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The Refractometer

The refractometer is a 15 cm-long, tube shaped instrument, much like a shortened telescope. It has an adjustable eyepiece at one end and a prism with a fold down plastic cover at the opposite end. Two to three drops of plant sap is deposited on this prism.

The light passing through the plant sap is refracted (bent) in relation to the amount of dissolved solids in the liquid.These solids reflect plant sugar levels, but are also an indication of mineral content and general plant health. The refractometer measures Brix levels.High brix crops will have a higher sugar and mineral content, higher true protein content and a greater specific gravity or density.

High brix produce is sweeter tasting and more minerally nutritious, with a lower nitrate and water content and better storage characteristics. Elevated brix levels also confer an inherent insect resistance, as the plant tends to produce more alcohol from fermented sugars.This alcohol content is inconsistent with the digestive systems of many leaf and fruit-eating insects.In fact, it is toxic to these pests, resulting in a reduction in pesticide usage. Crops with a higher sugar content will also have a lower freezing point, with an associated protection against frost damage. Brix levels are also an indication of soil fertility.

Low brix plants are inevitably a reflection of poor mineralisation.Biologically available calcium and phosphate will be deficient in the soil, and deficits of these two elements will also increase weed pressure.Broadleaf weeds and sour grasses grow more prolifically in soils lacking calcium and phosphate.In fact, it is possible to kill a dandelion with the simple application of soft rock phosphate, which contains both of these minerals.