Organic Gardening Soil ammendments Soil Improvement and/or preparation Soil Test

Organic Gardening – Adding Commercial Fertilizers – Nutrient Dense Food

The use of organic fertilizer products (and/or insecticides) is not really what organic gardening is about.

True organic gardening strives to create a fertile soil by a natural cycling of organic material. When the living organisms in the soil are supported and nourished by decayed organic material and cover crops, they produce healthy crops which in turn create health in humans and animals that consume them. Also, these healthy crops resist disease and insect pests.

How About All These Products that Advertising Says You Need?

Overuse of commercial fertilizers, which is a result of good marketing by the manufactures, can cause problems rather than cure them. This is true for non-organic and organic products.

If you don’t have proof that you need whatever organic fertilizer you’re thinking of using, then you might be better off not to add any.

An addition of any element (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.) without really knowing exactly what is needed, can throw off the balance in the soil. This imbalance can prevent your plants from taking up other nutrients they need.

For example too much potassium can lock up other nutrients (zinc for example) that plants need. Thus, those nutrients won’t be in your food.

An Onion and Nitrogen Story

I’ve found one of the biggest elements that gardeners think they need more of is nitrogen.

Here’s a story about onions and nitrogen that I think makes the point very well:

One of the things that you see online all the time regarding how to grow onions is the instruction to apply a nitrogen fertilizer regularly about 3 weeks after planting and every 2 – 3 weeks thereafter. This advice is also given by Dixondale Farms the biggest onion grower in the country, and possibly the world. (They’re a conventional grower, of course.)

Before I continue, allow me to point out that I’ve successfully grown onions for 36 years and I have NEVER given my onions nitrogen in any form other than that which exists in my soil.

In the decade I sold for market I raised 2,500 to 3,000 onions each year. After that, I still grew/grow 1250 to 1500 onions for my own use.

I found it very interesting that I recently saw information from Dixondale on how to prevent sprouting of properly cured onions in storage. (Keep in mind, that you’ll always get some onions over the course of storage that sprout. The idea is to do what you can to keep that to a minimum.)

One of the ways Dixondale suggested to naturally prevent sprouting was to

  • Grow your onion plants with a low Nitrogen supply, which will postpone the harvest date. You will get smaller onions, but they will not be prone to sprouting.”

What I conclude from their statement:

Grow your onion plants with a low Nitrogen supply,—” –If you have created fertile soil by the natural cycling of organic material then your soil will furnish the nitrogen needed. No need to add. This would be the proper nitrogen supply that they consider “a low nitrogen supply”.)

—which will postpone the harvest date.” – This shows us that the addition of all that nitrogen forces the maturity of the onion. Thus, if you don’t fertilize with the nitrogen, it postpones the harvest date. In other words, nature then does it on her time schedule rather than being forced.

You will get smaller onions —” – That tells me that the nitrogen not only rushes the harvest, but increases (forces) the size of the onion.  And by the way, just so you’ll know, I get nice size onions.  I don’t really like huge ones, although I sometimes get them anyway.

“-–but they will not be prone to sprouting.” So in other words, if you let nature do what she intended in the first place, you won’t have to worry about the majority of all your great onions sprouting this coming winter.

Does Certified Organic Guarantee Nutrient Dense Food?

Just because a food is certified organic and just because one gardens without poisons, that doesn’t necessarily mean their soil is fertile enough to produce nutrient dense food. Our soils need continual care by the recycling of organic materials to be the best they can be. And whether they get that or not, depends on the mindset of the gardener. There is no way a government certified organic label can determine that.

If our soils continue to improve and become more fertile, we’ll see a decrease in disease and insect pests. If our soil is not sustained (with continual additions of organic materials) and therefore deteriorates, there will be an increase in disease and insect pests.

When Produce is Beautiful, Does that Mean it’s Nutritious?

Interesting that tests show that soils can produce good “looking” crops without producing nutrient dense crops.

How can we know?

  • The most accurate way is to have soil test done by one of the labs (they’re in the minority) that specialize in helping organic and biodynamic farmers and that give soil analysis with recommendations.

For more details and two labs that you can use, see my post Soil Test – The Pros and Cons.

  • A refractometer will give you a good indication of the nutrient density of your produce by measuring brix. But – it is NOT a 100% accurate measurement.

What is Brix?

Brix refers to the carbohydrate levels (sugar levels) in the plant juices.

Generally speaking, if the brix measurement is high, the food has greater mineral density. That means a high nutritional value AND plants that resist disease and insect pests.

A low reading would indicate an imbalance in the soil. That means a lower nutritional value and plants that are more prone to disease and insect pests.

Might be Just the Thing

An inexpensive hand held refractometer might be just the thing for a home gardener to use to indicate how their soil is doing. (Keeping in mind of course, that it won’t be 100% indicative of success in soil fertility, but rather, a good indication.)  Check here for refractometers – hand held.

I’d love to have one of the inexpensive ones to test my produce.

Final Thoughts

The USDA certified organic label, although not perfect, is still our best bet in trying to protect ourselves from poisonous food in the marketplace. That along with a bit of research before we buy.

For example: Many brands of USDA certified organic chocolate have Genetically Modified soy in them.  Research before you buy to make sure the soy in the chocolate is non-GMO. If it doesn’t say non-GMO then it’s GMO.)

Growing our own food is an even better bet in trying to protect our families. This is especially true if we work with nature to make sure that what is produced in our gardens is as nutrient rich as it can be.

Related Posts:

Soil Test – The Pros and Cons
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  • What about azomite powder? Does that have the same drawbacks as an organic fertilizer? I’m still struggling with soil quality and disease problems after years of using just composted manure and lots of straw to mulch and break down. We started with VERY poor quality clay. So it’s still worlds better than it was.

  • Theresa-
    Thanks for making the distinction between organics and nutrient dense food. As an individual, when I first converted to organics I did it blindly, believing that it was healthier and more nutritious for me and my family. And it is, from a lack of chemical standpoint. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I learned about the true lack of minerals in the soil and just how nutritionally poor most of our food is. I’m thankful that you are one of a handful of gardeners bringing light to this much ignored subject.

    After finally testing my soil this past fall I was shocked at just how many minerals my soil is lacking, but I feel empowered now that I have the results to work from. I only wish I had done it years earlier. My advice to everyone now is, test your soil! It does not cost much and is an extremely valuable piece of information if your desire is to grow nutrient dense food.

  • Marcella, your question is such a good one.
    The various rock dusts and glacial rock dusts have absolutely no drawbacks that I’m aware of or can find. And, I’m not saying that lightly. Because of all the marketing hype that goes on, I’m always leery of just about all “additives”. So over the past 3 years, I’ve spent some time researching and experimenting with these dusts to decide if one could benefit from them.

    I was somewhat shocked when I found out the J.I. Rodale, founder of Organic Gardening Magazine, knew all about the benefits of rock dusts and it’s use in the remineralization of soils. I never remember anything about rock dusts in the old Organic Gardening Magazines. But in spite of that, J.I. Rodale was an advocate of rocks dusts.

    Prior to the abuse of our originally fertile soil in this country, it was endowed with all kinds of trace elements. Science attributes that to the glaciers and/or the weathering-down of rock over the centuries. Adding those trace minerals in this natural way (rock/glacial dust), along with adding organic materials and cover crops to the soil, will go a long way towards making the best possible soil for growing pest and disease resistant crop that are nutrient dense and healthful.

    I particularly like the idea of using the glacial rock dusts (Gala Green Glacial Rock Dust which is authentic Canadian glacial moraine). Another I really like is from U.S. Rare Earth Minerals called Excelerite. Excelerite is from what is considered the rarest source of ancient lake bed sediments and is in Panaca Nevada.

    You are to be congratulated for continuing your efforts, because they will pay off for you big-time! If you have not already done so, add cover crops to your plan for soil improvement. They will, along with the rock dust, make a huge improvement.

    I hope you will keep me updated on how and what you are doing, Marcella.

    I appreciated your comments. I think many are unaware of the lack of minerals in our soils.

    Regarding a soil test and “not cost(ing) much”, that would depend on who you are using to do the test. I would want a lab that specialized in helping organic and biodynamic gardeners. (They are more expensive.) The other labs are grounded in chemicals and what they advise will be influenced by that. (You may want to review the post I mentioned on Soil Tests.)

    I think we all need to look more to nutritious food and to do that we need to take steps (as you have already done) towards making sure that our soil has all the minerals it needs.


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