Is the Mittleider Method Organic? You Decide.

Q. “Is this method OMRI approved. I was told at Steve Regan it was not organic. Please enlighten me.” Patricia

A. I’ve written quite a few articles – in the archives of the Group and in the FAQ section of this website – on this subject, and I invite everyone interested in this subject to find out more by reading some of those articles. I will attempt to provide a brief answer here:

All of the natural mineral nutrients used in the Mittleider fertilizer formulas are approved by the USDA for use in organic gardening. And in my personal garden, which is seen by about 800,000 people each year, we use no pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides.

We are more concerned with producing healthy crops by feeding them exactly what they need, and in using the best cultural practices to avoid diseases, bugs, and weeds, than in using only manure, compost, bone meal, etc.

For the past 45 years Dr. Mittleider (37 years) and I (8+ years) have spent much of our time conducting Family Food Production training projects in 31 countries. In those countries as well as most others around the world people do the very best they can using only organic methods – and many of them are starving. And it’s not uncommon for families in developing countries to spend 70 to 80% of their time providing for their food.

Meanwhile their gardens are often filled with weeds, bugs, and diseases – often spread by the very organic materials they use to fertilize their gardens. Even in America a great many gardeners are arguably hurt more by the weeds, bugs, and diseases their unsterilized organic materials bring into their gardens than they are helped by their fertilizer content.

And many others here and abroad end up burning their sprouting seeds and tiny seedlings by applying too much fertilizer salts to their gardens at the beginning, and then having their plants stop producing in mid-season because they are starving for mineral nutrients.

We teach a better, safer, cleaner, and more productive way of growing food, part of which includes applying only very small amounts of balanced mineral nutrients several times to assure even healthy growth throughout the plants’ growth and production cycle.

We believe some of the most zealous organic gardeners are actually replicating the same primitive 18th and 19th century methods we encounter in the developing countries, while we are trying hard to help people everywhere learn some of the scientific principles and procedures that have allowed one American farmer to feed more than 100 of us, in a better and healthier way.

That may be why some people say the Mittleider Method is “the best of organic.” I just say that everyone can have “a great garden in any soil, in virtually any climate”, and I travel the world to demonstrate that reality to all who are interested in and willing to improve their food production methods and results.

How to Properly Grow a Healthy Garden Using Compost and Manure

Q.  Even if it’s a poorer source of nitrogen than oil-based products (urea, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate), won’t compost (particularly composted manure) get the job done?  That’s a completely free and renewable resource.  My garden beds this year are heavily composted with manure and the plants are all absolutely gorgeous.
Next year I want to use the Mittleider Method, as it looks very  efficient.  Will I be shooting myself in the foot if I use “farm-raised nitrogen”?

A.  If you believe the day is coming when we won’t be able to get mineral nutrients, you should definitely learn how to prepare and use the organic materials that you WILL have available to you.  You may not want to count on manure though, because if everyone relies on cows and horses to provide their fertilizer, 90% will be disappointed.  There just isn’t enough to go around.

For those of you who feel strongly about continuing to use manure and compost, make certain that you learn how to compost properly, by maintaining temperatures of at least 140 degrees fahrenheit throughout the process, and always do it that way.  This provides sufficient heat to kill all pathogens.

I recommend you read my article on The Zoo-Doo Man in these FAQs.  That will help you understand what’s required, as well as my perspective on the issues involved.

Once you solve the issue of proper composting you will want to understand, and know how to deal with, the issues of deficiencies and salinity.

Because there is no practical way of knowing how much of the 13 nutrients your compost has in it, you will very likely be faced with deficiencies of some of them.  These will show up in your plants, and if you recognize and treat them quickly you can save the crop.  Sometimes a garden crop is lost when an ounce or two of zinc, iron, boron, or manganese, etc. would completely solve the problem.

I highly recommend you get the Mittleider Garden Doctor books, available at, and begin to use them.  They will save their cost many times over! 

Another issue that needs to be addressed when using manure and compost is that of too much at the beginning and not enough later on.  Most people apply 2″-4″ of compost and work it into their garden before planting.  Doing that to the entire garden is wasteful of compost, and most of the nutrients go to feed the weeds in the aisles.  So to start with, apply compost and manure only to your bed area.

And how much should you apply?  Three inches of manure applied to the 45 square feet of a 30′-long soil-bed would weigh 200-300#, and would contain 2-3# of each of the major nutrients, plus lesser amounts of the secondary and micro-nutrients.  We only apply about 2 OUNCES of each of the major elements to a soil-bed before planting, so the 3″ application of compost puts 15 to 20 times more mineral salts into the soil than is needed right then.

This much salt in your soil may stop or even reverse the process of osmosis that takes moisture and nutrients into your plants, which will harm or kill your small seedlings.  Inexperienced and careless organic gardeners are frequently discouraged, and sometimes give up, when they experience the immutable effects of this often-misunderstood natural law.

Therefore, apply only about 1/2″ of compost to your planting area before planting, and after your plants are up add another 1/2″ to the surface of the planting area and work it into the soil.  Continue this process every two weeks – until 3 weeks before harvesting for single crop varieties, and until 6-8 weeks before the first frost for everbearing crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

I know how to prepare and use manure and compost, and have done it very successfully.  I choose to use natural mineral nutrients because 1) it is so much easier and cost effective, 2) we eliminate problems such as pests, weed seeds, and diseases, and 3) we eliminate 13 unknowns by accurately providing our plants with everything that they need.

Sweet Peppers With Thin Walls

Q.  What is the problem when sweet bell peppers end up with thin walls and not with thick walls as shown on the seed packet and in the catalogs?
A.  You are seeing a nutrient deficiency.  What did you feed your plants?  Sometimes when people try to give their plants only organic fertilizers like compost and manure, the plants run out of food about the time they are trying to mature a crop.  This results in a single crop, instead of production continuing until late fall frosts, and often the fruit is less desirable as well.
If you will start by applying the Mittleider Pre-Plant natural mineral nutrient formula before planting – which contains calcium and other nutrients – and then after your plants are up apply Mittleider Weekly Feed formula, you will have healthy plants and beautiful, thick-walled and juicy fruit.
The formulas for both fertilizer mixes are free on the websiteat, in the Learn section, or you can buy them at in the Store section.  If shipping is a problem buy just the Micro-Nutrients and mix your own with the macro-nutrients you can buy locally.

Natural Fertilizers Preferred

Q.  I am curious if there are any Mittleider Method materials that have been adapted for organic vegetable production.  I have grown vegetables for many years and prefer avoiding soluble commercial fertilizers.

A.  We do not use soluble fertilizers, such as Miracle Gro, but prefer to use the simpler, more natural compounds.  All of the materials we use and recommend have been approved by the USDA for use in organic gardening.

We know exactly what we are feeding our plants, whereas organic growers often find themselves not knowing what they have, especially with the micro-nutrients.

Our experience around the world has also taught us that manure and compost often contain weed seeds and diseases, and sometimes even bugs.  We get great yields for an entire growing season while some of our organic neighbors watch their gardens stop producing in July and August.

If you are skeptical, I recommend you plant some of your garden using each  method separately, and compare the results.

How Not to Repeat Last Year’s Bad Gardening Experience

Q.  First of all I mixed up my lids (on the storage containers) and think I remember that the Pre-Plant is the brown and the Weekly Feed is white… Correct?
My beds are about 8 foot 8 inches long and about 4 foot 8 inches wide. I need to figure out how much preplant and weekly feed to put in there and what is the axiom… A cup is a pound the world around? Right? Soooo How much…  of each? 
Last year I found these big grubs in my beds as well and they look like a green beetle grub I have read about that gets into compost piles… I live in PG, Utah… Any idea as to whether there would be any reason to mix pyrethrum granules in at this point or not?
My garden did OK but not really well… Most plants were pretty small and stunted last year.  I did not mix Pre-Plant in last year, got started too late and tried to use a different  Fert-i-lome gardener fertilizer, as I did not (think I had) time to mix my own and did not know I could get Mittleider fertilizers.  So I had some problems that I don’t want to repeat.

A.  Your problems of last year are not that un-typical.  Many times people think they can change this and that and the other thing and end up with a Mittleider Garden yield.  It doesn’t work.  The promise is “a great garden in any soil, in any climate”, but only if all instructions are followed.  Don’t waste another year and hundreds of hours – buy and read The Mittleider Gardening Course, available at  It is simple and concise, and you WILL have success!

Measuring your fertilizers accurately is essential.  If you used a cup thinking you were applying a pound, you were starving your plants.  “A pint is a pound the world around” is the correct adage.  A cup is 8 ounces and a pint is 16 ounces, or 1 pound.

The dark fertilizer is the Pre-Plant, but this is only true if you are using gypsum, which is done in low rainfall areas, such as the Mountain West in the USA.  If you have more than 20″ (50 cm) of annual rainfall you will use lime in your Pre-Plant, and it will likely be whiter than the Weekly Feed.

The standard measurement for fertilizer application is 2# (900 g) of Pre-Plant to a 30′ bed 18″ wide, which will grow 2 rows of most plants in the 12″ planting area.  This amounts to just over 1 ounce per running foot of planting area. 
You should plant 4 rows of most vegetables in a 4’+-wide bed, with the first row next to the 3 1/2′ aisle, the next row 12″ in, then two rows near the opposite aisle the same way.   Climbing plants will have only two rows – each row 12″ in from the aisle.  Apply 20 ounces of Pre-Plant and 10 ounces of Weekly Feed and mix well with the soil.  Again, remember the “rule of thumb” for Weekly Feed is 1/2 ounce per running foot each time you apply it.

Thereafter on a weekly basis, you should apply 5 ounces of Weekly Feed down the center between 2 rows of plants – so you will apply 10 ounces of Weekly Feed each week to your 8′ 8″ bed or box, until three weeks before your crop matures.

If you do not have compost or other “Bug Hotel” material in or on your garden you shouldn’t have trouble with grubs, but if you do, take one to your local nursery and have them give you a corrective treatment regimen.

Having a great garden is really quite simple.  The book 6 Steps to Successful Gardening, also available at, is so simple a child can read and understand it, but it’s profound enough to give you a GREAT garden, if followed.  Just remember these steps and follow them religiously. 

1)  Clean ground at all times – no weeds, compost, etc. 
2)  Sunshine all day long, especially for fruit-producing plants (greens like lettuce, etc. can stand fewer hours of direct sunlight). 
3)  Regular watering – daily if necessary, never letting the ground dry out. 
4)  Vigorous weeding to eliminate all weeds as soon as they appear. 
5)  Proper nutrition applied in small amounts weekly until 3 weeks before crop maturity.
6)  Harvest the crop at peak maturity.  Never leave mature crops in the garden, as their quality decreases rapidly, plus bugs and diseases will proliferate.

The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about successful vegetable gardening, and can be purchased in the Store section, or as digital downloads

A digital copy costs 30-40% less, and is available instantly!  I HIGHLY recommend you look here for the best gardening books available anywhere!  Get one NOW and be gardening TODAY!!

Do Commercial Fertilizers Harm Soil Microbes or Make Nutrients Unavailable to Plants?

Q.  It is my understanding the microbes found in organic compost materials is what packages the nutrients for the plants. Sort of like the good bacteria that your body needs to maintian the right balance in the blood stream. I also understand that synthetically produced fertilizers will kill these microbes. This is the difference between a naturally packaged fertilizer and a synthetically produced one.  How can man’s synthesis be better for the plants than the Earth’s Natural processes?  When compared on other subjects, man’s synthetics cannot always produce safe results.

A.  What you’re describing, I would suggest, includes some hyperbole being spread by organic promoters.

Reality is somewhat different.  Nature provided us with large rock deposits containing one or more of the 13 essential plant nutrients, in many places around the earth.  In the past 100 or so years man has discovered these deposits, learned how to use them properly, and how to mine them.  In the mining process other elements are removed, including heavy metals, and sometimes the essential minerals are concentrated.  It is important to understand that the concentration process applied to natural minerals from rocks does not make the material “synthetically” produced, nor does it make it unsafe or harmful to microbes, plants, or humans.
The above described process is what has allowed our farmers to feed 250 million of us and allow us to do other things with our time (1 feeds 100), rather than slaving on the farm as our grandfathers did, using manure (organics) as our only fertilizer source (1 fed 4 or 5). 
Please remember that 90-95% of our food is produced using modern equipment and these same natural mineral nutrients from commercially produced fertilizers.
It is important to distinguish between potential problems associated with the mis-use and/or over-application of pesticides and herbicides, and the valuable, safe, and highly productive use of natural mineral nutrients, usually referred to as commercial fertilizers.

Sustainable Gardening – With Fertilizers?

Q. The Mittleider Gardening Method seems to be based on the availability of modern day fertilizers. Understanding that current day fertilizers may not be available in the future, how viable is this system for ongoing sustainability?
A.  First off, the Mittleider Method is NOT dependent on commercial fertilizers for viability – see the third paragraph.  The reality for over 40 years, however, is that everywhere we have been – including several countries in Africa, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and 25 others – fertilizers have always been available.
Using modern day fertilizers judiciously increases a family’s gardening yield many times – sometimes as much as 10 times what they were growing without them.  This is what has allowed America to change from 1 person feeding 4 or 5 to 1 person feeding 100.  So why would we NOT use them??  And why would we not want to teach people in the developing countries to use them – unless perhaps we WANT them to stay in the 19th century?
We strongly recommend people obtain enough fertilizers and seed (a #10 can of 15 varieties of heirloom seeds are available at for at least one extra year’s garden.  Fertilizer stores almost indefinitely without losing its value, and costs very little, compared to the yield it produces.  Small storable packages of micro-nutrients are also available at
If fertilizers were ever to become unavailable it would be because the market system had collapsed, and everything would indeed be fouled up.  In that event, using the methods we teach and using manure, compost, or even human waste, if that was all that was available – as “Manure Tea” as described in several places – the Mittleider gardener will still grow 2-4 times as much as his neighbor.
Gas may also become unavailable.  Perhaps some folks would advocate selling your car and walking right now, because automobile travel really isn’t sustainable in the long run.  And gas is much more difficult and costly to store than fertilizer.  Is that analogy too strong?  Sorry if I offend anyone, but let’s all use wisely the best that we have available, and prepare calmly for the future. “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”

Using Zoo Manure in the Garden

Zoo Manure in the Garden

Q. I want to try some manure to improve my soil tilth, and zoo animals have healthy, weed-free diets.  Is that a good choice?  And if I went to my local zoo, which animals’ manure should I ask for?

A. First of all, only use the Herbivores’ manure.  Carnivore –doo is much more likely to have diseases that could be transmitted to humans.  As a matter of fact, I believe Zoos in the USA incinerate their carnivores’ manure for that reason – at least Utah’s does.

How much manure do you want, and how well equipped are you to compost it? Elephant and hippo -doo are sloppy, smelly, wet, and need serious composting before they are of use to the gardener.  However, there is substantial volume, and you can get a lot quickly.

On the other hand, giraffe, llama, camel, deer, sheep, goats, etc are small, dry, easily handled, more concentrated, and not at all bad to work with, but there usually isn’t much volume at any one time.

If you are able to obtain any of these, and have several weeks before you’re planning on putting plants in your beds, you can put the manure right in the soil, till it in, and let it compost in the ground.  That’s my favorite way of doing it anyway – you have no smells, no bugs, etc., and you only handle it once.

Organic Fertilizing and Nitrogen Deficiency

Organic Fertilizing & Nitrogen Deficiency

Q. Sometimes I have seen gardens with compost and manure as the fertilizer of choice become very yellow. What causes this, and how do I avoid that happening to my garden?

A. What you have seen is “Induced Nitrogen Deficiency.” Soil amendments, including straw, tree bark, shavings or sawdust, peat moss, and manure (almost always containing a large percentage of bedding straw or sawdust) can induce a nitrogen deficiency on plants. The reason is that these materials are very high in carbon content, and therefore adding them into the soil raises the carbon to nitrogen ratio.

The carbon to nitrogen ratio is the amount of carbon in relation to the amount of nitrogen in the soil. This ratio should be 10:1 or lower. When the soil has ten parts of carbon, it should have at least one part of nitrogen or the plants will not be able to obtain the nitrogen they need. When carbonatious soil amendments are added, the amount of carbon is raised in relation to nitrogen. Micro-organisms in the soil attempt to break down the carbonatious material and in this process they use some of the nitrogen from the soil, making the ratio even worse. The micro-organisms have the ability to take the nitrogen before the plant can, so oftentimes adding soil amendments induces a nitrogen deficiency for the plant population. Therefore, whenever soil amendments are used, it is important to add some nitrogen, to bring the carbon to nitrogen ratio back to a ten to one, so that both the plant and the micro-organisms requirements are satisfied.