Soil samples mixed and ready to sift to be sent away for a soil test. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Do you know if your soil is deficient in minerals?

Despite the use of cover crops or mulching, many nutrients wash out of our soil every winter.

By Mary Lowther

Despite the use of cover crops or mulching, many nutrients wash out of our soil every winter. Plastic sheets lain over garden beds certainly keep off the rain, but they wear out and are not always practical to employ. Minerals in crops we’ve harvested and eaten from the garden do not go back into the soil and we can’t be sure that manure we bring in contains enough minerals to produce robust vegetables. Mulching with leaves, manures and compost will not add these minerals to our soils.

The United States Department of Agriculture studied fruits and vegetables from across the U.S. in the year 2000 and found that vitamin and mineral content had decreased by an average of 50 per cent since the early 1900s. We can take supplements to ameliorate this loss, but is that going to compensate well enough? I prefer to hedge my bets and get the most nutrition I can from my food.

Soil with its full complement of minerals does not necessarily grow better looking vegetables; the food just tastes better and is healthier for us because it is nutrient dense. Fully remineralized vegetables are also more resistant to disease. Commercial growers often do not add necessary minerals to their land because they’d have to charge more than customers are willing to pay, but you and I can afford the smaller amounts needed for our yards. The money we spend growing nutritious crops will repay us with good health and besides, the food tastes better.

I had my soil tested after eight years of mulching, adding compost and growing cover crop and was astonished to learn that although the organic matter was sufficient, the soil sadly lacked the recommended amount of minerals. That was two years ago.

Since then I’ve added extra alfalfa and the organic fertilizer amended with minerals concoction devised by Steve Solomon, and I plan to have the soil re-tested this year. Integrity Sales in Central Saanich will test the soil for around $65.

To prepare a soil sample, take a bit of soil from each corner of the garden plus some from the middle. Dig down about six inches for each sample and mix the soils together. Sift the soil and fill a non-metallic container with the sifted soil. Dry it out in the oven in a non-metallic dish at a low temperature until it’s dry. Do not use a tin cookie sheet like I almost did or you will have false results, because exposure to metals contaminates the sample. Refill the container and send it to Integrity Sales on Keating Cross Road in Saanich. Any reader choosing to do so can contact me and I will help them interpret the results.

Events:

Starting plants from seed: Feb 6, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Dinter Nursery

Mason Bee workshop: Feb. 22 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Cowichan Community Centre, Duncan.

Fruit tree pruning: Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Cowichan Community Centre, Duncan.

Novice Vegetable Gardening: Tuesdays from April 9-30. Time: 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Cowichan Community Centre, Duncan.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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