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.

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.

Planting Sweet and Hot Peppers close – Affect the Fruit?

Q.   If you plant sweet peppers next to hot peppers will you have sweet hot peppers?
 
A.  Plants are cross-pollinated by bees and other insects, and the thing that is affected is the seed, which produces the next generation of plants.
 
If you were to eat the seeds that had been cross-pollinated you may notice the heat, but the mother fruit should not be affected.

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.

Types of Sawdust to Use

To all Sawdust users:
 
Some folks think that because Cedar or other kinds of bark are used to keep weeds down, sawdust from those sources will be bad for plants.  This is not the case.  Bark and other types of mulch inhibit weed growth primarily by denying light to emerging weed seedlings. 
 
On the negative side, mulches also encourage garden pests and diseases by giving them a cool damp place to live and multiply.  We recommend you keep your garden clean, clear, and dry, except at the root zone of your plants. When you plant according to the Mittleider Method the close-planted vegetable plants will quickly shade the ground and minimize water evaporation, without any need for other ground cover.
 
Walnut sawdust is the only material – at least in North America – that we have found to be a problem for vegetable plants.

 

 

Tomatoes – need a pollinator? What about cross-breeding?

Q.  I like 4 different tomato plants.  Can you grow a single plant and get fruit or do you need to have 2 or 3 of each to get a good crop?

A.  Tomatoes do not need a pollinator plant – they are self-fertile, meaning the flower has both male and female parts, so they do not need any outside help.

However, different tomato plants can get cross-bred by wind, bees, and of course human intervention (that’s how hybridization is accomplished).  Therefore, if you intend to save your tomatos for their seeds, you had better do two things.  1)  Start with heirloom plants – those which will breed true – rather than a hybrid, the seed from which will be something different.  2)  Plant your different varieties clear across the yard from each other, and then hope the bees don’t hybridize them anyway.

Why don’t my plants grow well??

Q.  It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of soil, soil amendments, or fertilizer I add to my grow boxes, my produce is consistently miniscule and non-productive.  When I dig up the soil, the boxes are full of tiny fibrous roots.  There are several very large trees next door-20-30 feet away from my garden area.  Could it be that these roots are from the trees and are sapping all the nutrients from my garden?  What can I do?
 
A.  There may be several reasons, either individually or acting in concert, that are causing your crop failures.  Let’s investigate each potential problem.

 

1)  Trees nearby may indicate too much shade.  Are your plants getting at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day?  If not, you will not get much produce. 8-10 hours is better – especially for plants which produce flowers and fruit. 

 

2)  What is the soil composition, and what are you feeding your plants?  We recommend sawdust, peatmoss, perlite, and sand – in any combination you like, but with the sand being 25%-35% by volume.  That has no nutrition, so you need to feed your plants regularly.  One application of calcium as lime in a Pre-Plant Mix and regular small applications of a complete, balanced natural mineral nutrient mix we call Weekly Feed, will assure healthy, robust plants.

 

3)  How often do you water?  a raised bed or container will drain faster than ground-level soil, especially if you have lightweight organic materials as a major component.  Daily watering, until water seeps out the sides at the bottom is important to assure adequate moisture to the plants.

 

4)  If all the other elements are properly taken care of, it would take an awful lot of tree roots to keep your plants from growing, but it is possible.  Dig a shovel-width trench the length of your containers, between them and the trees, at least one foot deep.  This should cut most of the tree roots that have ventured that far.

 

5)  Are the trees walnuts?  Walnut trees have a reputation for producing a substance which is toxic to some vegetable plants.  Tomatoes do not do well at all near walnut trees.  If they are walnuts, you may well have that problem.

Organic Fertilizing and Nitrogen Deficiency

Organic Fertilizing & Nitrogen Deficiency

Q. Sometimes I have seen gardens with compost and manure as the fertilizer of choice become very yellow. What causes this, and how do I avoid that happening to my garden?

A. What you have seen is “Induced Nitrogen Deficiency.” Soil amendments, including straw, tree bark, shavings or sawdust, peat moss, and manure (almost always containing a large percentage of bedding straw or sawdust) can induce a nitrogen deficiency on plants. The reason is that these materials are very high in carbon content, and therefore adding them into the soil raises the carbon to nitrogen ratio.

The carbon to nitrogen ratio is the amount of carbon in relation to the amount of nitrogen in the soil. This ratio should be 10:1 or lower. When the soil has ten parts of carbon, it should have at least one part of nitrogen or the plants will not be able to obtain the nitrogen they need. When carbonatious soil amendments are added, the amount of carbon is raised in relation to nitrogen. Micro-organisms in the soil attempt to break down the carbonatious material and in this process they use some of the nitrogen from the soil, making the ratio even worse. The micro-organisms have the ability to take the nitrogen before the plant can, so oftentimes adding soil amendments induces a nitrogen deficiency for the plant population. Therefore, whenever soil amendments are used, it is important to add some nitrogen, to bring the carbon to nitrogen ratio back to a ten to one, so that both the plant and the micro-organisms requirements are satisfied.

Fertilizers qualify as organic? What about Mad Cow Disease?

Mittleider Gardens Organic? What about Mad Cow Disease!

Q. Does a Mittleider garden qualify as organic? Have any of his fertilizing formulas been approved for organic gardening use?

A. An “Organic Garden” is a difficult thing to pin down with precision, because some say nothing “Artificial” can be used, some say nothing “Synthetic” can be used, and some say no chemical pesticides nor herbicides can be used. Meanwhile, the USDA names every one of the nutrients in the Mittleider fertilizers as being acceptable for use in organic gardening. So, depending on your definition, I would say that a Mittleider garden is one of the best organic gardens I have ever seen.

I’ve never met an organic gardener who doesn’t use at least one of the three nitrogen fertilizers that are our primary source of that nutrient. I’m speaking of 21-0-0, 34-0-0, or 46-0-0. They do so both in the garden and especially in their composting, because virtually everyone agrees that composting organic materials ties-up the nitrogen, and if supplementation is not done, the plants really suffer.

And yet of all the 13 mineral nutrients that man can provide his plants, nitrogen is the one that is the most “artificial” or “synthetic”, since it is the result of a several-step scientific process.

Most of the other 12 nutrients we use are ground-up rocks! However some organic “purists” will refuse to use them as “bad”, and instead use blood and bone meal, or hoof and horn meal, etc., which it is now being reported could be infected with the worst disease known to man – the incurable Mad Cow Disease.

We are very happy with the results we get by using natural mineral nutrients, and by using clean, healthy plant residues wherever and whenever we can do so.

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.