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.

Simple and Inexpensive Mini-Greenhouses for Containers and Soil-Beds

It’s not too early to begin preparing for early spring planting!  By covering your containers, which we call Grow-Boxes, or Soil-Beds with “Mini-Greenhouses” using PVC arches and greenhouse plastic, you can be in the garden with cool-weather plants by the end of February or the first of March.  They will warm the soil and protect your plants from light frosts.  This is often enough to extend your growing season by several weeks in both spring and fall.

Pictures can be seen in the Photos section of the free MittleiderMethodGardening Group. Invitations to join are on every page of the Food For Everyone Foundation website at www.foodforeveryone.org. The pictures show arches over Grow-Boxes, or containers. Following are instructions for building a jig and then making PVC arches for 18″-wide boxes or soil-beds.

Materials needed:

11 – 5′ lengths of 1/2″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe – to be placed 3′ apart in each bed or box to be covered.

6-mil greenhouse plastic – 5′ wide and 33′ long – one for each bed or box to be covered.

For Grow-Boxes only – 3 10′ lengths of 3/4″ Schedule 200 PVC pipe, cut into 24 15″ pieces for each box to be covered. Plus 22 2 1/2″ nails and small 2″ X 4″ block.

One 30″ X 30″ (or bigger) sheet of plywood, plus 6 – 2 1/2″ nails.

One heat gun (to heat and bend pipe).

With a pen, make 3 marks at the top of the plywood sheet – one in the center, and one each, 9″ to the left and right of the center. Go down 9″ on the plywood and make 3 marks exactly corresponding to the first 3. Draw lines from the outside lower marks to the top center mark. Place marks on both lines 10″ up from the bottom. Go down 27″ from the top of the plywood and make 3 marks corresponding to the others. Draw lines between the 9” and 27” marks. Make marks 2″ up from the bottom of both 18″ lines. Drive nails into the 4 upper marks, leaving 2″ of nail exposed. Drive nails into the marks 2″ up from the bottom of the 18″ lines, then drive nails 1″ to the outside of these nails. This is the jig for bending the PVC pipe.

Cut 5′ lengths of 1/2″ schedule 40 PVC pipe. Mark them at 18″ and 28″ from each end. Place one end of PVC pipe between nails on one side, with the end at the 18″ mark (2″ below the first 2 nails). With heat gun, heat PVC pipe at each spot where PVC pipe encounters a nail, and carefully bend the pipe to fit the jig. Allow to cool before removing pipe from jig.

For Grow-Boxes, place 15″ pieces of 3/4″ PVC adjacent to the Grow-Box at each end and at 3′ intervals on both sides. With a hammer, and using the small 2″ X 4″ block of wood, hammer the PVC into the ground until the top is level with the Grow-Box. Pre-drill a hole through the PVC pipe 2″ up from the dirt, and hammer the 2 1/2″ nail through both pipe and Grow-Box. Bend the nail over on the inside of the Grow-Box to avoid getting scratched later. Slip the 1/2″ PVC arches into the 3/4″ PVC holding pipes until they encounter the nails – about 6″ deep.

For Soil-Beds, just push the 1/2″ PVC arches into the ground at the peak of the ridge on each side of the Soil-Bed – again about 6″ deep.

Lay the 6-mil plastic over the entire box or bed, centered, with 18″ overhang on each end. Fold excess plastic to avoid a messy appearance. Place dirt on both sides of the plastic to hold it in place, as well as at the ends.

Whenever the weather is above 50 degrees, open the ends, and when it is above 60 degrees, lift the plastic from one side and lay it in the aisle.

You must watch carefully to ensure that it doesn’t get too hot in your mini-greenhouses. A thermometer in at least one bed is a good idea, in order to measure the temperature and make necessary adjustments. Note also that brassica’s (cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) can grow in cooler weather than the warm-weather plants. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, etc. must be near 70 degrees or above to do well. © 2006 – James B. Kennard

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 https://www.foodforeveryone.org 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 https://www.foodforeveryone.org

Carrots are Bitter – What’s Wrong?

Q.  My carrots taste bitter, what’s wrong?   I am watering for 20 to 30 minutes using a drip system 3 times per week.  I use the Mittleider organic method of growing, and grow in containers, or Grow-Boxes.

A. Your problem is a lack of water.  You need to water daily until you see water coming out the bottom of the container or box.  I’ve never seen a soaker hose that would adequately water a sawdust/sand grow-box in 1/2 hour.  And it will dry out too much if you only water every other day. 

If you were growing in the soil, water still would most likely be the culprit, although if you are not feeding accurately and doing so every week for 5 times, you also might have a nutrient deficiency.  Be sure you are using the Mittleider natural mineral nutrients as fertilizers.  You can mix your own from formulas on the website, or get them pre-mixed.  Look at www.growfood.com in the Store under Materials.

I recommend you automate your watering using the PVC pipe system taught and demonstrated in the Mittleider gardening books.  This system is inexpensive to build, it waters very accurately, and will last practically forever, if you take care of it. 

The books are available at www.growfood.com, and you can even download the chapter of the Mittleider Gardening Library free, by going to the Store section and clicking on that book.

Hard-Pan Clay Soil – Usable for Garden?

Q.  We are living in a very bad hard-pan soil area.  When I dig a hole and add water, the water will stay for days.  Can I have a garden on this ground?

A.  So long as you have plenty of sunshine and access to water, the soil is no problem! 

We promise “a great garden in any soil, and in almost any climate.”   And we mean it!   If you will follow the illustrations and instructions in the Mittleider gardening books that are available at www.growfood.com you will not even need to amend your soil with organic materials, and you can grow just fine in hard clay soil.

What you’ll be doing is making slightly raised, ridged, level soil-beds, and growing inside those.  The only thing approaching soil amendments I do is plant small seeds by mixing 1 part seed with 100 parts sand, then cover the seed with sand, rather than clay soil. 

Then, after the plants are up, and the clay soil begins to crack as it loses soil moisture, I will apply 5 to 10 pounds of sand to those cracks before watering.  Doing this twice is usually enough to stop the damage to your plants’ roots from the cracking, and over time it improves the soil in the soil-bed as well.

If you feel the clay soil is just too hard to work with, and you’d rather not fight it, then build Grow-Boxes and grow your food above-ground.  Several Mittleider gardening books show you how, including Grow-Box Gardening, Gardening By The Foot, and Lets Grow Tomatoes.  And The Mittleider Gardening Course has a section  that is devoted to Grow-Box gardening.

Sandy Soil – Maintaining Ridges

Q.  Sandy soil is difficult to keep ridged.  The ridges melt away in heavy rains that we have here.  What can I do to improve the soil, so it will hold up, and how can I build the ridges strong enough that they hold up?

A.  Gardening in sandy soil has its challenges, but they are not difficult to solve.  For very sandy soil I recommend you find clean organic material, such as grass clippings or leaves – mulch the leaves as fine as possible with a chipper/shredder or mulching mower – and then till them into your soil-beds.  In the fall you should be able to find an abundance of leaves.  Just don’t use walnut leaves, as the sap is very hard on some of your vegetables, especially tomatoes.  This will improve your soil tilth, and over time it will help the deterioration of the ridge sides. 

Also on sandy soil – to reduce the tendency for the sides to give way, I make the ridges a bit higher than normal – perhaps 5 to 6” – by pulling more soil from the planting area.  This usually leaves the planting area only a little bit higher than the aisles.  Then I will do one of two things.  As I make the beds, the final step is to hit the inside base of the ridges for the entire length a couple of times with the rake.  This firms and settles the soil in the ridges, making them just a bit lower, wider, and less likely to fall back onto the newly sprouting seedlings.  For the most sandy soil I will go down the sides of the beds and press the ridges down with both hands cupped, to help them retain their shape. 

Jim Kennard

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.

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
unsatisfactory. 

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

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 https://www.hightechhomestead.com/Products.htm for the best gardening books available anywhere!  Get one NOW and be gardening TODAY!!

Are Chemical Fertilizers Threatening Our Reproductive Capacity?

Q.  I’ve heard that chemicals may cause low sperm counts in men, and that people who eat organically produced produce are healthier.  Is it true?
 
A.  It has been reported for some time that male sperm counts in America and Western Europe are declining, and that in many cases we are threatened with infertility.  Some people claim the reason for this decline is people eating food produced using chemicals.
 
There is nothing in the studies I have read that implicates the natural mineral nutrients used in growing a Mittleider garden!  Please do not be led into throwing the baby out with the bath water.
 
Increased estrogen, caused primarily by materials fed to beef cattle, and lower fiber in our diets, are the main two culprits as I read it, and nothing is said about minerals that are mined from the earth, purified and concentrated, and properly applied in tiny quantities as fertilizers to food crops.
 
Why IS this decline in male sperm counts happening? I’ve reproduced some of the information below, for your consideration, as taken from this website https://www.alkalizeforhealth.net/Lspermdamage2.htm.
 
One explanation suggests “environmental chemicals called endocrine disrupters that masquerade as hormones. Specifically, synthetic chemicals that mimic the female sex hormone estrogen may influence male development in utero or during the formative years of early childhood when hormone sensitivity is high.”

“In 1993, a study published in The Lancet traced the decline to males being exposed in the womb to female sex hormones that permanently alter their sexual development, and greatly reduce a man’s ability to produce sperm. (6) The study, along with one  published later in 1993 in the Journal of Endocrinology established several diet-linked sources of increased estrogenic exposure to males in the womb (7) :

“1) The modern diet increases the levels of natural estrogen in women. Fiber in the diet today is lower than it was 50 years ago. Natural estrogens excreted in the bile are more readily reabsorbed into the bloodstream when the lower intestine contains little dietary fiber. Thus, a fetus today may be exposed to higher levels of the mother’s own natural estrogens, compared to a fetus 50 years ago. (Fiber is found in all whole grains, vegetables and fruits; and is absent in all meats, dairy products, and eggs.)

“2) Synthetic estrogens, including DES, were fed to beef cattle from the 1950s through the 1970s to make them grow more meat faster. Though DES has been outlawed for use in U.S. livestock, hormones such as Steer-oid, Ralgro, Compudose,  and Synovex are still used in virtually every cattle feedlot in the country. This is the primary reason the European Economic Union refuses to import U.S. beef. Such practices have increased the quantity of estrogens in meat-eating women, and may have contaminated some water supplies.

“3) Another source of increased estrogens in women today is the many synthetic organic chemicals and heavy metals that have been released into the environment in massive quantities since World War II. Some of these compounds, such as PCBs and dioxins, concentrate in ever higher levels on higher rungs of the food chains. Vegetarians, and even more notably vegans, thus enjoy some degree of protection.”

Do Commercial Fertilizers Harm Soil Microbes or Make Nutrients Unavailable to Plants?

Q.  It is my understanding the microbes found in organic compost materials is what packages the nutrients for the plants. Sort of like the good bacteria that your body needs to maintian the right balance in the blood stream. I also understand that synthetically produced fertilizers will kill these microbes. This is the difference between a naturally packaged fertilizer and a synthetically produced one.  How can man’s synthesis be better for the plants than the Earth’s Natural processes?  When compared on other subjects, man’s synthetics cannot always produce safe results.

A.  What you’re describing, I would suggest, includes some hyperbole being spread by organic promoters.

Reality is somewhat different.  Nature provided us with large rock deposits containing one or more of the 13 essential plant nutrients, in many places around the earth.  In the past 100 or so years man has discovered these deposits, learned how to use them properly, and how to mine them.  In the mining process other elements are removed, including heavy metals, and sometimes the essential minerals are concentrated.  It is important to understand that the concentration process applied to natural minerals from rocks does not make the material “synthetically” produced, nor does it make it unsafe or harmful to microbes, plants, or humans.
 
The above described process is what has allowed our farmers to feed 250 million of us and allow us to do other things with our time (1 feeds 100), rather than slaving on the farm as our grandfathers did, using manure (organics) as our only fertilizer source (1 fed 4 or 5). 
 
Please remember that 90-95% of our food is produced using modern equipment and these same natural mineral nutrients from commercially produced fertilizers.
 
It is important to distinguish between potential problems associated with the mis-use and/or over-application of pesticides and herbicides, and the valuable, safe, and highly productive use of natural mineral nutrients, usually referred to as commercial fertilizers.

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.