The Mittleider Gardening Method is referred to as the poor mans hydroponics system. It produces hydroponics like results without the expense. It combines the best of traditional gardening and hydroponics methods. In addition, it is a complete system and easy to follow.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Mittleider system is that it maximizes the utilization of space, resources and the gardeners time. Because plants are grown closely together they can be nourished by weekly feedings of naturally mined nutrients. Results are much like those of hydroponic gardens yet farm less expensive because no special equipment is required.
A Mittleider garden can be grown in your own soil or in raised beds. Because the plants are given all their required nutrients a Mittleider garden can even be grown in sand and sawdust.
Due the plants being grown closely together it is possible to grow a very productive garden in a much smaller area.
Mittleider grow box maintenance needs to be completed once or twice a year. Grow boxes in a Mittleider garden are filled with sand and sawdust. As the gardening season progresses the sawdust will decompose. As it decomposes the growing medium in the grow box drops. The lost material will need to be replaced.
How often to add more sawdust
Here on our little homestead we will do Mittleider grow box maintenance at before each gardening season right before planting. In grow boxes where we rotate in a new crop for our fall gardens the grow box will get topped off a second time. There are a couple things to consider when deciding how often to add more sawdust.
What to consider when deciding when top off a grow box
Performing mid season Mittleider grow box maintenance on crops like kale or tomatoes would be a problem because the fruit and growing tip wouldn’t get buried with the added sawdust. To try and top off a bed with crops such as cabbage or spinach you would end up partially burying your crop.
A common side effect of adding fresh sawdust is a drop in available nitrogen. Watch for nitrogen deficiencies if topping of the grow box during the growing season. If you see symptoms of a lack of nitrogen you will need to correct for nitrogen deficiency. Urea is a common nitrogen source that is widely available.
What sawdust will work
A common question I see asked is what type of sawdust is correct to use and what size it should be. The type is easy, anything but walnut sawdust will work. Walnut contains tannin that will kill seedlings and severally stunt the growth of established plants. Avoid any sawdust that could possibly contain walnut.
The size of the sawdust is important. Anything too large, or too small, can cause serious problems in your Mittleider grow box. See my blog entry on identifying the correct sawdust size. Another acceptable source of sawdust that can be bought is from equine pellets. Equine pellets cost around $6 per 40 pound bag and will roughly triple in volume once wet,
Mittleider grow box maintenance in our potato box
In this video you will see our potato and sweet potato grow box. Because of the length of the sweet potato growing season this box is only filled once a year. It gets topped off right before we transplant the sweet potatoes.
We are excited to be starting the planning process on a geothermal heat sink greenhouse build. We will build this geothermal heat sink greenhouse to allow us to grow our own food year round. It would be wonderful to be able to grow frost intolerant crops like tomatoes during the dead of our winters. Without question, we will be able to grow hardy and moderately hardy crops all year inside this greenhouse.
More details about our green house plans
For the heat sink we will use 48 inches of rock that will be placed under 24 inches of topsoil beneath the greenhouse. We will use a 4 inch thick Styrofoam insulator 6 feet tall around the perimeter of the rock. The foam board will prevent the heat held in the rocks from being drawn out into the cooler soil outside the foot print of the greenhouse.
During the day, the warm/hot air from the peak of the greenhouse will be drawn down through duct work and a fan and be pushed out near the bottom of the heat sink. The 4 inch pipe that is used below the ground will be perforated to allow the air to escape. The air will move up through the rock to a second set of pipes, transferring the heat from the air and into my thermal mass. The air will enter the second set of perforated pipes and be pushed into the greenhouse.
During the night when the green house temperature drops below that of the thermal mass heat sink the system will work in the opposite manner. Cool air from the green house will be pushed through the rock and pick up heat. As the air returns to the greenhouse it will be warmer, keeping the greenhouse temperatures warm through the night.
The high tunnel kit we selected
For our high tunnel kit we selected a 20 x 44 foot kit from Zimmerman’s High Tunnels. They use 14 gauge steel that is 2 3/8 inches in diameter. It is a little larger diameter than most kits we found while searching for kits. Zimmerman’s is a few hours drive from our home and we will be able to pick it up to avoid freight charges.
The drainage pipe we are using
For this project we will be using 4 inch corrugated drain pipe, often referred to as drain tile. All of the pipe that will be horizontal will be perforated to allow air to escape and enter the rock. Anything installed vertically will not be perforated to ensure the air makes it to our heat sink. This is what our 4 inch corrugated and perforated pipe will look like. We will buy it in 250 foot rolls for around $98
There will be two layers of this pipe, ten each, the will run the length of the greenhouse. Both will be buried within the rock 3 feet apart. One group will be 6 inches from the bottom, the second 6 inches from the top. The top and bottom layers will not be connected.
The pipe near the bottom of the rock heat sink will be connected to the fan that draws heat from top of the greenhouse. We intend to use a 55 gallon plastic barrel as a manifold to bundle all 10 of the pipes together. With the fan mounted on top of the barrel it will be able to push air through all 10 pipes.
The ten pipes 6 inches from the top of the heat sink are also perforated and will direct the air blown in from the bottom up and back out into the greenhouse. All of the pipe laid horizontally will be perforated.
Airflow pattern through the heat sink
Air will flow down to the bottom of the 10 perforated pipes at the bottom of the heat sink. The air will be pushed through the perforations and up through the rock to the second set of horizontal perforated pipes. The air enters through the perforations and is directed back up and into the greenhouse.
Where each pipe terminates inside of the rock heat sink we will place a cap designed for the the corrugated pipe. When we connect the perforated and non-perforated pipes we will use a an external connector designed specifically for the corrugated pipe. All unions will be wrapped in a tape intended for drain tile and to be buried.
How we came to decide on our greenhouse dimensions
As with all our gardening here, we will be utilizing the Mittleider Gardening Method in our geothermal heat sink greenhouse build. There will be 4 grow boxes inside this greenhouse that are 18 inches wide and 30 feet long. We want plenty of room to move and work in our greenhouse in additional to being able to do all our seedling production in the same place.
We have settled for an overall length of 44 feet. This will allow a 5 foot walkway at both ends of the grow boxes. At the far end of the greenhouse we will do our seedling production. We intend to build a 4 foot bench along one wall for seedling stuff and storage of gardening equipment. Ultimately there will be batteries here and a charge controller for the solar panels we want to install.
For the width we are going with 20 feet. It was tempting to go wider to add a 5th grow box, but that would have increased the final cost significantly. The added cost for the greenhouse itself wouldn’t have been horrible. But the additional gravel requirements combined with the other costs for excavation and materials would have significant. And I can grow a lot of food in just 4 thirty foot beds using the Mittleider gardening method.
Considering snow load and high winds
A twenty foot wide greenhouse is pretty strong and able to stand up well to wind and the weight of our Missouri snow. We don’t get much snow here so this allows us to save a little money because we don’t need W-trusses. If we were to go wider it would be smart to spend the extra money for W-trusses with our kit. W-trusses for the kit we selected would have been another $500.
While the heat sink and geothermal combined makes sense, we haven’t yet seen it work. We don’t yet know how it will truly work during our winters. If it doesn’t work and allow us to grow year round a larger system will have been a waste of money. We will start with a smaller system and see how it performs. If it works well and inexpensive to operate a larger unit that would allow us to sell to our local community might be a good business venture.
Removing trees before building
Before we start this project there will be several trees to remove. Doing this will prevent shading on the greenhouse and the root system from taking over the ground under the greenhouse. Removing trees close to the greenhouse will prevent a tree from falling on the greenhouse and damaging it.
There are about 5 trees that I want removed from the vicinity of the build site. Two of the trees are west of the site and will cast shadow on the greenhouse if left in place. One tree is massive, an old black locust, that could potentially drop limbs on our greenhouse. The roots from this tree could also end up under the greenhouse. We prefer to avoid the possibility of any of those problems and will remove the potential entirely.
There are a few additional trees that are to the north of this geothermal heat sink greenhouse site that I want removed. They don’t pose any immediate threat to the greenhouse, but I’d like to remove them now and ensure no trees will ever fall on the completed greenhouse and damage it. We will remove them now to avoid the possibility of tree fall damage entirely.
Goal to have the greenhouse off grid
After the greenhouse is completed and in operation we would like to start getting the greenhouse “off gird”. We will monitor the energy usage and design a solar system that will meet our needs. On the end of the greenhouse under the seedling tables we will build an enclosure for the charge controller and batteries.
Through rain collection off our nearby home into a cistern we will be able to water our greenhouse. We have enough annual rainfall that we can easily collect enough water for our needs. Ultimately we want to use an automated sprinkler system for a lawn to water the 4 grow boxes inside our greenhouse.
Goals for monitoring the geothermal heat sink greenhouse build
A secondary goal for this geothermal heat sink greenhouse, is the ability to wirelessly monitor the temperatures of the greenhouse,. Additionally, outside the greenhouse and the ground temperatures of the heat sink. Ultimately allowing others to view current temps and historical data would be nice.
I’ve not yet researched the options of products that will allow this. We do plan on placing a piece of PVC during the build that would allow a temperature probe to be dropped into the heat sink material. The PVC will be relatively inexpensive, we may add two to allow temperatures to me monitored at the top and bottom of the heat sink rock.
Almost ready to start excavation
We have all the materials except the styrofoam for the heat sink on hand. As soon as we can schedule the delivery of the 125 yards of rock we can start the dirt work, weather permitting. Our goal is to have the heat sink portion completed by the end of February. The greenhouse portion we hope to have completed and ready for seedlings mid March.
We will be documenting this project with photos and video, be sure to check back for updates of our progress.
Frequently I see folks in the Mittleider Facebook group discussing their wet weekly feed and them asking for ideas on keeping weekly feed dry. Once you add the Epsom salt to your weekly feed mix it becomes hygroscopic and will absorb moisture from the air. If you’re in a dry climate adding a half pound of Perlite to your weekly feed mix will help. For the gardener in a high humidity climate the Perlite will not be enough.
Another option to keeping weekly feed dry is to mix the fertilizer and micro nutrients but not add the Epsom salt until you need weekly feed. The fertilizer and micro nutrients are not hygroscopic. It isn’t until the magnesium sulfate is added that it begins to absorb moisture.
Add Epsom salt to smaller batches
Currently we have seedlings growing under grow lights. They are fed daily with a mixture called constant feed. Constant feed consists of 1 ounce of weekly feed in 3 gallons of water. We were out of weekly feed and I needed to mix up a batch of weekly feed. We won’t be putting seedlings in the ground for another 6-8 weeks, or weekly feed in our high humidity would have been very wet by the time we needed to use it in the garden.
Instead of dealing with wet weekly feed, we decided to mix up smaller batches. We mixed up 25 pounds of triple 13 fertilizer with the 10 ounces of micro nutrients and stored that mixture in a 5 gallon bucket with a Gamma lid. Don’t add your Epsom salt yet!
Typically you would add 4 pounds of Epsom salt to 25 pounds of fertilizer and the 10 ounce packet of micros. But we want to mix the weekly feed in smaller batches. We decided to figure for one pound of the epsom salt, so we divided the combined weight of fertilizer and micros, 25.625, by 4 which gives us 6.4 pounds.
So mixing 6.4 pound of the fertilizer and micro nutrients mix with 1 pound of Epsom salt will give us 7.4 pounds of weekly feed. You can mix more, or less, as you require. because we only need an ounce of weekly feed every time we mix constant feed I elected to mix up 3.2 pounds of weekly feed with a half pound of Epsom salt.
Watch the video
You can watch this video where I describe steps for keeping weekly feed dry. This is one of many videos on YouTube discussing Mittleider gardening. Please consider watching some of our other videos and subscribing to out channel.
A great way of ensuring success in growing seedlings is through the use of seedling heat mats. This is particularly true when starting hardy crops indoors before the average last frost of the year. Seedling heat mats will maintain a constant temperature of the growing medium. This will help get and keep your growing medium at a constant optimum temperature for germination.
To work with a pair of the Mittleider seedling flats, we went with a seedling heat mat that was 20 inches wide and 48 inches long. Two seedling flats fit on this mat with room on each end. We use that space later once we bump plants up to individual containers. Ours is like the one pictured below and includes a thermostat. It has a digital readout and maintains the temperature you set. You can see the seedling heat mat we use here.
The thermostat includes a probe that is placed in the soil. The current temperature of the growing medium will be indicated on the digital readout. The operator can adjust the desired temperature as needed. Our units are both set at 80 degrees for germination.
Combine heat mats with grow lights
When starting seedlings indoors it may be necessary to combine a seedling heat mat with grow lights. Currently our seedlings are germinated in the basement where there is no natural light. We start all our seedlings under grow lights and on the heat mats. Light and temperature are the first two of the six laws of plant growth and are necessary to grow healthy seedlings.
The grow lights heat the growing medium and helps cut down on the frequency for which the heat mats need to kick on to regulate temperatures.
It is February, which means it is time to be starting spring crops. We start all our seedlings under grow lights and on seedling heat mats. Everything is in our basement currently, but in the future we will be moving seedling production to the greenhouse.
Our seedling flats were moved to the basement today and have begun to come up to germination temperature. Once the growing medium reaches the correct temperature we will add seeds.
Start with hardy and moderately hardy varieties
Everything we are starting now are varieties that are hardy and moderately hardy. They will go into the garden well before our average last day of frost and will be protected with mini hoop houses. Some of this will hopefully be going into a greenhouse we will build soon.
Our seedling choices for spring
We have amended our list of crops for this year. Those we will be planting first are broccoli, cauliflower, onions, kale, spinach, red and white beets, and cabbage.
Determining when to start seedlings
While planning or starting spring crops we take advantage of the garden planning detail sheet in spreadsheet form. We enter or ADLF and the spreadsheet will calculate when we need to start and transplant the different seedlings. You can get the XLS file from the Mittleider Gardening group on Facebook. It is in the files section there in the group.
Every couple weeks we will be starting more seedlings.
Changes we are making to our garden plan
We are dropping a few plant varieties that we really don’t eat and have added a few. Radishes, eggplant, bush beans and Brussels sprouts have been removed from our garden plan for this year. The bush beans were difficult to get everything picked without having some sort of trellis to hold up the plants. We are instead going a pole bean. The others we found we just don’t eat much. That space they used to occupy will be better used for the things we do eat.
Here at our home we have begun the process of starting seedlings indoors. We use seedling heat mats and grow lights in our basement. Starting seedlings indoors has been the one not successful step we have learned through the Mittleider Gardening Method to increase our gardening success. Growing our own seedlings gives us better control over ur garden. We only use the strongest and healthiest seedlings.
By controlling variables such as soil temperature, daily available light, moisture and nutrition we have more success as compared to direct sewing seeds into the garden. We won’t have seeds delayed in germination, or failing to do so entirely, because an unexpected cold snap moved through and dropped soil temps.
What do I need to get started
You’ll need a space where you have ample room and the ability to control temperatures. That space will need room for the plants as they grow and you bump them up to larger containers. Enclosed porches, an extra bedroom, the basement or a small seedling house with any required supplemental heat will work. Electricity to power the grow lights and seedling heat mat will be needed. A nearby access to water would be a bonus, but isn’t absolutely necessary.
If you’re utilizing a room with adequate light a grow light won’t be necessary. If you’re growing in a basement or a room with inadequate lighting you’ll need an artificial source to keep your plants alive and healthy.
What grow lights do I need
Grow lights can be purchased or made to suite your purposes with items commonly available at your local Walmart. Sams Club and Costco both sell “shop lights” that are complete and just need to be hung and plugged into a power source that will work.
Commercially made grow lights are more expensive, but the grow light bulbs will use less power. I’ve not idea how many years we will need to run ours to reach s break even point but am happy with our lights.
If you want to go the budget route you can find florescent light housings at Walmart. If you’re a handy person, or have one in your life that will help, the fixtures are easy enough to assemble, hang and then install bulbs. Standard florescent bulbs will work to start your own seedlings indoors. Or through places such as Amazon you can buy bulbs specially for grow lights that you can install in your fixture.
For those who are concerned about your energy consumption, consider going with the LED bulb. If you’re using existing florescent fixtures they can be easily converted to power the LED bulbs. Be sure to bypass the ballast to further reduce your energy usage. There are tons of great videos on YouTube that show the conversion process.
Why grow your own seedlings
Starting your own seedlings indoors is a great way to control the quality of your garden. Using certified seeds and sterile soil helps ensure there is no disease. By growing extra seedlings you can insure only the strongest and healthiest plants make it into the garden. Having healthy seedlings to transplant into the garden helps ensure all the available space is utilized. No failure to germinate from directly sewed seeds results in more on your table or in the pantry.
You can get a searchable digital copy of the book at the Grow Food site, just select the “ebook” format option. The search feature works well and makes finding something specific in the book quite easy. You can print from the document and it is $7 cheaper.
If you’re interested in Mittleider Gardening Course dates for 2018 there only appears to be scheduled. The class scheduled for this year will be held at the Preparedness University in Kidder, MO. The class will be held April 9 through the 14th. To learn more about and reserve your seat go to Jim’s website, Grow Food.
Will there be additional class dates or locations
Jim and the Food for Everyone foundation has a very big year in 2018. If there are additional Mittleider gardening course dates for 2018 I will update this page. Check back periodically for any updates.
What will you need to bring?
What will you need for the classes? Not much. Enough clothes for the week, boots or appropriate foot wear for out in the garden and possibly for some mud. You will be using rakes, shovels and other hand tools as well as digging in the soil. A pair of gloves to protect your hands, if you so choose. April can still be quite cool and windy in Missouri. Including some clothes for cool and windy weather would be a great idea.
What can you expect from the Mittleider gardening course class
During the Mittleider gardening course you can expect to spend time in the classroom as well as in the garden. Students will have the opportunity to create their own soil beds. There will be workshop time where everyone will have the opportunity to make seedling flats and many of the other Mittleider gardening tools.
You can see a more comprehensive bulleted list of the topics and activities broken down by shop, classroom and garden time below.
Classroom and Garden Activities:
Garden Planning & Preparation (Old school using paper and pencil or high tech using satellite imagery for free, it’s not what you think.)
Seedling Production (How to turn that black thumb green and stop killing seedlings.)
Understanding Soils (Dirt isn’t just dirt. What you really need to know.)
Growing in Any Soil, in Any Climate (How and why you don’t need to do anything different if you know this secret.)
Bonus session: Grow year-round using Geo-Air, and building small or large greenhouses – in our own Geo-Thermal Greenhouse!
Creating a Mittleider Garden (How and why to REALLY create a productive garden.)
Growing in Containers or Grow-Boxes (Like growing above ground? You’ll love this session.)
Planting & Transplanting (Master this and you’ll never go hungry.)
Watering & Weeding (Made easy!)
Feeding – Plant Nutrition (How to source, measure and mix all the nutrients yourself to make your own natural mineral nutrient mix.)
Growing Vertically (Grow tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash and other plants vertically? Yes you can and why you should.)
Pruning & Caring for Plants (Almost every gardener gets this wrong. Understand how to really prune properly and see your garden explode with food.)
Protecting Plants from Weather & Bugs (Got a bug eating your garden? We will share solutions that will stop them in their tracks.)
Beating the Competition (How to keep deer, moles, raccoons, skunks, voles, bears, etc. and kids from destroying your garden.)
Lab and Workshop Projects
Mini-Greenhouses or Low Tunnels (How to extend your gardening season by 3 months!)
Planting seeds for seedling production (Super successful soil mixture, proper plant varieties, hands on practice.)
Transplanting seedlings in seedling production (We talked about it in class now you get to do it live and see how your seedlings grow through the week.)
Drilling PVC pipe for watering systems (Learn how to prepare your watering pipes super fast and easy.)
Installing automated Watering system (You don’t need to be a plumber to learn how to install your own watering system either above or below ground.)
Making flats for seedling production (Struggling to find all the materials and tools to make this at home? Make as many as you want and take them with you.)
Making markers for seedling production and garden planting (Make your own garden marker or one for a friend.)
Building T-Frames (With the right tools this takes just minutes to make. You’ll learn how to do this accurately and quickly.)
Building In-The-Garden Greenhouse (Don’t need a big greenhouse but want to extend your growing? You’ll learn how doing this.)
With the New Year upon us we are just a couple months away from starting seedlings under grow lights it is time to start preparing for my gardening season . In order to be prepared it is necessary that I plan out the years garden and make sure we have the tools, seeds, growing medium and chemicals that we will need to get started and to make it through the year.
For starting and growing seedlings my list includes growing medium (sand and sawdust), seedling flats, and to check on the grow light setup. Other required items include preplant, weekly feed, a bucket for the constant feed, and a watering can.
Depending on how you implement growing seedlings and your Mittleider garden, your list will likely differ slightly.
Seeds for the Mittleider garden
Preparing for my gardening season includes making sure I have the seeds in enough quantities to get through the gardening season. This is accomplished by planning out your garden. This can be accomplished with pen and paper or even on a computer using a spreadsheet. The Mittleider garden planning detail sheet helps in determining how many seeds you will need for the year.
There are many options for custom soil mixes in a Mittleider Garden, as outlined in the book. In our garden we use sand and sawdust because its readily available and we can acquire the sawdust for free. If your garden has grow boxes with custom growing medium in it those grow boxes will need need topped off.
Our seedlings are started and grown in sand and sawdust. Before starting our seedling production for this spring we will make the trip to get a truck load of sawdust. That will be used to mix up our growing medium to fill the seedling flats and our three grow boxes.
Nutrients needed in the Mittleider Garden
I won’t go into everything needed to mix the weekly feed and preplant, but you will need to ensure you have everything to mix up a batch. The micro nutrients are the only item we can not source locally. We buy our micros throw the Grow Food website.
If you grow seedlings, and you should, you too can have seedling success through sterilized soil. That sounds pretty serious but it is actually pretty simple. This process is only for starting seedlings. To do an entire garden simply would not be practical.
By sterilizing the soil where you start your seedlings you accomplish three things. Any diseases dormant in the soil from previous crops will be destroyed. If there are insects or their eggs in the soil this process will kill them. Finally, any weed or unwanted seeds will be prevented from ever germinating.
Growing seedlings in sterile soil helps ensure the plants are healthy and improves your chances of success in the garden.
How to sterilize your soil
The process of sterilizing your soil for the purpose involves a few cookie sheets and your oven. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Place your soil on the cookie sheet. The soil should be 1/2 to 1 inch deep on the cookie sheet and the soil level.
Once the oven is preheated place soil filled cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the cookie sheets and thoroughly mix the soil on the cookie sheet. re-level the soil and place it back in the oven and bake for an additional 45 minutes.
Once the soil has baked at 250 for a total of an one and a half hours it will need to cool before being used. You can put it into the containers where you will place your seeds or into a container with a lid to be used later.
An alternative to sterilizing soil
Another alternative to sterilizing soil for starting seedlings is to use a custom growing medium, Here in our garden we chose to start all our seedlings in sawdust and sand. It is nearly pH neutral and won’t contain any disease.
Watch the video on how to sterilize soil for starting seedlings
For those of you who are visual learners like me consider this video that covers the subject.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden