Gardening in the Desert – In Blow-Sand

Q. We live in Arizona on the Hopi reservation. We have added all kinds of soil treatment to our soil. It is mainly sand, blow sand. The problem is that when we water our crops the sand turns into almost like concrete. We sympathize with our plants as they try to survive in the stuff. What do you recommend that we do. I plan on using grow boxes next year and eliminate using our soil all together.

We water our flower garden about every other day. However the tomato plants that we have planted in this garden are struggling , so I used old soda liter plastic bottles and dug down around the plant and buried the bottle there so the roots could get some water. I was surprised as the ground was saturated only about the top 3- 4 inches and the rest of the way was like digging in concrete. I did manage to get through it.

Awaiting your suggestions.

A. There are 3 pictures in the Photos section of the group that show a garden near the Utah/Arizona border that was such bad blow-sand everyone in the community said it would grow nothing. The pictures are in the Miscellaneous folder on the second page, and the URL for the first one is

We also have several videos of gardens in the 4-corners area on the Navajo reservations that are as good or better than these pictures, and MUCH bigger.

Have you created 18″-wide soil-beds that are level, slightly higher than the aisles, and ridged to hold water, as we teach on the website?

I really doubt that you will have to resort to Grow-Boxes if you create soil-beds properly and care for them. Using Grow-Boxes in that hot climate will increase your water requirements significantly, which will probably mean you will have to have a much smaller garden.

Let’s talk more and see if we can’t coach you to some success. It’s not an idle brag when we promise to the world on the website “a great garden in any soil, in virtually any climate.”

Jim Kennard,

4 Acres of Sub-soil After Strip Mining – Lost or Lucky?!

Q.  We just moved to 4 acres of very poor soil, that has been exposed after strip mining, and we need to get something growing.  Is there any hope?  What can we do??

A.  Lucky You!

I’m really not kidding, and here are three good reasons why.

First, it is with good reason that we promise every Mittleider Method gardener “a great garden in any soil”, even WITHOUT ANY SOIL AMENDMENTS! 

Following the tried and true principles and procedures outlined on the website, in the books and CDs, in the Training Videos, as well as in the posts on the Yahoo Groups MittleiderMethodGardening Group, you WILL have a great garden – even if your soil is as barren as sawdust and sand. 

The natural mineral nutrients are so complete and balanced that you can grow healthy plants even in WATER.  That’s one reason this is called “the poor man’s hydroponic system”.

The second reason is that your “barren” soil is probably not as barren of nutrition as you fear.  The top layers of your soil – before the mining was done – had been weathering and having nutrition leached out of them from rain, snow, wind and crop removal for thousands of years, and they were probably already deficient in many nutrients.

However, the sub-surface layers of soil had much less of that weathering and leaching going on, and so may actually have MORE of some elements than the top layers had.

The third reason you may actually be lucky is that your land almost certainly has very few weed seeds, bugs, or diseases in it, for the very reason that all of those things have been scraped off.  You have a CLEAN slate with which to work, and believe me many others would envy you that fact.

So, don’t worry about your “poor soil”, but be grateful for the positives I’ve described, then just create slightly raised level beds with 4″-high ridges, apply the Mittleider Magic Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed nutrients (per the formulas given in the Mittleider gardening books and CDs, as well as in the Learn section of this website) as instructed, then weed, water, and care for your plants, and you will be very happy with the results.

Hard-Pan Clay Soil – Usable for Garden?

Q.  We are living in a very bad hard-pan soil area.  When I dig a hole and add water, the water will stay for days.  Can I have a garden on this ground?

A.  So long as you have plenty of sunshine and access to water, the soil is no problem! 

We promise “a great garden in any soil, and in almost any climate.”   And we mean it!   If you will follow the illustrations and instructions in the Mittleider gardening books that are available at you will not even need to amend your soil with organic materials, and you can grow just fine in hard clay soil.

What you’ll be doing is making slightly raised, ridged, level soil-beds, and growing inside those.  The only thing approaching soil amendments I do is plant small seeds by mixing 1 part seed with 100 parts sand, then cover the seed with sand, rather than clay soil. 

Then, after the plants are up, and the clay soil begins to crack as it loses soil moisture, I will apply 5 to 10 pounds of sand to those cracks before watering.  Doing this twice is usually enough to stop the damage to your plants’ roots from the cracking, and over time it improves the soil in the soil-bed as well.

If you feel the clay soil is just too hard to work with, and you’d rather not fight it, then build Grow-Boxes and grow your food above-ground.  Several Mittleider gardening books show you how, including Grow-Box Gardening, Gardening By The Foot, and Lets Grow Tomatoes.  And The Mittleider Gardening Course has a section  that is devoted to Grow-Box gardening.

Growing in Sandy Soil on the Beach

Q.  we live in a house backed onto the beach, the garden has sandy soil, is this ideal for growing vegetables?
A.  If your beach is ocean you may have a problem with salinity!  Ocean water, or even occasional spray landing on your garden soil will likely leave salt deposits that make it difficult or impossible for vegetable plants to grow.
If you have ample clean water you should water the garden very heavily three times before planting.  This should flush out the excess salt enough to let you grow a healthy crop.

How Can I Grow In My Heavy Clay Soil?

Q.  Our soil is heavy clay!  What can we do to have a decent garden – short of replacing it with something better, or adding tons and tons of sand and/or compost? 
A.  If you will do a couple of simple things beyond making raised, level, ridged beds, as described on the website and in all the books, you can have good success with your clay soil – without amending it!
When you plant seed, just use the handle of your hoe or rake to make a straight shallow furrow .  Mix the seed you’re planting with 100 parts sand, then apply evenly in the furrow .
Then, instead of covering the seed with clay soil, cover it with a shallow layer (1/8″) of clean sand.  You will have much better germination and emergence of your seeds if they don’t have to fight their way through clay.
After planting, as you water your soil-beds, when the soil begins to crack as it loses moisture, apply just a few pounds of sand to the planting area of each grow-bed and water the sand into the cracks.  The sand will fill the cracks and eliminate the cracking (you may need to do it a second time), and will stop the drying out and breaking of your plant roots that cracking clay soil usually inflicts upon them.

Soil Testing – Important, Worthwhile or Necessary

Q.  I’m concerned about my alkaline soil.  What should I do, so that I can plant and hope to get a good crop?  I’ve been told to get a soil test for starters, is that a good, or important thing to do, of is it a waste of time and money?

A.  We have nothing against soil testing – as a matter of fact Dr. Jacob Mittleider kept a soil testing lab on regular monthly retainer for several years.

Here is what he learned:  For the home gardener soil tests are almost never necessary, and the money and time spent are better used, first to buy natural mineral nutrients, and then to plant and care for the garden.

One of the things a soil test will tell you is the same thing that you can learn simply by checking your average annual rainfall.  If you receive less than 20″ of rainfall each year your soil will be alkaline, with a pH above 7, and more than 20″ of rain annually will give you a pH below 7, or acidic soil. 

This simply means that if your annual rainfall is above 20″, you need to apply lime to your garden as the source of calcium, and if it’s below 20″ you should use gypsum.  Lime raises soil pH and gypsum does not.  You may also need to apply some extra sulfur, if your pH is extremely high, as in a desert environment.  This will lower the pH.

You may be told in a soil test, or by some county Ag agent, that you do not need to add certain fertilizer elements to your soil because “there is already 20-40 tons of potassium per acre in the soil” as an example of a common response.  While that statement is very likely true, because potassium is ubiquitous (everywhere), only a fraction of one percent of it is water soluble at any given time, and thus available to your plants.

What works for trees, shrubs, flowers, and lawns, does not work well for vegetables, and here’s why.  Most plants grow fairly slowly, or they are only trying to make leaves, or flowers.  Vegetables must grow to maturity very quickly, completing their entire life cycle in 60-90 days, plus they are required to produce fruit in substantial quantities.  Both of these require that the 16 elements that plants need for healthy growth must be available in relatively larger quantities all of the time.

I recommend you stop spending time and money testing and/or amending your soil.  Instead, use a nominal amount of money and very little time applying small amounts of a scientifically balanced natural mineral nutrient mix to your soil – first before planting – and regularly during the peak of the plant’s growing cycle.  Mittleider Magic Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed mix formulas are available for you in Dr. M’s books, CD’s and in the Fertilizer pages of the Learn section on the website.

Clay Soil – Draining Wet or Saline Soil

Many of you have heavy, clay soil in which to grow your gardens, and some have asked how to drain the soil, so it isn’t too wet to grow in.  Following is a little history of commercial clay soil gardening in the USA and Russia, along with some suggestions.

The Imperial valley of California grows some of the most prolific and healthy vegetable crops anywhere in the world.  The soil is hard, heavy clay, and before it was drained it was so saturated with salt the crops were very poor.  This condition existed because the Colorado River had for centuries deposited salty water on the land, which evaporated leaving the salt residue.  At first the farmers tried applying large amounts of water in attempts to drive the salt down, but the benefits were short-lived.  Fiinally in the 40’s, the farmers put underground tile drainage systems in, consisting of 4″ drainage pipes buried more than 4′ in the ground at intervals of about 100′, which all led to larger drainage ditches and etc.  Today they produce over $1 billion in vegetables per year.

You can also grow great gardens in your clay soil, but if it’s wet or saline you may need to drain it.  In Russia Dr. Mittleider’s students dug drainage ditches 10-12″ wide and 2′ deep to drain a small parcel of “waste” ground loaned to them by the Soviet authorities.  It quickly became so prolific and beautiful the authorities gave them 23 acres!  That ground is now the site for the most famous and productive family-based gardening agriculture school in all of the Russian Commonwealth Countries.  And millions of Russian families, themselves growing in clay soil, credit the Mittleider Method for giving them self-sufficiency in their food production.

The Mittleider Grow-Beds consisting of level, raised, ridged soil-beds themselves assist in the drainage process on clay soil.  But if you have very high rain-fall, you may need to leave the ends open during the rainy season.  Beyond that, either open drainage ditches, or buried drain pipes, as described above, will solve your wet-soil problems.

Improving Garden Soil – Moving from Aisles to Other Locations

Q. As I sit here in the frozen north and think about spring – and converting from single rows to grow beds with 3.5′ walkways between, I am wondering about the waste of my great soil in these “subject” areas:  Is there any reason that I should not remove this good soil and expand my planting area by relocating it elsewhere – after all I have spent years and countless $$$$ on improving it – I am not talking about any major excavation here – just a skimming of the top 4 to 6 inches of the best stuff????  
A. Please remember that 90-95% of the work of growing healthy plants is done by the process of photosynthesis using 3 elements that come from the air, and made possible by sunlight and the attendant warm temperatures, plus water.
5%+ of the work is done by the other 13 essential nutrients, which man can control and supply.
Soil provides 6 functions, including 1) Anchoring the plants, 2) Holding moisture, 3) Storing nutrients, 4) Allowing oxygen to reach plant roots, 5)Allowing drainage, and 6) buffering the temperature.
All 6 of those functions can be adequately provided by the worst of soils, if the gardener uses level, raised, ridged beds, and provides water and small amounts of balanced natural mineral nutrients.
Therefore, amending your soil is not essential to having a good and productive garden.
Furthermore, adding organic materials to your garden soil, while it can improve soil tilth and add small amounts of nutrition, may also introduce diseases, weed seeds, and destructive insects into the garden.  For these reasons we recommend you exercise care and caution in trying to “improve” your soil.
Moving existing “improved” soil to another location may provide a benefit, if none of the 3 negatives are present, but it is a lot of work, and is not necessary.  Plus, it leaves the existing garden area with beds that are 4-6″ higher than they should be from the aisles.  This may make it difficult to keep moisture in the beds, and thus require much more water, or leave your plants suffering for lack of it.  All things considered, I can’t recommend it, but just know that your plant roots will reach out into the aisle area somewhat (depending on water availability there), and can thus benefit from the soil.

How can gardening failure be avoided?

Simply by restoring the essential plant nutrients in the soil. The minerals from rocks mined from the earth are packaged, inexpensive, and available worldwide for use in your gardens. Their nutrient content is high and accurately determined – almost always far greater than comparably priced “organic” nutrients.

Why are soils infertile everywhere?

Water-soluble minerals (plant foods) in soils for thousands of years have moved with the soil-water out of the soil into creeks, rivers and oceans. This has greatly reduced the water-soluble minerals available in the soil, and thus soils are less fertile. The floor of every ocean and sea in the world contains these solidified minerals, which were once on the dry land.