Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Manganese: An Essential Nutrient and a Toxic Metal

May 3, 2011

By Michael Astera

When we think of metal poisoning; lead, mercury and aluminium intoxication invariably springs to mind. But the insidious toxic properties of the metal manganese have almost been completely overlooked. Modern health authorities could learn a lesson from the alchemists of the Byzantine era who regarded manganese as the black magic metal; whereby the quantum capacity of manganese to absorb light and sound, can induce a lethal ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ style conversion of this metal from innocuous to toxic form.

"Manganese exposure has been associated with the original cause of many neuro-degenerative diseases.”

Mark Purdey “To the Ends of the Earth” http://www.markpurdey.com/articles_endearth.htm

My first exposure to the idea of Manganese as a potential toxin came when I read an interview with Mark Purdey in the December 2001 issue of Acres USA magazine. Mark was a dairy farmer whose farm and herd had been at the center of the “Mad Cow Disease” outbreak in England. Despite being surrounded by farms who lost their herds to BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), with his cattle even rubbing noses across the fence with infected animals, Purdey’s organic herd was unaffected by the outbreak. At first, the only reason he could see why his cows escaped the disease was that he had refused to treat them with an organophosphate insecticide that had been mandated by the government in a bid to eradicate warble flies. As an intelligent and curious self-taught scientist he was intrigued enough to begin researching BSE and trying to find a link between this systemic insecticide and susceptibility to Mad Cow disease.

From the Acres interview:

ACRES U.S.A. They call it transmissible, but is it really transmissible?

PURDEY. It is, in a sense. I do support the prion hypothesis of Stanley Prusiner. But what I am saying that is different is that it is the chemical cocktail that produces the abnormal prion protein, and organophosphates are well known to deform the molecular shape of proteins in the nerves — this is how they produce their well-known toxic effect, the acute effect. They deform a protein called cholinesterase at high doses, and that damages the balance of the nerves because cholinesterase is involved in counterbalance of the nervous impulse. So, if you remove the cholinesterase, then you get an overdrive of nervous impulses and at the very worst you get a paralysis, which would mean death when you paralyze the nerves that control the lungs or the heartbeat.

ACRES U.S.A. The prion doesn’t have a nucleus, does it?

PURDEY. It is like any other protein — it is produced by genetic material in the cell — but basically, the [TSE] prion is a malformed prion protein.

ACRES U.S.A. Is it infectious in the same way that a virus is?

PURDEY. No, it is totally different. There is no evidence for such a conclusion, and I believe it certainly does not act as an infectious virus does. It doesn’t infect people or animals horizontally. A good example of this lack of infectious action is that there hasn’t been a single case of BSE in a home-reared cow on a fully converted, organic farm in Britain. Yet when you buy cows for breeding purposes, as I do, and those cows then get BSE, it never spreads across to your home-reared cows. This, in a sense, shows that it is not horizontally transmitted.

ACRES U.S.A. So the term “transmissible” is really conjectural?

PURDEY. That’s right. It is just an interpretation of what is going on. If you inject it into an animal’s brain, then you will pass the disease on.

ACRES U.S.A. This is what Prusiner did, isn’t it?

PURDEY. Yes, but that is not saying that it is the virus. I believe, maybe this is jumping the gun a little bit, but the prion in its active form will generate a free-radical chain reaction, and this is due to the presence of an abnormal metal that has bonded onto the prion protein in place of copper. It is basically the metal manganese that replaces copper on the prion protein. [emphasis added]

Purdey’s researches on BSE and the role of manganese in its development led him on a fifteen year journey to the ends of the earth. He found that high levels of manganese in the soil, combined with a deficiency of copper and zinc, were associated with degenerative nervous system diseases as diverse as scrapie in sheep in Iceland and the “laughing disease” kuru in New Guinea.

More from the Acres interview:

PURDEY. I went back to square one and designed this world tour where I would go around the world on my own to pockets where this disease had clustered — these were tiny little pockets of the world. My first port-of-call was in Colorado in a tiny area of the Rocky Mountains where chronic wasting disease was a hot spot in deer and elk. Then I went to Iceland to certain valleys where sheep scrapie is very intense, and to adjoining valleys where there is no scrapie at all in the sheep. I went to Slovakia, where CJD [Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, one of the human forms of BSE] is present in three villages. I went to Calabria, where one hamlet has experienced 20 cases of CJD since 1995.

ACRES U.S.A. What were you able to find out?

PURDEY. What I did in each area was test the environment for all of the different trace elements in metals, because I was interested in the possibility that there might be something abnormal in the particular environment. I was asking the question: why is the disease present in these environments and not spreading to disease-free areas adjoining where the same animals and humans are living but not getting the disease? That in itself shows that it doesn’t spread horizontally, otherwise it would have spread like wildfire, for instance, right across the Rocky Mountains, because, as you know, there are deer all over the Rockies. So why is it just staying in one tiny area?

ACRES U.S.A. What did you find in the case of chronic wasting disease?

PURDEY. I found in every single area really high levels of the metal manganese and rock-bottom levels of copper.

ACRES U.S.A. And manganese inhibits the uptake of copper.

PURDEY. Well, that is true, but I found very low levels of copper in the soil anyway, which could have been due to the high levels of manganese or even molybdenum. I also found low selenium and low zinc. All of the trace metals that are involved in antioxidant enzymes in the body, the activators, were at a low level, but manganese was high. I then got interested in people who had died from manganese intoxication, for instance, miners who were working in manganese mines. It seemed that their death was caused by the manganese getting out of control and setting off these free-radical chain reactions. That really interested me, because I thought: if manganese is setting off these chain reactions in deer and sheep and humans in these pockets all over the world, and there are no antioxidants there to mop up and scavenge these free-radical chain reactions because of the low selenium, zinc and copper also found in all of these areas, then spongiform disease could be a free-radical disease that is caused by oxidizing agents in the environment.

ACRES U.S.A. Your organophosphates are the oxidizing agents?

PURDEY. Yes. So, it was beginning to become very clear to me what was happening with the disease. The source of manganese was also quite interesting to me. In Colorado it seemed to be coming from the pine needles that the deer were wolfing down in this one area where the disease was really intense. Ranchers in that area told me that the deer were very overpopulated in this region. There was a shortage of pasture and food. They somehow thought this had something to do with the cause of chronic wasting disease. I think they were right. Other ranchers said that the animals were eating pine needles to make up for their lack of food. So, I took home pine needles from the area, and I got extractable manganese at 2,000 parts per million, which is very high.

“In Iceland it was coming from volcanoes that were spewing out manganese in certain valleys. In Slovakia it was coming specifically from the steel factories that the communists had erected, but they hadn’t filtered the chimneys. Immediately downwind of those factories were the cases of CJD in the villages that were in the rain-belt region of these factories. All the manganese was being rained down on these villages to the extent that the pine trees were actually dying in the villages where there was CJD. Furthermore, the local people in this area of Slovakia are so poor that they actually used pine needles for tea and for syrup. So you have this intriguing link up with pine needles, which bio-concentrate manganese anyway, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In Italy, where I went in Calabria, where the scrapie and CJD cases have been breaking out since 1995, these cluster regions were immediately downwind of the petrol refineries. I found that in 1990 they switched from using lead to manganese in the refining process. I think these clusters initially — this started quite recently, in 1995 — were all linked to the fallout of manganese from the petrol refining process.”

[end Acres interview excerpt]

I you read the Acres interview and other parts of Purdey’s investigations into prion diseases you will find that he emphasizes a “triggering mechanism” that causes a cascade of malformed proto-proteins. The potential triggers he suspected and documented as being present in the areas where these diseases were occurring ranged from the organophosphates mentioned above to subsonic vibrations from earthquakes, volcanic activity, low overflights of certain aircraft such as the SST, and military bombing and other explosive weapons testing.

Purdey kept on with his research around the world, paid for by his own funds and a few charitable donations. He met with MPs (Ministers of Parlaiment) in the UK and shared his findings; they promised funding but of course it never materialized; or rather, what funding materialized went to established academics who literally stole the work Purdey had done and then proceeded to capitalize on it where they could. Not surprisingly, the role of organophosphates was downplayed but the connection between manganese and malformed prions was unavoidable.

From a study (supposedly*) published in 2006:

Subject: FATEPriDE Environmental Factors that Affect the Development of Prion Diseases Date: February 18, 2006

Project funded by the European Commission under the Quality of Life Programme.

The work proposed here brings together top EU geo and biochemists focusing on determining the environmental factors that affect the development of prion diseases such as scrapie, bovine spongiform enchpalitis (BSE), chronic wasting disease (CWD) and Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease (CJD). First the geographical distribution of manganese and copper in soils will be investigated as risk factors. This will be undertaken due to the fact that prion diseases often are found in clusters. It now has been established that the normal metal for prion protein is copper but if that metal is replaced with manganese, the structure of the prion protein is altered. The role of organophosphate pesticides will also be investigated because it has been suggested that copper is complexed with organophosphate, preventing copper absorption.

There is clear evidence that the occurrence of prion diseases often has a non-random distribution, suggesting a link to some environmental factors. The work proposed here will investigate risk factors, including the role of trace elements and organophosphates. Analysis of regional variation in local manganese/copper levels will be determined and compared to the incidence of the diseases. The ability of manganese and/or organophosphates in influencing conversion of the prion protein to an abnormal and/or infectious protein will be determined. In combination with geographical occurrence and geo-chemical considerations this program will identify whether these environmental considerations should be acted upon to bring about effective prevention or at least risk minimalisation of prion diseases in the EU and further afield.

Description of the Work
Recently it has been suggested that disbalance in dietary trace-elements and/or exposure to organophosphates might either cause or be a risk factor for prion disease development. In particular, high incidence of scrapie (e.g. in Iceland), chronic wasting disease, and in Slovakia and Italy CJD are associated with regions where soil and foliage are reported to be low in copper and high in manganese. This proposal will address whether exposure to a diet that has a high manganese/copper ratio can influence prion disease will also be addressed. In particular, we shall investigate this theory at the level of protein, cells, animals as well as geographical and geo-chemical associations with prion diseases. Animal models of prion disease and sheep from farms in regions of high scrapie will be investigated for a possible influence of level of manganese and copper on incidence or onset of these diseases. Bio-chemical and biophysical techniques will be used to investigate interaction of the prion protein with copper and manganese to determine the mechanism by which Mn substitution for Cu influences conversion to the abnormal isoform of the protein and whether such conversion results in protein that is infectious in mouse bioassay for infectivity. Additionally, a cell culture model will be used to generate abnormal prion protein by exposure to manganese. Cell culture model of infection will be used to assay whether prion disease alters manganese metabolism and transport of manganese into cells. The level of expression of the prion protein is in itself a risk factor for prion disease as it shortens the incubation time for the disease. This research will result in understanding of the role of disbalance in the trace elements Cu and Mn on the onset and mechanisms behind the occurrence of prion diseases and will for the first time define whether there are environmental risk factors for prion diseases.

Milestones and Expected Results

The study proposed here will produce a geo-chemical map of Europe for manganese and copper. These maps will be used to target field areas where prion diseases have occurred as clusters. The bio-chemical studies will establish whether the replacement of manganese for copper in prion protein is a risk factor for the disease _development_. Organophosphate will also be investigated as a risk factor. The study aims at minimising the risk of prion diseases for humans and animals in the EU.

(*I have written "supposedly" because although the text above and quoted directly below can be found at a number of web sites, the link to the study and its conclusions has seemingly been scrubbed from the web. This link no longer works: http://www.arp-manchester.org.uk/FatePride.htm )


The Chair explained that FATEPriDE is a multi-centre European Union funded project that examined the possible influence of environmental trace elements on the occurrence of TSEs. 36. Professor David Brown (University of Bath) explained that the project had principally studied potential interactions between prion disease and copper and manganese, although interactions with other environmental factors such as organophosphates had also been assessed. No link, other than with manganese, between many environmental factors studied, including organophosphates, and TSEs was found. The key experiments and findings had been summarised in SEAC paper 97/4. The main conclusions were that manganese binds to PrP with similar affinity to known manganese binding proteins, induces conformational change in PrP, catalyses PrP aggregation, induces protease resistance in PrP, increases PrP expression levels and increases cellular susceptibility to prion infection. Manganese had also been found at high levels on farms with a high classical scrapie incidence and manganese was found to increase the stability of PrP in soil. Although it had been the intention to create maps of bioavailable manganese and compare those to similar maps of TSE hotspots, this had not been possible as no data of sufficient precision relating the location of BSE or scrapie cases was made available. Further studies were required to investigate the interactions of manganese and prions.

37. Members noted that the study suggested an association between high levels of bioavailable manganese, low levels of bioavailable copper and classical scrapie in field studies.
(Source: Another link that doesn’t work:

But as of April 2011 you can find a more complete version of the extracts above at: http://chronic-wasting-disease.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html

Here is the abstract of a more recent study from 2009:

“Manganese Enhances Prion Protein Survival in Model Soils and Increases Prion Infectivity to Cells

Paul Davies, David R. Brown

Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom

Prion diseases are considered to be transmissible. The existence of sporadic forms of prion diseases such as scrapie implies an environmental source for the infectious agent. This would suggest that under certain conditions the prion protein, the accepted agent of transmission, can survive in the environment. We have developed a novel technique to extract the prion protein from soil matrices. Previous studies have suggested that environmental manganese is a possible risk factor for prion diseases. We have shown that exposure to manganese in a soil matrix causes a dramatic increase in prion protein survival (~10 fold) over a two year period. We have also shown that manganese increases infectivity of mouse passaged scrapie to culture cells by 2 logs. These results clearly verify that manganese is a risk factor for both the survival of the infectious agent in the environment and its transmissibility. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007518

[Note that there is no mention of Mark Purdey, the person whose selfless, unpaid work led to the very idea of investigating these co-factors in prion diseases. For shame.]

At the time I read the Acres interview I was only a couple of years into my own investigation of the role of soil minerals in health and nutrition. I had sent soil samples from my property to a lab for testing and they came back at 39ppm (parts per million) manganese with almost no detectable copper. Was this bad? I didn’t know so I emailed Mark Purdey and asked him. He wasn’t sure either, but we both knew that almost no copper was not a good thing. Back in the 1920s the French Scientist Andre Voisson had shown a number of links between low copper in the soil and degenerative diseases in people and animals. Voisson’s book “Soil, Grass, and Cancer” was one both Mark and I had read and valued.

As it turned out, 39ppm manganese in my soil was not anything to worry about. I found out later that some areas near where I lived at the time had levels much higher than that when I met a fellow who had had to put a special water filter on his well to take out manganese. Interestingly enough, the active elements in his special manganese-removing water filter were zinc and copper. These things all tie together, the chemistry, the electrical charges, the oxidants and antioxidants.

By this point I was both curious and concerned about the potential toxicity of manganese so I kept on looking. My next finding was the association between the symptoms of manganese poisoning and Parkinson’s disease (the following are from more recent publications, not 2002):

“Manganism, or manganese poisoning, is prevalent in such occupations as mining, welding, and steel manufacturing. It is caused by exposure to excessive levels of the metal manganese, which attacks the central nervous system, producing motor and dementia symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s disease.” http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2009/02/parkinsons-manganese-print.html

“Manganese poisoning is referred to as manganism, the result of excessive or prolonged exposure to manganese. When the human body absorbs a large amount of manganese there is a toxic effect, resulting in serious health conditions and diseases. Sometimes people use manganism and Parkinson’s disease to describe the same adverse manganese effect due to the similarity of the conditions. Manganese has a very long elimination from the central nervous system so the effects of manganism are not always immediately evident.

“Miners are considered to be at the highest risk for developing manganism. There are three different stages that are differentiated in manganism, including behavioral changes, parkinsonian features, and dystonia and gait disturbances. The onset of manganism can be observed through symptoms of fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, loss of appetite, apathy, insomnia, and a diminished libido.

“Other symptoms of manganism can include:

  • muscle stiffness
  • weakness
  • tremors
  • breathing and swallowing problems

Welders, factory workers, and communities in areas of high manganese industry are also at an increased risk for developing manganism. Workplace hazards are considered the highest risk for developing manganism so understanding how to follow workplace standards to reduce risk is especially important to ensuring the well being of individuals that work closely with the dangerous element. Communities that exist in areas where manganese is released into the air will have a higher risk for manganism.” http://www.manganese-wilsons-parkinsons-disease.com/manganese/manganism_information.html

“Manganese miners or steel workers exposed to high levels of manganese dust in air may have mental and emotional disturbances, and their body movements may become slow and clumsy. This combination of symptoms is a disease called manganism. Workers usually do not develop symptoms of manganism unless they have been exposed for many months or years. Manganism occurs because too much manganese injures a part of the brain that helps control body movements. Some of the symptoms of manganism can be reduced by medical treatment, but the brain injury is permanent.

“A common effect in men who are exposed to high levels of manganese dust in air is impotence. As a result, men exposed to high levels may not be able to father children. Studies in animals show that too much manganese may also injure the testes.” http://www.eco-usa.net/toxics/chemicals/manganese.shtml

This wasn’t sounding good to me: Malformed prions, TSE, manganism, impotence, brain damage. At the same time I knew that Mn was an essential mineral nutrient:

“Eating a small amount of manganese each day is important in maintaining your health. The amount of manganese in a normal diet (about 2,000-9,000 ug/day) [2-9mg] seems to be enough to meet your daily need, and no cases of illness from eating too little manganese have been reported in humans.” http://www.eco-usa.net/toxics/chemicals/manganese.shtml

Manganese is a trace mineral that is present in tiny amounts in the body. It is found mostly in bones, the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, blood-clotting factors, and sex hormones. It also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. Manganese is also necessary for normal brain and nerve function.

“Manganese is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which helps fight free radicals. [ed note: it seems likely that the powerful oxidizers known as organophosphates would put an end to this role for manganese in the body. Organophosphates are well-known oxidizing agents. The active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, glyphosate, is an organophosphate and its main method of action is to oxidize manganese in plant tissue.]

“Free radicals occur naturally in the body but can damage cell membranes and DNA. They may play a role in aging as well as the development of a number of health conditions including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants, such as SOD, can help neutralize free radicals and reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.

“Low levels of manganese in the body can contribute to infertility, bone malformation, weakness, and seizures.” http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/manganese-000314.htm

So how much manganese is in a normal human body? Around 12 to 20 milligrams, not much. The chart of the human body’s mineral content at bloodindex.com reports that a normal person weighing 70kg (154lbs) should have 13mg of manganese and 90mg of copper. There’s copper showing up again, and it appears that the correct copper to manganese ratio in the body should be around six or seven parts copper to one part manganese. It starts to make sense that animals and people would develop problems if their food and environment was high in Mn and seriously deficient in Cu.

A couple of other important elements come into play here as well. That 70 kg body should also have 4,200mg of iron and 2,400mg of zinc. In the soil and in the body, zinc and copper are complementary and antagonistic, as are iron and manganese. High levels of manganese in the diet strongly suppress iron absorption http://www.ajcn.org/content/54/1/152.abstract and high levels of zinc interfere with copper absorption http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/zinc/. It all ties together.

My goal, my challenge back in the early 2000s, was to figure out what levels of iron, manganese, copper and zinc in the soil would result in healthy soil and crops as well as optimum health in the people and animals relying on the crops for their food. The ratio of copper to zinc in the body is around 27 to 1, that of iron to manganese closer to 300 to 1. A little studying of soil test results and various soil fertility books showed the ratios in the soil were not nearly that wide. Some soils had more manganese than iron, most soils seemed to have a little more zinc than copper. I was mostly concerned with making sure the food crops didn’t have an excess of manganese and that they had a sufficient amount of copper.

At the time, I found little in the agricultural literature regarding an optimum level of copper in the soil. The best source of information was a book I already owned, Soil Fertility by Foth and Ellis (Wiley 1988). Soil Fertility told me that the earth’s crust contained on average 55ppm copper and 70ppm zinc. It also told me that most of the copper in the topsoil was attached to organic matter, as was the majority of the zinc. Recommendations for adding copper were for 3ppm per year until 10 to 20 ppm had been applied. Recommendations for zinc were similar, with the note that 25 lbs of zinc per acre (12ppm in the top 6” to 7” of soil) should be sufficient for many years.

I was looking for more than that. Soils vary a lot in their texture and ability to hold onto nutrients and release them to crops and soil organisms when needed. Most heavy clay soils can hold on to many times the amount of nutrients that a coarse sandy soil can; the level of organic matter in a soil also affects its ability to hold nutrients. The ability of a soil to hold on to nutrients, either adsorbed onto exchange sites or as part of organic complexes, also affects the availability of the minerals. In a loose, sandy soil with low organic matter 2 or 3 ppm of copper might be readily available; in a tight clay soil with a good humus level the plants might starve for copper at levels higher than that. I was looking for a way to tie in the optimum amount of minerals to the ability of the soil to hold on to them, known as “exchange capacity”. [see “Cation Exchange Simplified”]

I found some clues in Soil Fertility where the relationship between zinc and phosphorus were discussed. High levels of phosphorus, it seemed, could make zinc unavailable especially in calcareous (high calcium) soils; there were also hints that iron had a role.

The next important clue came from reading a comment made by Graeme Sait in his 2003 collection of interviews called Nutrition Rules (2003 http://nutri-tech.com.au). In an offhand way he mentioned a phosphorus to zinc ratio of 10:1. When I read that something “clicked” in my thoughts. I knew that was “it”: one part zinc to ten parts phosphorus in the soil, and the results so far have given me no reason to change that. The next question was “then how much phosphorus?”

That one wasn’t as hard to answer. From what I had read, starting with the work of Justus von Liebig in the mid-1800s and going up to at least 1930, phosphorus and potassium had been used in equal amounts in most fertilizer blends. The commonly measured form of phosphorus is phosphate, which is 44% actual P. Potash in fertilizers is 83% actual K. The old formulations had twice as much phosphate as potash, which works out to just about equal amounts of elemental P and K. Carey Reams recommended the same ratio, and somewhere in my reading of William Albrecht I recall him saying the same thing, equal amounts of P and K. As the human body contains more P than K this made sense as well, even if it didn’t “jibe” with the ratios of most modern fertility recommendations which often call for more potash than phosphate.

The next step was simple: Albrecht, Firman Bear, and several others had done a lot of investigation of the optimum ratios of the basic cation nutrients calcium, magnesium, and potassium from the 1920s on; by around 1950 the consensus was that the soil’s CEC (cation exchange capacity) should be saturated with 60-80% calcium, 10 to 20% magnesium, and 2 to 5% potassium. If I knew the CEC of the soil, and how many parts per million of potassium it was going to have for a given crop, that told me how much phosphorus I would want, e.g. equal to potassium, and how much zinc: 1/10th of actual P. Entirely on a hunch I decided to set the optimum copper level at ½ of zinc; it worked.

What I had so far was K, potassium, at 3-5% of CEC; P, phosphorus equal to K; zinc 1/10th of P, and copper ½ of zinc. What about manganese?

Manganese is closely tied to iron, just as copper is to zinc. I found different opinions on what the ideal ratio of Mn to Fe should be, and a lot of variation based on soil pH. I knew that highly acid soils could easily develop toxic levels of manganese and iron, and that in high-calcium high-pH soils crops were often deficient in Mn, Fe, or both. As well, some soils are very high in manganese and/or iron; iron is one of the more abundant elements in the earth’s crust. It seemed more important to decide on a minimum level of iron, so based on a number of soil tests and crop tissue tests and a little bit of intuition I set the minimum iron level at 1/3 to ½ of phosphorus, and the optimum manganese at 1/3 to ½ of iron. Soils that naturally have a high manganese content are amended to bring the iron level up to equal manganese or a bit more.

So far the ratios are working fine. The crops grown in soils balanced this way have good levels of all of the mineral nutrients, at or above USDA averages for food crops (often considerably higher) with zinc consistently higher than copper and iron consistently higher than manganese. I don’t foresee any problems due to excess manganese or deficient copper with this method of balancing soil minerals.


Michael Astera is the author of The Ideal Soil: A Handbook for The New Agriculture. His web site, which is all about growing more nutritious food, is at http://soilminerals.com

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Part V: Is High Brix Enough?

Part V: Is High Brix Enough?

by Michael Astera

edited March 14, 2010

Finally the concept of measuring produce quality in degrees Brix (*Brix) is getting some legs. People like the idea of being able to determine quality in their food. Measuring Brix also has some fun geek-appeal, e.g. carrying a scientific instrument in your purse or pocket that can graphically show the difference between a sweet orange and one not worth tasting. When Chefs de Cuisine start meeting food deliveries at the back door with a refractometer in hand, the game changes. When the shopper at the local fruit stand pulls out a refractometer, the game really changes. It's no longer just about having pretty produce. Two green peppers may look identically perfect, but the pepper that "Brixes" 12 is likely going to taste like a green pepper; the one that Brixes 4 is only going to look like the real thing.

Does that mean that a crop that has a high reading in *Brix is high in nutrients? Probably, but which nutrients and in what form? Are those nutrients in the best proportion and amounts for human and animal health? Maybe, maybe not.

The Brix scale was invented to measure sugar content, and is scaled against the equivalent in pure sucrose dissolved in pure water, i.e. if the solution is 32% pure sucrose by weight, it reads 32*Brix. Except: A refractometer measures all dissolved solids that bend incoming light. Caribbean sea water from the beach out front measures 4.8*Brix.

What do other common items measure in *Brix?

Without exceeding my normal science budget, I managed to put together the following "Laboratory Experiment" yesterday:

Laboratory Experiment #1

The boxy thing at the back of the scene is an old worn out car battery. The sulfuric acid in its cells measured 13.2*Brix.

Lined up in front of it, L to R, are a couple of bags of commercial fertilizer, a glass espresso cup with silver spoon, a cake of papelon raw sugar, a 0-32*Brix refractometer, an orange and a banana. Behind, R to L, a box of baking soda, bottle of soy sauce, jar of salt, vanilla extract, refined sugar, and a bottle of Old Tom gin. On top of the battery, L to R, toilet bowl cleaner, phosphoric acid, and ceramic tile cleaner with ammonia.

I spent the late morning and early afternoon taking a *Brix reading of everything in the photo.

The dry items were mixed to saturation with local bottled water (0*Brix) in the glass espresso cup, then sucked up with a plastic pipette and a few drops of the solution were placed on the refractometer prism.

The household chemicals and other liquids were taken up directly from their containers using the suction pipette.

All utensils and the refractometer were carefully washed and dried between tests.

The refractometer was then held up to a good light source (the sky) and the reading in *Brix was noted.
Here are the results:

*Brix of Common Items:
Results of Laboratory Experiment #1
Item Tested
Household Chemicals

Sulfuric acid from old car battery

"MAS" toilet bowl cleaner
(dilute hydrochloric acid + wetting agent)

Laundry bar soap for baby clothes
(not pictured, sorry)

"MAS" Ceramic tile cleaner w/ammonia

Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate)
(S = saturated solution in H2O)

Refined iodized table salt
White sugar (sucrose)
Raw sugar (papelon)
Vanilla extract, pure

Distilled white vinegar, 5% acetic acid

Orange, local juicing type

Pineapple, commercial

Banana, backyard local

Aloe Vera sap, fresh

Gin "Old Tom" 90 proof

Fertilizer Chamicals

Urea (ammonium carbamate) 46-0-0
High Phos. water soluble (10-40-10?)
Ortho Phosphoric Acid ~50% P
1:1 H2O
1:2 H2O

It is clear that the refractometer measures a lot more than sugars; these results indicate that acids and alkalies raise the brix reading, as does alcohol content. Pure chemical fertilizers also raise the Brix.

It is safe enough to assume that high-Brix produce will have more dissolved solids, but which solids?

Even if we just look at the sugars there can be a lot of variation in nutritional quality. What are the sugars likely to be in hybrid super-sweet corn? Simple sugars. High fructose corn sugar is about as simple as one can get.

Simple sugars metabolize quickly, give a big sugar rush, and cause an insulin spike; they are hyperglycemic. Long chain complex sugars, aka polysaccharides, metabolize slowly; they have a low glycemic index. The longer and more complex the saccharide, the slower it will be digested or metabolized.

Extremely long chain poly-saccharides are called muco-polysaccharides because they have mucus-like slimy qualities. Examples can be found in the sap of aloe vera and other succulents, comfrey, and slippery elm bark.

Note that aloe vera, comfrey, and slippery elm are all well-known healing plants. It is largely their muco-polysaccharide long-chain sugars that give them their healing qualities. These "sugar molecules" can have 30,000 or more individual sugar molecules "chained together", versus only two sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, that are joined together in refined sucrose. Sucrose burns fast and hot; long chain sugars burn slow and steady. It has been shown that while simple sugars cause or aggravate diabetes, long-chain polysaccharides heal the pancreas and counter diabetes.

The refractometer, unfortunately, can't tell tell us whether the sugars are simple or complex, and it's not likely that we are going to be willing to pay for the elaborate chemistry needed to sort them out, so what to do?

As has been mentioned before, one can get a plant tissue test for minerals; essentially the same thing as a soil test, but measuring the mineral elements that the plant has taken in.

One thing we know about complex micro-biological structures like polysaccharides and amino acids is that they require mineral catalysts in order to be formed or made. Phosphorus is necessary for all complex sugar formation. Zinc is known to be necessary for over three hundred enzymatic functions and likely plays a part in sugar complexity too. Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, and Copper are all essential for both plant and animal health. A crop that is deficient or unbalanced in any of them will not be truly healthy, nor will it make truly healthy food, despite cosmetic appearances.

At the present time most commercial and home garden agriculture is focused on high Nitrogen and Potassium fertilization. Mammals such as humans use around three times as much Phosphorus P as Potassium K, and over four times as much Calcium Ca as K. So why are we fertilizing with Potassium and Nitrogen?

Because they are common, easy, reasonably cheap, and give a good growth response, i.e. high yield. No real consideration is given to the nutritional quality of what is grown. How many tons per acre is the standard. We have already gone over all of that; just getting more detailed here.

Warning: Chemistry ahead!! (but stay with me please)

Back in the 1940s, Firman Bear and crew working at Rutgers U in New Jersey observed that alfalfa (lucerne) and other crops took in a fixed total sum of the cation (cat-eye-on) elements Ca++, Mg++, K+, and Na+. Those +plus signs indicate the charge on the different ions. Cations have a + positive charge, anions (an-eye-ons) have a - negative charge. Living things balance + and - in their body fluids to regulate pH, acidity or alkalinity. Plants and animals use Ca++, Mg++, K+ and Na+ to raise the pH and make the biology more Alkaline; they use the anion - elements NO3- (nitrate), SO4-- sulfate, and Cl- Chlorine, along with carbonic acid, to lower pH and make their fluids more Acid.

Note that Ca++ has two positives, K+ only has one. Cl- has one negative, SO4-- has two. To achieve a stable compound with SO4--'s two negatives would take one Ca++ or two K+'s.

The sum of the negative and positive charges equals the pH. A plant can take in 200 parts of Ca++ Calcium to balance its pH, if Calcium is freely available, or it can take in 400 parts of K+ Potassium, or 400 parts of Na+ Sodium to do the same job.

The question becomes, what do we want in our food? Once a plant has the minimal requirements of an element for its physiological processes, enough Ca, Mg, and K to function, it doesn't seem to care which "extra" cations it uses to balance its pH; it will use whatever is freely available. If that is Na Sodium, that is what it will use. If K Potassium is abundant while Mg Magnesium is scarce, the plant will pack on the K and be Mg deficient.

The same rule seems to apply to anion balance. If NO3 nitrate and Cl Chlorine are freely available while SO4 sulfate is rare, the plant will load up with what is easy to find and will be deficient in Sulfur. Sulfur is needed to synthesize at least two essential amino acids. Low Sulfur means a lack of complete protein.

Why does this matter? Because it seems that when plants take in lots of Potassium they are only able to make simple sugars, and when they take in lots of Nitrogen they only make simple amino acids and proteins.

Lacking the necessary catalysts such as Zinc and Phosphorus, lacking Calcium, Magnesium, or Sulfur, the plants can only produce simple and incomplete nutrients.

By focusing on the Nitrogen and Potassium levels of our soils we sacrifice nutritional completeness in order to achieve high yield. That sort of reasoning may work if one is growing fiber such as cotton; it does not work for growing good food.

Again the question, if high Brix is the sole goal, is it possible to grow high-Brix crops in depleted soils with chemical fertilizers like N and K? The super-sweet hybrid corn proves it can be done. If a high Brix reading is going to be where the money is, one can expect to see heads of broccoli and cabbage that Brix 12* yet have no more complete nutrients than the sweet corn.

That is why we need proof of mineral content via a laboratory plant tissue test. If that test shows a well balanced abundance of essential minerals, chances are the saccharides and the amino acids/proteins will be complete and varied, simply because the plants had everything they needed to grow to their fullest potential of flavor, aroma, and real food value.

If the crop is high in Potassium and/or Nitrogen, but low in Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and essential trace elements, we can safely assume that it is not going to be excellent food, regardless of its Brix reading.

For lots more Info on Soil Minerals, to peruse our selection of organic approved amendments and fertilizers, or to read Chapter 1 of Michael Astera's The Ideal Soil Handbook, please check out the website that's all about soil minerals, SoilMinerals.com

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Part IV: A Free Offer and Call for Volunteers

November 28 2009

New Food Standards, Part IV: A Free Offer and Call for Volunteers

Please note that the "free offer" slots are filled up. We have around 30 participants so far.

by Michael Astera

This part is about recruiting those who are interested in proving that we can grow food with as much or more flavor and nutrients as anyone ever has anywhere.

The hoped for result of this series of essays is the creation of some very high quality and nutritional standards for food crops. I have spent some time making the case for why these are needed and explaining how they could be accomplished. I know I said that I would write about energy in agriculture and the economics of balancing soil minerals next, and I have been trying to write that part, but something keeps nagging at me to get started on the actual process of proving that we can do this. Those other details can wait, I would like to see some things happening in the real world.
I'm hoping that with your help we can do some real science here and show a solid correlation between Brix and nutrient content of fruits and vegetables, and also show the connection between the level of mineral nutrients in the soil and the crop.

First of all we need to prove that we can consistently grow excellent nutrient dense food, as good or better than was grown three generations ago, and set some quality standards for others to match.

To that end, here are the suggested standards for food quality once again:

I. The crops must contain 125% or more of the average mineral content for food measured by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 1940 and published as
U.S. Dept. Agric. Cir. No. 549, Proximate Composition of American Food Materials (1940). The crops must also have...

II. A refractometer Brix reading of Good to Excellent as shown on the chart called the "Refractive Index of Fruits and Vegetables Calibrated in % Sucrose or Brix, originally compiled by Carey Reams" and found several places on the web including here; http://www.soilminerals.com/BrixChart_Reams

As the title above says, this is also a call for help, and the first help I'm asking for is "Does anyone have or can they easily get hold of the USDA Circular No. 549, Proximate Composition of American Food Materials from 1940?". It is listed at the USDA website here: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Aboutus/docs.htm?docid=9418 but is not available on line. Not being a US resident, and living in a country with poor mail service, it's not something I can readily obtain. It would be wonderful if a reader could get a copy and scan it and send it to me to put up on line for everyone to see.

One would think that the listing of nutrients in our food back then would be a popular subject, but strangely enough the only listing of food nutrients available on line at the USDA web site is from 1896 and only lists the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the foods analyzed. What we need are listings for mineral nutrients such as Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Zinc etc. Not having set eyes on USDA Circular No. 549 I'm only hoping that information will be there. If not, other possibilities would be USDA Circular No. 146, Proximate Composition of Fresh Vegetables from 1936 or USDA Misc. Publ. No. 572, Tables of Food Composition in Terms of Eleven Nutrients from 1945. (both of these are also listed at
http://www.ars.usda.gov/Aboutus/docs.htm?docid=9418 ) I've spent some time looking on line for mineral content of foods from sixty or so years ago and have come up largely empty-handed. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Once we have "the numbers" that we wish to equal and surpass, the next step is to grow the food and prove that it can be done, by anyone, anywhere. Here is where the "Free Offer" part comes in.

As some of you know, I work as a consultant in soil mineral balancing and soil fertility. People send me the results of laboratory soil tests and I write a custom fertilizer prescription for their soil. For those who wish to get involved in this home-grown science project, I am offering to waive the usual fee of $45 and write a free fertility Rx for your farm or garden. Those who wish to take me up on this offer would agree to:

1.Take a soil sample, send it to the lab and pay the $20 (approximately) lab cost, then email the results to me. I will write your soil Rx and email it to you so you can....

2. Apply the recommended soil amendments to at least a small part of your growing area, or at least keep track of what amendments, preps, or various ideas you do use or apply and share that info with me.

3. Grow whatever crop you have in mind, and then when the crop is ready to be harvested....

4. Measure the Brix level of the crop (which would require borrowing or buying a 0-32* Brix refractometer, around $35).

5. Send a plant tissue sample of the crop to a laboratory for mineral nutrient analysis (another $40), and finally....

6. Send the results of the plant tissue analysis and the Brix reading on to me.

The cost for two lab tests, plus postage, plus buying a refractometer if you don't have one will add up to a little over $100, not counting the expense of purchasing any recommended soil amendments. Paying for those things will be your responsibility. I will donate the time to write your soil Rx and will also answer questions as my time permits.

Armed with the info from the original soil test, knowing what nutrients were added, and having the results of a plant tissue test and the Brix readings from a number of growers in different climates and with different soil types, I think we will have enough info to find out if this idea is going to work. My job then will be to gather the data you contribute and put it together in a comprehensible way. I'm imagining part of the results will look something like this:

Calcium %
Magnesium %
Potassium %
Phosphorus %
Iron ppm
Carrot #3

Apple #6
Leeds UK

And so on, all put together in a way that makes some sort of sense. Whatever results I come up with will of course be shared with all who participate, along with all of the raw data for those of you who like to crunch numbers and do science yourself. Everyone who contributes will have access to whatever comes of this as well as being credited and thanked for their contribution. Who knows? This could turn out to be something that changes the health of the whole world for the better.

I would like it if at least a dozen people chose to have some fun with this; I'm thinking I could probably handle up to thirty participants max without getting overloaded, but maybe if more than that wish to play some of you would be willing to help me put things together.

We wouldn't need any grants and wouldn't have anyone telling us what we could or couldn't do, all volunteer, all in the interest of science and better health for the soil, plants, animals and people everywhere.

I have set up a new email address for this project; here it is: highbrixproject@soilminerals.com Those of you who wish to play a part, please see the instructions on taking a soil sample and a list of suggested soil testing labs here: http://www.soilminerals.com/soiltestservices.htm

Please don't volunteer for this unless you are willing to follow through to the point of getting your soil tested, growing a crop, measuring the Brix, getting a plant tissue test, and sending the results to me to share with everyone else.

Sound like fun? Let's do it!

Michael Astera

Dec 2 update on the HighBrixProject-

Fifteen citizen-scientist-volunteers so far. A great mix of vegetable and fruit growers, dairy, beef, and sheep pasture, and two coffee growers as well. Various sytems: Biodynamic, Reams RBTI, Eco-Ag, Certified Organic, and combinations of all of them. Here's the rundown as of Wednesday evening US eastern time:

Zambia 1
Denmark 1
Peru 1
Venezuela 1
Oregon 2
Washington 4
Hawaii 1
West Virginia 1
Arakansas 1
Georgia 1
Maine 1

Lots of science info coming in: soil reports, farm history, mineral analysis. We are going to have plenty of data. The plan as of now is to set up a website where all of the volunteers can post and share their info, experience, and results. The invitation is still open to anyone willing to put in the time and effort.

Dec 8 update:

It appears that the USDA did not publish mineral content of foods until 1945, so even though Circ. No. 549 from 1940 has been located by kindly and resourceful help (thanks, Frank) what we are going to need the data from are the following:

1945: USDA Misc Pub 572, Tables of Food Composition in Terms of Eleven Nutrients

1950: USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8: Composition of Foods; Raw, Processed, Prepared

Plus the 1963 (or '75) and 1982 (or '84) editions of
USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 8: Composition of Foods; Raw, Processed, Prepared.

(Thanks Steve D for the above)

And finally, the 2009 computerized version:

USDA NN-DB Release SR22_Year 2009_Composition of Foods; Fruits and Fruit Juices

Which can be found on line here:

(Thanks to Mike K, Thomas G, and Bill and Grace S)

Once these are all available, we can start to figure out just how much the mineral supply of the foods we eat has diminished and set some informed goals to reach.

Michael A

Monday, November 16, 2009

Part III: The Recipe

by Michael Astera

Part I: The Problem
Part II: Prurient Interests and Not-So_Veiled Threats

Part III The Recipe

Assuming that it is possible to grow crops with great flavor, high levels of nutrition, excellent keeping qualities, and a high resistance to disease and insect attack, how does one go about doing it? Obviously it starts with the soil.

Astera's Hypothesis v1.0: Food of high nutritional quality can only be grown in a fully mineralized, biologically active soil in which energy is flowing or being released.

Biology, i.e. living organisms and their remains, has been the focus of "organic" growers since the 1920s, more especially since the 1950s, and is the only aspect that most "organic" growers have any knowledge of or experience with so far. For most of the this time, the emphasis was on adding more organic matter to the soil in the form of compost and manure; only in the last fifteen years or so has the emphasis shifted more towards the living soil microorganisms, what the popular buzzword calls the SoilFoodWeb.

Energy as used here means energy flow or movement from higher to lower potential. The flow of electric battery current through a light bulb filament is a simple example; as the current flows the resistance to that flow in the filament causes it to give off heat and photons of light. Chemical potentials in the battery are trying to come into balance, taking the path through the light bulb filament. When the chemical balance is achieved, the battery is dead. There are three main schools of thought on energy in plant growth: the Reams Biological Theory of Ionization or RBTI based on the work of Carey Reams, the science of Paramagnetics based on the work of Phil Callahan, and the Biodynamics approach that originated with Rudolph Steiner. All valuable, but none of them well known or accepted by "mainstream" agriculture, chemical or organic. We'll get back to these.

One does not need to know all that much to add biologically active organic matter to the soil. If one does that, and soil moisture is present, there will be an energy release and flow that will result in the growth of soil organisms and plants. Given light, moisture, and warmth, growth is pretty much guaranteed. Nutritional value is not; all that can be counted on is that the plants will produce some quantity of carbohydrates and proteins from the combination of the air and water elements Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Nitrogen. To achieve high nutritional value, however, the crops must also contain the soil minerals that our body needs; the essential mineral nutrients.

96% of the human body is made up of the four air and water elements Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen and Nitrogen. Much the same goes for plants. Here is a short list of the major mineral elements our body needs to maintain good health, in descending order of amount required: Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine, Magnesium, and Iron. Minor and trace essential minerals include Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Cobalt, Molybdenum, Selenium, Chromium, Tin, Vanadium, Silicon, Boron, Iodine, Fluorine, Cadmium, Arsenic, Nickel, and Lead. If any of these are absent from your diet, out of balance with each other, or not available in sufficient amounts, the body will be unable to grow, repair itself, or reproduce. All of 25 of these and possibly another 30 or so are essential for human health and reproduction. They are NOT all essential for plant health. Plants have no known need for Lead, Cobalt, or even Sodium for that matter, so just because a plant looks perfectly healthy is no guarantee that it will provide the minerals that a human or animal needs.

It is unfortunate that planet Earth's crust does not have these minerals equally distributed, nor does it have them in the quantities needed in many places for robust plant or animal health. Grazing animals make up for this unequal distribution by covering a lot of territory. Predators eat those grazing animals and get their minerals by doing so. Hunter-gatherer humans also cover a lot of territory, as do pastoral nomads who follow their herds. Humans dependent on local agriculture are stuck with the minerals naturally found in their area.

Because rivers get all of the minerals washed into their drainage systems and deposit those minerals at their banks and mouths, river-bottom soil and river deltas contain the richest mix of essential mineral nutrients. The Nile river is our poster child for this phenomenon. The annual Nile floods carried minerals washed down from millions of square miles of Africa, each year flooding and depositing those nutrients along the shores of Eqypt. The lower Nile valley was the breadbasket of North Africa from the Pharaohs' times until the Aswan High Dam was built in the 1960s. Now much of Egypt goes hungry while it imports food and fertilizer and the Nile's fertility silts up the area behind the dam. One has to laugh or cry.

Worldwide, the valleys of the great rivers were the cradles of civilization, simply because of the wide assortment of essential minerals in their soils. A few other places approached or matched that level of fertility, such as the Great Plains of North America, the Chernozem soils of the Ukraine, and the Loess areas of China and the Mississippi Valley. All were the result of either a fortunate combination of rocks from which the soil formed, or windblown dust from large areas, or both.

Of course ancient and even modern people knew nothing about the mineral makeup of their soils; they only knew that some areas grew crops that brought health to people and livestock, some areas didn't. The knowledge of mineral elements and chemistry as a science didn't exist until the late 1700s; the first chemical assays of crops and soils weren't done until the 1830s, and the Periodic Table of the Elements wasn't put together until the late 1800s. Furthermore, despite over two centuries of advances in the fields of chemistry and nutrition, very little knowledge of the mineral basis of soil fertility or nutrition has filtered down to agriculture.

Our goal should be to match or exceed the fertility and mineral balance and availability of the great breadbaskets of the world, so let's get to it.

I'm going to start here with how I grow high-brix nutrient dense crops. There is at least one other method that deserves mention and we will touch on that.

The method I use is largely based on the work of William Albrecht and Firman Bear in the 1930s and '40s in the USA. The essence of it is the Basic Cation Saturation Ratio or BCSR. Note first off that this BCSR idea is neither appreciated nor recognized by mainstream chemical or organic agriculture. That need not concern us overmuch as long as it works, right? The Basic Cations that we are talking about are Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium. They are called 'basic" because adding them to a water solution makes the solution more alkaline or "basic". They are cations because they have a positive charge, a + charge. Ca and Mg have a double plus charge ++, K (Potassium) and Na (Sodium) have a single plus + charge. Those elements with a negative - charge are called anions.

Important notice: Anyone who wishes to follow the rest of this, unless they already have a good understanding of Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), needs to do a few pages of outside reading here: http://www.soilminerals.com/Cation_Exchange_Simplified.htm. I promise that it will be almost painless and possibly even enlightening. I'll wait.

Done? Good. Now that everyone is familiar with CEC, we can talk about the BCSR and how to mineralize or re-mineralize our soils. First of all one needs to have the results of a standard soil test that gives them the % saturation of the four major cations Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium presently in the soil, as well as the total CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) of the soil. Here are some examples of the results of a standard soil test: http://www.soilminerals.com/samplereportI.htm

What we (ideally) want to end up with are the following cation saturation ratios:

Calcium 60%-70%
Magnesium 10%-20%
Potassium 2%-5%
Sodium 1%-4%
H+ Hydrogen 5%-10%

This will give us a well-balanced mineral base to start off with, and, with the anion ratios listed below, a pH of ~6.5 to 6.7.

The major anions are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulfur, and Chlorine. Here is how they should fit together with the cations above:

Phosphorus should be equal to Potassium (actual P=actual K), which means phosphate (P2O5) should be 2x potash (K2O).

Sulfur should be 1/2 of Phosphorus, up to around 400 lbs per acre. More is usually not needed except in soils that start out alkaline, i.e. pH greater than 7.

Chlorine should be equal to Sodium, and not more than 2x Sodium.

Nitrogen will generally take care of itself for most crops if the soil organic matter content is 4% or above. Some N loving crops like corn (maize) or onions may need some supplemental Nitrogen.

I realize this is all a bit much at first glance. Please read it over a few times and I think it will begin to make sense. This is the only sure method that I know of to balance the soil minerals and grow those high-Brix nutrient dense crops. Just a few more minerals to look at today:

Boron: 1/1000th of Calcium, but not more than 4ppm (parts per million) or 8 lbs per acre.
Iron: 100-200 ppm (200-400 lbs/acre)
Manganese: 1/2 of Iron, but more than 50ppm is not necessary.
Zinc: 1/10 of Phosphorus
Copper: 1/2 of Zinc

That's it. Get the above list of minerals into the soil in the amounts suggested and most of the work is done. Nature will gladly take over from there, Please note, though, that these last five minor minerals must be in the soil in the right quantity; if not, if all of the majors are there without the minors, one is likely to have great yield but poor nutrition. The human body needs a lot more Calcium than it does Iron, and a lot more Iron than it does Copper, but all of them are equally essential.

The other twenty or so essential minerals are only needed in very small amounts, usually 1 ppm or less. Standard soil tests don't check for them. They can be supplied with any or all of the following:

Sea Salt
Seaweed (Kelp meal is pretty commonly available)
Various mineral deposits from ancient lakes, seas, or volcanoes
Rock dust from quarries or rock crushing operations.
(these would all be applied at a rate of about 400lbs/acre or 10 lbs per 1000 sq ft))

All of the above is explained at some length in my book The Ideal Soil, along with how to calculate amounts to apply and which organic-approved mineral sources contain how much of what. Those interested can check it out here: http://www.soilminerals.com/Ideal_Soil_Main_Page.htm There are a number of books about WHY to mineralize the soil, but so far The Ideal Soil is the only book that shows the reader HOW to mineralize their soil. (If anyone knows of any other how-to books on soil mineral balancing, let me know and I will gladly list them.)

Quite a bit to take in at once, but what we have covered here will work for almost any food crop in any climate. There is no need for special formulas for special crops, no need to worry about pH. This mineral balance, combined with a biologically active soil with around 4% humus, along with sunshine, warmth, and water, will provide all that is needed to achieve good to excellent Brix readings, great flavor and keeping qualities, and a high degree of resistance to insects and disease. We are also working on the assumption that it will provide excellent mineral nutrition, as all of the essential minerals are available to the plants, but that has yet to be proven. Our proposed project will be to prove the concept, correlating high Brix with high minerals, in order to establish the world's first nutritional standards for food

It doesn't seem that I have room left in this not-so-short post to cover everything else I mentioned at the end of Part II, so I will just give a brief mention to the other school of mineral balancing, the Reams school, and wait to talk about the economics and ecology of these ideas in part IV.

Carey Reams (1904-1987) was a somewhat eccentric scientist, agronomist, and Christian mystic who worked mostly in Florida USA. The rule mentioned above that actual Phosphorus should equal actual Potassium, or phosphate should be 2x potash, originated with Reams. Reams is also who we have to thank for bringing the refractometer into use in general agriculture. The Brix chart he devised is still considered the gold standard for food crops. Here it is again: http://www.soilminerals.com/BrixChart_Reams

Reams did extensive work with energy flow in soils, and came up with some ideas on the roles of energy and minerals that haven't always translated well into modern scientific terminology. Nonetheless he achieved great results and some of his students have gone on to teach and practice his methods very successfully. Unlike the standard soil test mentioned above and used by Albrecht and most mainstream soil testing laboratories, Reams preferred the LaMotte test, which uses a weak extracting solution, closer to that which plant roots themselves employ in the soil. The Reams system is not based on the BCSR, but on the measurement of readily soluble major nutrients in the soil. The mineral ratios that Reams called for, however, are essentially identical to the CEC saturation ratios of the BCSR. Here are Reams' ideal soil mineral amounts, as available nutrients per acre, based on the Lamotte soil test:

Calcium: 2,000-4,000 lbs
Magnesium: 285-570 lbs
Phosphate: 400 lbs
Potash: 200 lbs
Nitrate Nitrogen: 40 lbs
Ammonium Nitrogen: 40 lbs
Sulfate: 200 lbs
Sodium: 20-70 ppm

The major difference in practice between the Reams school and what is loosely called the Albrecht school is that Reams emphasized frequent soil testing, as often as once a week, and applying needed minerals throughout the growing season as often as variations in the soil test results called for. The BCSR ratios that this author uses only require testing once or twice a year, spring and/or fall, and it has been my experience that once the major minerals are in place and balanced these one or two tests per year (or perhaps only when a problem arises) are sufficient to grow healthy high-Brix crops. More frequent testing may be justified for larger fields of high-value crops, but I have had a hard enough time convincing growers to test their soil at all. Enough said.

In Part IV we will take a closer look at energy flow in the soil, at the economics and ecology of mineral balanced agriculture, and discuss its potential impact on human, animal, and planetary health.

Michael Astera