When I started learning about brix, I got super excited about organic vegetable gardening. To me, brix is one of the most fascinating topics in organic gardening.
So what is brix? Here's my basic brix definition: it measures the dissolved solids in plant juice, which includes sucrose and fructose, vitamins and minerals, protein and amino acids, and many others.
People ask me, "what is brix - doesn't it just measure sugar?" Sugar is a big part of it, but it also includes all "dissolved solids." Make sure you understand that before continuing below.
We like to know the brix of our fruits and vegetables for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that brix is a rather nice summary of how well we’re doing with our soil management practices. When we balance the soil nutrient ratios, increase organic matter content, build our soil food web and so on, plants get healthier and brix goes up in the plant juices.
As your brix rises, your food tastes better - I mean way better, and your taste buds won’t lie. It stores longer and is more nutritious - way longer, and way more nutritious. Very high brix foods don’t rot. Other than tomatoes (for some reason unknown to me), most fruits and vegetables will slowly dehydrate, yet stay nutritious and highly edible. They can stay good for years!
Seeds germinate more quickly, and plants in your vegetable garden get bigger and produce more food. They resist heat and frost damage and are healthy overall.
Of course, if your brix goes down, the all of these factors go in the opposite direction.
But once you get the brix value above a certain number, which varies for different plants but is often around 12 on the brix scale, plant predators will diminish or go away completely. In general, they won’t be able to eat or even sense the plant as food with their antennae. It’s too healthy for them.
At this point, the food coming from your organic vegetable garden is a powerhouse of nutrition. We call it "nutrient-dense". Imagine eating an apple that has many times more nutrients than an apple you buy at a store.
Carey Reams is credited with doing much of the original research discovering that high brix means high quality, and he also determined necessary brix levels for many different foods.
He is reported to have entered the same watermelon in a contest 3 years in a row to show how long food can stay good if it has high brix.
For measuring brix, we use a refractometer (aka brix meter), a decent model costing about $100. Some say it’s the most important tool of the serious food grower. You don’t have to rush out and buy one now, but as you get more into advanced vegetable gardening, it’s worthwhile.
I have even taken my brix refractometer to the local market to test food before I buy it. Rex Harrill points out that if you do this, be respectful of the vendors and obviously offer to buy a sample before brix testing it.
We can use brix to see if the food we are growing is getting healthier over time. Like a soil pH test, it doesn’t tell us much more than that, but there is a trick to get some very valuable information.
Now we've covered what is brix, and next week I'll go into how to get that valuable information using a more advanced brix test technique.