Q. Sandy soil is difficult to keep ridged. The ridges melt away in heavy rains that we have here. What can I do to improve the soil, so it will hold up, and how can I build the ridges strong enough that they hold up?
A. Gardening in sandy soil has its challenges, but they are not difficult to solve. For very sandy soil I recommend you find clean organic material, such as grass clippings or leaves – mulch the leaves as fine as possible with a chipper/shredder or mulching mower – and then till them into your soil-beds. In the fall you should be able to find an abundance of leaves. Just don’t use walnut leaves, as the sap is very hard on some of your vegetables, especially tomatoes. This will improve your soil tilth, and over time it will help the deterioration of the ridge sides.
Also on sandy soil – to reduce the tendency for the sides to give way, I make the ridges a bit higher than normal – perhaps 5 to 6” – by pulling more soil from the planting area. This usually leaves the planting area only a little bit higher than the aisles. Then I will do one of two things. As I make the beds, the final step is to hit the inside base of the ridges for the entire length a couple of times with the rake. This firms and settles the soil in the ridges, making them just a bit lower, wider, and less likely to fall back onto the newly sprouting seedlings. For the most sandy soil I will go down the sides of the beds and press the ridges down with both hands cupped, to help them retain their shape.
Q. We want to go into gardening commercially, and hydroponic greenhouse growing has been recommended. How is your Method similar or better for us than going hydroponic?
A. Before you spend any money on Hydroponic buildings and equipment you need to learn about the Mittleider Method, for sure! Building a Mittleider-style greenhouse will save you many thousands of dollars in the building of it and many thousands more in operating costs. The Mittleider Method is sometimes referred to as modified hydroponics, because we feed the plants the 13 necessary nutrients, in a scientifically balanced ratio. However, rather than putting expensive instantly water-soluble formulas in the water supply, we use Natural Mineral Nutrients that are easily and inexpensively obtained and apply the nutrients right on the soil – then water them in. Also, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, unlike hydroponics, we grow plants right in the ground, or if we’re in Greenhouses we use raised Grow-Boxes with open bottoms, so the plants still have access to the natural soil – to obtain other nutrients they may want or need. Mittleider gardens are well known for producing tremendous yields, even approaching those of hydroponics, while our crops like tomatoes are better tasting and cost a small fraction of those grown by hydroponic methods.
Q. Can you help automate the gardening process?
A. If you would like to create or expand your garden and need help with decisions and automating the planning process, the Garden Wizard, available at www.growfood.com on the Software page, is a great tool! Dr. Ron Guymon has devoted thousands of man hours over two and one half years to producing this multi-faceted tool for those who want help determining what, when, where, and how to plant, water, feed, etc. It includes growing season helps for over 3,000 locations in the USA, as well as planting and feeding requirements for all common vegetable crops.
Another way to automate your gardening is to build a simple and effective watering system that will allow you to water quickly and efficiently while saving water. The plans for this system are in Chapter 15 of the Mittleider Gardening Course – available at www.growfood.com on the Books page. They can be seen free in the Store section as well.