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.

Compare Mittleider Method With Commercial Produce Growers

Q.  The commercial produce growers in my area use black plastic with drip lines. They mix fertilizer in their irrigation water and pump it to the plants. What makes the Mittleider method more productive and efficient?
A.  Large commercial growers of things like lettuce, cabbage, etc., who water and feed accurately, especially those who feed regularly right in the water supply, and who eliminate weeds completely, are at least as good and productive as the Mittleider Method.  They also have very large investments in materials and equipment.
The Mittleider Method is sometimes called “the poor man’s hydroponic method” because it borrows principles and procedures from the large hydroponic, greenhouse, and field growers, and adapts and sizes them to the small family farmer and family-size garden.  And we produce great yields without the large capital investment large growers must face.
Most family gardeners don’t understand the importance of a constant water supply, just to the root zone of the plants.  They don’t appreciate the value of regular feeding with a complete, balanced nutrient, and they don’t realize how much weeds rob their garden of nutrients that are essential to the well-being of their vegetable plants.
Beyond those three principles, the Mittleider Method teaches vertical growing, with the attendant pollinating, pruning, and protection issues the hydroponic growers handle so well.
These are the primary elements that set the Mittleider Method apart from typical or traditional FAMILY GARDENING and make it SIMILAR to (not better than) hydroponic and large commercial growers.

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.

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  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, 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 for the best gardening books available anywhere!  Get one NOW and be gardening TODAY!!

Using Dirt in Grow-Boxes – or Growing Right In the Dirt

To further clarify my last post, most of the time we grow right in the existing dirt, with no soil amendments – no matter how “worn out” or “bad” it is.  Whether you have heavy clay or straight sand, or enything in between, unless the soil is diseased, toxic, or under water you can grow a great garden right in the soil.

However, “If for some reason you really must use Grow-Boxes, because you have no ground, but only a driveway, patio, or rocks, (or if you just want the many benefits offered by Grow-Boxes) then go for it. But DO NOT USE dirt in the Grow-Boxes!”  Following are a few of the many reasons not to use dirt in Grow-Boxes.  I recommend you save this information if you are contemplating that method of growing.

Grow-Boxes are designed to give you an excellent growing environment if you can’t grow in the dirt.  They involve an investment of both time and money, and therefore you should obtain the maximum benefit from their use.  If you put dirt from the garden in Grow-Boxes you defeat some of the reasons for having them in the first place, such as:
1) There are always multiplied thousands of weed seeds lying dormant in the dirt, just waiting for conditions favorable for sprouting.  Putting dirt in a Grow-Box creates that favorable environment, and you will have thousands of weeds, instead of NONE as you should.
2) The likelihood is also high that there will be some bugs and/or disease organisms in the dirt you use.  Put it into your Grow-Box, and suddenly instead of a pristine environment, you have the same problems of fighting bugs and disease as if growing in the soil.
3) By putting dirt in your Grow-Box you have the problems of clay soil, too sandy soil, etc., etc. – again minimizing the benefits of the Grow-Box environment.
4)  The weight of dirt in the box is between 2,000# and 2500# in a single 18″ X 30′ X 8″-high Grow-Box if used exclusively, and much more when saturated with water.  This will put substantial outward pressure on the box, and you will end up re-building your box many times over the years.  On the other hand, using sawdust and sand, I’ve seen Dr. Mittleider’s Grow-Boxes still perfectly usable after 25 years!
PLEASE, don’t try and figure out the best methods by trial and error!  It’s been done for you by the best!  Follow the procedures accurately as outlined, and you will have great success.