My regular readers (both of them) won’t be surprised when I write about the need to replenish the soil as the produce leaves the farm, taking the minerals with them. As these become depleted, the nutritional value of the resulting crops decreases and, because the client is reluctant to pay more to cover the cost of rebuilding their environment, cash crops over time contained fewer nutrients, leaving the population weaker and more vulnerable to disease. Obviously, I say this to David so often that when he leafed through my Small farms magazine, he came across an article about Nigel Palmer’s new book, The Regenerative Grower’s Guide to Garden Modifications and convinced me to buy it.
David claims that I am difficult to buy. He complains that I don’t wear jewelry, avoid chocolate, and prefer overalls and rubber boots to Versace and Gucci, which is perfectly true most of the time. I knew it was him when he bought me a dung truck for my birthday! He also knows that I prefer a good gardening book to any novel, no matter how sordid, and it’s terribly good enough to have found me one that I didn’t even know about. I suspect he’s also relieved to have found an acceptable gift that doesn’t require rain gear and a shovel.
In his book, Palmer explains how fermentation increases the bioavailability of minerals and how he uses this process to extract minerals from local sources instead of importing expensive and increasingly scarce minerals. It offers several fermentation methods to obtain minerals from weeds, fish, bones and shellfish. The health benefits of fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut have been well studied. Palmer’s experiments show how we can increase the mineral content of our soil without expensive imports. I already knew that fermented compost tea prevented disease in my crops; now i know how other fermentations can extract minerals.
Take dandelions, for example. Palmer uses sugar to ferment them into a juice that contains minerals that plants pull from deep in the soil to incorporate them into their structures. He uses a small dilution of the obtained weed juice to nourish his plants, either by spraying their leaves or by watering the soil, applying it every seven to ten days during the growing season. Since the corn stalks contain corn syrup, I will try to extract it from the crushed stalks instead of buying sugar. I will be using it next year, assuming I live that long.
I can’t wait to start now, however, with an apple cider vinegar that Palmer uses to ferment minerals in bones and shells. He takes the fallen apples that are useless, cuts off the bruised parts, cuts the apples into quarters and fills a jar half or two-thirds full, adding water to the top. He weighs this to keep the apples submerged (I used a smaller jar that fits inside and I also used my fermentation jar), labels the jar with the date and contents and covers it to prevent debris to enter. He lets it sit for a month, during which time the apples will likely stay submerged so the weight can be removed. When the pH drops to four or five, it settles the cloudy liquid. (I imagine you could buy pH strips at the drugstore.) The fermentation liquid can be left for another month or more and a mother (SCOBY – symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) should form at the area. Then it filters the shelf-stable liquid into labeled jars and covers it tightly for storage. Palmer uses this vinegar to extract minerals from bones, shells and eggshells, presumably crushed. When I get this far in the process, I’ll tell you how it’s going.
In the meantime I have a new reason to go for a walk on the beach. It’s always good to have an excuse.