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.
This year instead of raising Cornish cross for meat we decided to try the Freedom Ranger meat chicks. Our first order of 25 chicks arrived yesterday from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania. They all survived the journey and appear to be in good health. They’re on the back porch in our custom built brooder.
In only a few minutes after being moved into the brooder they were using the chicken nipple waterer to get their first drink. It took them about an hour before they started eating.
Why the Freedom Ranger meat chicks?
We have raised and butchered lots of the Cornish cross meat chicks over the years. They’re a great bird and grow to butcher size quickly. They don’t do much foraging and rely entirely on the chick grower we provide.
I’ve read and seen videos claiming that chicken breeds like these Freedom Rangers have a better feed conversion rate and are great foragers. When provided with fresh grass each day with the aide of a chicken tractor they should hunt for insects and browse in the grass. I’d like to see for myself how they do in a chicken tractor.
Freedom Rangers in a chicken tractor
When these Freedom Rangers are ready to be moved out of the brooder, they will go into a modified John Suscovich stress free chicken tractor. Ours is being built one foot taller than the plans indicate in the book. I’m making it a little taller to help avoid smashing my forehead.
The chicks will be moved to a fresh patch of grass in the yard at least once a day. As the get larger they will possibly be moved twice a day as they eat all the grass. It is our hope that by supplementing their diet with grass and insects that the amount of grower they consume will drop. We hope that the supplemented diet in our chicken tractor will reduce our cost.
Tracking cost of raising Freedom Ranger meat chicks
To track our total cost of the butchered chickens we are using a simple spreadsheet to keep a running tally of our costs. We do our own butchering, we will not have that added cost. The only cost I am not going to track will be electricity for the heat lamps and for the rural water. Both are relatively inexpensive when compared to feed and won’t great affect our final cost. We are more interested in the food cost for rearing these chicks. That is why we ultimately decided to not bother tracking electricity usage or total gallons of water.
Eventually we will raise another batch of Cornish cross broilers to have something to compare to these Freedom Ranger meat chicks. To be perfectly honest, I like the idea of the chickens diet being comprised of grass and insects. If they forage well there is a possibility that we stick with the Rangers. Time will tell.
I wanted to talk about raising chicks with less mess. Our Freedom Ranger chicks arrived in the mail today and went into our brooder. It was our special built brooder that gave me the idea for this topic.
Chicks are messy
As a young boy, I helped my parents to raise and butcher hundreds of meat birds over the years. When we first brought them home they were cute and easy to clean after. As they got bigger everything turned into a big mess. Those big waterers full of nasty water were my least favorite job.
A few decades later when I started raising meat birds for my family I was quickly reminded how messy those birds are when they get big. I grumbled about it and started thinking about ways to cut down on the mess and waste of food and water.
Chicken nipples to reduce wasted water
A blog on the internet about mess free waterers provided the first gem on raising chicks with less mess. Chicken nipples. They’re wonderful and you need some.Chicken nipples provide the chicks and full grown birds with a clean source of water. They cant get into the water to poop in it or spill it out into the brooder.
This Turbo Feeder from Rite Farm Products is another great way to cut down on the mess from the chicks. The design of the feeder discourages the chicks from getting into the feeder to scratch out the feed or to poop in it.
See our brooder and setup on YouTube
Watch our video on raising chicks with less mess on YouTube. You can see the brooder, turbo feeder, and our chicken nipple waterer.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden