Boxes or Beds – Changes from 1st book
Q. Dr. Mittleider’s first how-to book, Grow-Box Gardens, advocates container, or Grow-Box gardens, and mostly talks about 5’-wide boxes. Recent books show narrower boxes, and teach growing in the soil. Why the changes?
A. Jacob was in the wholesale bedding plant or nursery business for 20 years. He became extremely good at seedling production, controlling all elements of the growing process by using “artificial” organic soil mixes and providing all the nutrition by adding natural minerals.
He then retired and devoted his life to teaching people food production worldwide, beginning in Papua New Guinea. There he had to grow in the soil for 3 years, and experienced problems with weeds, insects, and diseases, along with poor soil nutrition – but still enjoyed fabulous success by practicing proper plant nutrition.
He soon thereafter went to Okinawa, where for 2 years he taught people living in cities and on steep hillsides how to grow. So he went back to the soil-less mixes and containers he’d used in the Nursery business. He used narrow boxes when growing in greenhouses, and 5′- wide boxes for most outside growing situations.
The book Mittleider Grow-Box Gardens, was written in 1975, after the Okinawa experience, and shows both sizes of boxes. Although a few things have changed, this book is still a great resource for teaching highly productive family-based food production, and is loved by many thousands of people.
Meanwhile, over the next 20 years working in 27 countries, Jacob found that by using his methods people can grow excellent gardens directly in almost any soil, and several more recent books teach Soil-Bed gardening. However, he continues to teach the use of Grow-Boxes for special situations. And for those willing to invest the extra time and up-front costs, Grow-Boxes are a delightful and highly productive way to grow food.
However, all watering in the 5′-wide boxes had to be done by hand, with a hose or buckets. Because planting was done across the box, rather than lengthwise, production volume in a given space was very high, but there was never an automated watering system developed that worked well for 5′ boxes, and that contributed to the demise of the 5′ box.
Experience taught Dr. M. that 4′-wide boxes were better than the 5′ variety for several reasons, including the ability to automate the watering, plus problems people experienced trying to reach into the middle of the wider boxes. Therefore, we recommend nothing wider than 4′ today.
So, if you want wide boxes, use 4′-wide boxes and plant your rows lengthwise, 1-2″ in and 12″ in from the outside edges. This gives you 4 rows of most plants, and 2 rows of tomatoes and vining plants (those should be planted 12″ in from the edges). And for automated watering, use 2 drilled PVC pipes running lengthwise about 6″ in from the sides.
The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about this subject, and can be purchased in the Store section, or as digital downloads.
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