On a flea market in a village called Beusichem, located in the Netherlands, I found an interesting book: ‘Biologische groenteteelt en bemesting’ by Ewald Könemann. The title translated: ‘Biological vegetable cultivation and fertilisation’. It was originally published in Germany in 1956, but I have a translated version in Dutch that was published in 1974. When I was reading this book, the information was surprisingly actual. It describes the problems and solutions we are also talking about today. The author concluded that the quality of our food is degrading, already in 1956.
A farmer who grows sugar beets doesn’t have to suffer from the amounts of sugar the beets contain. Vegetables and fruit are ‘outlawed’ in the supermarket. People do not look at the nutrients, but at the ‘outside’ of the products, so how perfect and clean they are. Customers also prefer that the products all have the same size and of course, the price is important. Ewald Könemann would be shocked if he hears that vegetables that grow in a greenhouse are based on glass wool. In other words: exploded sweet peppers and tomatoes that look like bombs. They become reared up products with barely any taste or nutrients. The consumer doesn’t know any better, forgot how it used to look like or lost their taste memory.
The soil determines the taste
People who know much about wine or olive oil, know that the soil where the plant or tree grows in, determines the taste. This is also true for vegetables and fruit. The quality of the soil determines the quality of the plants. This is because the soil feeds the plant, and not the other way around. The expression ‘watering the plants’ is actually not correct. You water the soil which makes sure that the plant can soak the water up. Our function is to fertilise the soil in the right way. Other ways to take care of your soil is by using compost, by protecting it with mulch and by giving it rest.
A negative spiral
The introduction of chemical fertiliser and pesticides caused a negative spiral in which we destroy the soil. The chemicals interrupt the natural cycles and by ploughing the soil gets no chance to recover. Also, the monoculture removes all of the nutrients from the soil, and gives nothing back. How much further can we go!?
This story is not a new story. But, how crazy as it sounds, when I am talking about nutrients in vegetables, I receive some weird looks. People think: ‘what is he talking about?’. You can’t see nutrients, but you can measure them with a refractometer. This measures the density of the nutrients, so the density of sugars, proteins and minerals. The higher the density, the more energy there is available for our body. Maybe, in the future, there will be signs in the supermarket that tell us the amount of nutrients. If this ever happens, the difference between biological and regular food will really become clear.
The core of this book is to show which proportions of fertilisation are the best for certain kinds of soils and plants. Ewald Könemann shows this with many tables about proportions of carbon, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and kinds of animal manure. So, many details on how to care for your soil. But, does he also talk about how to take care of your plants? No, because that is not essential as the most important part is the soil. The rest of the garden is less important.
Do you want advice about compost or would you like a permaculture design? You can always contact me!