and agroforestry, to build a thriving homestead. The following excerpt on bionutrient farming is from Chapter 5, “Soil and Gardens.”

You can buy this book from the GRIT store: The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit.

How biological activity changed everything

We came to our land in the northern Vermont dairy-farming community of Cabot in 1997. At the time, the cleared portions of our 40-acre piece of property were being grazed by a neighboring dairy farmer, in the let-the-cows-grub-it-down-till-there-ain’t-nothing-left manner common to the industry. In other words, the pasture was receiving a severe beating on an annual basis.

That said, it could have been a lot worse. For starters, it was immediately apparent that we had a healthy layer of topsoil. And the land had not been plowed or tilled, or if it had, it had been so long ago that no visible evidence of these practices remained. Likewise, there was no indication that pesticides or herbicides had ever been sprayed. Finally, the soil drained extremely well.

All of this led us to believe that we didn’t need to do a whole lot to grow vigorous crops. Like many home gardeners, we assumed that simply because we grew our own food, it would be as nutritious as food could possibly be. So we didn’t do much. We hired a neighbor to till up a couple of garden plots, trucked in a few yards of compost, and started planting. We did get some basic soil tests analyzed by our local university ag extension service, and were quite pleased with ourselves when the results came back with everything in the “optimum” range. It was like being told our children were doing extremely well on their standardized tests.

Over the years, we began to observe that despite our so-called optimum soil test results, our crops sometimes lacked vigor and results were inconsistent. Sure, we were still producing lots of food, and we continued adding the amendments necessary to replace what our harvests took from the soil. But in truth, it felt as if we could be doing better. We were starting to get wise to the fact that growing our own did not necessarily mean optimal nutrition.

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