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A Computer Geek Starts a Garden, Part II – We Are Chlorophyll Managers

Last night I ate a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes from my just-getting-started garden. A little pepper and salt and I was in tomato heaven. I was expecting them to taste a whole lot better than the supermarket ‘tomatoes‘ I’m otherwise forced to consume, and I was not at all disappointed. Indeed, every cell of my body almost seemed to shout "thank you!" The difference was like night and day. I even managed to get my wife to try them (she doesn’t like tomatoes…), and she was pleasantly surprised. I think she only needed to try a real tomato. Now I’m eagerly monitoring the plants, looking for the next batch of harvestable, red goodness. The good news is it looks like we’ll have hundreds of them!

I don’t have a refractometer at hand, but if I did, I suspect these tomato plants would stack up reasonably well on the BRIX scale — taste being a good indicator on its own.

In this context, I want to share the fantastic 17-minute video above. It’s jam-packed with excellently verbalised permaculture concepts. Actually, I think that watching this video was the best 17-minute investment of time I’ve made for a while! If a critical mass of people could come to understand what is presented here, I think we would quickly see a shift in consciousness — the much-needed elevation in levels of eco-literacy — and a more rapid movement towards all things healthy and sustainable.

In the video, Graeme Sait shares info on how and why to use a refractometer. But he goes much further, giving excellently understandable detail on the why of it. He talks of how we are the ‘chlorophyll managers’, and how our issues with ‘pests‘ are a direct result of our failing at that task. He goes on to share what I shared with you all years ago about the carcinogenic impacts of high-nitrate foods — the unfortunate and unnecessary norm in our industrial agricultural system today — i.e. that we’re killing ourselves with our nutrient deficient, nitrate-laden foods, and since those unhealthy plants are attractive to the ‘trash collectors’ (insects) that instinctively want to weed out the weaker elements of the gene pool, we’re following that up with the double-whammy of dousing our food with insecticides as well…. It’s just not smart!

I would go further, adding to Graeme’s share: another spin-off of our nutrient deficient food treadmill is obesity. When one continually eats foods that are insufficient in fulfilling our body’s innate hunger for nutrients and minerals, the body continues to crave for them…. The result is a never-ending appetite — one that is continually disappointed and thus never satiated. It is yet another … erm… feedback loop that just works to kill us.

It’s a nonsensical situation, but it’s one that too few people have yet come to grips with — and, of course, the few short-lived beneficiaries of this ridiculous paradigm (i.e. big corporations) obviously aren’t willing to gift us their advertising air-time to get this critical point across…. Their heavily marketed, costly, ‘silver bullet’ solutions are distracting us from the real and free solutions available to all.

The great news is that we can turn this whole destructive situation upside-down, by building soil, and in doing so building plant nutrient density, improving our health, and making artificial imputs redundant in the process.

And no article on building soil fertility and health would be complete without mentioning that just a small increase in soil carbon levels worldwide, through intelligent soil management, could also significantly reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere — going a long way towards putting our biosphere back into balance.

But — as Graeme touches upon — our present economy is based around ‘cheap’ food. We’re paying little over the counter, but it’s costing us dearly in every other way. A key part of the necessary economic overhaul — one I steadily see moving closer on the horizon, as nation states crumble under unrest — is establishing better priorities…. Quality food should be key, and focussing on that brings a host of additional side-benefits, as I’ve already expressed.

All photographs © Craig Mackintosh

Getting back to my own garden, for those interested: This is just the first growing season for me, and I’ve tried a decent mix of vegetables, testing to see what does well, and what does not. The former includes tomato (as you’ll have gathered already), potato, pumpkin, zucchini, onion, garlic, parsnip, celery and more. The vegetables that didn’t fare well, were salad, cabbage, broccoli, carrot (didn’t show up at all — despite two attempts), and radish. The latter list suffered from attack by slugs and white butterflies, although the exceptionally harsh weather conditions likely played its part also (a very long, depressingly grey winter suddenly roller-coasted into +35°C temperatures, and then back down into wintry conditions before leaping back up to +37°C — and we’ve had almost no rain over the last couple of months).

I call on everyone to start gardening and farming right — if we would stop abusing the carbon cycle, then maybe the weather will give me half a chance!

Before watching the video above, I had already determined that for the next season I would concentrate on growing the veggies that did well this year, along with more inputs of composted biomass and manure, and mixing in peas and beans throughout for nitrogen fixation — leaving out the hard-to-grows for another year. After a season or two I hope to have improved the soil sufficiently so that it produces more robust, insect-repelling plants. Graeme’s video only encourages me with this plan. I’ll follow the path of least resistance, and put my energy where it’s better spent.

For research and documentary purposes, I do think it’s time I get myself a refractometer as well, for good… er… measure, as it were! It seems like it will be a valuable tool for me, and will help me to know when it’s ‘safe’ to try again with the vegetables I failed this year. (That’s right — they didn’t fail me, I failed them.)

In addition to the veggies, we also enjoyed lots of cherries and berries (raspberry, black and red currents) from already existing trees and bushes, and some of the many new bushes we planted last autumn already started to give us a little return — like gooseberries. However, the apple trees were so worn out from last year’s abundant harvest, they didn’t even flower this year…. But that’s the beauty of diversity — we got no plums last year, but bushels of apples. This year we’re apple-skint, but we’ll have plums. Create diversity, and you have economic stability.

One of the commenters on the last article on our garden mentioned enjoying hearing about my magpie friend. As such, I thought I’d better introduce him (or her?) to you all — see pics below. I suspect this guy was taken care of by humans when a young bird, after an injury perhaps, as it is incredibly friendly. He (or she) has been keeping me company in the garden for the last two seasons. Sometimes I feel he’s a supervisor….

And below is another little guy who visits on occasion. I’d like to attract more of these….

I hope you enjoyed the video. Please do share it with your contacts. It’s not rocket science, but it is a must for all people to understand and address.


  1. I’ve been waiting patiently for a garden update and you haven’t disappointed! Great to hear about your successes and your – learning experiences. It is such a large garden I’m sure you’ll soon be out meeting the neighbours to share your harvest.
    It’s nice that you have reached a point in your life that allows for gardening pursuits.

  2. Beautiful garden Craig!

    Love the photos of the magpie. It’s face has a look that says, “Keep working mates!”

    A few weeks ago we had four or five hedgehogs burrowing through the leaf mulch at the summer cottage. My Finnish family hadn’t seen one there in years.

    Thanks for all you do.

  3. Thank-you so very much for sharing this. I have this tool but it was unclear to me which leaves to use and the time of day. This understanding of sugars and humus needs to go viral. Are there any books out there explaining this topic in more detail?

    Thank-you again from the bottom of my heart

  4. Hi Craig. Thanks for the update and glad to hear that you are enjoying a good crop of tomatoes. Really jealous of those home grown zucchinis! Great photos.

    The white moth may be cabbage moth and I haven’t got my head around their life cycle yet and how to live with them. They love eating brassica family plants which is a real drama over summer. The green larvae which you may find on leaves are great food for hungry chooks and I’d reckon your magpie may just enjoy eating them too. They are often on the underside of the leaves and I’ve accidentally eaten a few without realising…

    Apples are very often biennial so you get a big crop one year and then very few the next year whilst they happily grow. I haven’t yet observed whether all the apple trees in a food forest will follow this cycle, so it will be interesting to find out as time progresses.

    Hope you get some rain, your place is looking great. Regards. Chris

  5. Hi, really interesting video, I’ve never come across one of those refractometers before but am intrigued. Does anyone have any more info or links to info about them like when to get them from what to look out for when buying one and more things on using them in the garden?


  6. Thanks for the comments everyone. Hopefully you all watched the valuable video also.

    Kirsten, in regards to neighbours it has been interesting. When we were building the raised beds and covering them with straw last summer, one neighbour commented with “What are you going to grow there? Mushrooms?” :)

    The approach I’m taking is unknown here. But, I think it will already be attracting some interest. Another neighbour, whose yard is right next to mine, is a stalwart 85 year old, who gardens religiously every year. When she saw us building the raised beds, she said “We all have to learn from our own mistakes I guess”, but now her garden has basically finished for the year, and mine is still going. Where she had to water every day over this very dry time, I could get away with watering every 3 or 4 days. There’s much I can learn from her, about particular plant characteristics in particular, etc., but I think she will be watching my garden with interest also!

    Given how she and other people garden here (digging and denuding the area of all foliage and cover), I thought to myself that she must be using fertilisers by now, after so many years of working the same spot. And, sure enough, just the other day she told us she uses artificial fertilisers now. Hopefully my soil will just get better and better.

  7. Nice article Craig.

    With regards to the refractometer and its use… I like the idea of being able to check the Brix levels in my plants but how often would one realistically use it? I really want one, even if only for interests sake, but they aren’t cheap items so I would want to know I was going to get ongoing and purposeful use out of it as well.

    How quickly do the pH and other soil quality measures change over time? Especially if you have a system of slow and steady soil building in place that doesn’t change much from year to year? It is the sort of thing you may only need to check once, or is it the sort of thing you need to be checking on an ongoing basis?


  8. Very informative video Craig… important tool, the refractometer… that’s for sure. Having not met you to date, it was good to hear about your escapades in the permaculture garden. Cheers, Phillip

  9. This video is so brilliant. IT really needs to be reposted again. Saw it last year and forgot so much of what he said this year.

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