Heirloom Garden Seeds & Stories

Cindy and Stephen Scott are owners of Terroir Seeds, LLC and the home of Underwood Gardens, known for a fine selection of heirloom, organic and rare seeds. They can be reached through their website http://www.underwoodgardens.com and recently published their 2010 Grandma's Garden Seed Catalog, available at no cost through their website.

Monday, 01 February 2010 00:00    E-mail
The soil makes all the difference


Download this column: 18-EO-Heirloom_Gardens.pdf

Heirloom seeds and plants, whether they are vegetables, herbs or flowers are more popular than ever now, as more people learn about the amazing taste and scent differences between the supermarket vegetables and home-grown ones. People are also realizing there is much more selection and choice in starting plants from seeds than buying seedlings and starts from their local garden centers.

On top of this, the local food movement is gaining traction and has been growing in double digits for the past seven to nine years. Local foods include Farmer’s Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), neighborhood food swaps and buying directly from the farmer at on-farm stands. All of this is great news for people eating healthier and tastier foods than ever before. One important link in the food chain that is missing, however, is soil and the understanding of creating or growing fertile soil, with all of the benefits that come with healthy soil.

The best heirloom seeds can only grow to their full potential in healthy, living fertile soil. So what exactly is healthy soil?  It is much more than just dirt with some compost and fertilizers mixed in. It is truly living—host to thousands of organisms in many communities that all do different things to provide the most available nutrients and minerals to the plant roots in the soil. It is in the soil where everything begins. Everything that we need to grow and remain in good health starts with the health of the soil.

Dr. Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize winner stated, “You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.” Minerals are the most basic building blocks for nutrition, both in the plants and humans.

Without the proper minerals, every other part of the nutritional chain is compromised—nothing else works. Amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients are all dependent on minerals.

This starts in the plants that we eat, and continues in our bodies. If we want the best benefits from our gardening efforts, we need to build and grow the best, most alive and healthy soil possible. Only then will we be able to grow the best gardens that will in turn give us the best taste and nutrition possible.

The health and vitality of the soil directly affects what the plant can take in, and this impacts what nutrition we receive. For example, a tomato grown in natural, healthy soil will take up 56 minerals!  That same tomato can be chemically grown with as few as seven to 12 minerals, and its taste and nutrition will match. The interesting thing is that the chemically grown tomato will look good, until it is compared with the naturally grown one. Most fruits and vegetables in the supermarket are commercially grown, which means chemically grown.

The true nutrition of the plant depends entirely on the mineral content of the soil. Plants use the minerals in soil to create vitamins and phytonutrients, or plant-created nutrients. What is frightening is that most vegetables that we eat from the supermarket are nutritionally deficient, due to the lack of minerals in the soil where they were grown. This is what industrial chemical agriculture has brought us.

Building or growing living and naturally healthy soil starts with some mindset changes. Most of these are easy for the home gardener, such as quality over quantity. Maximum yield growing is not a normal concept for the home gardener, but is forefront for the industrial producer. Eliminating chemical use that destroys the living organisms that create the soil and its nutrients is sometimes hard to accept, but all bugs are not bad in the garden. Most bugs go for weakened or nutritionally deficient plants, so they are the symptom, not the true problem.  Getting rid of the bugs doesn’t solve the underlying nutrient deficiency, only the appearance of the plants.

When you dig into the soil and see lots of worms, pill bugs, and other little crawly things, along with some white mold, this is great! This is exactly what you want to see, as all of these factors combine to break down the compost and other matter into nutrients and minerals that can be used by the plants. When this is happening, the soil has its very own completely operational ecosystem. This is healthy soil.

There are many really good reference books on what is and how to grow healthy soil, but the premise is easy. Soil must be fed, kept away from chemicals and allowed to develop its multiple layers of living communities that enrich the soil.

Encouragement of all the living things that make up the soil such as worms, pillbugs, fungi, molds, nematodes and bacteria will keep the soil vibrant and fertile. Once this process is ongoing, the production, flavor and nutrition of the garden will be amazing!