Asbestos-Containing Vermiculite May Pose a Cancer Risk

Soil Conditioners Could Pose Asbestos Hazard

When we hear the word “asbestos” we often think back on the controversy of the late 1970’s when it became common knowledge that asbestos was indeed a human health hazard. Asbestos however, is still a relevant hazard today in a number of different capacities. While most asbestos containing products were banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, unfortunately it still exists in hundreds of older products as well as in trace amounts in newly manufactured products. Among new products that may still contain asbestos are soil retention enhancers, particularly vermiculite.

Vermiculite is mined from natural deposits across the globe and has a myriad of uses not only for commercial and private gardening, but also as an insulation compound. Vermiculite forms over millions of years due to the weathering of the mineral, biotite. Unfortunately, former biotite deposits are often in close proximity to deposits of diopside, which upon being subjected to the same weathering and age conditions becomes asbestos.
In Libby, MT one particularly mine shipped hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite across the country. However, they were not the only manufacturers of vermiculite to ship asbestos with their products. Many other manufacturers were doing the same thing before EPA testing and regulations finally forced them to limit the amount of residual asbestos dust in the vermiculite.

Today, most vermiculite is safe. However, that is not to say it cannot contain asbestos. Vermiculite which is accompanied by a great deal of dust likely has residual asbestos in its contents and should be used with caution. Current EPA regulations ban products which contain 1% or more asbestos. Unfortunately even products containing less that 1% asbestos are still extremely hazardous, particularly when in loose dust form as vermiculite often is manufactured.
It is no surprise then that hundreds of the Libby mine’s employees and residents of the town were diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that is known only to be caused by asbestos exposure. Options for mesothelioma treatment are limited, so many of these residents were able to secure financial compensation for their families through litigation. Mesothelioma incidence is also known to be high in commercial gardeners and other occupations which deal with large amounts of loose vermiculite.

Fortunately, exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite can be avoided if consumers follow simple precautions. Note the appearance of the vermiculite. If it seems to carry a great deal of residual dust, dispose of it outdoors. Most manufacturers of vermiculite mark their products packaging with “Non Dusty” labels. These refined granules are often slightly more expensive but they are certainly the safest.

Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Asbestos Materials Ban.1989
Consumer Product Safety Commission. Asbestos Consumer Products.

Using Irrigation Water in the Automated PVC Watering System

Q. Which book of the Mittleider gardening books gives the best detailed instructions on using irrigation water with grow beds? I have seen some pdf files on basic set up for grow beds, the last thing i want to be doing is unplugging clogged holes several hours a week. Can irrigation water be used in all circumstances, do you need a certain amount of psi?

A. Probably what follows is more detailed than in the books.

Irrigation water can be used in the automated PVC watering system, but care must be taken to filter the water before it goes into the pipes. The stronger your pressure, the less problems you’ll have and the faster you can water your garden, but we sometimes water with only gravity pressure.

In addition to sand, etc. plugging the pipes there is the risk of small weed seeds getting into the garden. For this reason it is a good idea to filter irrigation water if possible, even when using it directly on your beds or boxes.

In the Foundation’s Zoo garden in SLC, Utah we filter the water from the creek right as it enters the 2″ flexible hose from which our Honda 5.5 hp pump sends it into the garden. We use three levels of filtering, very coarse to stop rocks, etc., medium to stop pebbles, and nylon hose for the finer particles.

Regardless of our best efforts some things still get through. In the beginning I kept a couple of awls handy and (too often) would resort to reaming out the holes. With over 100 beds you can imagine this could be a BIG job!

We soon discovered that you can open the end of the pipe for a few seconds, close the end, then tap on the pipe with a hoe or rake handle while the water is on. This almost always clears the obstructions. And it is a good idea to open the end a second time AFTER tapping on the pipe, thus letting the debris you’ve dislodged wash out also.

Growing Pepper Seedlings

Pepper seedlings are among the hardest vegetable plants to grow, and some hot peppers are even more difficult than the sweet peppers.

Seeds should be planted at least 8 weeks before the ALFD (average last frost date) in your immediate area. And you should not transplant the seedlings into your garden until after the ALFD.

Use a soil mixture of 65% sawdust and 35% sand. Peat moss, perlite, Coconut husks, rice hulls, coffee hulls, or pine needles can substitute for the sawdust, alone or in any combination.

The Mittleider Magic Pre-Plant mix should be mixed with the growing medium before planting seed – at 1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) per cubic foot of soil – then NO fertilizer should be applied until after the seedlings emerge. Water with plain water and keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet.

If you’re only growing a few plants place the seeds 2″ apart in a seedling flat. For hundreds or thousands of plants place 100-125 seeds per row in 1/4″-deep furrows 2″ apart in a tray.

Cover the tray with burlap to avoid moving the seeds as you water.

Keep the planting soil-mix moist and maintain temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. No light is best until the seeds show above the soil, then immediate sunlight is needed for 8-12 hours each day, to prevent the stem from “stretching” to seek adequate light.

If you can’t give the seedlings direct sunlight you must provide grow-lights within 1″ of the plant leaves for 16+ hours per day. Two Fluorescent lights – one warm and one cool – work well.

Again, constant temperatures should be maintained in the 75-85 range.

A Constant Feed solution of 16 ounces Weekly Feed mix to 55 gallons of water (a scant 1 ounce per 3 gallons water) should be used for watering the seedlings immediately after emergence.

Seedlings should be transplanted 2″ – 2 1/2″ apart by the time they get their second set of true leaves. The soil for this transplant should contain both Pre-Plant mix at 1 1/2 oz and Weekly Feed mix at 3/4 oz per cubic foot of soil mix.

Peppers grow slowly and need warm temperatures to do well. They will also require a few days to recover from the transplant, so don’t be discouraged if they are still small after 3-4 weeks.

Before transplanting to the garden take seedlings outside onto tables in full sun for 2 to 3 days, to “harden them off”, or acclimatize them to the outside growing conditions. If the nights get very cold bring the plants back inside.

Some protection may also be needed after the seedlings are in the garden. Mini-greenhouses made with greenhouse plastic over arched PVC frames will keep cold winds off the plants and allow the sun to warm the soil much faster.

Remove the covers when outside temperatures approach 70 degrees, and make sure that temperatures in the beds do not exceed 80-85 degrees. Some air flow during the daytime is important.

Worldwide Need for These Proven Methods

Q. A Mittleider gardener recently brought the following article to my attention. It talks about the need to update the methods of growing food worldwide.

A. The article has some good points, especially the idea that the people of Great Britain (and everywhere else) should re-connect with their land. What they REALLY need to do is to adopt the Mittleider model as taught in this website!

Instead of doubling the world’s food output, we can increase food production as much as TEN TIMES over traditional methods.

And FAMILIES need to be taught how to do it THEMSELVES. That way control and responsibility, as well as the benefits, are all where they NEED and DESERVE to be – in the hands of the common people.

The problems of biodiversity, energy, water scarcity, and urbanization are best addressed and solved by FAMILIES taking control of their own food production needs. Let’s teach EVERYONE the system that saves more than 1/2 the normal water and is very efficient in space and energy conservation, while greatly increasing the quantity and QUALITY of their food.

The fact that the large majority of people live in urban environments only argues more strongly for the Mittleider growing system, because we teach people how to grow in the dirt OR containers ANYWHERE, and to grow VERTICALLY, to maximize the use of any available space.

A prime example of how this has worked in the recent past is the former USSR. I believe history will show that the Mittleider Method played an important role in saving the people of the Russian Commonwealth countries from returning to communism in the 90’s.

Those people were terrified of freedom and the responsibility it entailed when it was thrust upon them in the summer of 1991, but God sent Jacob Mittleider over there to establish his agriculture training program in a small college in 1989, and by the summer of ’91 there were a cadre of teachers available, plus books, videos, and other materials translated and distributed throughout the country.

These things provided hope and a highly successful model to follow, and I’m told the Mittleider Method is now the most productive and popular way of growing family gardens throughout many regions of those vast countries.

One of these days – hopefully soon – the “tipping point” will be reached here in America, and people will wake up to the importance of growing their own food in the most sustainable and productive way possible.

Congratulations on being a part of it!

Jim Kennard

Swiss Chard

Q. Why doesn’t my swiss chard grow large and green? Collard greens in my garden are huge. Perhaps I do not thin out the plants, and they are too crowded?

A. What color and what variety is your chard? Some varieties are different colors, such as the one that looks like beet tops. There might be a variety that is small also.

More likely the problem has to do with sunlight (lack of), plant spacing, feeding, watering, or weeding.

Are you taking care of all those things? Full sun, plants 6″+ apart, feeding small amounts of complete balanced natural mineral nutrients, daily watering, and eliminating competition from weeds will assure a great crop in any soil.

How To Eliminate Snails & Slugs From the Garden

Q. Our garden has slugs! About the time the tomatoes started getting blossoms the slugs started feasting!

I tried many methods to get rid of them – cornmeal in a jar, egg shells, sand around the plants, soapy water spray, picking them off, drowning them in beer..just to name a few.

Right now the slugs are eating the cauliflower and broccoli
(the only things left growing in the garden under the hoop house in winter).

How can I get rid of these critters once and for all?

A. The growing procedures and cultural practices as taught in the Mittleider Method are the best solutions to your problem as follows:

1. Maintaining a weed-free garden.
2. Keeping the soil bare, with no mulch or other coverings.
3. Using level, raised, ridged soil beds.
4. Using wide aisles that are kept bare and dry.
5. Watering only the root zones of the plants.
6. Pruning and removing all leaves that touch the ground.
7. Growing tomatoes & other vining crops vertically.

Winter Tree Pruning Tips – by Mike McGroarty

Now is the time to prune many of the trees in your yard. They are dormant now and don’t mind being pruned at all.

1. Start on the inside of the tree. Remove any dead wood or any branches that are growing toward the center of the tree.

2. Remove any branches that are crossing another branch or rubbing together. The inside of the tree needs to be open and airy.

3. Move to the outside of the tree. Stand back and look at the tree and imagine how you would like the tree to look. Draw an imaginary line around the tree to the exact shape of how you want the tree to look. Then start removing any branches that are growing outside of that line.

4. The same rules apply for the outside of the tree. Open the tree up a little and remove any branches that are too close to another branch or are rubbing or crossing another branch.

6. When removing branches near the trunk of the tree always make your cuts as close to flush with the trunk as possible and do not leave a stub sticking out.

7. Wounds larger than a 50¢ piece can be painted over with a tree wound dressing, but in most cases it’s not necessary, and some professionals feel that wound dressings slow the healing process.

8. That’s it! Your tree will love you for it.

Have a great week!
-Mike McGroarty

(more personal stuff about Mike and Pam)

Instructions for Creating & Planting a Garden #1

Preliminary Steps – Lesson I (Using Jim Kennard’s 2009 Alabama garden as a model)

1. Determine how much space you want, then how much you HAVE that
receives all-day sunshine. We wanted between 15 and 30 beds, but only have a 35′ X 65′ sunny space, so that is our limiting factor.

2. Measure and stake the outline of your garden, keeping in mind the space required for rows and aisles (18″ or 4′-wide beds & 3′ to 3 ½’ aisles). We chose 4′ beds with 39″ aisles, in order to get 18 beds in that space.

We have only 2 ½’ end aisles, but we have 30′ of grass beyond that on one end and sidewalk on the other. And outside aisles are nothing on the East (a wall), and a hillside on the West, which we will keep mowed short.

3. Clean the garden area and remove everything, down to the bare
ground. Two types of lawn covered our back yard, so we began by using an 8 HP Troybilt and tilling the top 2″ of soil thoroughly. We then raked up and removed all grass, including roots, rhizomes, and runners.

4. Level the garden area as much as possible. Remove hills and
valleys, and till high sections, using a long board to drag soil from high areas to lower areas.

Beyond general shaping, don’t worry too much about making the whole garden area level. It’s just the soil-beds themselves that must be level.

5. Measure, stake, and apply strings to soil-beds. Make sure you run your beds in the direction that is the most nearly level, and plan on having the water source on the high end of the beds.

Use 18″ 2 X 2 stakes and drive them at least 6″ into the ground. Use heavy nylon string, tying the ends before connecting to the posts.

Tie one end to the post and do not tie the opposite end, but rather pull it tight, loop it around once, then lift the string over itself. It will hold, and will be much quicker to remove when you need to till or weed, etc.

Instruction of creating a family garden

I will be creating a garden near Birmingham, Alabama over the next 3 months, and each step will be recorded in pictures, video, and with a written dialog.

For those of you who say you have no room for a garden, consider doing what we are doing. We are removing lawn to make room for something MUCH more important – FOOD.

The pictures will be posted to the Photos section of the website as Alabama Garden – 2009, beginning in the next day or two, and the Schedule of Vegetables is posted already to the Files section with the same name.

The size of my garden area is 35′ X 65′. I will have 18 soil-beds 30′ in length, or 2,275 square feet – 1/19th of an acre.

Do the math and you’ll wonder how I am putting 18 soil-beds in only 65′. Stay with us and find out!! A hint can be found by looking at Grow-Boxes. Let’s see if anyone can come up with the answer.

About 1/2 of the garden will be grown vertically using T-Frames, and if we are here all season I will plant multiple crops of single crop varieties.

We expect to produce between 4,000# and 8,000# of food, most of which will be given away.

I will begin immediately to describe the process of creating this
garden – hopefully beginning with my next Post to the Group.

You are invited to duplicate our efforts in your own yards and gardens.

Micro-Nutrients Sold By the Foundation – How Much Weekly Feed Will it Make?

Q. If I grow in 4 ‘ X 4′ raised beds, each micro elements pouch – mixed in recommended ratio to make the Weekly Feed formula – will be enough for how many feedings of a 4′ x 4’ square raised bed?

A. Each Micro-Nutrient package contains two packets of 8+ ounces, which when mixed with NPK and Epsom Salt will make 23 1/2# of Weekly Feed fertilizer. Therefore the $13.95 package ends up being 47# of Weekly Feed.

The Weekly Feed is used as follows: One half (1/2) ounce per running foot of soil-bed or container between 2 rows of plants (or one row if you’re growing vertically).

Each feeding of a 4′ X 4′ box therefore requires 4 ounces (8 tablespoons), so you should have over 90 feedings of one 4′ X 4′ box.

In a 4′-wide container (we call them Grow-Boxes) you should plant small and medium-size plants in 4 rows – two near the outside edges of the box and two 12″ inside of that. This leaves almost 2′ in the middle of the box as an “aisle”.

Unless you are planting small plants like lettuce, carrots, onions, etc., you should leave the center 2′ empty, as larger plants need that space to grow and receive adequate light.

For large plants that you should grow vertically, such as indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, eggplant, melons, etc. you should grow only 2 rows of plants – near the outside edges of the box.

When planting only 2 rows of plants you still feed WF at 1/2 ounce per running foot.

Since leaf lettuce only needs 3 or 4 feedings per crop, and you can probably grow at least 3 crops per growing season, you can see that one bag of fertilizer will last a long time, if you only use it for one box.

Tomatoes would need to be fed more, as ever-bearing plants should be fed until 8 weeks before the first expected frost. You also cut off the growing tips at that time, so they mature the fruit they already have, rather than wasting energy on creating new fruit that won’t mature.