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.

Growing Peppers Vertically – “Poor Man’s Hydroponics vs Large Commercial Hydroponics

Q.  Can I grow peppers vertically – like I do my tomatoes?  How do you do it?
A.  Some information from the University of Florida Extension division at is fascinating – if you are interested in doing “The Poor Man’s Hydroponic Method” of growing peppers vertically.  Pictures of the two common commercial growing methods – the Dutch V and Spanish methods are posted at  Key paragraphs from the article are duplicated at the bottom of this article.
The Dutch V method prunes the plant to two main branches, and then guides those up strings in a V shape.  Little pruning is done in the Spanish system of growing.  Pruning to two or four main branches is common practice, and thereafter no pruning is done.  Vertical support is provided by poles and strings, or by large tomato cages. 
When a pepper plant is carrying the maximum weight of peppers the plant can support, it will stop flowering and fruiting even though there may be weeks or even months left in the growing season.  Removing green fruits as soon as they mature signals the plant to continue flowering and setting fruit, and the result is fruit being set throughout the growing season, and obviously more fruit per plant.

“Greenhouse pepper cultivars generally have an indeterminate pattern of growth. Because the plants can grow up to 6-ft tall during a growing season of 250 days, they need to be supported vertically. Pepper plants can be trellised to the Dutch “V” system or to the “Spanish” system ( Fig. 8 ).

“Trellising plants with the “V” system consists of forming a plant with two main stems by removing one of the two shoots developed on each node and leaving one or more adjacent leaves per node. The pairs of stems are kept vertically by the use of hanging twines that are wound around the stems as they grow. The “V” trellis system is used by Dutch and Canadian growers.

“Some of the commonly used cultivars are Parker, Triple 4, Cubico, and Lorca for red; Kelvin, for yellow; and Neibla, and Emily, for orange fruits. New pepper cultivars for greenhouse production are introduced every year by seed companies

“When comparing cultivars for those with the highest yield and fruit quality characteristics with low amounts of culls or other disorders, the best red cultivars were Lorca, Torkal, Triple 4, and Zambra; yellow cultivars were Pekin, Kelvin, Neibla, Bossanova, and Taranto; and orange cultivars were Paramo, Lion, and Boogie
“Greenhouse pepper crops in Florida are grown in soil-less culture. Thus methyl bromide is not needed, yet problems with soil borne diseases, and insect and nematode pests are avoided. The plants are grown in containers filled with soil-less media such as perlite, pine bark, or peat mixes. The media can be reused for several crops (two to three) if disease contamination does not occur
“Pepper plants in soil-less culture are fertigated (watered and fed) frequently with a complete nutrient solution. Nutrient solution concentrations are similar to those used for tomatoes grown in soil-less culture. In plants at full production, the nutrient concentration levels can reach N: 160, P: 50, K: 200, Ca: 190, Mg: 48, and S: 65 ppm, respectively. The irrigation solution also provides the plants with micronutrients.
“The pH of the irrigation solution is maintained at values between 5.5 and 6.5, and the EC, depending on the nutrients concentration levels, will have values between 1.5 and 2.5 mS per cm.”

T-Frames in 4′-Wide Grow-Boxes

Q(s).  I have questions on building the T frames.   I read in one of your earlier posts that when you have a 4′ x 30′ box you place the 4×4 posts on the inside of the box but at the outside edges.  Is that correct?
1. So I would use 8 posts ( four on each side) on each bed?
2. Why have 16″ or half of the T hanging over my grow box into the 3.5′ isle?
3. Why not just use 4 posts placed in the center of the two foot-wide bare spot in the middle of the four foot bed.  The end of the T”s would be 16″ narrower than the bed or 8″ short from the edge on each side.  Would it hurt to have the plants climbing up on an angle from the outside of the box towards the center 8″?

4. I may try the PVC frame over the T-frames to make a greenhouse, in order to extend the growing season.  Is that a good idea?

If I try enclosing the bed is this the reason for placing the T posts on the edges of the box?  Then would I walk down the 2′ isle in the middle of the 4′ bed?

5. How much Pre-Plant Mix do I spread on the inside of the grow-box before I fill it with my mixture of sawdust & sand?  The Gardening Course says 2 lbs. For a 18″ X 30′ bed.  Do I double that and put 4 lbs. Down and not put any gypsum down in the center of the box?  The Grow Box Garden book said 10 pounds of gypsum for a 5′ X 30′ box?


1.  Yes, if you are using a 4′-wide box, one big reason for doing so is to maximize your yield in a given space.  You can put two rows of climbing plants in a 4′ bed, which produces as much in 7.5′ width as an 18″ box or bed grows in 10′ of width.  But you should expect to be diligent in your pruning!
2.  The T hangs out into the aisle only 12″ or 13″.  This maximizes the sun-exposure for your plants and uses the space most efficiently.
3.  Have you ever seen poles placed like an indian tepee, with plants placed around the outside, and trained to climb the tepee?  That’s a similar idea, and it is just the opposite of what you want.  As the plants grow taller and bigger they need more light, but because they are growing toward each other and getting closer and closer together, they get less and less light, thus greatly reducing your yield.  If you place your T-Frames in the middle of the Grow-Box, in order for them to get adequate light, you can only grow 1/2 as many plants in the same space.
4.  A PVC frame over the top, such as the one shown in the picture in the Photos section of the, is a very good idea.  You can then use your Grow-Box as a greenhouse in the spring, and it will extend your harvest by several weeks in the fall.  I recommend you take the plastic off, however, in the summer, as it provides some shade, and you want maximum sun (unless you are in the tropics and the temperatures are over 100 degrees fahrenheit).
If you are using the Grow-Box as a greenhouse in the early spring, you may want to keep it tightly enclosed and walk down the center, but you should ONLY do it after placing 2″ X 12″ boards the length of the box and supported, so you don’t compress the soil mix.  After your plants are growing, and especially when they have begun to mature, you should not walk down the center of your Grow-Box.  And there will be no room for you to do so, even if you wanted to. 
In building the frame and covering it with plastic, you should nail 1″ X 2″ boards to both sides of the plastic at the bottom, on the sides of the Grow-Box.  String ropes under 4 points along the side, and tie loops in the ropes.  Then raise the sides by hooking the loops to a stratgeically-placed nail for maximum light on warm days, and so that you can get into the box to feed and harvest.
5.  Since Grow-Box Gardens was written 30 years ago, Dr. Mittleider has determined that 5# of Pre-Plant mix is adequate to be placed on the dirt under a 5′ X 30′ box.  For your 4′-wide box spread 4# of Pre-Plant Mix evenly on the soil under the box.  Of course you will also mix 4# of Pre-Plant,along with 2# of Weekly Feed into the soil mixture as you are filling the box.

Choosing What to Plant

Q. It is time for the annual sale of this year’s seeds in the US. Could you give some ideas on what would be good to buy for planting next year?  I would like high nutritional value if possible.  What would you suggest?  My goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. 
A. The first rule is to buy and plant what you enjoy eating!  The second consideration should be what makes sense economically, and third, consider varieties that do well in your climate and at certain times of year.  The Garden Master CD, available at, has a wonderful database of vegetables, with lots of information you’ll want to know to make a wise decision for your family.
My family eats almost no broccoli or cauliflower, so I won’t grow them for the home garden.  We all love tomatoes – both large (Big Beef is the favorite this year) and small (grape tomatoes have really captured our hearts!)  And spinach is great in salads as well as cooked, grows fast, and can be grown early and late in space not yet able to be used for warm weather crops, or after other crops are harvested.  Peppers and eggplant are also favorites, and we eat them at least once per week.  You get the idea. 
Some crops that produce the most “bang for the buck” include tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and yellow crookneck, and perhaps cantaloupe or other climbing squash or small melons.  The key is that these are everbearing, and most can be grown vertically, so they take relatively small space in your garden.  Single crop varieties like cabbage and carrots can also be good, but most of them should be harvested in a short time, before they become over-ripe and/or infested with pests and diseases, and this causes waste unless you have a good cool storage place, such as a root cellar.   If you enjoy red beets, I recommend Cylindra as one that holds in the garden for a long time without getting tough and woody.
I would avoid growing corn in the small family garden, because it takes so much space and produces very little.  For example, a single corn stalk takes basically the same space as a tomato plant, but only produces one or two “fruits”, while an indeterminate tomato plant may produce as much as 15 to 20 pounds of fruit.  And in many places in the western USA potatoes are about 1/10th as expensive as tomatoes, so if space is limited, that may not be a high priority.  However, potatoes (along with winter squash, cabbage, carrots, etc.) will store for many months if done properly.
The third criterion is finding things that grow well in your climate, and choose the right time of year.  For those in the cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, it is wishful thinking to try and grow sweet potatoes and peanuts.  And there are a few other crops that require long growing seasons and/or hot weather.  Look on the seed packet, or a catalog, or in several of the Mittleider gardening books or CD’s.  The large watermelons come to mind as examples.  And particularly for those of you in the hot climates, grow spinach and brassica’s at the beginning and end of your growing season.
The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about this subject, 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

Adding Nitrogen to Your Soil Naturally – Nodulation on Plant Roots

Q.  I’ve been told I should inoculate my bean seeds. Why should I do this, and how do I do it?  Does alfalfa need it?  Any others?

A.  Why Use Rhizobia Inoculants? Rhizobia bacteria are a group of soil based microorganisms, which establish symbiotic relationships with beans and other legume plants, such as alfalfa and clover. They then form nodules on the roots of the legumes, where they store nitrogen and provide it to the plants. In return, the plants provide carbon and energy for the Rhizobia, which the plant produces by photosynthesis.  Nitrogen is vital for plant growth.  It is abundant in the atmosphere as N2, and in soil organic matter in other forms, but because of its volatility, it is not available in the NO3 form that plants can use.

Conventional methods of providing nitrogen to plants include 1) adding nitrogen fertilizers to the soil, or 2) inoculating with the Rhizobia nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Rhizobia then take N2 atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to the NO3 inorganic form that is useable by plants. In addition, the nitrogen they store in nodules on the plant roots, if the roots are left in the ground, can reduce nitrogen fertilizer requirements for the next growing season. 

Therefore, before planting, some gardeners “inoculate” their bean seeds.  This consists of coating the seeds with a small amount of powder containing the Rhizobia bacteria, thus effectively enabling the plants to draw nitrogen from the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. This ability to “fix” nitrogen is unique to plants in the legume family, because of the symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria. 

Inoculants only need to be used in poor soils that don’t have much soil nitrogen for plants to use. In fertile soil, the bacteria occur naturally, so inoculants are not needed. The inoculant comes in small packages, it is usually available where you buy your seeds, and it takes very little to do the job.Immediately before planting, put the bean seeds in a pan and add a little water to moisten them. Then add a small amount of inoculant, and stir the beans with a stick until they have a little powder on their seed coats.

To gain the maximum benefit from inoculating your been seeds, spade or till disease-free bean plants into the earth immediately after the last harvest. This adds organic matter to the soil and releases the nitrogen from the root nodules as well.   Always destroy all diseased plants immediately. 

Some people mistakenly believe planting beans and corn together is good, because the beans can climb the corn stalks, and the corn can get nitrogen from the beans.  This is not a good idea for several reasons.  The two plants are competing for the same water, food (13 nutrients are needed!), and light, and both will suffer for having to share.  In addition, the nitrogen in the bean root nodules is “fixed” and unavailable to the corn. It is only released to the soil after the bean plant has completed its life cycle.

Can you help automate the gardening process?

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 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 on the Books page.  They can be seen free in the Store section as well.