Heirloom or Hybrid – Which is Better?

Q.  What’s the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds?  And which type of seeds is better for the home gardener to use?
 
A.  Heirloom seeds breed true, meaning that the fruit from seed you harvest from the current plant will be the same as the current plant and its fruit, generation after generation.  This means that if you like the current harvest you can use the seeds with confidence that they will give you the same thing next time, and every time.
 
Hybrid seeds have been cross-bred to achieve improvements in flavor, productivity, disease resistance, holding capacity, or other characteristics which people want and request.  However, the next generation cannot be counted on to be the same as the original plant, and thus we need to continue buying seed from the seed grower to be assured of the same end result.

Producing seeds in your own garden is no big problem if you’re growing crops with seeds in the fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.  However, for things like lettuce, cabbage, and onions you have to let the plant stay in the garden while it “goes to seed” – sometimes for as long as a second year. 

 
This can make a mess of your garden, and foul up your plans for continuing to grow food to eat. 
 
Harvesting, drying, and saving the seeds are also problems to consider before deciding to grow your own seeds.
 
I recommend people get the best advantages of both hybrid and heirloom plants by buying and using the world’s best vegetables and fruits from reputable seed companies, and buying a #10 can of 16 varieties of high quality triple-sealed heirloom seeds from the Food For Everyone Foundation at www.foodforeveryone.org/store
 
Store the can of seeds in a cool dry place, and you will have the protection of good heirloom seeds for many years, while at the same time your family harvests and eats the best produce possible.

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.

Tomatoes – need a pollinator? What about cross-breeding?

Q.  I like 4 different tomato plants.  Can you grow a single plant and get fruit or do you need to have 2 or 3 of each to get a good crop?

A.  Tomatoes do not need a pollinator plant – they are self-fertile, meaning the flower has both male and female parts, so they do not need any outside help.

However, different tomato plants can get cross-bred by wind, bees, and of course human intervention (that’s how hybridization is accomplished).  Therefore, if you intend to save your tomatos for their seeds, you had better do two things.  1)  Start with heirloom plants – those which will breed true – rather than a hybrid, the seed from which will be something different.  2)  Plant your different varieties clear across the yard from each other, and then hope the bees don’t hybridize them anyway.

Will Sawdust & Peatmoss Decompose and Disappear?

Q. I was looking for a fertilizer substitute in my country (tropical), and I mentioned I was trying to grow in sand+sawdust mix. The person I talked to mentioned that the sawdust will decompose with time, leaving me with only sand.  I recall reading on your website that the planting mediums do not require to be replaced, but what he said made sense.  What are your experiences with this?

A. Organic materials will, indeed, decompose over time, and become less useful.  They do not disapear altogether, but you will need to supplement them occasionally.  Sawdust is slower to decompose, and thus useful for a longer time than peatmoss.  And perlite – if you can get it – lasts a very long time.  Coconut husks last well, but rice hulls decompose rather fast.

Dr. Mittleider has had the same Grow-Boxes in his backyard garden for over 25 years, and has never replaced the materials, to my knowledge. He has supplemented whenever necessary.  When we say the materials don’t need to be replaced, we mean that so long as there is no disease present, you can continue to use them – supplementing as necessary to keep the box full of soil mix.

Also, in a tropical country, organic materials will decompose faster than they do in colder climates, because not much decomposition happens when materials are frozen.

How do I pollinate my vegetable plants?

Q.  How do I pollinate my vegetable plants?

A.  You almost never have to worry about pollinating vegetable plants, because nature has provided ways in which it happens without our human intervention.Some folks think they need to help tomatoes to pollinate, but that isn’t the case. They are self-pollinating. You can actually sometimes assist some of the squashes, like zucchini, to pollinate. Take a male flower that is completely open (that’s the one without a fruit growing on it), remove the petal, then touch the male Anther to the Stigma of the female flower. That’s it! Sometimes, however, it’s wise to take part of the petal from the female flower, so that it can’t close up and become a hospitable place for fungus to grow.If you think you are having problems getting fruit on other specific vegetables, tell me which ones, and I will instruct you further.

How to Grow the Healthiest Vegetables

Q.  I want to grow the healthiest vegetables possible. Isn’t organic gardening healthier than the Mittleider Method – tell me the truth!

A.  This is a very good question and it deserves a straight answer. I will therefore tell you some very important things about plant nutrition. First of all, plants receive nutrition only as water- soluble mineral compounds, through their roots. When we put compost or manure, etc. into the soil, the organic material must first decompose, and the nutrient compounds must revert to water-soluble minerals before the next generation of plants can use them. This takes time, and sometimes as much as half of the nutrients are lost in the process.

Secondly, there is no difference between organic, mineral, and chemical nutrients.  Everything in this world is a chemical!!  To the chemist everything in the soil is called chemicals, to a geologist they are called minerals, and to an organic enthusiast they are called organics, but they are the same substances.  To quote J. I. Rodale, “we organic gardeners have let our enthusiasm run away with us. We have said that the nitrogen which is in organic matter is different (and thus somehow better) from nitrogen in a commercial fertilizer. But this is not so.” And “actually there is no difference between the nitrogen in a chemical fertilizer and the nitrogen in a leaf.” (Organic Gardening)

Thirdly, there is no difference between soil and rocks except for the size of the particles, and 12 of the 13 mineral nutrients plants require are essentially ground-up rocks! There is really nothing “synthetic” about them.  So, you see there is no difference between “organic nitrogen”, mineral nitrogen and chemical nitrogen – except the nitrogen that is part of an organic substance must decompose and revert to the water-soluble mineral state before being available to plants.

This being the case, what should we do to assure we have the best garden and the healthiest plants possible? Give the plants the best combination of nutrition we possibly can.  Remember that 99% of us depend on 1% to feed us, and the big growers feed their crops! The big fertilizer companies use formulas similar to Dr. Mittleider’s and call them “The preferred horticultural mix.” Just check out Scott’s Peter’s Professional Pete Lite as an example.

Now, this is not to say that organic materials don’t have a place in the garden. You can improve soil texture and tilth by adding materials that have desirable characteristics.  However, improving the soil in that way is not necessary to having a good garden, and people often introduce weeds, rodents, bugs, and diseases into their gardens, or provide a haven for them with their organic mulching practices. It is for this reason that we do not emphasize and encourage composting and manure. 

Mittleider gardens qualify as “organic” because we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.  However, I suggest they are even “better than organic”, because the plants receive just what they need, they grow fast, and we almost never have insect or disease problems because they aren’t in the ground long enough for the pests to get established.

Growing Commercially – Mittleider VS Hydroponics

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.