Kelp for nutrient dense food
Kelp fertilizer helps grow nutrient dense food

I’m going to go beyond basic soil management, such as watering and mulching, to briefly cover what comes after that on the journey to nutrient dense food.

Here are 3 steps you might look into after having already become comfortable with the basics:

Balancing Calcium

There are many nutrients we need to have in the soil in certain amounts, but there is one to focus on first. Dr. Carey Reams was stressing this before I was born and Dr. William Albrecht before my dad was born.

That nutrient is calcium. Without it, most of our other organic gardening chores don’t work. There’s no point in foliar feeding without sufficient calcium in the soil, as calcium-deficient plants have a hard time taking up nutrients.

There’s not much point in cultivating the soil to increase air and decrease weeds, because the compaction and grassy weeds will just come back.

This doesn’t mean you want to add calcium willy-nilly, but it is something to test for and address before anything else.

Proper calcium is needed for the soil to be a nice place to live, for root hairs to grow, for microbes to flourish, for plant cells to communicate, and ultimately to produce nutrient dense food.


When we’re content that we’ve at least done what’s necessary to begin the move towards an appropriate calcium level (at least 2000 pounds per acre on a Reams test), we can look at improving the soil food web, the biology of the soil.

That means bringing microbes and insects into the vegetable garden with high-quality compost, which you may want to start producing yourself (commercially-produced composts can occasionally be good, but often aren’t).

Then you can get into the world of microbial inoculants in order to bring microorganisms right onto your plant leaves.

And then of course it’s time to go back to those basics in order to care for your new biology – proper watering, proper mulching, etc. – as the basics are still important.

This soil food web does most of the work in our organic gardens. These organisms allow us to produce nutrient dense food, which is why I babble on about them all the time.

Foliar Fertilizing For Nutrient Dense Food

Once we have the calcium moving in the right direction, and the biology ready for action, we can supply that biology with nutrients through organic fertilizing directly to plant leaves.

That means spraying a mixture of water and something like sea minerals or liquid kelp, and perhaps some other stuff.

This method is very efficient, for plants and for your wallet. It helps us get all those vital micronutrients like selenium and iodine into our organic vegetables and fruits so we can be healthy.

Of course our roses and magnolias like micronutrients, too.

Well, now I’ve gone and got myself all excited to get out in the organic vegetable garden! I’m feeling the hairs stand on the back of my neck at the idea of continuing my journey towards nutrient density in this new garden I started last year.

By the way, while all of this stuff takes a bit of knowledge and practice and the results don’t come over night, they will come if you stick with it.

So, are you with me on this quest for nutrient dense foods? What are you going to do this year to make that goal a reality? I’d love it if you’d let me know below.


  1. Markie_man2 on March 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Phil. I will be putting in some permanent garden beds.lots of compost .I got some sea 90 sea minerals,azomite and menefee humates .I’m waiting for my soil test results before I get any fertilizer and to see what other deficiencies may be present so I can address them as need. The university of Maine orono has an organic option with recommendations so I will know how much and of what to add.

    • Phil on April 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      Excellent, look forward to hearing about your recommendations.

  2. Tom on April 1, 2012 at 12:18 am

    These items are things I agree with you about; so, it is encouraging more than helpful to me. But I could use help with something else: nematodes. How do you counter these pernicious pests?

    • Phil on April 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Hi Tom, it’s really about doing all the tasks that are part of creating healthy soil. When you do that, the nematodes will cease being a problem. So that means creating a healthy soil food web with compost and microbial inoculants; getting a soil test and balancing the nutrients in the soil; watering, mulching, and all the other steps that are part of creating a healthy ecosystem. It can take a couple of years or more, but it will happen if you stick with it.

  3. Jprescia on April 2, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Why doesn’t someone have a good soil testing kit so that you don’t always have to send it off and wait. It appears the need to soil test comes up frequently enough to make this a viable convenience for the organic gardener. 

    • Phil on April 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      Good question, I’ve wondered that myself. Perhaps it’s just too difficult to put together an inexpensive kit that works well enough. The labs certainly have a lot of money invested in quality equipment.

  4. Alexandra on September 5, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Hello Phil, I understand that there needs to be the right ration between calcium and magnesium and phosphorus and potassium, but is there an optimum ration between phosphorus and calcium that need to be achieved also, or does this not matter?

    • Phil on September 6, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      I’ve seen various numbers thrown around for the calcium to phosphorus ratio, but they’ve been so varied that I’ve never recommended anything specific. On a Lamotte test (a weak acid test), the soil labs I use seem to shoot for anywhere between 10 and 40 times as much calcium as phosphate.

      • Alexandra on September 7, 2014 at 12:06 am

        Thank you, Phil; and thank you for being patient with me as I try to get my head wrapped around this thing. So Calcium needs phosphorus to be released to the plants to enable them to absorb the calcium, but as long as it is between 40 to 10 times less phosphate to calcium, then the amount of calcium available to the plant is, for all practical purposes, the same, is that right? Along those same lines, is this cation exchange; or is the cation exchange more dependent on the amount and quality of the organic matter, or is it something that depends on fungal structure that exists in the soil–or a combination of two or all three? Those are the three questions I have at this point. I know this is a complicated subject with many contributing factors to balance in understanding how they all play into how our gardens grow, but any insight you can give me in this area would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

        • Phil on September 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

          Hmm, I don’t understand your 1st question.This isn’t cation exchange specifically. Cation exchange is the process by which plants extract positively-charged nutrients (cations) from the soil. And a simplified definition of cation exchange capacity (CEC) is that it’s a number that indicates how many of these cations a soil can hold. The CEC increases when you have more clay and/or organic matter (specifically humus). It doesn’t take into account biology (e.g. fungi). Phosphorus is an anion (negatively charged), not a cation, so isn’t part of this.

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