Growing in 4′-Wide Soil-Beds (in the dirt)

Q. I’m into setting up my fifth section of beds. Each one = 17 soil beds (18″ x 30ft). I’m challenged by land sloping both ways (main slope E-W & minor slope N-S = bed length). Anyway (going bit off issue) – I plan to plant mealies (corn) in this section. Got to thinking it may be good idea to set up 4ft wide beds (for the corn). I also, intend to convert in the future to Grow Boxes, so thought I getting the basic leveling (terracing) sorted now, could be wise in the long run. My question is – is there any fundamental “down side” to 4ft wide SOIL Beds?
Am I missing something basic & obvious?

A. Unless you can water the entire 4′ width you will need to build 2 – 18″ beds in the 4′. It will leave a very narrow “aisle” in the middle that is almost too narrow to even walk down. Weeding, etc. are more difficult that way. But if you don’t, then you have to apply water to the entire 4′, and that requires quite a bit more water. I’ve done it, and it worked alright, but it was more work. Also, the two sets of two rows are closer together than they would be in 4′ boxes, because the ridges take 3-4″ on each side. If growing vertically it’s best to plant the two rows about 8″ in from the outside edges, rather than 12″ in – again so that there is sufficient “aisle” space in the middle.

Yellow Leaves on Tomato Bush

Q. My tomato bush is 4 feet high, why are the leves turning yellow at the bottom and center of the bush?

A. It could be any one or a combination of several things.

1. What are you feeding your plants. lack of any of 4 different nutrients could cause some yellowing symptoms, including nitrogen, zinc, manganese, and iron. Those symptoms are somewhat different, so you need to learn the specifics of how each one affects the plant.

A great set of books to make you an expert on deficiency symptoms is The Garden Doctor 3-volume set, by Dr. J. R. Mittleider. They can be purchased on the website in paper, or for only $20 more you can have the entire Mittleider Gardening Library on CD ROM as a Searchable Database.

Fertilizing Small Containers – 5 gallons as Starting Point

Q. How much Pre-Plant and how much Weekly Feed should I add to each 5 gallon pail of custom soil?

We have various sizes containers (all over 8 inches deep) so I figure I can just fill the containers one at a time with the 5 gallon pails’ mixture.

A. We apply 2# of Pre-Plant to a soil-bed or Grow-Box that’s 18″ wide and 30′ long. That figures out to about 2 ounces per cubic foot of soil.

A 5 gallon bucket contains 2/3rds of a cubic foot, therefore you would mix 1 1/3rd ounce (8 teaspoons) of Pre-Plant Mix – and half that amount of Weekly Feed, or 2/3rds of an ounce (4 teaspoons).

It would be easier to mix 15 gallons at a time, which is 2 cubic feet and would require 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of Pre-Plant and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of Weekly Feed.

Best Direction for Rows – Best Location for Plants

Q. Is it best for garden rows to run North & South or East & West. Taller crops on which side?

A. The direction of your rows is not important. What IS important is where you put tall plants!

Taller plants should be placed to the North – or East – of shorter plants. Otherwise the shade created by the taller plants will block the sunlight from reaching the shorter plants and correspondingly reduce their ability to grow and mature a crop.

Posted in FAQ

Searching for Fertilizers – Need Help

Q. I’m planning on doing a little bit of container gardening in my greenhouse this summer. I plan on using your soil-less mix as per your book “More Food From Your Garden” (out of print – I recommend The Mittleider Gardening Course)

I also bought your Micro-nutrients ( – Materials) to mix in with my fertilizer. I have searched high and low for 16-8-16, 20-10-20, 16-16-16, 15-15-15, 13-13-13, 17-17-17. I did find 20-20-20 but it is very expensive.

I also tried to find the 21-0-0 + 0-45-0 + 0-0-50 – with no luck either.

I did find a bag of 18-18-18 and was wondering if that will work. And if so, how much fertilizer mix would I need for each container that is 12″ round x 9″ deep?

My plan is to grow just cucumbers and tomatoes in the greenhouse. The rest will be grown outside in my raised (soil) beds.. Each bed is 24″ wide x 10′ long. Thank you very much for your help.

A. Any combination from 13-13-13 up to 20-20-20 will work fine. And you can make your own by buying the three nutrients separately. There are several possibilities, just look at a Farm Supply store, if the big box and nursery stores don’t have them.

The 18-18-18 is good! Just mix it with the package of Micro-Nutrients according to instructions.

For applications in small containers see my article in the FAQ section of the Foundation website under Containers or Grow-Boxes at

Your 24″-wide beds in the garden are 6″ wider than they should be for optimum planting, feeding, watering, etc. If you can’t make them 18″ wide I recommend you plant 4-6″ in from the outside edges, so you don’t waste fertilizers at least.

Growing Through the Winter

A gardener asked the following question about building small greenhouses and growing in cold weather using information from the Mittleider Grow-Box Gardens book: “Since I am in zone 3 it would be very helpful if I could have the rest of the information the article referred to on “cold weather gardening” in chapter 12 if you think I need it. Is that the information that will tell me how to double-layer the greenhouse to have a 3-to-4 inch dead air space?”

Here’s my answer, which will be helpful to anyone who is building a greenhouse to grow in cold weather.

Chapter 12 of Grow-Box Gardens does indeed show and tell you how to double cover the greenhouse. I am sorry that Grow-Box Gardens is currently out of print and unavailable. Hopefully we can figure out how to get it re-printed inexpensively enough to have it available again by next growing season. In the meantime, let me tell you a few things the book says about winter gardening in cold climates.

Seedlings should be started in warmer weather and transplanted into the greenhouse by early fall if possible, so that much of the vegetative growth takes place before it gets cold.

During the cold months plants can be maintained and harvested at lower temperatures. It is important, however, to maintain soil temperatures above 50 degrees as long as possible, otherwise the plants will go dormant.

A greenhouse is important, and it should be double-covered, with a dead-air space of 2-4″. Building the greenhouse east to west, with the north-side wall built into a hillside or against an insulated wall, can reduce heating costs significantly, and even provide some heat from the mass of the north wall.

If you’re really serious about growing in cold weather, hot water pipes buried 4-6″ deep inside the greenhouse near the outside edges will provide some heat and ward off cold from the frozen ground outside.

If it is too cold to keep the entire greenhouse from freezing, consider a greenhouse within the greenhouse to protect valuable crops.

Arched PVC frames covered with 6 mil greenhouse plastic, with a small space heater inside, can keep a row or two of plants warm enough to save them even on very cold nights, if it is inside a greenhouse already.

If daytime outside temperatures rise above 65 degrees some ventilation should be provided in the greenhouse.

Gardening by the Foot – a Treasure for Raised-Bed or Container Gardeners

I have said nothing about this book for a long time, for just one reason. Our inventory of books had brittle binding glue and the pages would fall out at the least provocation.

We’ve finally solved the problem! We purchased a machine and re-bound this great gardening book ourselves, using a Plastic Comb Binder.

Now that we don’t have to worry about them falling apart on you, let me tell you why those growing in containers need to consider getting your copy NOW, while they are available (Grow-Box Gardens, Let’s Grow Tomatoes, and Grow-Bed Gardening are all out of print).

Gardening by the Foot is filled with almost 250 pictures illustrating 140 pages of Jacob’s great how-to instructions on every aspect of growing in containers.

Vegetable plants need 13 mineral nutrients, and in GBTF you’ll learn how to give them exactly what they need, unlike Square Foot Gardening that promotes compost as sufficient to grow healthy plants.

Following are the chapter headings:

1. Introduction
2. Why use Mini Grow-Boxes?
3. What are mini Grow-Boxes?
4. Choosing a Location
5. preparing the area for Mini-Frames
6. Tools and Materials
7. How to Make Mini Grow-Boxes
8. Filling Grow-Boxes with Soil
9. Pre-plant Fertilizers
10. Starting Plants from Seed
11. Planting Seed in Mini-Boxes
12. Transplanting into Mini-Boxes
13. Making markers and Marking Mini-Boxes
14. Fertilizing Crops in Mini-Boxes
15. Common Garden Problems
16. Increasing Yields in Ever-bearing Crops
17. Transplanting Gallon-Size Plants into Mini-Boxes
18. Installing an Automated Watering System
19. Harvesting
20. “A” Frames and Greenhouses
21. Installing Strings to Hold Tall Plants
22. What To Do With Trouble
23. Soil Maggots
24. Nutrient Deficiencies and Corrections
25. Units of Measure

Are you serious about growing your own food? Get Gardening by the foot and SEE how the best gardener in the world did it – in his own backyard garden and in 27 countries around the world.

For a paper copy you can mark up and take to the garden with you, go to

Or you can get the digital download instantly and save a few bucks by going to

Be patient, you have to scroll down the page past several other books.

Make Your Own Weekly Feed

Would you like to remove the guesswork from growing healthy plants, and know you’re feeding them just what they need? The Mittleider Magic fertilizer formulas provide all 13 natural mineral nutrients that vegetable plants need, and if you can’t find them pre-mixed locally, you can mix them yourself.

The Food For Everyone Foundation website Learn section at has Dr. Mittleider’s fertilizer formulas, which have been tested and proven in 34 countries all around the world. Look under Grow-Boxes at the lower left of the main screen, and then go to Fertilizers.

If you have a large garden or farm you’ll probably want to mix your fertilizers from “scratch”, using the formulas. However, if you have a typical family-sized garden, or even just some containers to grow in, you’ll most likely find it much easier, and probably less expensive, to get a couple of 10 ounce packets of Micro-Nutrients from the Foundation’s website at and then only have to buy 4 of the main ingredients, N, P, K, and Epsom Salt (magnesium), which are almost always available locally, and fairly inexpensive as well.

It’s easy and hassle-free to mix a packet of micro-nutrients with 25#’s of 16-16-16 and 4# of Epsom Salt to obtain a good Weekly Feed. It’s also very inexpensive, when compared to anything else that’s even close to comparable, such as Miracle Gro.

For those of you who can’t find pre-mixed 16-16-16, 15-15-15, 13-13-13-, or 17-17-17, all of which are usable with the pre-packaged micro-nutrients, then check a farm-supply store for bags of each separately.

For example, you may be able to find 21-0-0 (ammonium sulfate), and 0-45-0 (triple super phosphate), and 0-0-50 (potassium sulfate). If so, mix 15# 21-0-0 with 4# 0-45-0, and 6# 0-0-50. That gives you 25# of a 110-60-110 mix, which is approximately the ratio in which your plants use the three Macro-Nutrients, and is even better than 16-16-16, etc.

Then add 4# of Epsom Salt from your pharmacy – mix it all together and you have the Weekly Feed mix. There are numerous other mixes of the “Big Three” nutrients – sometimes with two of them combined, such as 18-46-0 and 15-0-53. If you find that, just find some nitrogen and mix enough to get the 110-60-110 ratio, and you’re there.

Vegetable Gardens Are The Best Protein Producers, But Animals Have Their Place

For a vegetable gardening guy to be talking about animals may seem inconsistent to some, but since both provide food they are closely related, so I will discuss the general topic a bit here.

From age 12 until I left home for college I had the full responsibility for a cow, to which were added chickens, rabbits, pigs, and even a goat at various times. These all contributed significantly to and were important to our family’s food supply.

However, I didn’t understand at that time that it requires between 10 and 30 times as much land to produce a pound of protein from an animal source as from a plant source, and looking back I realize that our vegetable garden produced much more with less inputs than did the animals.

Dr. Jacob Mittleider, who taught me almost everything I know about gardening, had a special perspective on this issue, because as a Seventh Day Adventist he was a strict vegetarian. While I am not a vegetarian I also believe that we are healthier when we limit meat in our diets, and our personal family diet is usually less than 10% meat.

And both Dr. Mittleider’s and my own experience around the world confirm that most people have very limited space in which to produce their own food, thus making vegetable gardening the best choice for the greatest return on investment.

I submit that a Mittleider-Method garden, when cared for properly and consistently, is the best use of your time, efforts, space and money, and that excess food grown in your garden can usually be sold or traded for milk, eggs, and meat more efficiently than raising your own animals.

Nevertheless, there are other issues to be considered. Vegetables can’t begin to compete for the special feeling you may get from caring for animals, and those of you who DO have space may still want some animals.

If animals are in your plans, I encourage you to keep their living spaces clean, separate them from your garden so they don’t destroy it, and whenever possible feed them your excess plant residue as soon as the crop is harvested.

Chicken tractors (Google it), can be used for both chickens and rabbits, but must have a wire floor on them if you raise rabbits, because they will dig their way out quickly. If used efficiently chicken tractors can help you keep your yard clean and organized. Each time the tractor is moved remember to till the chicken or rabbit droppings (both of which are excellent fertilizers), etc. into the soil for natural composting without making a mess. And the same goes for all other animal manure. Get it into the soil and let it compost naturally, rather than having it smell bad and attract pests.

For those who have more space – and are willing to accept the responsibility for at least twice daily care (milking, feeding, etc.) – larger animals may also be an option.

Goats are one possible choice, as they are fairly small, don’t take a lot of space to house or graze, and will eat a wide variety of plants, but they don’t give a lot of milk, are not easy to milk, and many people don’t care for the taste of their milk.

My personal preference for a milk-producing animal is one or two Miniature Jersey cows. They are about 1/3 the size of full-size cows; they are very friendly and docile – even the bulls; they produce from 2 to 4 gallons of milk daily when fresh; and they only require a fraction of an acre for grazing.

Many websites have details about the miniature Jerseys. They are a rare breed so far, and will be expensive to buy, but after the initial investment, if you use the best breeding stock, you may be able to recover your initial capital outlays by selling excess calves.

Meanwhile, I will continue to focus on VEGETABLE GARDENING, but encourage those of you who have the interest, the commitment, and the required space for animals to consider the most efficient ways to benefit from them.

Finding the Mittleider Magic Ingredients? We’ve Made It Easy!

Q. Does anyone else have a hard time finding the ingredients in the M method?

A. We struggled with this issue for many years until Dr. M and I:
(1) simplified the Pre-Plant formula and
(2) decided to buy, mix, package, and sell the Micro-Nutrients ourselves on the Foundation website.

Now for the Weekly Feed Mix all you have to do is:
(1) go to, put your cursor on MATERIALS, click on Fertilizer, then order the Micro-Nutrients. One package costs $10.95 at the moment.
(2) Mix with 50# of NPK* and 8# of Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) to give you
60# of Weekly Feed Mix.

*You can use any combination of N, P & K from 13-13-13 to 17-17-17 successfully.

For the Pre-Plant Mix just mix calcium, magnesium, and boron in the ratio of 80-4-1, with calcium being lime if you receive more than 20″ of annual rainfall and gypsum of you receive less than that.

The easiest source of magnesium is Epsom Salt, which is available at your pharmacy, and boron is available in most stores’ Detergent sections as 20 Mule Team Borax.

It is worth doing! The balanced natural mineral nutrients are SO much better than traditional methods you will be amazed at the difference in your plants’ growth, appearance, and taste.

Recently at the University Del Cauca a professor had his class conduct an experiment comparing the Mittleider fertilizers with other methods and the results were dramatic in favor of Mittleider Magic.

Pictures are in the Photos section of the free gardening group called the