Growing Nutrient-Dense Vegetables on the Cheap

Reader Contribution by David The Good
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I come from the old “add compost and manure and it’ll fly!” school of gardening. In the past when I felt really fancy I’d also throw in stuff like bone meal, blood meal, or lime. Then a friend told me to try fish emulsion and I discovered plants loved it. I also discovered that Epsom salts will make plants happy quickly, thanks to the magnesium and sulfur.

Mostly, though, I concentrated on getting my plants the big three: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK). I figured if my compost had a bunch of stuff in it, the plants would likely find the micronutrients they needed.

Then I read Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer’s book The Intelligent Gardener and readjusted my thinking.

If the soil in your region is short on an element like manganese or selenium and you make compost from material on your property – or use the manure from animals grazing on grasses growing in your area – your garden will be short on that element. Improving the health of the soil will allow plants to get most of what they need, but if an element is scarce, it won’t magically appear just because you have lots of soil life. It needs to come from somewhere.

After realizing this, I started adding kelp meal and rock phosphate and other ingredients to my soil. I got wood chips from a variety of trees growing in a mixed hardwood forest. And I started hunting down seaweed, clay and other good things and bringing them into my gardens. Once micronutrients get into your garden soil, many of them will continue to cycle through as you compost garden waste and return kitchen scraps to the soil.

Which leads me to the video I posted this week:

Despite the silly title, it’s not empty clickbait. YouTube seems to favor videos with obnoxious clickbait-style titles – and who am I to fight the power? I should do one called “Fertilize Your Garden While Losing Weight With This One Weird Trick!” I’ll bet it takes off.

But back to the topic: I’m currently adding basalt sand, seaweed and crushed sea urchin shells to the garden so I can maximize the amount of micronutrients getting into my crops. I’ll add compost and manure too, as I have it, but my mad scientist amendments will certainly increase the amount of nutrition available to my plants over time.

When the plants get nutrition, so do you. If you’re growing in mineral-poor soil, it’s not enough to just throw on compost and manure. The plants may grow fine but they won’t be as good for you as plants grown in mineral-rich soil.

Steve and Erica explain it much better than I do in their book, but I’m applying what I’ve learned by seeking out amendments which will give my plants a little extra nutrition above-and-beyond the average.

Various Sources for Micronutrients

I know what you’re thinking: I DON’T HAVE BLACK SAND/SEA URCHIN SHELLS/SEAWEED! That’s perfectly fine. I didn’t either until recently.

If you’re far from the coast, there are plenty of other ways you can “up” the minerals in your garden. Add some clay to your compost pile. Buy some kelp meal. Try azomite or other rock dusts. Compost a really wide range of materials. Throw meat and eggshells into your compost pile. Take some soil from a rich spot when you’re on vacation and then come home and mix it into your own beds. Get fish guts from a local market and bury them under your beds. Add oyster shell to your gardens.

There are an abundance of places to get minerals – you’ll start seeing them everywhere. If you want to get really serious about balancing your soil, The Intelligent Gardener has more scientific suggestions. But you can also hunt down materials from uncommon sources. I don’t think you have to shell out a lot of cash on exotic amendments. In some cases, it’s a good idea to buy some elemental sulfur or something you know you’re missing, but other times you can find good inputs for a lot less.

In my case, I found a little beach with black volcanic sand and a pile of urchin shells fishermen had discarded. Off to the garden with ’em!

I’ll post updates on these gardens as they grow. Keep experimenting.

David The Good is a gardening expert and theauthor of five books available on Amazon, including Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting and Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening. Find new inspiration every weekday at his website and on his YouTube channel at

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