Today, I interrupt my ten-part immune booster series to tell you about the exciting new gardening tool that I just received. In my lament over not being able to attend the Master Gardener program, I shared my Plan B, to continue to learn on my own, but in a more organized way. My first goal was to learn how to build a good foundation – healthy soil. In my initial search for material, I came across a book on how to build good soil (which I ordered and received). I also discovered there was a way to actually measure how well your soil is feeding your plants by measuring the nutrition level of the fruit. A garden tool to measure the quality of my garden produce? I had to have one!
My new garden tool is called a refractometer. This hand-held device measures the number of Brix (a unit of measure) in juice from a fruit, vegetable, or plant leaf. Brix is a measurement of the percentage of total solids in the juice, which includes the sugars, proteins, minerals, hormones, amino acids, oils, etc. The more solids in the juice – i.e., the more minerals, proteins, etc. (read: nutrition) – the higher the brix number. This number is not arbitrary; it represents the pounds of solids found in 100 pounds of the fruit juice. For example: 100 pounds of juice from a 16 Brix cantaloupe would have 16 pounds of solids. Some people simplify things and state that Brix is the measurement of the sugars in the produce, but it’s really a measurement of ALL the solids, not just the sugars.
Here’s a visual way to look at how this translates to a measurement of nutritional value:
HIGH NUMBER OF SOLIDS IN JUICE = HIGH BRIX NUMBER => HIGH NUTRITION
So, what Brix number represents high nutrition? Well, that depends on the fruit or vegetable tested. There’s a Brix chart that can be used for reference. The measurements are divided into poor, average, good, and excellent. I’ve read that most grocery store produce, which is grown using conventional farming methods, would measure in the poor range. The most nutritionally-dense crops, like our grandparents use to raise, would measure in the excellent range.
This weekend, I’m going to learn how to use my refractometer. I purchased the one that automatically adjusts for temperature, which affects the readings; I didn’t want to have to use a conversion chart to get the true Brix reading. For only a few dollars more, it’s going to save me the extra math!
The first thing I’m going to do is calibrate it. Drops of distilled water should read zero Brix. Then I’m going to test a farmer’s market cantaloupe to see what that reads. Next, I can test one of my own watermelons that’s in the fridge. After I’m comfortable with how to get good readings, I’m going to take readings on every crop I have in the garden right now and record them in my garden journal. If the plant doesn’t have any ripe fruit to harvest yet, I can also take readings from the leaves.
After I have everything recorded, I will have a detailed soil test done this fall and supplement my soil according to the recommendations. Then I can test my crops again in the early spring and see if there is improvement. (If I am comparing fall crops to spring crops, I can see if my produce went from average to good, for example.) My goal is to see progressive movement towards crops that are excellent on the Brix scale. Then I’ll know my soil is healthy because my food is nutritionally dense.
I have a lot to learn, obviously, but I’m excited about this simple scientific tool that will tell me so much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a whole garden to test!
Here’s to good soil & healthy food,