Undissolved Fertilizers, Placement, Frequency, Amounts, Avoiding Damage to Plants

Q.  I applied the dry fertilizer/micro nutrient mix by hand.  I did notice that there
seems to always be undissolved fertilizer, even after several waterings. This didn’t seem to bother the more mature plants, but I’m wondering if it could “burn” the younger plants, and also wondering if I should modify the fertilizer routine for the younger plants.

A.  The Weekly Feed Mix is about 45% actual mineral salts, and the other 55% of the material is NOT fertilizer, but just filler material. The only time you would not see residue is if you were to purchase the expensive totally water-soluble fertilizers that the hydroponic growers use in the greenhouse.

Therefore, what you are seeing as residue on the surface of the soil after a few days of watering is not fertilizer and will not harm your plants.

Do not modify the feeding routine for smaller plants.  Sixty years of experience and millions of lab (garden) experiments have established the importance of the fertilizer formula, the amounts, and the frequency of feeding.

What happens is that the fertilizer dissolves, then some of it quickly adheres to the soil particles and becomes “fixed” or unavailable to the plants.  This is particularly true of phosphate and potash.  Over time, those adhered particles are released and once again become available, and meanwhile the continued application of fertilizers each week feeds the plant.  When you stop applying fertilizers, there is a residual effect, and the plant continues to receive the benefit of the previous build-up for a few weeks.

Fertilizer will not burn or harm your small plants if used properly. It is supposed to be placed in the center of the bed between two rows of plants, and so will be several inches distant from plant stems.

Leaves should not come in contact with the fertilizer, because you should always be pruning any leaves that touch the ground.

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.