Mixing up a batch of Mittleider pre-plant is an easy task and is inexpensive to do. The three ingredients in Mittleider pre-plant are lime or gypsum, boron and epsom salt.
Do I need gypsum or lime?
It is easy to determine which one you need. If your annual rainfall is 20 inches or more you will need lime. If you receive less than 20 inches annual of rain then you will need gypsum. Don’t know your average annual rainfall? You can ask your local extension office or simply Google it.
Mittleider pre-plant mixing instructions
According to the Mittleider Gardening Course book, 4th edition, on page 51, we are going to mix 5 pounds lime of gypsum, 1 ounce of boron from 20 Mule Team Borax20 Mule Team Borax, and 4 ounces of magnesium sulfate from plain old Epsom Salt. Check your Walmart or favorite store for the best prices. The Borax is a washing additive in the laundry detergent area and the epsom slat will be in health and beauty. You will also need an inexpensive digital kitchen scale to weigh everything.
Lime is generally sold in a 40 pound bag. We like to mix the entire bag of lime at once. So to the 40 pound bag of lime we add 2 pounds of Epsom Salt and 8 ounces of 20 Mule Team Borax. This comes from page 53 of the 5th edition of the Mittleider Gardening Course book.
Every year when I start getting ready to grow seedlings I mix up a batch of seedling flat growing medium. By starting with new growing medium every year I ensure there are no insects, plant disease or weed seeds. This helps to ensure healthier plants are going into my garden and I am not introducing weed seeds to the garden.
How to mix custom soil
Time to mix up the sawdust, sand and perlite that will be used as our growing medium in our seedling flats. We mixed 2 parts sawdust, 1 parts sand and 1/2 part perlite for our seedling flat, as seen in the pictures below. The perlite is optional and can be omitted to keep your costs down.
We mix everything in a wheel barrow with a flat nosed shovel before transferring everything into our seedling trays.
The Mittleider Gardening Course book recommends 3 parts sawdust to 1 part sand. It also gives options to sand and sawdust, including mixing ratios. Get your own MGC book here if you don’t already have one.
Seedling flats are shown in the Mittleider Gardening Course book on page 181. The dimensions of the seedling flats are 18″ x 18″ x 2 1/2″. Once filled with the mixed growing medium we added 1 1/2 ounces of our pre plant fertilizer mix. (Page 51 in the MGM, revision 4)
Do you prefer to use your own soil?
Not everyone wants to mess with the extra work of acquiring everything to make a custom growing medium. The correct sawdust can be difficult to find and even expensive when you do find it. You can sterilize your own soil and grow healthy seedlings. See my blog post on Seedling Success Through Sterilized Soil.
We needed sawdust to fill our grow boxes and made a quick trip to Jamesport, MO to a sawmill. This lumber mill makes pallets and will allow us to take the sawdust for FREE. We just needed to bring a shovel and fill the truck ourselves.
They do not make pallets from walnut so this sawdust is safe to use. They have huge piles of excess sawdust and were happy to have us take some away. We will make a few trips here in the near future.
What sawdust is safe for grow boxes?
Any sawdust made from trees of any variety in the United States except walnut is safe for use in your garden. Walnut sawdust contains tannic which can retard the growth or even kill it if the concentration is high enough. If the sawdust has any walnut in it you shouldn’t use it.
Can you use sawdust from plywood?
There are two reasons you should not consider using sawdust from cabinet shops. The glues used in the process of making plywood can be toxic to plants and humans.
The second reason you shouldn’t use that sawdust from cabinet shows is that the particles likely either too large or too small for use in your garden. If they come from a planer then they will be too large to permit proper drainage and will sour in your garden.
Sawdust made on table saws, radial arm saws or with handheld saws is too fine. Sawdust that is too fine doesn’t drain easily and can result in compacting. If your growing medium is compacted the plants can’t get water or oxygen to their roots and will die.
How to pick the right sawdust for your Mittleider garden
If you would like to see how to determine what sawdust will work in your Mittleider garden be sure to read this blog post. There is even a video showing you the correct size and sawdust that will cause compaction.
But to put it plainly, sawdust from any source that isn’t a sawmill running a large circular saw isn’t going to work.
Can’t find a sawmill?
If you can’t find a sawmill locally that has the correct sawdust you can use wood pellets. Pellets that used for heating work as do equine pellets. For more information check out the blog entry on equine pellet sawdust.
Making Mittleider soil beds is the cheapest way to get started with the Mittleider gardening method. A Mittleider soil bed can be made with a few basic yard tools, a few sticks and some string. Any type of soil can be used for making Mittleider soil beds, even if it has sand, clay or rocks. A Mittleider garden can even be grown in a raised grow box filled with only sawdust and sand!
In just a few hours a class of beginners in this Mittleider gardening course boot camp were able to transform this bare patch of ground into a bunch of Mittleider soil beds. The raised soil bed allows for proper drainage. The edges of the grow bed have a raised ridge to contain water during daily watering. Watering just the grow beds and not the entire garden reduces your water consumption and helps to cut down on weeds.
Making soil beds with rakes and shovels
In the picture below you will see the boot camp class making 30 foot long soil beds. Those beds are 18 inches wide and are kept straight with 4 stakes and 2 lengths of twine.
Shovels and rake are used to move soil from the isle between the beds and into the soil bed. Those soil beds are kept straight with 4 wooden stakes and two lengths of twine. A simple and inexpensive garden level is used to ensure those Mittleider soil beds are level. Level soil beds are critical in a Mittleider garden.
Download the free 7 chapter on making a Mittleider soil bed
You can download the first 7 chapter from the Mittleider gardening course book for FREE. Those chapters cover everything you need to know to grow a soil bed in your own soil. Go to growfood.com/soil and get your own copy.
Watch Jim Kennard making soil beds
For the visual learners, you can watch Jim Kennard explain and then show you how to form up a Mittleider soil bed. He learned how do build them and worked directly with Dr. Mittleider.
These tomatoes are being grown vertically as part of the Mittlieder Gardening Method in Kidder, MO. They’re pruned and wound around heavy bailing twine to maximize the sunlight and air to the plants while making it easy to harvest. No wire cages to fight here! The 2×4 is just over 7 feet from the ground. Some of those tomato plants are 10 feet tall.
This week I’ve been attending a Mittleider gardening course and have had the opportunity see the system implemented and learn so much. I will have many more Mittleider posts in the future as I convert my traditional garden to a Mittlieder
I’m thoroughly impressed by this simple and easy to use Mittleider gardening method and we will begin to transition from our traditional gardening method to this much more effective and simple Mittleider method.
I will be referring to the Mittleider Gardening Course book (MGC) and sharing page numbers. You can get the MGC in digital version or in paperback. If you do get the MGC there is a new revision that was released in 2015. You can get your own, in ether format, from Jim Kennard on his Grow Food website The digital version, which is searchable, is $14.95 and the paperback is $19.95
It was a little muddy digging these potatoes after the 2 1/8″ of rain we recently received but it was time for them to come out. My potatoes have never done extremely well, with few getting large and many of them misshapen. I’ve always contributed it to our soil and have always just accepted it.
Recently I’ve begun paying attention to a guy on YouTube who goes by the handle of LDSPrepper and ultilizes the Mittleider gardening method to grow all of their vegetables. Of particular interest to me are the grow boxes where they utilize a mix of sawdust and sand as the growing medium.
I’m going to attempt my next crop of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots in such a setup next year. My thought is that the sawdust and sand won’t compact like our soil and make it easier for potatoes and carrots to grow large. We will be converting our traditional garden over to the Mittleider system.