How to Properly Grow a Healthy Garden Using Compost and Manure

Q.  Even if it’s a poorer source of nitrogen than oil-based products (urea, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate), won’t compost (particularly composted manure) get the job done?  That’s a completely free and renewable resource.  My garden beds this year are heavily composted with manure and the plants are all absolutely gorgeous.
Next year I want to use the Mittleider Method, as it looks very  efficient.  Will I be shooting myself in the foot if I use “farm-raised nitrogen”?

A.  If you believe the day is coming when we won’t be able to get mineral nutrients, you should definitely learn how to prepare and use the organic materials that you WILL have available to you.  You may not want to count on manure though, because if everyone relies on cows and horses to provide their fertilizer, 90% will be disappointed.  There just isn’t enough to go around.

For those of you who feel strongly about continuing to use manure and compost, make certain that you learn how to compost properly, by maintaining temperatures of at least 140 degrees fahrenheit throughout the process, and always do it that way.  This provides sufficient heat to kill all pathogens.

I recommend you read my article on The Zoo-Doo Man in these FAQs.  That will help you understand what’s required, as well as my perspective on the issues involved.

Once you solve the issue of proper composting you will want to understand, and know how to deal with, the issues of deficiencies and salinity.

Because there is no practical way of knowing how much of the 13 nutrients your compost has in it, you will very likely be faced with deficiencies of some of them.  These will show up in your plants, and if you recognize and treat them quickly you can save the crop.  Sometimes a garden crop is lost when an ounce or two of zinc, iron, boron, or manganese, etc. would completely solve the problem.

I highly recommend you get the Mittleider Garden Doctor books, available at, and begin to use them.  They will save their cost many times over! 

Another issue that needs to be addressed when using manure and compost is that of too much at the beginning and not enough later on.  Most people apply 2″-4″ of compost and work it into their garden before planting.  Doing that to the entire garden is wasteful of compost, and most of the nutrients go to feed the weeds in the aisles.  So to start with, apply compost and manure only to your bed area.

And how much should you apply?  Three inches of manure applied to the 45 square feet of a 30′-long soil-bed would weigh 200-300#, and would contain 2-3# of each of the major nutrients, plus lesser amounts of the secondary and micro-nutrients.  We only apply about 2 OUNCES of each of the major elements to a soil-bed before planting, so the 3″ application of compost puts 15 to 20 times more mineral salts into the soil than is needed right then.

This much salt in your soil may stop or even reverse the process of osmosis that takes moisture and nutrients into your plants, which will harm or kill your small seedlings.  Inexperienced and careless organic gardeners are frequently discouraged, and sometimes give up, when they experience the immutable effects of this often-misunderstood natural law.

Therefore, apply only about 1/2″ of compost to your planting area before planting, and after your plants are up add another 1/2″ to the surface of the planting area and work it into the soil.  Continue this process every two weeks – until 3 weeks before harvesting for single crop varieties, and until 6-8 weeks before the first frost for everbearing crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

I know how to prepare and use manure and compost, and have done it very successfully.  I choose to use natural mineral nutrients because 1) it is so much easier and cost effective, 2) we eliminate problems such as pests, weed seeds, and diseases, and 3) we eliminate 13 unknowns by accurately providing our plants with everything that they need.

Planning Nex Year’s Garden – What Could You Produce?

Many people arrive at the end of the gardening season and wish they had planned their garden better. Often there is wasted space, and sometimes we have grown things that were not used, and perhaps couldn’t even be given away.

Now is a good time to begin planning for next year’s garden – to make sure you realize the greatest benefit from your valuable time and available space, and that you make the most of those precious 6 months of growing which nature provides us.

First you should decide what your garden is used for. Is it for casual use, with just a few things grown for fun, or do you depend on it as a major source of your family’s food? Next, decide what kinds of things are best to grow – juicy tomatoes, or that new triple-sweet corn. And then plan for how much of each thing you will grow.

How your garden is used depends on 1) whether or not you’re able or willing to devote serious effort to your garden, 2) whether you expect to feed your family just during the growing season or for the entire year, 3) what things your family likes to eat, 4) will there be supplementation from other sources, or will you be depending on your garden completely, and 5) do you want or expect to earn money from the sale of your produce.

An excellent and inexpensive database of commonly grown vegetables, with when, where, and how they can be grown, as well as how much they will produce, is contained on the Garden Wizard and Garden Master CD’s. These are wonderful resources for the serious family gardener, and can be found at under Software.

I recommend growing high-value and ever-bearing crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, pole beans, zucchini, etc., to maximize your yield in the minimum space, for the least cost and effort.

Let’s assume you have a large family you want to feed from your garden, and that you have 1/8th of an acre that can be used for this purpose. I’ll give examples of what can be grown in 30′-long soil-beds.

On 1/8th of an acre you should be able to grow thirty two 30’-long soil-beds that are 18” wide, with 3 ½’ interior aisles and 5’ end aisles.

Using vertical growing with the Mittleider Method (which includes organic gardening, container gardening, hydroponic gardening, and soil gardening), your garden should produce the following amounts of fresh, healthy vegetables:

Five beds of indeterminate tomatoes – 2,000-4,000# of tomatoes from July through October. Two beds of sweet peppers – 500-1,000 peppers. Two beds of eggplant – 500-1,000 eggplant. Two beds of cucumber – 750-1,500 cucumbers. Three beds of pole beans – 400-800# of beans. Two beds of zucchini – 500-1,000# of zucchini.

So far we’ve only used 1/2 of the garden, and you have more than enough vegetables to feed the family during the growing season, with excess to sell or give away. Doubling the space of these 6 crops could provide income to buy other food staples, and/or provide sufficient to dry or bottle food for the winter months.

Growing easily-stored food in the other half of your garden, such as potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, turnips and carrots can provide the family fresh food during the winter. You should be able to produce the following amounts, and if you will provide proper cold storage these can be usable for up to 6 months.

Two beds of carrots – 200-400# of carrots. Two beds of cabbage – 200-400# of cabbage. One bed of beets – 100-200# of beets. Two beds of onions – 200-400# of onions. Five beds of potatoes – 500-1,000# of potatoes.

The carrots, cabbage and beet crops can often be doubled by growing an early and late crop in the same space, which make these varieties more valuable for the serious grower.

In this scenario you have four beds left to plant. Crops like corn, large squash, and watermelon should only be grown if you have ample EXTRA space, because they take much space for the yield they produce. For example one bed of corn should produce about 90-100 ears of corn – all within about 2 weeks, whereas a bed of tomatoes should produce 400-800 POUNDS of tomatoes, spaced over 4 months.

Take the time now for this important planning exercise. Have your family decide what they want to eat, calculate the amounts of each vegetable needed, and then plan your space so you can grow at least that much in your garden.

Good Growing!


Jim Kennard, President of Food For Everyone Foundation, has a wealth of teaching and gardening training and experience upon which to draw in helping the Foundation’s mission of “Teaching the world to grow food one family at a time.” Jim has been a Mittleider gardener for the past twenty nine years; he is a Master Mittleider Gardening Instructor, and has taught classes and worked one-on-one with Dr. Jacob Mittleider on several humanitarian gardening training projects in the USA and abroad. He has conducted projects in Armenia, America, Madagascar, and Turkey by himself. He assists gardeners all over the world from the website FAQ pages and free Gardening Group, and grows a large demonstration garden at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in his spare time.

Gardening Books, CDs and Software are available at

Organic or Chemical – Or Both? – What Kind of Garden Should You Grow?

Today we will discuss a fundamental question in gardening.  Previously I was posed this question:  “I hear that chemicals are poisoning our waterways, and that organic growing is much healthier than using chemicals.  What’s the truth, and how do I grow a healthy, productive, and sustainable garden without hurting the environment?”

This important question deserves an accurate answer.  Therefore let’s learn about plant nutrition. First, plants receive nutrition only as water-soluble mineral compounds through their roots.  When we put plants, compost or manure 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 decomposition process.  Nitrogen is particularly susceptible to loss because it is volatile and returns to the air very easily.

Second, there is no real difference between organic, and mineral or chemical nutrients.   Everything in this world is a chemical! To the chemist the elements in the soil are 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, from Organic Gardening magazine, “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.”

Third, 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!  They are natural, and there’s really nothing “synthetic” about them.

So you see, there is no difference between “organic nitrogen” and mineral or chemical nitrogen, except two primary things.  1) the nitrogen that is part of an organic substance must decompose and revert to the water-soluble mineral state before being available to plants, and 2) mineral-source nitrogen is much higher in nutritional content, so much less is required to feed your plants.

As further evidence that mineral nutrients are not bad per se, I’ve researched which fertilizers meet the requirements for qualification as a Certified Organic garden, and 12 of the 13 nutrients we use in a Mittleider garden are approved. And the 13th – nitrogen – is the one that’s most often used by organic gardeners, both in the garden and to aid in composting!  Go figure.

This being the case, what should you do to assure you have the best garden and the healthiest plants possible?  Give your plants accurate dosages of the best combination of nutrition you possibly can.  The Mittleider natural mineral nutrient formulas are available at  You can mix your own “from scratch”, or get the micro-nutrients from the Foundation website in the Store section.  And never over-use any kind of fertilizer.  Both manure and mineral compounds will harm our water supply if allowed to leach into the water table.

Meanwhile, remember that 99% of us depend on 1% to feed us, and commercial growers feed their crops!  They use formulas like ours and call them “The preferred horticultural mix.”  Just check out Scott’s Peter’s Professional Pete Lite as an example.

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, and even add some nutrient value.  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 or 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 there are no weeds to provide a home, and the plants aren’t in the ground long enough for the pests to get established.

Dr. Jacob Mittleider’s gardening books, CDs, and Software, as well as natural mineral nutrients, are available at the Foundation website –

Jim Kennard, President Food For Everyone Foundation “Teaching the world to grow food one family at a time.”

Jim Kennard, President of Food For Everyone Foundation, has a wealth of teaching and gardening training and experience upon which to draw in helping the Foundation “Teach the world to grow food one family at a time.”  Jim has been a Mittleider gardener for the past twenty nine years; he is a Master Mittleider Gardening Instructor, and has taught classes and worked one-on-one with Dr. Jacob Mittleider on several humanitarian gardening training projects in the USA and abroad.  He has conducted projects in Armenia, America, Madagascar, and Turkey by himself.  He assists gardeners all over the world from the website FAQ pages and free Gardening Group, and grows a large demonstration garden at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in his spare time.

Gardening Books, CDs and Software are available at

Growing and Maintaining a Sustainable Garden

Having a sustainable garden means very different things to different people. Some folks are led to believe that a sustainable garden must use only organic materials, because someday the commercially-available mineral nutrients may not be available. To me this sounds somewhat like the suggestion that we should all ride bicycles because someday gasoline may not be available.

I suggest that a sustainable garden means one that can be used productively over an extended period of time, and would necessarily involve several elements, including the following:

  1. Growing food you want to eat, so you are motivated to continue growing,
  2. Growing economically, so that it is worthwhile doing, and
  3. Taking care of environmental issues, so that the ground will continue to support growing healthy crops.

You can grow a sustainable garden using organic gardening, container gardening, hydroponic gardening, or soil-bed gardening.  The Mittleider method encompasses them all. 

Growing Food You Want to Eat  The plants to be grown should be chosen primarily on what your family wants to eat, and what will grow in your locale.  The Garden master CD, available at in the Store section, has an excellent vegetable database, which will give you all you need to know about which vegi’s you should plant, as well as when and where to plant them, and how much you can expect to harvest.  I could take this whole article to rave about the GM CD, but you can look that up in the Software category.

After that, consideration might be given to using heirloom seed rather than hybrid, if you are very concerned about losing the ability to replace seed each year from commercial sources. Growing for seed is easy if you’re growing heirloom corn or tomatoes, but very difficult and time-consuming if you’re wanting non-fruiting vegetables like onions, carrots, lettuce, etc.

An easy and inexpensive alternative to trying to harvest your own seeds is to buy the Garden-In-A-Can.  This is a #10 can full of 15 varieties of triple-sealed heirloom seed, available at  Storing it in a cool dry place will maintain a high germination percentage for up to ten years, and makes me grin (because I don’t have to do it) every time I think of the folks trying to grow for seed in their own backyard.

Growing Productively and Economically

Using the best-known growing practices will assure you the greatest yield of healthy vegetables from the smallest space, and with the least amount of labor and financial inputs per unit of production. By doing this a family can be self sufficient in their food requirements from proper gardening of a small fraction of an acre. I promise those we teach that they will have twice the yield on only 25% of the space they’ve used traditionally.

This is the greatest evidence of success in achieving a sustainable garden. Good examples of excellent, high-yield gardening methods that have been proven effective worldwide are found in the gardening books and CD’s at And many pictures of successful gardens using these methods can be seen at the free gardening group

Caring for the environment

Gardening should always be done without injuring the land, but rather should improve the land, so that it will continue to support healthy plants indefinitely. Therefore, pesticides and herbicides should be used very judiciously, and only in extreme need.

Wherever possible these issues should be handled by cultural practices, such as those taught by Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider in the Mittleider Gardening Course and other books, CD’s and software at as follows:

  1. Eliminate all weeds from the garden area before planting and during the growing season. If not weeds will steal most of the water and nutrients from your crops.
  2. Prepare the growing area to be ideal for plant growth, but inhospitable to bugs and diseases.
  3. Water only the plants’ root zone.  This saves over 1/2 the water usually used.
  4. Begin plants in a protected environment for a fast, healthy and strong start.
  5. Feed plants balanced natural mineral nutrients to assure fast and healthy growth.
  6. Harvest all plants at maturity to avoid allowing pests and diseases to multiply.
  7. Discard any bug or disease infested plant parts away from the garden, and incorporate healthy plant parts into the soil to improve soil structure.

Following these sustainable gardening procedures will assure your family a great yield of healthy vegetables, give tremendous satisfaction, and even give you pleasure for many years to come.

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.