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The Cluster of Beefsteaks

It's a good time of the year. The beans, corn and new potatoes in my bio-garden are ready to be picked and transported quickly to the kitchen before any of their delectable sugars are lost. I pity people who have only tasted produce that has sat for hours or even days on store shelves - there is just no comparison. And, sadly, most of those non-gardeners have no idea what they are missing.

I'll never forget the amazed look on an urban friend's face when he put the first forkful of just-picked boiled potatoes in his mouth during a dinner at our home. "What kind of potatoes ARE these?", he asked between rapid bites. Actually, they were just plain ordinary old reds - the same types that are in grocery stores - but about 20 minutes earlier they had been peacefully growing in my garden. The moment that vegetables are harvested, their flavorful sugars begin dwindling. The "super-sweet" corn tries to overcome this problem, but to my taste buds those have an insipid corn flavor compared to freshly-picked standard types.

I enjoy all the veggies from my garden, but the unchallenged stars are the tomatoes. Over the years I've tested more than 150 varieties, a few new ones each season, and have a long "to try" list in my garden journal.

The tomato plants have benefited greatly from my conversion from chemical fertilizers to biological methods. Instead of tilling in granular 10-10-10 (or whatever numbers) in the spring and then drenching miraculous liquid "plant food" during the growing season, I now have beds with huge populations of beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms.

I do add a light scattering of pelleted fish, volcanic minerals and a little compost before planting, but only work those materials into the top 4 inches of the soil. When trying to encourage biological activity and beneficial colonization, you don't want to disrupt the established underground system. This limited tillage is gaining ground (pardon the pun) in agricultural circles as well, although few ag advisors seem to really grasp why limited-till and no-till methods work as well as they do.

With absolutely no added fertilization for the entire growing season, tomato plants in a bio-active soil generate super-flavorful fruit in dramatic numbers - far beyond the yields normally consider good. To see a beefsteak variety set nearly every blossom and form large clusters of fruit crowding each other has now become pretty routine to me, but it still gets "Oh, wow!" responses from visitors. (If there's a down side, my large tomatoes rarely have perfect round shapes because of the competition for space.)

The point? Well, I'm just working with natural plant physiology and using the tremendous power of beneficial microorganisms in my garden, rather than trying to improve on nature by giving synthetic feedings, adjusting soil pH, etc. It is a very simple and effective approach as compared to applying incomplete NPK fertilizer, no matter what those slick TV commercials claim.

Also, while I can't prove it scientifically, I am certain that the flavors of my vegetables have improved since I began using only microbial inoculations, gradual-release organic fertilizer, and the volcanic trace minerals. Some neighbors have occasionally grown the same variety of tomato as me, and we have both agreed that mine have superior sweetness and more complex flavors.

But I suggest doing your own testing of bio-oriented vegetable growing, and being ready to sprint from the garden to the kitchen after picking!

Cheers, and good growing,

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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