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.

Can a Mittleider Garden Be Organic?

Q.  Can a Mittleider Garden Be Organic?

A.  In response to a woman who is growing a 1-acre organic garden in California, I wrote the following.  I’ve enumerated a few of the principles and procedures which make the Mittleider Method unique – and better than most others.

Many have referred to the  Mittleider Method as “better than organic” because most of our gardens can qualify as organic (once in a while growers in hot countries have to use pesticides or lose their whole crop).

The reasons they may be better than organic include, but are not limited to:

1) because we leave nothing to chance, but apply small amounts of natural mineral nutrients to assure fast, healthy growth.  This also helps our plants ward off pests and diseases that will often take less healthy plants.

2) We encourage growing healthy seedlings in a clean, warm environment, which gives the plants a major head-start and avoids much of the problems encountered upon germination and emergence – with cold soil, hungry bugs, damping-off, etc.

3) We water only the root zones, thus not encouraging pest and disease proliferation caused by sprinkling or flooding.

4) We prune any leaves touching the cround to minimize disease and pest infestations from that common source.

5) We allow no weeds – nor encourage putting mulch, etc. on the bround – since both of these harbor pests and diseases.

6) Since our plants grow very fast and reach maturity quicker than typical gardens, the diseases and pests have less chance to take over. 

7) Then we harvest and remove a crop immediately at maturity, to avoid the buildup of pests and diseases that occur when people leave their crop too long in the garden (all too common in homegardens).

With these preventative cultural practices, plus fast healthy griowth, Mittleider Method gardens have much less need to use pesticides or herbicides anyway.

Using Dirt in Grow-Boxes – or Growing Right In the Dirt

To further clarify my last post, most of the time we grow right in the existing dirt, with no soil amendments – no matter how “worn out” or “bad” it is.  Whether you have heavy clay or straight sand, or enything in between, unless the soil is diseased, toxic, or under water you can grow a great garden right in the soil.

However, “If for some reason you really must use Grow-Boxes, because you have no ground, but only a driveway, patio, or rocks, (or if you just want the many benefits offered by Grow-Boxes) then go for it. But DO NOT USE dirt in the Grow-Boxes!”  Following are a few of the many reasons not to use dirt in Grow-Boxes.  I recommend you save this information if you are contemplating that method of growing.

Grow-Boxes are designed to give you an excellent growing environment if you can’t grow in the dirt.  They involve an investment of both time and money, and therefore you should obtain the maximum benefit from their use.  If you put dirt from the garden in Grow-Boxes you defeat some of the reasons for having them in the first place, such as:
1) There are always multiplied thousands of weed seeds lying dormant in the dirt, just waiting for conditions favorable for sprouting.  Putting dirt in a Grow-Box creates that favorable environment, and you will have thousands of weeds, instead of NONE as you should.
2) The likelihood is also high that there will be some bugs and/or disease organisms in the dirt you use.  Put it into your Grow-Box, and suddenly instead of a pristine environment, you have the same problems of fighting bugs and disease as if growing in the soil.
3) By putting dirt in your Grow-Box you have the problems of clay soil, too sandy soil, etc., etc. – again minimizing the benefits of the Grow-Box environment.
4)  The weight of dirt in the box is between 2,000# and 2500# in a single 18″ X 30′ X 8″-high Grow-Box if used exclusively, and much more when saturated with water.  This will put substantial outward pressure on the box, and you will end up re-building your box many times over the years.  On the other hand, using sawdust and sand, I’ve seen Dr. Mittleider’s Grow-Boxes still perfectly usable after 25 years!
 
PLEASE, don’t try and figure out the best methods by trial and error!  It’s been done for you by the best!  Follow the procedures accurately as outlined, and you will have great success.

Types of Sawdust to Use

To all Sawdust users:
 
Some folks think that because Cedar or other kinds of bark are used to keep weeds down, sawdust from those sources will be bad for plants.  This is not the case.  Bark and other types of mulch inhibit weed growth primarily by denying light to emerging weed seedlings. 
 
On the negative side, mulches also encourage garden pests and diseases by giving them a cool damp place to live and multiply.  We recommend you keep your garden clean, clear, and dry, except at the root zone of your plants. When you plant according to the Mittleider Method the close-planted vegetable plants will quickly shade the ground and minimize water evaporation, without any need for other ground cover.
 
Walnut sawdust is the only material – at least in North America – that we have found to be a problem for vegetable plants.

 

 

Wood For Grow-Boxes

Q.  I am a bit confused about what type of wood to use for my grow boxes. I was told by some one that I should coat the inside of my grow box with Asphalt Emulsion to keep the moisture from getting into the wood. Is this true?

A.  Check to be sure there is no creosote, or other harmful material in anything used for painting the inside of your Grow-Boxes.  Painting both inside and outside will help preserve the boxes, and I have seen boxes in continuous use for 25 years in Dr. Mittleider’s own garden.

If using treated lumber, make certain it does not contain harmful substances as well.  Most people use pine or other inexpensive lumber, and then paint it.

Bricks and cinder blocks, as well as other materials, have also been used successfully.  It is best to use mortor, to give the walls strength, if bricks or blocks are used.

The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about this subject, and can be purchased as digital downloads.  I HIGHLY recommend that you look here https://www.hightechhomestead.com/Products.htm for the best gardening books available anywhere!  They are available INSTANTLY, as well, with no time or cost for shipping.  Do it now.

Why don’t my plants grow well??

Q.  It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of soil, soil amendments, or fertilizer I add to my grow boxes, my produce is consistently miniscule and non-productive.  When I dig up the soil, the boxes are full of tiny fibrous roots.  There are several very large trees next door-20-30 feet away from my garden area.  Could it be that these roots are from the trees and are sapping all the nutrients from my garden?  What can I do?
 
A.  There may be several reasons, either individually or acting in concert, that are causing your crop failures.  Let’s investigate each potential problem.

 

1)  Trees nearby may indicate too much shade.  Are your plants getting at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day?  If not, you will not get much produce. 8-10 hours is better – especially for plants which produce flowers and fruit. 

 

2)  What is the soil composition, and what are you feeding your plants?  We recommend sawdust, peatmoss, perlite, and sand – in any combination you like, but with the sand being 25%-35% by volume.  That has no nutrition, so you need to feed your plants regularly.  One application of calcium as lime in a Pre-Plant Mix and regular small applications of a complete, balanced natural mineral nutrient mix we call Weekly Feed, will assure healthy, robust plants.

 

3)  How often do you water?  a raised bed or container will drain faster than ground-level soil, especially if you have lightweight organic materials as a major component.  Daily watering, until water seeps out the sides at the bottom is important to assure adequate moisture to the plants.

 

4)  If all the other elements are properly taken care of, it would take an awful lot of tree roots to keep your plants from growing, but it is possible.  Dig a shovel-width trench the length of your containers, between them and the trees, at least one foot deep.  This should cut most of the tree roots that have ventured that far.

 

5)  Are the trees walnuts?  Walnut trees have a reputation for producing a substance which is toxic to some vegetable plants.  Tomatoes do not do well at all near walnut trees.  If they are walnuts, you may well have that problem.

Treating or Painting Grow-Box Lumber

Q.  I am worried about using treated lumber to make my Grow-Boxes because of warnings about harmful materials in store-bought treated lumber.  What should I use?

A.  One alternative is to paint them with a good exterior paint.  The Grow-Boxes in Dr. Mittleider’s back-yard garden have been there for 25 years, with only occasional re-painting.
A second alternative is to make your own wood treatment.  The following comes from an article in a recent Organic Gardening magazine.
  • “Melt 1 ounce of parrafin wax in a double boiler (DO NOT heat over a direct flame).  [That’s a great way to start a fire]
  • Off to the side, carefully place slightly less than a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner or turpentine at room temperature) in a bucket, then slowly pour in the melted parrafin, stirring vigorously.
  • Add 3 cups exterior varnish or 1.5 cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended. When it cools, you can dip your lumber into this mixture or brush it onto the wood.”

    This should give you several years’ extended life for your Grow-Boxes.

 

 

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.

Printing the Garden Plan – Screen Image

Q.  How can I print the Garden Plan Detail the way it shows on the screen in Step 6 of the Garden Master? When I try and print, it does it in a different format, using several pages, and it isn’t nearly as easy to work with.

A.  In Step 6, after you have filled up your garden using the Place Plants window, open the Expand View button in the lower left of the window. With all your planting information in the spread-sheet format on the screen, instead of using the Print button, do the following:Press the Alt and Print Screen keys simultaneously (this captures the screen image). Next open your Word Processing program (Word, etc.). Left click on Edit, then Paste. The material will be available to print. To make the document larger, place the cursor in the corners and drag.The process will have to be done twice, in order to capture the entire spread-sheet of information, since the right four columns of information do not show in the initial screen-dump.

Re-Doing Last Year’s Garden Plan

Q.  Can I use last year’s garden plan to create a plan for this year, or must I do an entirely new plan? And if I can, how do I do it?

A.  Yes you can. If you are updating your 2003 garden plan, you will have to go through the two-stage freeze date change described above if you want the same old garden but in a new year. You can then customize it as you desire.