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.
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.
How does Mittleider weekly feed compare to similar products?
Recently I got to thinking, how does the Mittleider weekly feed compare to similar products that are marketed for gardeners? I made a note to check the garden section the next time I went to Walmart to see how they compared. Lets talk about what I learned and why the weekly feed is superior.
For this comparison I am going to use three MiracleGro products and Oscomote. The three MiracleGro products are Liquafeed, and their Potting Mix.
Mittleider weekly feed expected analysis after mixing
After we mix our weekly feed for the garden we can expect the following analysis assuming the NPK came from triple 16 fertilizer. Those percentages below would change depending on your NPK percentages. The following percentages come from the instruction sheet that comes with the packets of Mittleider Magic Micro-Mix nutrients:
Plant nutrient Percentage
N – Nitrogen 13.000
P – Phosphate 13.000
K – Potash 13.000
Mg – MgSO4 1.000
B – Sodium Borate 0.050
Mn- Manganese Sulfate 0.120
Zn -Zinc Sulfate or Sucrate 0.300
Fe -Iron Sulfate or Sequestrene 0.030
Cu – Copper Sulfate 0.030
Ca – Calcium 0.700
S – Sulfur 3.000
Cl – Chloride 2.000
Mo – Sodium Molybdate 0.015
Osmocote expected analysis
Here are some pictures that show the analysis of the Osmocote. The percentages are good for N,P and K but that is all that it includes. Osmocote is missing 10 of the nutrients that are provided in the weekly feed. If you calculate the cost of this product just to use it as a standard fertilizer its going to be very expensive. I can buy 50 pounds of fertilizer for one one and a half containers of this product would cost.
Guaranteed analysis of the Liquafeed
The expected analysis of the Liquafeed is Nitrogen 12, Phosphate 9, Potash 6, Manganese 0.05 and Zinc 0.05. It only contains 5 of the 13 nutrients the plants need us to provide. It contains no calcium which aides the plant in taking up those it does provide.
The expected analysis of the MiracleGro potting mix
The potting mix is another one that contains only the NPK. The percentages are Nitrogen 21, Phosphate 11 and Potash 16. People use this and grow container gardens in it.
The expected analysis of MiracleGro Shake’n Feed
In the Shake n Feed I found the closest results to the weekly feed: Nitrogen 9, Phosphate 4, Potash 12, Calcium 3.5, Magnesium 1.4, Sulfur 7, Copper 0.05, Iron 9, Manganese 0.35 and Zinc 0.1.
Of all the products I compared to the weekly feed the Shake’n Feed comes the closest to having the 13 nutrients found in the weekly feed. Unfortunately it lacks three nutrients.
Rock dust guaranteed analysis
The data I found for the rock dust was derived from volcanic rock. Other forms of rock may produce a different analysis. Also, the phosphate shown in the analysis is Phosphoric Acid. Phosphoric acid 13, Potash 11, Calcium 1.23, Magnesium 1.74, Iron 0.8465, and Sodium 1.20.
Side by side analysis comparison
Here is a simple spreadsheet showing the products side by side to make it easier to see how they compare.
So what is the Mittleider Gardening Method, who created it and how is it different? The Mittleider gardening method is a complete system that was developed to allow any gardener to grow a healthy garden in any climate and type of soil. It is a system that ensures the plants have all 16 nutrients they require. Those nutrients are added on a weekly basis. It was developed to be easy and inexpensive for anyone in any part of the world.
It is a system that was named after the man who developed it, Dr. Jacob Mittleider. It allows the gardener to combine the best parts of growing in soil with the results of hydroponic gardening. It allows us to get results similar to hydroponic gardeners but without the massive costs. The Mittleider garden is known as the poor mans hydroponics system.
Dr. Jacob R Mittleider
Jacob Mittleider perfected this system over the course of 43 years to allow gardeners to maximize the use of their resources, space and even their time. The amount plants are large in a Mittleider garden because the crops are grown close together and through nourishing the plants with natural minerals. No special or expensive equipment is needed to apply the nutrients!
Six laws of plant growth
Jacob Mittleider defined the six laws of plant growth. These scientific laws of plant growth are non-nonnegotiable yet very few gardeners follow or fully understand them. If the gardener can figure out these 6 laws of plant growth and implement them in their Mittleider garden they will see a bountiful harvest. Ignore just one of these six laws of plant growth and your garden could be a total loss.
Mittleider gardens provide all the nutrients plants require
Because all the required nutrients are provided on a weekly basis a Mittleider garden can be grown in any soil, even sand and sawdust! Traditional gardening methods provide very few of the required 16 nutrients. When you provide all the nutrients necessary your plants will grow large, taste better and resist disease far better than an underfed plant. Regardless of how nutrient poor your soil may be, you can grow a Mittleider garden.
The first three nutrients the plant is able to provide its self with access to the air. Those three airborne nutrients are :
Next comes the primary nutrients. These three macro nutrients are:
The secondary nutrients are sometimes used in traditional gardens. Of the three secondary nutrients magnesium is often used for tomatoes. The three secondary nutrients are:
The last of the nutrients needed by all plants are known as the micro-nutrients or as the trace elements. There are 7 of them:
Mittlieder Gardening Method maximizes garden space
To maximize the available garden space, Dr. Jacob Mittleider began to grow vertically. For example, tomatoes can be grown a mere 9 inches apart when utilizing the Mittleider method and grown vertically under t-posts or a frames. That is 13 tomato plants being grown in one row that is merely 10 feet long!
When grown vertically a 170 pound test, or greater, baling twine is used to direct the tomato plants to grow vertically. The twine is wrapped around the plant as it grows. Every other tomato is trained up the twine in different directions towards the top of structure to a heavy gauge wire. If the gardener stands at one end of the row and looks toward the other they would see a “V” shape as shown in the picture below.
While the plants grow upwards they get further apart allowing them all access to sunlight and the air. Air and light are laws 1 and 3 of the six laws of plant growth. The gardener will prune the tomatoes or other vertical crop as they grow. As a result of pruning the plants are all able to get access to sunlight and air as they grow towards the top.
Growing vertically such crop as crooked neck squash keeps you from tripping on the vines and breaking plants. Going vertical makes weed control such much easier. Pruning, visual inspections for disease and insects and even harvesting is such much easier with crops grown vertically.
Use less water and help control weeds with the Mittleider gardening method
Watering a Mittleider garden soil bed is easy and uses less water than a traditional garden. A Mittleider soil bed is raised to permit good drainage. It has ridges to contain the water inside a 12 inch wide area. Because the water is only given to the plants in a narrow row, less water is used. When the water is contained inside the grow bed ridges no water gets into the isles to encourage weed growth. As a result of watering a narrow row there is far less water used as compared to traditional gardening methods.
Where can you learn more about the Mittleider gardening method
James (Jim) Kennard now runs the Food For Everyone foundation and maintains the website. You can learn more about the history of the Mittleider Gardening Method and even order the book from the Grow Food website. Jim and Araksya run a Mittleider group on Facebook. For those who like forums to share and search different topics relating to a Mittleider garden try the Mittleider Gardening Forums.
If you’re interested in trying out the Mittleider method you can even download the first 7 lessons in a digital format from the Mittleider Gardening Course Book for FREE. Those lessons cover everything you need to know to grow a Mittleider garden in your own soil.
Can you take classes on Mittleider gardening method?
Indeed you can. The Food for Everyone Foundation offers week long classes each year in Missouri and Idaho. These Mittleider Training Courses (MTC) are described as:
“…the Mittleider Training Course (MTC) is a one-week intensive immersion experience in this amazing system of growing, and for those who experience it their paradigm is forever changed. They KNOW how to grow a highly successful garden and they also have the confidence to assist, teach, and demonstrate success to others.”
For the visual learners who use YouTube
Finally, for the visual learners you can follow us on YouTube. We are still learning how to do the whole video thing so please be patient with us.
Knowing how many seedlings you need when planning your Mittleider garden can be difficult to figure out. Tools like the Mittleider garden planning detail sheet is invaluable in helping the gardener calculate how many seedlings will be needed. Certainly a simple calculator would make the process easier as well.
You can find a copy of the garden planning detail sheet inside the Mittleider Gardening Course book. A digital copy of it is available for free in the files section of the Mittleider Facebook group. We choose to use the garden planning detail sheet as a spreadsheet to make the process a little easier.
How we use the garden planning detail sheet
First we determine how many feet of soil beds and grow boxes we need to fill. Once that is done we decide how many feet of each crop we need to plant. Because we like to use the spreadsheet version of the garden planning details sheet, we started a spreadsheet like the one below.
The hardiness, spacing and number of columns comes from the garden planning detail sheet. The total feet is how much of the bed we want for a specific crop. It was determined by how much of each particular plant we want to grow based upon our need and the available room in our garden.
The seedling number is determined by multiplying the number of feet times 12 to get the number of inches. Take that number and divide by the number in the spacing column. As a reminder, that comes from the garden planning detail sheet. Take that number and multiply it by the number of rows. This will tell you the total number of seedlings you will need for the allotted space in your soil bed or grow box.
For the example given above, I will need 32 red beet seedlings to fill 3 feet of our soil bed. The “+ 10” portion I will discuss next.
Always plant extra seeds
Regardless of where your seeds come from there isn’t going to be a consistent 100 percent germination rate. Each time seeds are planted for seedlings you will need to plant extra to make up for those which fail to germinate.
Seeds bought from a reputable company will average as much as 85 percent germination rate. What that in mind we can plant an extra 15-20 percent and should have enough seedlings to fill our allotted garden space.
Another tip I might like to point out here, in those seeds that do germinate there will be seedlings that fail to thrive or just look weak. Those seedlings should never make it into your garden.
To help ensure only our strongest seedlings make it into the garden we plant an extra 10 percent of seeds. That makes a total of 30 percent extra seeds being planted. In most cases this will produce adequate enough seedlings to cover failure to germinate and the weak seedlings.
Because of the extra seeds planted we have plenty of healthy seedlings to fill the soil beds in our garden.
Planning your Mittleider garden video
For the gardeners who are visual learners, I’ve made this video and uploaded it to our YouTube channel.
Pruning tomatoes grown vertically in a Mittleider garden
Pruning tomatoes in a Mittlieder garden is an absolute necessity. Tomatoes are grown vertically with the plants just a mere nine inches apart. If they aren’t pruned they can quickly become a tangled mess. But with proper pruning and keeping them trained up the proper bailing twine you can have a LOT of tomatoes in just a little space.
I’ve made a YouTube video on pruning tomatoes in your Mittleider garden when you’re growing vertically. You will find the video at the bottom of this blog entry.
Where to begin with pruning
First, anything touching the soil or hanging below your automated watering system, if you’ve got it, needs to be removed from the plant. Leaves that touch the soil provide cover for insects and an easy access onto the plant. Leaves that are kept moist by touching the soil are also prone to disease such as blight.
Prune any leaves below the fruit
As the tomato sets fruit you can prune any leaves that are below them. Pruning those leaves which are below the fruit sets on your tomato helps to open up the area at the soil level for applying weekly feed. Pruning the older growth also helps stimulate the plant to grow up and continue to set more fruit.
My favorite pruners for tomatoes
We have tried several different methods and tools for pruning tomatoes. Hands down the best tool I’ve found for pruning properly is the Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snip. The short blades on this snip make pruning suckers easy and keep you from accidentally removing extra inadvertently. The thin point on the end makes pruning suckers close to the stem very easy.
Watch how to prune tomatoes
For the visual learner I’ve made a video on how to prune tomatoes grown vertically in a Mittleider garden. You get to see some pruning done shortly after transplanting and up through various stages of growth.
Pruning zucchini isn’t one of those topics I’ve seen discussed often. Neglect to prune your zucchini and they can become overgrown. This makes it difficult to see or harvest those squash and apply your weekly feed.
A zucchini that becomes overgrown has leaves that touch the ground. This makes a great hiding and breeding ground for insects. Leaves that touch the ground also make the plant more prone to getting powdery mildew. A good pruning allows proper airflow and makes it easier for the gardener to quickly identify and correct deficiencies and insect problems,
What to prune
Start with the leaves that touch the soil. Those leaves make the plant easily accessible to insects while providing them safety. As previously mentioned leaves that are in constant contact with the soil hold moisture on the leaf and encourages powder mildew.
Old leaves that are damaged are also a good candidate for removal. Removing these leaves that are generally located closest to the ground open up the plant and allow light and airflow to reach the plant. Remember the 6 laws of plant growth?
When to prune
To reduce the stress on the plant it is best to prune while its cool. During the spring or fall I prune in the morning or in the evening. During our brutal hot summers I try and prune in the evenings.
How much do I prune
When I’ve neglected to prune as I should I try to remove less that 50 percent of the total leaves. It is NOT ideal as this causes more stress to the plant. Ideally I want to remove no more than a quarter of the leaves at any one time.
The pruning will stimulate the plant to grow and replace the leaves you just removed. Keep it fed and watered in conjunction with routine pruning and you will have lots of zucchini.
What tool do I need for pruning?
For this particular job a good pair of ordinary kitchen scissors will work quite well. But for pruning a Mittleider garden in general I love my Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snips. If you don’t have a pair watch for them on clearance at Walmart this fall.
In the Mittleider gardening method Dr. Jacob Mittleider defined the six laws of plant growth. If the gardener will observe these 6 laws their garden will do well.
Law 1 – Light
Direct sunlight is best for your garden. All day sunlight is best but you will need 6-8 hours at a minimum. Avoid shade from objects such as buildings and trees. Shade from other plants should be avoided when possible.
Law 2 – Temperature
Seedling production and seed germination are best in a narrow temperature range. Seed germination requires a soil temperature of 70-85 degrees. Seedlings require soil and air temperatures to range from 65 to 85 degrees. Outdoor plants need air temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees.
In temperatures above 90 degrees it may become necessary to provide partial shade. For colder temperatures it will be necessary to provide supplemental heat.
Law 3 – Air
Third in the six laws of plant growth is air. Plants pull three different nutrients from the air to create carbohydrates. Those nutrients are oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. Plants take in air through their roots so it is very important to have proper soil drainage.
Law 4 – Water
A plant is comprised of 80 percent water. Nutrients are carried down through the soil to the roots by water. Water must be available at the roots for them to take up nutrients. During hot weather the plant will try and control its temperature through transpiration with the water. If the plant is wilting it is dying.
Law 5 – Nutrition
This law is the one that most gardeners fail to fully provide for their garden. Your garden needs 16 nutrients to produce healthy plants. For healthy growth of your garden the plants require a balanced nutrition at all stages of growth.
Plants take in their nutrients in a water soluble form through their roots. If your nutrients are not water soluble they will not be immediately available to the plant.
Three of those nutrients the plants take from the air, see Law 3 above. The remaining 13 the Mittlieder gardener provides to the plants. They are comprised of macro, secondary and micro nutrients. Macro nutrients are NPK, also known as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The secondary elements your plants need are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The micro nutrients are zinc, manganese, molybdenum, copper, iron, boron and chlorine.
Law 6 – Competition
The sixth and final of the six laws of plant growth is competition. Competition can come in several forms for the plants in your garden. Disease, animals, out of control weeds, insects and even other plants in your garden can compete with your plants. Learn to eliminate or control the competition while observing all of the six laws of plant growth and your garden will amaze you.
A pressure canner like our All American is an invaluable tool for the self reliant gardener. When we have a large quantity of vegetables, like this mess of green beans, to can you’ll find our canning operation moved outdoors. To do this inside occupies the stove for the day and makes the AC work over time to remove all that extra heat and humidity coming off that pressure canner.
We setup our pressure canner is setup right outside the back door to allow us to sit inside enjoying the comfort of the AC while keeping an eye on the pressure gauge and the fire. This makes it possible to continue our daily routine and still prepare meals in the kitchen.
Using a pressure canner on windy days
On especially windy days we do have to set up a wind block. A strong wind pushes the flame to one side of the pressure canner and makes controlling the temperature and pressure more challenging. The wind makes it harder to get the canner up to operating temperature, that makes for a longer day of canning. A strong wind will also cause you to burn more propane.
If its a windy day and you’ve got to put food in the pantry you can setup a wind break. A crude frame with some sheet metal or even scrap lumber can be fashioned into a functional wind break
I had this camp stove out already but have also used a single burner fish/turkey fryer to run our All American pressure cooker. It’s closer to the ground and actually makes it easier to reach inside the pressure cooker to load it or pull out the finished product. The single burner is about half the cost of this two burner stove I’ve got in the picture below.
It’s always an exciting time when we bring in our first big batch of Kentucky pole beans for the year. We eat the small batches in the early part of the gardening season. When those pole beans are picked in mass we break out the pressure canner.
We’ve had several smaller batches of green beans from our garden so far this year that we’ve enjoyed as part of various meals. As you can see below, our pole beans have really begun to come on strong and it’s time to break out the pressure canner and start putting it in the pantry.
This is our first year growing a Kentucky pole bean. Last year we grew bush bean for the first time with the Mittleider gardening method. The sheer amount of beans we grew in a thirty foot row absolutely overwhelmed us. Our little Presto canner had to be upgraded to handle the 60 plus pints we harvested each week.
After spending so much time bent over that row of bush beans we decided to try growing vertically this year with a pole bean variety. My back is so very grateful!
We are putting together this video series on how to grow a Mittleider garden cheaply and to grow in your soil. Most homes already have the tools needed to grow in your own soil. With a little of your labor you can have your own beds in and ready for the next step before planting.
You don’t have to garden in grow boxes to have a Mittleider garden
There seems to be this misconception that one has to have expensive grow boxes to grow a Mittleider garden. That is absolutely not true. You can grow as good of a garden in your own soil for a lot less money.
But you don’t understand, my soil is horrible
Those words are heard a lot when trying to convince someone to stop amending their soil and grow with the Mittleider method. You can grow in your soil. Because we provide all the nutrients the plant needs on a weekly basis the lack of nutrition in your soil is entirely irrelevant. With the Mittleider gardening Method the soil is used for the following:
it provides the plant with anchorage and protection for the roots
Holds air and water for the plant
It stores the nutrition we apply to the soil beds
Get the 7 lessons on growing in your own soil for FREE