What Is Brix And How Can It Improve Your Garden?

What Is Brix

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.

What Is Brix

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.

What Brix Really Tells Us

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.

How To Measure 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.

10 Comments

  1. JonathanBrown20 on December 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    So, if I were to measure aspects of my growing process, brix would be one measure of the overall outcome. Yield might be another depending on what i were trying to achieve. What would be some initial and intermediate process measures?Jon

    • Phil on December 11, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Yes, brix and yield (by weight) are 2 of the best measures. For brix, it depends what you’re growing, but you often want to eventually get it above 12 on the brix scale. But in the meantime, you just want to know what you’re starting with and you often want to improve it. So you may be starting with a 4 brix on your tomatoes and you might want to get it up to an average of 8 in one growing season.

  2. Cassandra Truax on December 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the great info!  I can always count on you to be on the cutting edge and giving a down to earth explanation.

  3. Astraea on December 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I so love your website!    So love your advice!

  4. wanyutx on December 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Goodness this is very interesting though am not sure if we have something like brix in our country, but i will go out and find out and plan to buy if it s available. Thank you for the information.

  5. Heidi on December 11, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    In comparing carrots, I noticed consistently had higher brix readings in several carrots that were conventionally grown elsewhere but that were older (less fresh) than organic, local, fresh carrots from a couple of different farms.  I presume that sugar concentration would be higher in older, slightly dehydrated plants.  It must be important to test plants at the time of picking… Any thoughts?

    • Phil on December 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Heidi, I’ve actually never looked at how brix changes over time on harvested foods. What you’ve suggested may be true. I’ll have to do some testing next year. Another point I should make is that conventionally grown foods can have higher brix than organically grown foods, as there can be high quality conventional food and low quality organic food.

  6. VirginiaG on March 20, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Hi Phil, can you tell me of a brix meter to purchase that is not too expensive? I’ve got my worm farms going and am itching to get out to my gardens in May and was just reading up on the brix and am really interested in getting one. Thanks!

    • Phil on March 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      Ya, I used to use a more expensive one, but this one (http://www.amazon.com/Sainstor… ) has been working just fine for me in the last year.

  7. Carrie Goelitz on March 13, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks for all the research & clarity, easily digestible info for a non-scientist! I’ll keep reading and I look forward to experimenting in my garden.

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