Watering with PVC Pipe – Will small #57-size holes get plugged up?

Q.  I am in the process of starting work on the irrigation part
of my conversion to the MittleiderMethodGardening system. I would like to ask  if the small #57 holes in the pvc pipes present any special trouble
with stopping up?

A.  A #57 hole in a Schedule 200 PVC pipe will not plug up much at all if you are using water from a well or from the city system, etc.  If you use irrigation water from a canal or stream you may have some sediment that can clog the holes.

I water from a mountain stream that is sometimes quite dirty – especially in the spring and after a hard rain.  If I experience any clogging of the holes in my pipes I just carry a hoe with me and hit the pipe with the hoe HANDLE a few times. This will dislodge the tiny pieces of pebble, or whatever it is.  Immediately after doing this to a pipe I will unscrew the far end-cap and let the water run through for a few seconds, flushing any loose residue out the end of the pipe.

If any of you are tempted to use Schedule 40 PVC pipe, because “its stronger and will last longer”, etc., I don’t recommend it.  It’s usually more than double the cost, heavier, much harder to drill the holes (breaking lots of drill bits), more inclined to plug up, harder to break loose the blockage with the hose-handle, and even the Schedule 200 will last more than 20 years with any kind of care, so who needs it to last longer.

How Much to Water – Tradition says 1″ Per Week & Mittleider Says 1″ Per Day!

Q.  I came across a question and answer you gave previously (another article which states that 1″ of water in the beds is needed each time you water) and it confused me somewhat. I have a question about putting an inch of standing water on the beds every day.  Conventual wisdom is an inch of water per week. Are we to apply a week’s worth of water per day to the beds?

A.  An example of the confusion many people experience with this subject can be found in an article by Cornell University Agricultural Extension Division about watering tomatoes.  The author states that tomatoes need 1″ of water per week at a minimum.  In the very next paragraph the article gets more specific and says that a single tomato plant needs between 3 and 5 gallons of water per week.

On the surface, those two statements seem to be very inconsistent, but let’s go a little deeper.  Traditionally, tomatoes are grown much farther apart than we do in the Mittleider Method.  In addition, traditional watering is done by flooding the entire garden area.

Let’s suppose a person’s tomatoes are planted 2′ apart, in 30′-long rows that are 3′ apart.  That garden space of approximately 100 square feet would contain about 16 plants, and would require 64 gallons of water per week (assuming 4 gallons per plant).

Applying 1″ of water to 100 square feet of garden would require 8 1/3 cubic feet, or 62.5 gallons (1 cubic foot is 7.5 gallons), which is consistent with what Cornell recommends, both as to the 1″ and the 3-5 gallons per watering.

In the Mittleider Method 16 tomato plants – planted 9″ apart – will take up 12 lineal feet in a soil-bed.  The width of the planting area is 10″-12″.  Using a 12″ width, it would require 1 cubic foot of water each time(12′ long X 1′ wide X 1/12′ deep =1 cubic foot).  That amounts to 7.5 X 7, or 52.5 gallons per week.

So, you can see that watering 1″ per day in your Mittleider Method soil-bed uses less water than watering 1″ per week by flooding. 

There is more to consider, so let’s carry it a bit further.  If you are growing in heavy clay soil Cornell’s recommended 1″ per week may be sufficient, because water drains very slowly from clay soil.  But if your soil is loamy or sandy, or if the temperatures are hot, the water will be gone from the top 8-12″ of the soil in less than a week, and your plants will be stressing.

Tomato plants grown under traditional watering conditions have to expend substantial energy sending their roots deep into the soil, to follow the receding water, and keep from dying.  This is energy we prefer to use growing and maturing fruit.

Furthermore, flooding the entire area wastes much of the water, and usually much more than 1″ depth is applied, wasting even more.  Also, flooding makes the aisles hospitable places for weeds to grow, increases humidity which invites diseases, and the moisture, weeds, and cooler temperatures nurture the bugs.

All things considered, Dr. Mittleider has it figured out very well, even to the point of declaring that you will save 1/2 or more of the water you traditionally used, and promising a better garden with fewer problems with weeds, bugs, and diseases – without resorting to pesticides and herbicides.

Sustainable Gardening Basics – Soil-Bed and Container Sizes

In getting started with your sustainable garden it’s important you choose the right sizes for the beds or boxes in which you’ll grow your plants.   Spacing your plants within your beds is just as important, and we’ll discuss that another time.  For today I’ll explain why you will want to plant in soil-beds or containers of 18″ wide, or  4′ wide.

There are important production and efficiency-related reasons for these sizes.  Do not make the mistake of thinking any size is just fine, or you will discover that you are not getting the yields you expected.  Remember, the “poor man’s hydroponic system” Mittleider Method is a recipe!

Widths narrower than 18″ put most plant rows too close together when planting two rows.  They also crowd the roots in some larger crop varieties.  There’s less available water, which can lead to water stress, and the soil mix in the boxes can dry out faster in hot weather, making it even worse.

Widths wider than 18″ make watering and feeding more difficult and less efficient.  For example, placing fertilizers down the center of a box or bed that’s 22″ wide will leave young plants hungry, because their roots haven’t spread far enough to find the food.  Applying two bands of fertilizer doubles the work and may still not solve the problem, depending on how well the watering system dissolves and distributes the fertilizers.  Also, the water will not reach young plants’ roots as well, and they will suffer from lack of moisture.

Even the size for the 4′-wide beds or boxes has been worked out for maximum yield and efficiency.  This size allows for planting 4 rows of most plants, and two rows of vertically-grown varieties.  Some folks mistakenly think they can get by with a 3′-wide box, and they pay heavily in lost yield, unless they’re planting carrots or onions.  The reason is that most crop varieties need the 2 feet of space between the inside rows for light and air.   Always plan for the space your plants will need when they’re mature!

The 5′-wide boxes demonstrated in Jacob’s first book, Grow-Box Gardens, are no longer recommended for several reasons.  First, it’s difficult to reach into the center of the box. Second, efficiency requires planting across – rather than lengthwise in the bed – and then watering becomes a problem.  Watering must be done by hand, since the automated watering system doesn’t work well for planting across the width of the bed.

Remember also that aisle widths are important!  We recommend 3 1/2′ widths – especially for soil-beds.  You can do alright with 3′-wide aisles if you prune properly and continuously.  Aisles less than 3′ usually do not provide sufficient light and air for large crop varieties, and thus reduce yields.  It’s also difficult to get equipment down narrower aisles.

The container depth of 8″ works very well – especially if plants can send their roots down into the native soil.  For a patio planter with a bottom – or if planting on cement, etc. a deeper box can be good, to give more room for root growth and to avoid overheating in warm weather.  Remember, however, that a deeper box takes more material to fill, which adds to your expense.  It also requires more water, and keeping the soil mixture moist is critical to your success.  And finally, the fertilizers are distributed throughout a greater volume of soil-mix, so young roots have to search for them.

Benefits to having a deeper box include aesthetics, if you’re using your Grow-Boxes in a landscaping scheme.  It also makes it easier for folks who have difficulty bending over to work near the ground.  Some people have successfully used Grow-Boxes as deep as 2 to 3 feet.

Once again, remember that the 8″ depth is least costly to build and fill, and is most efficient for watering and feeding, and then govern yourselves accordingly.  For more details, illustrations, and lots of pictures, check out the Mittleider gardening books at www.foodforeveryone.org

How Not to Repeat Last Year’s Bad Gardening Experience

Q.  First of all I mixed up my lids (on the storage containers) and think I remember that the Pre-Plant is the brown and the Weekly Feed is white… Correct?
My beds are about 8 foot 8 inches long and about 4 foot 8 inches wide. I need to figure out how much preplant and weekly feed to put in there and what is the axiom… A cup is a pound the world around? Right? Soooo How much…  of each? 
Last year I found these big grubs in my beds as well and they look like a green beetle grub I have read about that gets into compost piles… I live in PG, Utah… Any idea as to whether there would be any reason to mix pyrethrum granules in at this point or not?
My garden did OK but not really well… Most plants were pretty small and stunted last year.  I did not mix Pre-Plant in last year, got started too late and tried to use a different  Fert-i-lome gardener fertilizer, as I did not (think I had) time to mix my own and did not know I could get Mittleider fertilizers.  So I had some problems that I don’t want to repeat.

A.  Your problems of last year are not that un-typical.  Many times people think they can change this and that and the other thing and end up with a Mittleider Garden yield.  It doesn’t work.  The promise is “a great garden in any soil, in any climate”, but only if all instructions are followed.  Don’t waste another year and hundreds of hours – buy and read The Mittleider Gardening Course, available at www.growfood.com.  It is simple and concise, and you WILL have success!

Measuring your fertilizers accurately is essential.  If you used a cup thinking you were applying a pound, you were starving your plants.  “A pint is a pound the world around” is the correct adage.  A cup is 8 ounces and a pint is 16 ounces, or 1 pound.

The dark fertilizer is the Pre-Plant, but this is only true if you are using gypsum, which is done in low rainfall areas, such as the Mountain West in the USA.  If you have more than 20″ (50 cm) of annual rainfall you will use lime in your Pre-Plant, and it will likely be whiter than the Weekly Feed.

The standard measurement for fertilizer application is 2# (900 g) of Pre-Plant to a 30′ bed 18″ wide, which will grow 2 rows of most plants in the 12″ planting area.  This amounts to just over 1 ounce per running foot of planting area. 
You should plant 4 rows of most vegetables in a 4’+-wide bed, with the first row next to the 3 1/2′ aisle, the next row 12″ in, then two rows near the opposite aisle the same way.   Climbing plants will have only two rows – each row 12″ in from the aisle.  Apply 20 ounces of Pre-Plant and 10 ounces of Weekly Feed and mix well with the soil.  Again, remember the “rule of thumb” for Weekly Feed is 1/2 ounce per running foot each time you apply it.

Thereafter on a weekly basis, you should apply 5 ounces of Weekly Feed down the center between 2 rows of plants – so you will apply 10 ounces of Weekly Feed each week to your 8′ 8″ bed or box, until three weeks before your crop matures.

If you do not have compost or other “Bug Hotel” material in or on your garden you shouldn’t have trouble with grubs, but if you do, take one to your local nursery and have them give you a corrective treatment regimen.

Having a great garden is really quite simple.  The book 6 Steps to Successful Gardening, also available at www.growfood.com, is so simple a child can read and understand it, but it’s profound enough to give you a GREAT garden, if followed.  Just remember these steps and follow them religiously. 

1)  Clean ground at all times – no weeds, compost, etc. 
2)  Sunshine all day long, especially for fruit-producing plants (greens like lettuce, etc. can stand fewer hours of direct sunlight). 
3)  Regular watering – daily if necessary, never letting the ground dry out. 
4)  Vigorous weeding to eliminate all weeds as soon as they appear. 
5)  Proper nutrition applied in small amounts weekly until 3 weeks before crop maturity.
6)  Harvest the crop at peak maturity.  Never leave mature crops in the garden, as their quality decreases rapidly, plus bugs and diseases will proliferate.

The Mittleider Gardening books and Manuals teach all you need to know about successful vegetable gardening, 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!!

Which material is best for building Grow-Boxes? And what about gravel in the aisles?

Q. I was telling my husband I needed 8″ Redwood or Cedar for the grow boxes and he asked if it wouldn’t be better to use “Trex” as that doesn’t seem to ever wear out.  Is there a reason to NOT use Trex?  (web site about Trex https://www.trex.com/)  Is there an advantage with Redwood/Cedar that is not there with Trex?

Also, we are getting dirt to put under the boxes and level the area.  They tell me it would be much less expensive to get crusher tailings (rather than topsoil).  Would this be just as fine since I’m putting grow boxes on top or should I get top soil since the roots may go down into the dirt?

A.  Redwood and cedar are good for Grow-Boxes because they last a long time, and do not deteriorate like pine.  However, they are expensive, and it costs much less to use pine and paint it, or even to use treated lumber.  Trex looks great, and will last indefinitely, but I suspect it is very expensive.  We encourage people to do things without incurring any more expense than necessary, so I probably wouldn’t recommend Trex for that reason.

Anything you put down on your soil will be there a LONG TIME.  Unless you want to deal with crusher tailings forever, I wouldn’t put them there.  Paying for topsoil isn’t necessary, however.  I would get any clean fill-dirt that’s available.  On the same subject, sometimes folks want to put gravel or wood chips in the aisles.  Unless you get a lot of rain and your aisles would be muddy most of the time, I recommend you leave them alone.  Just do the nominal amount of weeding it requires to keep them clean, and with no watering, they remain dry, clean, and pleasant.  Gravel, wood chips, etc., can be a real pain to push tillers, wheelbarrows, etc. through, and even walking isn’t as nice as on clean, hard, dry dirt.

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.