Another crop we’ve struggled with are plants in the Beet family, which includes Swiss Chard. It’s funny because when we lived in the city we had no problem growing beets in our little backyard garden. In fact, Chard was probably the most successful and abundant crop we grew.

Beets are unusual in that they have very high Boron needs. They are pretty needy of all the soil nutrients, actually. But they are well worth it in my opinion, as they are extremely nutritious, fast growing, store well, and taste very good (at least in my opinion). I am the sort of person that can’t decide what is my favorite soup: Green Pea soup, French Onion soup, or Borscht (Beet soup). They are all vegetable soups.


Planted mid-May, these beets did their job in about 60 days. Wish we planted more. Indiana clay in the background.

I’ve known for a couple of years now that our soil is particularly deficient in two nutrients mainly: Sulfur and Boron. When most farmers detect weak performance in their crops, their instinct is usually to apply N, P, and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium). Years of this treatment probably explains why my Phosphorous and Potassium levels are borderline excessive. Nitrogen, being so soluble, washes away and escapes into the atmosphere. They also used too much Dolomitic lime, raising my Magnesium levels to about twice what they should be.

I’ve never applied any elemental fertilizers other than Gypsum (which is Calcium Sulfate) and Borax (Sodium Tetraborate) to correct the deficiencies (and improve the Calcium:Magnesium ratio). And the amounts were modest. I bought 4 boxes of 20-Mule-Team Borax at Kroger and eight 40 pound bags of pelletized Gypsum from Rural King and applied them with my little Earthway spreader. It is very important to be even and careful with this, as Borax is toxic to soil if over applied. Never apply more than 2 pounds per acre of Boron (Borax is about 10% elemental Boron, so about 20 pounds per acre per year of Borax).

I now think a better way to apply such “dangerous” soil amendments as Borax is to apply  them evenly over manure-straw in the barn, then shovel out the manure into the manure spreader, and then spread in the place your garden will be next year, giving it all year to sheet-compost. No making piles of compost that you have to move twice, and it is achieves a nice even distribution of the elemental fertilizers in a bulky organic matter containing milieu, which sort of buffers the effects of strong elemental fertilizers like Borax! It is one of the reasons why I think animals are almost essential to garden farming.

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