Nutrient Density for Real

One of the things that we are trying to accomplish with permaculture is to take over the Earth, actually feed ourselves and our animals with the resources available that we can leverage. We all know that 3 main calorie sources are proteins, fats and sugars that is commercial meat, margarine and refined sugar for city dwellers and paddock grazed lamb, full fat butter we made and honey from our beehives.

A permaculturist may target these three things to produce a balanced diet for every being in their care including plants but are we really getting the nutrients that we need? What can we do to increase the nutrients in our produce? What are actual savings behind consuming nutrient-dense produce?

As Colin Austin the inventor of the wicking beds; pointed out that most mass produced food including organics and packaged foods are deficient in essential minerals and phytonutrients (essential complex compounds produced by plants). You can measure this scientifically with a sugar refractometer too. The packaged, carb loaded food combined with the lack of minerals and phytonutrients causes the body to release more insulin to cope with the carb/sugar intake. After a long period of high insulin, your body becomes resistant to insulin. This is diabetes type 2.

Diabetes is just one of those new-age sicknesses that are caused by lack of nutrients.

I see a 3 step holistic approach to fix what is missing.

1- Get Rid of Hybrids, GMOs, Dwarves

You first need to get rid of hybrid seeds, GMO cultivars and dwarf trees. Hybrid seeds do not allow a true brix measurement and seed collection. GMOs engineered at a lab injected with foreign DNA and consumption of these may cause future problems (selective breeding is okay). Dwarf trees are dwarf because the root stock supplies sugars that does not match with the grafted cultivar on top, therefore the tree cannot grow to normal height and the fruit will not have nutrients.

Seeds in baggies

Replace all your vegetable seeds with heirloom, organic seeds. Grow different types than the supermarket. They are better in flavour and nutrients. Collect your seeds from your own produce so that they can acclimatise to your seasonal changes and soil structure. While the plants you are growing get stronger every year, they will better mine the nutrients out of soil, with the help of sun.

Pull up your dwarf trees and replace them with normal size fruit trees preferably heirloom varieties and then you will get the chance of getting the nutrient density you crave and deserve for. You can micro-manage them if you want to keep them smaller by pruning couple of times in a year. A continues plant sap highway without interruption will carry the nutrients to the leaves and the fruit unlike dwarf trees.

If I am going to garden with supermarket varieties, what is the point, anyway. There should be a difference that I would be proud when I picked my green zebra tomato from its branch.

2- Invest in Soil

Feed and protect your soil and the microbiology in it. Prepare your own fertilizers with the things you grow like comfrey, nettle, dandelion, pest fish like carp in rivers, weeds, kitchen scraps, humanure, urine, worm castings and aggressive composting with deep rooted plants and yard scraps. When the cycle of “what comes from the soil must return back to soil” is complete, you will start seeing the benefits. You can find the recipes of liquid and solid manures on the internet easily.

Another way of feeding your soil is to invest in some rock dust. This powdered basalt or granite dust will feed the microbiology and make the minerals available to plants. Only when the minerals are in balance and available, you can get water soluble minerals into the plants and into your body. When you buy soil from garden centres, they work for the first year but they quickly depleted in nutrients. Rock dust tops up the missing minerals for long term.

Pile of small basalt stones.
Pile of small basalt stones.

Mulching is a must as well. If you do not protect your soil, plants won’t be getting the full benefits. You must also create humus and not disturb the soil by ploughing and exposing those critters to sun light.

3- Use Water Wisely

Harvest and use water wisely. Invest in an “under mulch-drip watering system”. The pipes are relatively cheap and save your precious water. I’ve even found free second hand pipes online. With a little controller that works on a gravity fed system, my veggies always have water and the thick mulch on top preventing evaporation. Mulch also keeps microbiology alive, roots will be cool, feeds soil as it breaks down, prevents loss of soil with erosion etc.

Nutrient Density for Real 03

If your land is large enough, look into keylines or swales. If you live in a suburban block, harvest rain water in a tank or apply the principles in the book Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster. Make sure you include grey water harvesting elements into your design as it is explained in Art Ludwig’s book called “Create an Oasis with Greywater”.


Once you start doing these 3 fundamental things, your soil will wake up with life in it like bacteria, yeast, mould, fungi, little critters, worms etc. pH will be balanced naturally. Water will be hold in soil. The minerals will be available to plants growing on top providing you and your animals with nutrient-dense produce. When you produce nutrient dense legumes, meat, and honey to feed yourself, you will immediately see the health benefits. Of course it will take time for a city dweller to adapt who embarked on a permaculture journey by buying a piece of land. Your digestive bacteria will take time to adjust and actually completely replaced by this new diet given that you don’t eat packaged food anymore again.

Animals on our land (wild or domestic) and their diet is also our responsibility. If you provide the best food for them, you will get a high quality yield. You can measure this quality using a sugar refractometer in brix. Only a cow who eats 20 brix alfalfa can give you 20 brix milk. Only a chicken who eats nutrient dense fruits can give you nutrient dense eggs. A normal size tree where the sap flows with nutrient dense sugary water can only supply a good source of nectar for the bees and as a result honey will be highest quality. Manure produced from your animals will be high quality too. You are what you eat and this is also true for your animals.

Increased nutrient density will feed your body with the much needed water soluble minerals. Only water soluble minerals can top up your deficiencies, you cannot digest rock or those mineral pills. You know that behind every disease, there is a mineral deficiency. Even plants cannot directly digest rock; they need microorganisms and fungi to help them. The benefits will be a better health for you and your animals, less doctor and veterinary fees, maybe more income by selling these nutrient dense produce, healthy soil that produces better yield, less money spent on fertilizers, a better digestive tract, less carbon footprint, more stabilised seasons and overall happiness.


  1. Steve Solomon is the guru of nutrient dense food.

    His approach- get a soil test to see what the mineral composition is, and amend accordingly.

    What’s in the rock dust? Who knows. Does your particular soil need what’s in the rock dust? Who knows.

    Let’s apply soil science to the Permaculture endeavour.

    1. Thanks for the comment Peter, I will look into Steve Solomon’s work. You are right, a soil test may reveal the defficiencies and you can act acccordingly. Or If we don’t have access to soil test, we can observe the plants growing and look for clues of defficiencies and apply rock dust or amendments and compare the results, may b eeven incorporate brix readings.

  2. I mostly agree with what you post but I would point out that there is no proven link between Brix and higher mineral content. There’s also more than a bit of fuzziness around the phrase “nutrient dense”. Such a rich vein to be mined.

    FWIW, Steve Solomon’s approach is neither sustainable (he buys in amendments) nor regenerative. Additionally, he considers Elaine Ingham to be a “charlatan” according to his posts in his Yahoo group.

    1. Interesting point of view DG Green. I also never heard of Steve Solomon before. What is the name of the group on Yahoo?

      Brix is only a measurement unit. When I try to do all sorts of things to get the brix high, I then end up with a even tastier veg and fruit. Refractometer looks into total dissolved solids not just sugar, so we can assume if the brix is high, the minerals are also high. Next step is to get the border between white and blue areas in the refractometer blurry which tells the mineral to sugar ratio is high.

      As a backyard gardener, refractometer and the brix readings are the only scientific thing I have access to measure the quality of my produce and there is no doubt that when the brix is high, the fruit is even more tastier.

      1. Two excellent books on soil mineral balancing and how minerals bind to or leach from soils:
        Steve Solomon – “The Intelligent Gardner”
        Michael Astera – “The Ideal Soil v2.0”

      2. 1) Tastier fruit and veg aka sweeter fruit and veg.

        2) What are the dissolved solids that are measured? Unless you can specify, then you can’t jump to saying that high brix=high minerals.

        3) “Next step is to get the border between white and blue areas in the refractometer blurry which tells the mineral to sugar ratio is high.” Can you point me to explanatory info on this?

        BTW, it’s not just an interesting point of view. I’ve dug pretty heavily into the research world and come up empty handed. If you have research showing a link, please post it, Tks


        1. Hi DG Green,
          Most information I have about the brix comes from Rex Harril at
          He says when the mineral content of the juice is higher, the line gets blurred. With my old apricot tree this is happening as I am guessing that the roots are deep enough to mine the minerals.

          Sugar is the main means of carrying minerals in the sap for the plant. But I guess, at the end of the day, it will be the personal experience that matters when you consume that fruit or veg.

          I also didn’t find any research about the subject, but who would sponsor a research like that which will have no benefit to the farmer, distributor, seller and will potentially increase the costs. Just because there is no research, we can’t dismiss a novel idea.

          You would try things to increase the brix in your garden and taste the end result. Yes it will taste like a sugary fruit etc. as we don’t have enough receptors in our tongue to identify the minerals.

          I suggest you to read the link above. At least, we have a way to measure, methods to increase the brix, and our taste buds to see the end results.

          1. Yes, I’ve seen Rex Harrill’s pages. Lots of claims. It’s interesting to note that the Wiki page for Brix does not mention nutrient dense/ity and the Wiki page for nutrient density does not mention Brix.

            As for testing, who would sponsor? It would seem to me that Weston Price or Rodale would have a lot to gain if they could demonstrate that soils high in trace minerals produce fruits and vegetables high in the same trace minerals and that Brix can be a proxy. Jon Frank at International Labs would have an immense amount to gain but he doesn’t answer emails on the subject of testing. One wonders but perhaps not for long when money or the loss of money is involved.

            BTW, apricots apparently are not tap rooted trees and have most of their roots in the first .5 metre of soil – But then again, who really knows unless one digs down – please, don’t! It may be possible that your apricot has a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi that is extending the reach of its shallow-ish roots.

            As I said, I agree with most of what you wrote. Just not with the Brix-nutrient density connection. I don’t say this it’s not true only that it’s not been proven.

          2. Love this thread, I discovered your writings through a link to FarmOS in your piece on software.
            Bionutrient Food Assoc in the US is backer of Farm OS and the Real Food CAmpaign, for nutrient dense food. do you kn ow of this org>? worth tracking.
            thanks for sharing your depth of knowledge on such diverse topics.

  3. Basalt ‘rock dust’, (aka: glacial till,) has been cited as a major contributor to the astounding depth and organic composition throughout the A-horizon of the soils within the fertile Ohio Valley, and encompassing eastern Illinois. In the Hunza Valley of Pakistan it’s been cited as the primary reason they have historically seen zero incidents of cancer.

    We began our organic garden in 1967, after I received my very first paid photo assignment for Rodale Press. Beautiful brown, wormy compost piles are great, but nothing matched the size and caliber of our (hybrid) Big Boy tomatoes until dad added this “special” rock dust to our otherwise clumpy clay soil.

    1. Hi Galen,
      Short answer is I can’t.
      Long answer is: the dwarf varieties are grafted on a root stock that is totally different than the scion wood. Usually quince seedlings used to create those M101, M111, named cultivars to graft apple and pear on them because quince is like the mother of all pom fruit. The tree grows as a dwarf because the sugars flowing in the sap are not compatible. I don’t think we will get the true mineral content in the fruit whe the root is incompatible with the cultivar growing on top.

      I have 2 dwarf peach trees. Although I have done everything I can, I couldn’t get a tasty fruit from them compared to seed grown peach next to them.

      But I agree that there is no scientific experiment done on the nutrient density of the dwarf varieties. Only anecdotal ones.

  4. Since practising permaculture techniques (mainly moving free range chickens and some cattle around), we have increased our nutrient density / BRIX readings from 16 to 20 for the inner yolk of our eggs. We only have the standard food refractomer, so cannot read the yoke density (45-50)

    1. Chris, just came on this 6mos after you wrote it. could you clarify inner yolk and yolk density? do you test the white of the egg too? very interested, I raise organic eggs, free range in summer, indoors in winter. never have tested brix on eggs, would like to. people really love our eggs.

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