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 MittleiderMethodGardening@yahoogroups.com 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 Much to Water – Tradition says 1″ Per Week & Mittleider Says 1″ Per Day!

Q.  I came across a question and answer you gave previously (another article which states that 1″ of water in the beds is needed each time you water) and it confused me somewhat. I have a question about putting an inch of standing water on the beds every day.  Conventual wisdom is an inch of water per week. Are we to apply a week’s worth of water per day to the beds?

A.  An example of the confusion many people experience with this subject can be found in an article by Cornell University Agricultural Extension Division about watering tomatoes.  The author states that tomatoes need 1″ of water per week at a minimum.  In the very next paragraph the article gets more specific and says that a single tomato plant needs between 3 and 5 gallons of water per week.

On the surface, those two statements seem to be very inconsistent, but let’s go a little deeper.  Traditionally, tomatoes are grown much farther apart than we do in the Mittleider Method.  In addition, traditional watering is done by flooding the entire garden area.

Let’s suppose a person’s tomatoes are planted 2′ apart, in 30′-long rows that are 3′ apart.  That garden space of approximately 100 square feet would contain about 16 plants, and would require 64 gallons of water per week (assuming 4 gallons per plant).

Applying 1″ of water to 100 square feet of garden would require 8 1/3 cubic feet, or 62.5 gallons (1 cubic foot is 7.5 gallons), which is consistent with what Cornell recommends, both as to the 1″ and the 3-5 gallons per watering.

In the Mittleider Method 16 tomato plants – planted 9″ apart – will take up 12 lineal feet in a soil-bed.  The width of the planting area is 10″-12″.  Using a 12″ width, it would require 1 cubic foot of water each time(12′ long X 1′ wide X 1/12′ deep =1 cubic foot).  That amounts to 7.5 X 7, or 52.5 gallons per week.

So, you can see that watering 1″ per day in your Mittleider Method soil-bed uses less water than watering 1″ per week by flooding. 

There is more to consider, so let’s carry it a bit further.  If you are growing in heavy clay soil Cornell’s recommended 1″ per week may be sufficient, because water drains very slowly from clay soil.  But if your soil is loamy or sandy, or if the temperatures are hot, the water will be gone from the top 8-12″ of the soil in less than a week, and your plants will be stressing.

Tomato plants grown under traditional watering conditions have to expend substantial energy sending their roots deep into the soil, to follow the receding water, and keep from dying.  This is energy we prefer to use growing and maturing fruit.

Furthermore, flooding the entire area wastes much of the water, and usually much more than 1″ depth is applied, wasting even more.  Also, flooding makes the aisles hospitable places for weeds to grow, increases humidity which invites diseases, and the moisture, weeds, and cooler temperatures nurture the bugs.

All things considered, Dr. Mittleider has it figured out very well, even to the point of declaring that you will save 1/2 or more of the water you traditionally used, and promising a better garden with fewer problems with weeds, bugs, and diseases – without resorting to pesticides and herbicides.

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.