Why 18″-Wide Beds & 3 1/2′-Wide Aisles??

Q. Some people think they waste valuable land by using such wide aisles.  Do you always plant in 18″ beds with 3 1/2′ aisles – and are there no other viable options in The Mittleider Method?

A.  In the MittleiderGardeningGroup on YahooGroups.com we have posted pictures of much closer planting, with both wider beds and narrower aisles.  I recommend you join the free gardening group (see invitation posted on each page of the website) and learn from these examples.

One of the Moldova pictures and one of the Madagascar pictures illustrate how closely things can be planted, while still conforming to “The Mittleider Method.”  As you will see, those plants are close, and there is very little aisle space. 

So, why are the Mittleider books so insistent on having aisles that are 3 1/2′ or one meter wide?  Let me explain.

In a large growing operation, where a single crop is bring planted over and
over again – and especially in a large “field” operation using tractors,
etc. we will plant similarly to what you see in those pictures, in order to
make the maximum use of the growing space.  It is obvious that lettuce,
carrots, onions, cabbage, radishes, etc., etc., don’t need wide aisles to
assure they have adequate light.  So, if someone is growing a large crop of
just the type of plants I describe above, they probably should be planting
closer than what the books recommend. 

And even in family-size plots we will sometimes grow those crops in 4′ (1
1/4-meter) wide beds with several rows of plants in the bed, and 3 1/2′ (1-meter) – or even narrower – aisles only between the larger beds.  More can be grown in a given space, but there are challenges with planting, watering, weeding, feeding, and harvesting, and there is only so much people can learn and properly absorb while reading a book.  Therefore, we teach one method, and handle exceptions as they occur.

Our experience has taught us that for the typical family grower, who is growing many different crops in a relatively small area, the 18″ (1/2-meter) wide beds and 3 1/2′ (1 meter) wide aisles are generally the best – for several reasons, including:
    1)  They accommodate all crops, with enough aisle space to provide light
for tall, large, and vining crops, as well as the smaller varieties.
    2)  The grower can set up the garden, make the beds one time, and then
never change them – even when he moves the plants around from year to year.
    3)  After the first time, the grower only has to till or spade 20% of his garden area.
    4)  Planting, watering, weeding, feeding, and harvesting are easier and
more accurate.
    5)  Less water is used.

However, Dr. Mittleider’s own back-yard garden has aisles of only 2 1/2′
(75cm)!  Shame on him!!  Some pictures in the books, and some of the video/CD lectures, now available by special request,  show Dr. M’s garden, and by paying close attention, we can learn much from his example. 1)  He has very little space, and so he has to maximize every inch, or centimeter.  2)  He plants varieties that are small enough to fit in the space he has available.  3)  He places plants properly, to avoid shading and provide maximum light to all plants.  4)  He prunes excess growth vigorously and accurately to maximize the available sunlight to each plant.  And 5) he harvests and removes crops immediately when they are ripe.

Therefore, please don’t feel that growing with narrower aisles, or in wider beds with several rows of plants in the bed, are bad.   Just remember the reasons for our recommendations, and understand that we respect the desire you have to maximize your yield in a given space.  Then become competent in the basics, preferably using the sizes and format shown in the books – and then take the next step to more intensive growing of the small market crops.

And if you want to plant with narrower aisles and/or more rows of plants in wider beds, let us work with you to achieve the maximum production that suits your particular needs.