Growing Vertically – What Varieties – What books –

Q.  I am planning on trying a vertical garden (most of the veggies) next Spring.  I have heard about “vertical” growing methods, but I am not quite sure what all the details are.   Also, when and how do you prune tomato plants?   Do all tomato plants need to be pruned? 

A.  Several of the Mittleider gardening books give good illustrations and instructions for vertical growing.  I recommend the Mittleider Gardening Course, Gardening by the Foot, Let’s Grow Tomatoes, and Grow-Bed Gardening.  The best place to obtain all of them is by getting the Mittleider Gardening Library CD.  All are available at in the Store section under Books and Software.

Vegetable varieties that can be grown vertically include indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers (not the bush type), pole beans, smaller varieties of vining squash, small melons, greenhouse varieties of peppers, and eggplant.

Beans don’t need to be pruned, but all others should be pruned regularly, by removing all sucker stems as soon as they begin to grow.  Several articles on the website in the FAQ section are devoted to pruning.  I recommend you look there for a comprehensive discussion on how to prune – however, the books will be the best, as they include pictures and illustrations.

Having Trouble Finding Good Soil Products

Q.  since the goal is to use inexpensive materials, and also the right mix of ingredients, I am now at a stopping point.  Other than very pricy small bags of peat I cannot find organic media as recommended in the Gardening Library.  What should I do?

I can get topsoil in bulk, but which is preferred?  Mushroom Mix or some other type?

I estimate I will need 10-15 cubic yards. I will be container gardening in 100 – 5 gallon buckets.  No way to build grow boxes because I live in a rental that has low maintenance rock garden and desert shrubs.

A.  If you just need enough for 100 – 5-gallon containers, you should only need 2 1/2 cubic yards of material.  One cubic foot = 7.5 gallons, so 500 gallons = 67 cubic feet,  and 67 cubic feet (67/27) = 2.48 cubic yards.

I recommend you stay away from topsoil, or any other type of dirt, for that matter.  In buckets, or other containers, dirt will set up and become very hard.  It’s also very heavy, and disagreeable to work with. 

I take it there are no lumber mills nearby.  What about forests or stands of pine trees?  Pine needles would be excellent.  Are there any stands of cedar trees in your hills?  the “copi soil” beneath those, which consists of previous years’ dropped needles, would be good also.

The lighter the material the better, so long as it is clean and weed-free.
In Utah, mushroom mix has no dirt in it, but is organic material made from shavings, sawdust, turkey droppings, etc., and therefore it could be very good.

Growing in 5-gallon containers in the heat of the Southern Nevada desert will be a real challenge.  I hope they are at least white, to reflect a little sun.  Your biggest challenge will be to keep them moist and cool.  Anything you can do to keep the sun off the containers will be helpful, and watering multiple times each day will likely be necessary.

If that is all you need, perhaps you can find some help with peat moss,
perlite, etc. and not end up with dirt in your containers, which will be

Additional information on container gardening can be found in Gardening by the Foot and the Mittleider Gardening Course, available at

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!!

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.

Is it Good or Important to Place Weed or other Barrier Materials Under Grow-Boxes?

Q.  I am laying out my new Grow-Boxes.  It was said that Grow-Boxes can be built on asphalt.  I’m putting them on dirt but I wondered if I could put weed barrier down, to prevent weeds from coming up in the boxes and also in the aisles.  Do the plants need more root depth than the 8″-deep box or is it fine to put the black weed barrier down at the bottom of the box?

A.  The general rule for garden preparation is – REMOVE ALL WEEDS and other materials, down to the bare ground.  Therefore, if it is possible you should  – with shovel, hoe, rake, tiller, or whatever you have – dig up and remove all weeds (and grass is a weed in this instance, since Dr. Mitt’s definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”), including the roots, rhyzomes, and runners of all perennial weeds. 

Remember, you are investing in creating a long-term garden, and if it’s done properly it will feed you for many years, so do it right the first time.  Dr. Mittleider says “No amount of scratching after the crop is planted will overcome the ill effects of poor seed-bed preparation.”

When the proper preparation is done you shouldn’t need to put any weed (or other) barrier under your container garden.  However, healthy plants and excellent crops CAN BE GROWN in the 8″ Grow-Boxes, even if they are on top of concrete or asphalt!  So, while the ideal situation would be to allow your plant roots access to the native soil to pick up additional nutrients, it isn’t mandatory.  To illustrate, let me give you a current example, which some of you may even be able to see for yourselves, and for the rest I’ll post some pictures in the Photos section.

Jacob and Mildred live in Redlands, California.  Jacob can’t keep his hands out of the dirt, so upon moving there in 2003 he immediately began growing vegetables in every available spot.  The owners of the assisted-living complex were so impressed with the beautiful plants, they gave him a spot of his own and paid for 20 Grow-Boxes and T-Frames, so he could have a “real” garden.

However, when he tried to grow last year the gophers drove him crazy AND termites attacked his plants, so that he lost over half the crop.  To solve both problems Jacob covered the entire garden area with 1″ chicken wire, and then laid down asphalt roofing material on top of that – all before placing and filling his Grow-Boxes. 

Jacob now has a wonderful garden growing, with no termites and no gophers – right through the winter – and everyone loves it!  So, there are times when putting something under your boxes is not only appropriate, but even necessary.

P.S.  Dr. Jacob Mittleider died in May, 2006.  We mourn his loss, and only hope to carry on and spread his priceless legacy of gardening knowledge.

P.P.S.  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!!

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 for the best gardening books available anywhere!  They are available INSTANTLY, as well, with no time or cost for shipping.  Do it now.

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.



Grow 100 Tons of Tomatoes On 1 Acre

Q.  I’ve heard the Mittleider Method can produce 100 tons of tomatoes on one acre.  How is this possible, since field-grown tomato growers do well to produce 35 tons per acre!

A.  I’ll describe “The poor man’s hydroponic method” of growing in a 1-acre garden, using raised beds, or Grow-Boxes, as Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider calls them. And remember that just one acre of tomatoes grown successfully using this method – and selling them for just $.50 per pound, would yield $100,000 per year!

One acre (43,560 square feet) will accommodate 312 – 30′ rows of tomatoes, grown in 4′ X 30′ Grow-Boxes, with 3 1/2′ side aisles, 5′ end aisles, and 5′ aisles around the perimeter.

Planted 9″ apart, that amounts to 12,792 tomato plants (41 per bed).Growing a large tomato that averages 8 ounces (some varieties actually average 10-12 ounces), feeding and watering properly, and growing vertically, each plant should produce 16# of fruit from July through October in Utah.

A good variety will produce a “hand” of 3-7 tomatoes every 5-7″ up a 7′ stem in 4 months’ production. Using 4 per hand X 12 hands X 1/2# per tomato = 24. And I will reduce that by 33%, in order to be very conservative.This amounts to 204,672 pounds of tomatoes – or $102,336 at $.50 per pound. Who said you couldn’t live off the land!

There certainly are costs – as there are to any business. 1) Creating and filling the boxes, 2) making T-Frames, 3) wires or pipes – and baling twine strings, and 4) automating the watering are the major costs, but these are one-time capital expenditures, and will be more than recovered in the first year.

Now, suppose you’d like to increase your yield (remember, I’ve said hydroponic growers can grow 330 tons or 660,000# per year on one acre.  Of course, they have huge investments in year-round greenhouses, etc., etc.).  By simply putting an arched PVC roof over each pair of your Grow-Boxes, and covering them with 6 mil greenhouse plastic, you can lengthen your growing season by two months, or 50%!

Now you’re looking at over 300,000# of tomatoes per acre, and more than half the yield of the expensive hydroponic growers – but you’re growing “in the dirt”, because your boxes are open at the bottom, so your plants get all the natural nutrients available to them from the soil.

And you don’t need the greenhouse covering all the time, so your plants can benefit from direct sunlight as well.Imagine That!  And your garden can qualify as an organic garden, if you do everything properly, and don’t use any pesticides or herbicides.

Do you think these numbers are hard to believe? Just visit a greenhouse tomato operation and see tomato plants that are 20′ and 30′ long – still producing after more than a year!

Several of Dr. Mittleider’s books teach tomato production, and I encourage you to read them.  Go to

Pictures of the 320 plants I’m growing on 1200 square feet adjacent to Utah’s Hogle Zoo, in Salt Lake City are posted at

What Size Boxes Recommended?

Q.  What size Grow-Box should I use? I have the original More Food From Your Garden, and the grow boxes are 5’x30′.  Now when I look on the website it says the boxes are 18″x30′.  Which is correct?  And why in the heck did you change the sizes?

A.  We grow in both 18″ wide and 4′ wide boxes now, but you can use any width you want.  Dr. Mittleider’s experience has just shown him that these two sizes work the best, for many reasons, which only 75 major projects and 38 years’ experience in 27 countries can teach.

Lime in Bottom of Container

Q.  After we spread the lime over the bottom of our container garden or Grow-Box do we avoid it when mixing all the other soil and fertilizer mixes?  And what does the lime do at the bottom anyway?

A.  You do not avoid or worry about moving the lime as you place the custom soil in your container or Grow-Box.  Lime is used to provide essential calcium, which Dr. Mittleider reminds us is the foundation of a good feeding program for your crops.

However, what you really need to spread is the Pre-PLant Mix (the primary ingredient of which is lime – or gypsum, depending on your soil pH).  Pre-packaged Pre-Plant Mix is available in the Intermountain West region from farm-supply chains including Steve Regan Company and Intermountain Farmers Assoc.  You can also buy it from Steve Regan by looking on the website at and going to the Store/Materials.

If you live too far to get pre-packaged materials, just mix your own.  A very simple and basic Pre-Plant formula consists of 80 parts lime or gypsum (if you receive more than 20″ of rainfall per year you use lime – if you get less than 20″ you should use gypsum), 4 parts magnesium sulfate, or Epsom Salts, and 1 part boron, usually available as 20 Mule Team Borax.