Friday 22 November 2019

Getting your minerals

Eat healthy
Spoiler alert, if you eat plenty of fruit, nuts and vegetables as part of a healthy diet there is (usually) no need for supplementation.

Once again I am indebted to James Wong for an interesting article in his column in the New Scientist that suggests to me a blog topic. He has written an excellent piece about the nutritional value of trendy ‘ancient wheats’ compared to modern varieties. I plunder his best lines.

“variety for variety compared, Canadian wheat contains ten times as much selenium to that grown in the UK”

“ boring old flour contains twice as much manganese and fibre than most ancient wheats”

“ Much research on the claimed benefits of specialist grains is supported by growers - funny that”.

It is not my intention today to talk about all round nutrition and talk about fibre, vitamins and such things. I just want to concentrate on the minerals in our diet - and their primary source, plants from the soil.

A line I will take is that our own UK soils are not seriously nutrient depleted and my worry is that possible future legislation that will seek to improve agricultural practice in terms of acting upon issues of global warming and habitat destruction might be misdirected. I just cringe when the tv news endlessly shows that silly man who keeps preaching that for the last seventy years we have been poisoning our soils. (Nominate your own culprit, another contender was minister for the environment!)

Plant nutrients
As gardeners we consider what nutrients will make our plants grow healthily.
For certain crops farmers are also  concerned which nutrients from their crop are needed by their animals. Selenium and iodine are two examples of trace elements not needed for plant growth but are paramount for the health of livestock.
We too should be concerned about mineral nutrients in the plants that we grow.

On a worldwide scale their are large areas deficient in specific important nutrients and plant breeders are working to breed crop varieties with increased nutrient uptake from  the soil.

Quick check on nutrients essential for plant growth

Gardeners will be be familiar with the major nutrients NPK, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Once called minor nutrients magnesium, calcium and sulphur are now considered major too
Micronutrients, also dubbed trace elements are (in no particular order) manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper, zinc and boron.
Some other minerals are essential for specific plant species and in other cases although not essential, are beneficial. These include chlorine, sodium, cobalt, selenium and the not at all inconsequential silicon that I blogged about recently.

Old gardeners fed their asparagus with common salt (not recommended)
I find it interesting that many minerals are ‘actively absorbed’ by plants and others are passively absorbed and in effect ‘go with the flow’ of water take up
There can be massive variations in plant uptake of minerals which vary with such as soil and plant-species or variety.
It is important to note that their are very many more different minerals that plants absorb than those they require for their own nutrition
A very important point is that farmers and growers need to ensure a supply of essential minerals to get a healthy crop and it is these very same nutrients that are important in our own diet. Many modern fertilisers contain the essential trace elements and rather than being detrimental to the level of necessary minerals in our soil as is sometimes claimed, modern fertilisers are the opposite.


Reports that UK agricultural soils are depleted of nutrients and that modern vegetables contain less minerals than historically

As to the first absolutely not. As to the second maybe and sometimes
There have recently been much hyped claims that our soils and its produce are seriously mineral depleted. Over the top and out of proportion it is worthy of investigation and over the years it has been intensively and responsibly scientifically studied.
Great ingenuity has been directed in comparing past and present. It is notoriously difficult considering such things as huge differences between mineral content of one plant-variety and another, plants grown on different soils in different countries in varying conditions in different seasons and even whether old methods of analysis are the same as those done today. Much excellent and detailed research has been carried out and I recommend if you really want to really know about these things you read the link to the Elsevier article in the Journal of Food Science 2017. It is a long piece bringing stuff together.
To be honest my head hurt as I continued to read it but as an informed honest  analysis it is second to none.

It accepts that there will be exceptions to any conclusions - there is so much variation the world over.

It shows in the round, that UK farm soils are NOT depleted in nutrients, indeed as the result of modern enriched fertilisers they sometimes contain more nutrients than before

In respect to whether crops contain less minerals there is sometimes a ‘dilution effect’ as modern high yields spread nutrients thinner. The effect is relatively small and by no means universal. The affects of varietal and soil differences hugely out distance such mineral depletion.
In counter to this, modern living has greatly increased the range and extended season of vegetables and fruit on our table all year round and the modern portion size on our plate is much greater.

I pile kale on my plate
(As to portion size it personally surprises me the small amounts of vegetables our own visitors take from the serving bowl and when eating out how much vegetable and salad folk leave on their plate.
In contrast at home Brenda insists I take my own huge helping last after visitors have taken their meagre share.
Phooey to five a day propaganda).

Do fruit and vegetables from our gardens contain more or less minerals than those from the shop? …
…and how do we maximise them?

More manky but what about their minerals?
I know of no reliable statistics about this but my own suspicion is that they are very much the same. Bare in mind that unlike vitamins and organic elements of nutrition they are not depleted in transit.

We gardeners avoid many perhaps overlooked mineral deficiencies by increased use of organic matter but recycled organic matter contains no different minerals than those available from the parent soil. It will be true that nutrients are less likely to be ‘locked up’ and become more available in those soils with higher levels of organic matter but nutrients do not come from nowhere.

In contrast purchased produce might have been grown anywhere in the world and will benefit from huge variations in soil’s natural mineral content. The presence of specific trace elements might vary by orders of magnitude depending where they come from.
In a sense if all your produce is homegrown, all your eggs are in one basket. You might just win the lottery and some ‘magic nutrient' might make you live for ever! I don’t really think so.

Some minerals are potentially toxic. I wrote about what I dug up in a failing patch in an ornamental border at home. In old properties you cannot imagine what your ancestors might have disposed of. In my case it was rusting old machinery!
American blog ‘Garden Professors’ carried an article where the writer had her soil analysed in the vicinity of an old lead painted conservatory and concluded she had better not grow vegetables there. I think she might have been a bit of a hypochondriac but no need to take chances.
I believe our own retail food supplies are so carefully monitored that toxic levels of such as ‘heavy metals’ would never happen.

Do we need to supplement the minerals in our diet?

For most of us multi mineral pills are a firm no and our varied diets ensure we get what we need.
Some folk recognise that their diets are poor and are tempted ‘to make sure’ by taking pills. Take care if any, not to take too many.
Of course some people have special mineral needs such as those who have iodine, calcium and iron deficiencies and are under medical supervision to supplement them.

Bananas are a good source of potassium
I recently checked on factors that effect blood pressure. Apparently enough potassium in our diet is important and bananas are a good source. When you feed your tomatoes with a high potash fertiliser perhaps it’s good for your heart? 
On the downside excess common salt - a source of the minerals chlorine and sodium is a serious risk. (Down with processed food and up with fresh vegetables on your plate)

No minerals here
In my piece today I have concentrated on plants. Our diets acquire many of their minerals from meat, fish and dairy. Vegetarians and vegans need worry more about supplementing certain vitamins and for all I know minerals such as calcium and magnesium which milk richly provides.
For many of us the future is likely to be almost vegetarian but with regard to lack of minerals we have little to fear.
That is not to say that there is no place for breeding crops with enhanced mineral uptakes and indeed direct mineral supplementation. Food supplementation brings its own political problems and in the UK is fairly small.
I am ever grateful that the water in Hartlepool was naturally rich in fluoride and my teeth got a good start in my early years.


As I write my post I have a morning cup of tea. Apparently it is a useful source of manganese. The other minerals do not have time to dissolve when we brew it according to research in New Zealand. The writers observed that the tea drinkers might get more (and not insignificant) nutrients from the hard water.
I curse every time I use tap water to top up my pond I get a flush of algal growth as a result of its minerals.
My old auntie swore by the benefits of emptying her tea pot onto the hydrangeas every morning. 


The Elsevier article that gives you the lowdown

I dug up some heavy metal

I wrote about mineral uptake

Friday 8 November 2019

Pictures of a church and a garden

Churchyard always open, church open all day
When David Beckham scored the goal, John Giles got the picture. As a professional sports photographer the poor man trudged the world attending almost every major sports event. World cups by the dozen!
He has been trying his hand in the cemetery garden theming the church through the year
He is married to Jackie Giles.

Jackie is the lady who leads the Bolton Percy churchyard team. Readers will recall that the garden cemetery has been restored to its finest since I hung up my boots. (Well they still dangle when several times a year they call me back to zap a few weeds)
John has been trying his hand with church photography and I am privileged  to publish some of his fine pictures.

Another fine photographer Peter Williams well known to my readers has at last got to see the cemetery garden - and sent me more pictures

I have patched together a few gardening notes to go with these fine photos.
I hope the pictures persuade any Northern readers to add Bolton Percy to their garden visits for next year. The churchyard is always  open and free and the fine 15 Century church is unlocked every day. It is worth the visit just to see the millennium window and nearby is Doylys tearoom and within  three miles Scotts fish and chips (famed in Japan) or the Sun Inn at Colton.

Still a working churchyard we have visitors throughout the year. Sadly a few fail to see the garden across the road from the church.
I planted the rose 'Nevada' forty years ago. It declined as the my rooted cutting of Leyland Cypress grew into a monster. Since the tree was cut down - the cross was carved from the trunk - the rose has thrived.
The rose is on its own roots and not grafted so there is no problem with suckers

The cross has mellowed as the wood has weathered
Abutilon vitifolium (left) is a short lived shrub in our Northern climate. It might attain ten foot high and survive perhaps ten years before its demise. It sets seed in most years which gently self sow. This is the great grandchild of my original plant.

Thermopsis is a real thug but lovely. I remember 25 years ago Jackie had me spray it out of her garden as it was taking over!
I love it.

You can see annual plants and short lived perennials are allowed to self seed. At times plants such as the green euphorbia get out of hand. I have a long list of such plants as Viola cornuta, montia and unfortunately(!) celandine that have held dominance and now are scarcely seen.
The Geranium macrorhizum has been a stalwart for forty years

Peter's pictures
After 15 years of knowing Peter Williams I finally got him to see the churchyard garden. He visited the cemetery with a West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society group one very wet evening and unfortunately got very few photos!

You can see it was wet
Over the years my self sown birches have been much photographed as a back cloth to portraits.
My policy was that at this size or lesser I cut them back to the ground and they sprouted again. Some of the birches are in their third reincarnation

Folk always asked why the hostas were so snail free. I never used pesticides other than glyphosate
I think Gardener's Garters is very handsome

Phuopsis  is a very fine ground cover. In my day it tended to provide cover for cleavers. It is weeded out now
Euonymus is an overlooked shrub that can be pruned hard to reshape or rejuvenate. Several specimens were started by just sticking in unrooted cuttings

Over the years many fine professional photographers came to the cemetery. Indeed in the early days they beat a path to my door. Most of their analogue pictures are lost. Marianne Majerus was kind enough to give me pictures from her library for this previous post. Go to her own  website and you will find fifty more.You will find several previous churchyard posts by clicking Bolton Percy in my theme column
Most of the plants I have mentioned before. Use my search box to find them

Bolton Percy pictures on Marianne Majerus website

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...