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.

 

 

Choosing What to Plant

Q. It is time for the annual sale of this year’s seeds in the US. Could you give some ideas on what would be good to buy for planting next year?  I would like high nutritional value if possible.  What would you suggest?  My goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. 
 
A. The first rule is to buy and plant what you enjoy eating!  The second consideration should be what makes sense economically, and third, consider varieties that do well in your climate and at certain times of year.  The Garden Master CD, available at www.growfood.com, has a wonderful database of vegetables, with lots of information you’ll want to know to make a wise decision for your family.
 
My family eats almost no broccoli or cauliflower, so I won’t grow them for the home garden.  We all love tomatoes – both large (Big Beef is the favorite this year) and small (grape tomatoes have really captured our hearts!)  And spinach is great in salads as well as cooked, grows fast, and can be grown early and late in space not yet able to be used for warm weather crops, or after other crops are harvested.  Peppers and eggplant are also favorites, and we eat them at least once per week.  You get the idea. 
 
Some crops that produce the most “bang for the buck” include tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and yellow crookneck, and perhaps cantaloupe or other climbing squash or small melons.  The key is that these are everbearing, and most can be grown vertically, so they take relatively small space in your garden.  Single crop varieties like cabbage and carrots can also be good, but most of them should be harvested in a short time, before they become over-ripe and/or infested with pests and diseases, and this causes waste unless you have a good cool storage place, such as a root cellar.   If you enjoy red beets, I recommend Cylindra as one that holds in the garden for a long time without getting tough and woody.
 
I would avoid growing corn in the small family garden, because it takes so much space and produces very little.  For example, a single corn stalk takes basically the same space as a tomato plant, but only produces one or two “fruits”, while an indeterminate tomato plant may produce as much as 15 to 20 pounds of fruit.  And in many places in the western USA potatoes are about 1/10th as expensive as tomatoes, so if space is limited, that may not be a high priority.  However, potatoes (along with winter squash, cabbage, carrots, etc.) will store for many months if done properly.
 
The third criterion is finding things that grow well in your climate, and choose the right time of year.  For those in the cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, it is wishful thinking to try and grow sweet potatoes and peanuts.  And there are a few other crops that require long growing seasons and/or hot weather.  Look on the seed packet, or a catalog, or in several of the Mittleider gardening books or CD’s.  The large watermelons come to mind as examples.  And particularly for those of you in the hot climates, grow spinach and brassica’s at the beginning and end of your growing season.
 
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

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.

How to Grow the Healthiest Vegetables

Q.  I want to grow the healthiest vegetables possible. Isn’t organic gardening healthier than the Mittleider Method – tell me the truth!

A.  This is a very good question and it deserves a straight answer. I will therefore tell you some very important things about plant nutrition. First of all, plants receive nutrition only as water- soluble mineral compounds, through their roots. When we put compost or manure, etc. 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 process.

Secondly, there is no difference between organic, mineral, and chemical nutrients.  Everything in this world is a chemical!!  To the chemist everything in the soil is 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, “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.” (Organic Gardening)

Thirdly, 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! There is really nothing “synthetic” about them.  So, you see there is no difference between “organic nitrogen”, mineral nitrogen and chemical nitrogen – except the nitrogen that is part of an organic substance must decompose and revert to the water-soluble mineral state before being available to plants.

This being the case, what should we do to assure we have the best garden and the healthiest plants possible? Give the plants the best combination of nutrition we possibly can.  Remember that 99% of us depend on 1% to feed us, and the big growers feed their crops! The big fertilizer companies use formulas similar to Dr. Mittleider’s and call them “The preferred horticultural mix.” Just check out Scott’s Peter’s Professional Pete Lite as an example.

Now, 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.  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 and 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 they aren’t in the ground long enough for the pests to get established.