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The dirt on growing garden productivity

August 2, 2012
Kylie Saari , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - So many gardeners turned out for a discussion on increasing productivity in their private gardens, the organizers had to run back to the office for more handouts.

Presenter Jon Frank, with International Ag Labs, wasn't surprised, however.

Frank said gardening is becoming more and more common, both for the nutritional benefits of fresh food and the bounty available to food-insecure households.

Article Photos

Jon Frank holds a fresh-picked tomato Wednesday night at Heritage Acres’ Community Gardens. Frank proceeded to test the fruit for its quality using a refractometer.

"I have seen an increase all over the country in gardening," he told the group gathered Wednesday night at Heritage Acres Community Gardens. "A lot of people are concerned about having clean food - and just having food."

Frank is in a position to know what is going on in the gardening world. International Ag Labs conducts soil testing for commodity growers as well as home gardeners, helping people manage their soils and produce optimum results. He has spent a significant amount of time researching the use of different mixtures and determining the best application times, application methods, and application rates.

He said for home gardening, ratios of minerals are critical, as is soil moisture, since water transports food to the plant.

"In a drought," he said, "you not only have a thirsty plant, you have a starving plant."

Getting the soil in balance and providing the correct amount of water will produce plants that grow nutrient-rich fruit. In this equation, nutrients equal flavor.

"We are so used to eating poor or average fruit we don't even know what good tastes like," he said. "A good fruit should make your eyebrows go up and you say 'Wow.'"

Locally, Frank said calcium and phosphorus are typically low in the soil, while potassium is high due to the application of mulch.

But soil can vary from place to place, even from neighborhood to neighborhood, and an individual test can give the best information on how to treat soil.

"If you think about it, a garden is a place where we remove minerals from the soil into the food we eat," he said.

After the plant takes up the minerals, they need to be replaced.

Frank said gardeners are stewards of their plots. They are responsible for giving the plants what they need to produce the best product.

While some of the items plants crave need to be purchased specifically, Frank gave the group a recipe for inducing a reproductive phase in flowering vegetation.

Mix the following ingredients:

` 5 gallons of water

` 1 pint of apple cider vinegar

` 1 pint of Coca-Cola

` 1 cup of ammonia

Apply a quart to the leaves and base of the plant to encourage it to produce flowers.

"It can be used on tomatoes, peppers - anything that makes a seed," Frank said.

The vinegar provides carbons, the soda provides phosphoric acid and sugar, and the ammonia provides nitrogen.

"It is a grocery store solution," he said.

The presentation was part of the Third Crop Walk-n-Talks sponsored by Rural Advantage and the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

For more information on soil testing, contact International Ag Labs at (507) 235-6909.



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