New Methods For Growing Tastier, More Nutritious Food

Phil

I’ve searched high and low – for fruits and vegetables that are tastier and more nutritious than what I grow in my own gardens – but I rarely find them.

I actually use at tool called a refractometer to compare the brix (nutrient-density) of foods like my carrots and strawberries against those from the grocery store, and mine usually come out on top.

I even beat the food from the local organic farmer’s market.

And then there’s the taste! There’s just something about picking a fresh apple or tomato that’s been grown with proper nutrition and biting right into it.

Yet what most of my readers don’t know about me is that I’m not a green thumb – I’ve actually never had a magic touch with plants.

What I do seem to have is the ability to thoroughly study the art and science of organic gardening and apply what I learn.

That’s why my gardens grow such incredible food.

And the biggest part of my success comes from the materials I use, some of which I make myself and some of which I buy.

And today I hope you’ll read every word of this article so I can share with you a few quick strategies to help you produce food as nutritious and delicious as mine…

My Approach To Organic Gardening

Applying Organic FertilizersIf you don’t know me, you can read about me here – I’m a certified organic gardener, teacher and author, and I’ve been in the gardening world my whole life.

What do you see in this photo?

If you said me, you’re right.

But there’s also a new garden I’m building in the background, and in it you can see:

  • The wheelbarrow behind me with the remains of my own organic compost,
  • A bale of straw in the far back right from a local biodynamic farmer, and
  • A combination of that straw along with my own leaves as a mulch on my bed.

So as you can see, I’m a big fan of getting as much fertilizer as possible from my own property and my own neighborhood.

That’s why I use all this local and homemade stuff.

But I also have a goal of growing the healthiest plants and most nutrient-dense foods I can…

An Important Factor In My Gardening Success

My Organic GardenMy strawberries in my old garden (one of which I’m holding here) are deep red, sweet and juicy, 13-15 brix, and no longer have pest problems.

Before I knew what I was doing, I had tried various organic fertilizers over the years, but they didn’t bring noticeable benefits.

I realize now that I just wasn’t using high quality products and I wasn’t using them properly.

I think what eventually helped is that I’m a bit of a research nerd, so I ended up spending months of my life studying many of the organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants that were available to me, and I finally zeroed in on the best ones.

And in order to promote optimal health in my organic garden these days, I use them – a small selection of very special products – to make sure my garden is bursting with the beneficial microorganisms and nutrients my plants need.

That’s important because it’s these microorganisms that help our plants get nutrients and water and protection from predators, and the nutrients themselves are important for everything that happens in a plant, from growth to fruiting to defense against predators.

What I’ve noticed since I started using these products is that:

  • The decrease in pest problems throughout most of my garden and my clients’ gardens – and even on my indoor plants – was noticeable within a few days when I first started using these products, and pests haven’t been much of a problem ever since.
  • Most of the food I grow has a higher brix (i.e. is more nutritious) than any food I buy from the grocery store or farmer’s market, which means my family and I are healthier as a result. I measure that nutrition, but I can also tell something is going right just by the incredible taste when I take a bite.
  • My ornamental plants – flowers, shrubs and trees – are healthy with vibrant colors and long blooming periods and an overall vitality that is apparent (I talk a lot about growing food on this page, but the benefits are there for ornamental plants, too).

What this means for me is that I can get to eat highly nutritious food and I get ornamental plants that are thriving rather than looking sickly and pest-ridden…

How You Can Get These Organic Products, Too

My Organic GardenI come through this garden at least every month with some kind of organic fertilizer application, just to make sure the plants have access to the beneficial microorganisms and nutrients they need.

For my own garden, I always try to find products that are high quality but still priced reasonably (my dad is Dutch – maybe that has something to do with it, haha).

But it’s actually pretty difficult to find many of these products and figure out which ones are worth using.

Local garden centers don’t usually have much of what I’m looking for, and while there are plenty of options on the internet, most of them are poor quality.

In my members-only online organic gardening course, I’ve tried to link to the best options online, but I could never find what I wanted all in one place.

So I realized it was time to make these same products available to people in the U.S. (if you’re in Canada, you can go to the Organic Gardener’s Pantry).

And when possible, I’m also going to teach you how to make them yourself.

By the way, if you can find these products from your local garden center, I encourage you to support them. In that case, these pages will help you figure out how to find high quality versions of each product instead of the junkier stuff that’s often out there.

I’ll start with what I do in my garden and then we’ll get to some options for you…

First, Here’s What I Use In My Organic Garden

In general, it’s a good idea to spray less fertilizer, more often, rather than just dumping it all on at once in the spring.

So I come through my garden at least once a month with some form of liquid application, generally combining a few ingredients at once.

When I’m around and have the time, I’ll even cut the application rate by 75% and spray weekly instead – especially useful during the spring when fertilizing often brings the most benefit.

Here’s what I use:

Microbial Inoculants

Most organic gardeners focus on organic fertilizers (let’s call that the chemistry of the soil), but just as important is the life in your garden (the biology).

Microbial inoculants bring in that biology, the beneficial microorganisms that are often deficient for various reasons. We need them back in there to feed our plants and bring them water and protect them from predators and so on.

Here’s how I do it:

  • SCD Probiotics or EM. Definitely my favorite microbial inoculant. I use it monthly along with molasses, liquid seaweed and either sea minerals or liquid fish.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi. Perhaps the most important soil microorganisms in the world. I always use this inoculant during planting, plus I’ll apply it one time into an established garden if it wasn’t done during the original planting of that garden.
  • Compost tea. Excellent for boosting microbial diversity. I use it once each in spring, summer and fall with dextrose (glucose), EM, liquid seaweed and either sea minerals or liquid fish.

And then of course comes a bit of high quality compost in spring and/or fall – just a dusting of 1/8 inch or less is all you need unless you’re building a new garden bed on poor soil and then it can make sense to bring in an inch or more.

Liquid Organic Fertilizers

While we’re bringing the biology back into the garden, we want to make sure our plants have access to the chemistry – the minerals and vitamins and other building blocks.

And we want to go beyond just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to give them all of the dozens of minerals they need. Here’s how I do it:

  • Liquid seaweed fertilizer. An organic gardening standard that’s especially known for boosting plant health. I use it monthly with EM or compost tea.
  • Sea minerals fertilizer. My favorite organic fertilizer, providing broad spectrum nutrition. I use it every other month with EM or compost tea, rotated with the liquid fish below.
  • Liquid fish fertilizer. Another excellent organic fertilizer, a great source of nitrogen and phosphorus and whole proteins. I use it every other month with EM or compost tea, rotated with the sea minerals above.
  • Molasses or dextrose. Both of these feed microorganisms. Molasses is especially used along with EM, while dextrose is used with fertilizers to help them penetrate into the leaf. I always use at least one of them in with my monthly sprays.

Mineral Fertilizers

I also offer the most important dry organic mineral fertilizers to help you boost your soil’s fertility.

While liquid fertilizers are great for feeding both soil and plants with nutrients that can really help in the short term, dry mineral organic fertilizers are used for boosting long term soil nutrition.

Here are a couple of important notes:

  • Rock dust and calcium carbonate are the two that can be used by everyone, without a soil test, regardless of your soil type.
  • For the most part, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and specific micronutrients are only used based on a soil test, so I’m really just making them available down the page here for people who’ve had that done, especially my gardening students.
  • If you can find these dry fertilizers in your local area, you’ll probably get a better deal because the shipping is what makes them a little more expensive online. But the big difficulty for most people is finding them in their local area at all, so that’s why I’m offering them here and I’m actually able to do so at fairly good prices.

So Which Is Right For You?

Well that depends on your goals.

To keep things simple, I’m going to create 3 categories – beginner, intermediate, advanced – to give you some tips on what to buy, whether from me or your local garden center.

I’ll also suggest how much you need per 1000 square feet (100 square meters) of garden space.

For those of you who aren’t the best with measurements, here are some sizes to relate to:

  • Take 10-12 big steps, do a 90 degree turn. Do that 3 more times and you’ve just outlined a square of 1000 square feet.
  • An average 2 car garage is 300-400 square feet.
  • Any of the big face-off circles on an NHL hockey rink are 700 square feet.
  • One half of a professional indoor volleyball court is 900 square feet.
  • 8 average (8 feet by 16 feet) U.S. parking spaces in a row is 1000 square feet.
  • Half of an NBA basketball court is 2350 square feet.
  • 1/8th of an acre is about 5500 square feet.

What follows is just my opinion, so feel free to go with what you think makes sense for you.

(For example, I listed compost tea brewers under advanced because it’s a bigger investment of time and money up front than many beginner gardeners will want to get into, but some people might go straight for that and see incredible results.)

Here’s what I would suggest…

Beginner

This is if you want the most important products for boosting garden health that really provide the best value for your money:

  • Probio Balance or Bio Ag (similar to “EM”). 1 quart for each 1000 square feet of garden for the year.
  • Liquid seaweed fertilizer. 1 quart for each 1000 square feet for the year.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi. 1/2 pound for each 1000 square feet if you’re watering it into an existing garden, but if you’re applying it to new plants and seeds, 1/2 pound goes much further than that and is all you need.

If you’re short on time, click the following link to add a small size of each of these 3 products to your shopping cart: Add 1 quart bio ag, 1 quart liquid seaweed and 1/2 pound mycorrhizal fungi

Intermediate

This is if you’re interested in rounding things out a little more.

Perhaps you’re growing food and you really want to get the nutrition in there and keep pests at bay, or you’re growing flowers that you really want to bloom as long and full as possible.

So in addition to the beginner products, you can add in:

  • Sea minerals. 1/3 quart for each 1000 square feet for the year.
  • Molasses and/or dextrose. Along with EM, use molasses at 1 quart for each 1000 square feet for the year. Or along with other products, use dextrose at 3 Tbsp per 1000 square feet with every application.
  • Liquid fish fertilizer. 1 quart for each 1000 square feet for the year.

If you’re short on time, click the following link to add a small size (good for most home gardens) of each of these products to your shopping cart: Add 1 quart sea minerals, 1 quart blackstrap molasses and 1 quart liquid fish

Advanced

Then we get into some more advanced products:

  • Rock dust. I suggest 50 pounds per 1000 square feet, but you can do much more or less.
  • Calcium carbonate. 10 pounds for each 1000 square feet because you really want to get your soil calcium up in order to allow your plants and microbes to make good use of everything else.
  • Compost tea brewer. A five gallon batch will do up to an acre, but you can use it all on just a small garden, too.
  • Dry fertilizers. Other mineral fertilizers should only be used when you have a soil test that says you need them.

Who Needs This The Most?

On the info page for each product, I have a little section called ‘Do You Need This?’

In it, I explain under which circumstances you might want to pick up that product and when you can skip it.

But just to let you know up front, that was a bit of a difficult task. I use ALL of these products because they’re all so beneficial.

They all have slightly different features, but they all help bring about the same benefits.

For example, when it comes to features, seaweed fertilizer, sea minerals fertilizer and fish fertilizer all have most of the same nutrients, but they all have slightly different proportions and they each have unique additional benefits on top of that, so it’s difficult to choose one over the other.

Then when it comes to benefits, they all help improve plant growth and plant health, and they all help decrease pests (mostly by increasing plant health).

So I admittedly started to feel some deja vu writing about these benefits over and over on the pages that follow, but all of these products help with all of this stuff, and that’s why I happily use them all.

Still, I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction…

How To Use These Products

Applying Microbial InoculantsApplying effective microorganisms back in 2008 – a hose end sprayer works best.

I tend to favor liquid products that allow for spraying plants directly, because foliar fertilizing is many times more efficient than soil uptake.

Of course we want to create healthy soil, too, and when I’m spraying my plants, a lot of the liquid falls on my soil, so I’m getting both at the same time.

And then using some dry fertilizers and building soil organic matter is important as well. In fact, applying a bit of calcium carbonate to your soil is a good idea, because calcium really helps plants use foliar sprays more effectively.

For spraying, I mostly use what I consider to be the best hose end sprayer for small gardens, because it allows me to get the big dilution ratios that are optimal, such as a 1:250 dilution of EM to water. I just can’t get that dilution with a backpack sprayer.

I do use a backpack sprayer for my compost tea because I want to apply it undiluted, without the cold (and chlorinated) water that comes from a hose, but everything else goes through the hose end sprayer.

The dry fertilizers can be applied with your hand, a shovel or a fertilizer spreader. Or it’s great to put them into your compost pile and then apply that when the compost is done.

Either way, make sure you cover the whole soil, not just right around the plants. The root systems and the microorganisms are everywhere throughout the soil, and they all need access to nutrition.

Likewise, when I’m spraying any foliar spray, I make sure to spray the whole plant and the whole soil area, too.

I’ve created an application rate calculator to help you figure out how much of each product to apply for your area…

How Much Does This Cost?

My Organic GardenI like to locate many plants close together to reap the benefits of such a dense, diverse system.

When I’ve looked at the various organizations and people who have kept track of how much ‘value’ comes out of a food garden, I notice it often works out to around $1500 worth of food per 1000 square feet.

That’s what my friend Roger Doiron who runs the non-profit Kitchen Gardeners International found in his garden (he estimated $2400 of food coming out of his 1600 square foot garden).

It can be less than that and it can be much more if you’re using biointensive methods, but what’s been clear in my garden is that the cost of using organic fertilizer and microbial inoculants is very low compared to what you get back.

And then when I factor in the increase in yield and nutrient density, I just think of it as a solid investment.

Whether you’re growing food or ornamental plants, the act of growing healthier plants and creating a healthier soil food web brings many other benefits as well, such as:

  • Fewer pests and diseases to eat your plants
  • Decreased irrigation to cut down on the water bill
  • More beneficial wildlife such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds
  • Lower maintenance costs overall because plants are healthy

So this bit of preventative care will often save you money in the long run, while growing a healthier garden.

Also, I encourage you to comparison shop. You’ll find that nobody else offers all these great products in one place, and yet my prices are still in line with the big guys because I take lower margins…

Affordable, Fast Shipping

It’s hard to be competitive when it comes to shipping as a small business, but I like to keep shipping costs as low as I can.

In fact, I actually lose money on shipping, but I really want to make it easy for you to get these products.

(Side note: I know many people are used to Amazon’s free shipping, but did you know that despite being in business for 20 years, they still had a net loss of 241 million dollars in 2014? I.e. they’re happy to keep losing money until all of us little guys are out of business and then they can raise prices. So if you can afford it, you’re ultimately doing a service to me, you and the world by paying a little money for shipping.)

I ship in the United States only. Shipping is:

  • $15 if your order subtotal is less than $50
  • $20 if your order subtotal is $50-$100
  • $25 if your order subtotal is more than $100

(For shipping to Alaska and Hawaii, add $20.)

I ship from a fairly central location in the U.S., Monday-Friday, so it usually takes just 2-5 business days to get to you (e.g. 2 days to Chicago, 4 days to New York and Houston, 5 days to LA and Seattle).

Products ordered by 2pm will ship same day. After that they ship next day. Weekend orders ship Monday. You’ll get an email with a tracking number when they ship.

Note that dry fertilizers and compost tea brewers ship for free, separately with USPS instead of UPS, so they will arrive on their own maybe a day or 2 apart from my other products. You won’t get a tracking number for them, although you can email to ask me for one. Their value doesn’t impact the above shipping costs…

100% Money-Back Guarantee (I Haven’t Seen This Elsewhere)

Most companies selling organic fertilizers might have a 30 day refund policy – if you’re lucky – as long as the package is unopened.

But how are you supposed to know if you like a product before you’ve even tried it, right?

And most of the products I carry don’t necessarily do all that much for your garden after only one application – it’s after at least a few applications when the benefits really kick in.

So if you’re going to buy these products from me, what I do is give you a full 1 year guarantee because I want you to have a chance to actually use the products for the full growing season.

Nobody else is offering a guarantee like this, probably because they don’t want customers taking advantage of them, but I know my customers have integrity and will only use the guarantee if they truly feel they deserve it, and I also know most people are going to be very happy with the results.

If you didn’t think my products provided you with the value you were looking for, let me know and I’ll give you a full 100% refund.

The only caveat I have to put on there is that this is limited to a maximum refund of $200 – I just have to do that so I don’t get someone buying a huge amount of stuff with a sneaky plan to ask for a refund after it’s all used up. I hope I don’t get too much of that at any dollar amount, but at least this limit helps me sleep at night, haha.

But the bottom line is that I want you to be happy with your purchase, and I want to play a big part in improving the health and success of your garden…

Giving Back

With every order, I send $1 to Organics 4 Orphans and other similar organizations.

What I love about the O4O approach is that they’re working with the world’s poor in a wonderfully holistic, sustainable, focusing-on-the-root-cause sort of way.

They’re helping communities implement the following four very integrated activities:

  • Disease prevention. Using plants as medicine, such as the neem tree (in Swahili language, it’s known as ‘the trees that cures forty’, meaning forty diseases).
  • Better nutrition. Shifting to eating more nutrient-dense foods such as kale and medicinal plants such as moringa, rather than less nutritious foods such as corn, which is currently being over-consumed in many parts of the world.
  • Growing food. Growing their food and medicinal plants using biointensive organic gardening methods. Growing biointensively is more physical work, but it’s highly productive, sustainable and affordable.
  • Income generation. From the surplus organic food, people are able to earn an income as well as taking care of the orphans in their communities, hence ‘Organics 4 Orphans.’

My hope this year is to send $1500US, which is enough to start projects in 25 new communities!

A Few Closing Thoughts

My Organic GardenThis is the new organic garden in the 1st season – plant health is not optimal here yet, but after a few years of improving the biology and chemistry, it’ll produce tasty, nutrient-dense food!

I’ve received so much benefit from using this small selection of organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants that I wanted to teach you how to use them, too.

So at the links above, I teach you how to make some of them yourself and also give you the option of buying them.

I’ve found in my garden that the cost of using these products is insignificant compared to the benefits they provide, especially the increase in plant health and yield, plus the decrease in pests.

As for why it’s a good idea to buy from me, I can think of a few reasons:

  • Nowhere else will you find all of these products in one place, saving you time and money because they can be shipped to you all together within a few days of ordering.
  • It would be rare to find someone as knowledgeable as I am about these products, and my goal is to use that knowledge to help you get the most out of them – I’ll even send you a couple of emails after you receive them, asking if you could use any help.
  • Nobody else offers such a strong money back guarantee.
  • And in spite of all of these benefits, as you’ll find out if you’re a comparison shopper like I am, my prices are very good 🙂

Now I encourage you to go check out some of these products at the links above.

Don’t know where to begin? I suggest either effective microorganisms or seaweed fertilizer.

And feel free to ask me any questions that come up…

Questions?

If you have any questions about any of this, let me know down below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, often within a few hours.

I prefer you to ask questions in the comments below because the answer will probably be helpful to someone else.

If you have a product-specific question, please ask it at the bottom of the related product page.

If you prefer, you can instead email [email protected] or call 646-480-0650 and leave a message.

With email or phone, it may take a little longer to respond, but I will respond. I apologize for not being more available, but I’m pretty much a one man show here 🙂

Phil

P.S. If you want to buy a gift certificate for someone, you can do that here:

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