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.
We have been working outside this week and thought we would provide an update on the greenhouse build progress. This greenhouse is being built over our 95 ton heat sink and is part of our geothermal heat sink greenhouse project. We are still a long ways off from having the the heat sink operational. You can see what we have accomplished in this picture.
Arch supports installed
Near the peak of the arches you can see a horizontal support. They are on all the arches except the two on the end, These supports will provide rigidity for the arches under heavy winds and snow loads. We don’t get lots of snow here in NW Missouri but we do generally see some every year. If we received lots of snow it would have been necessary to go with a different style of arch to support a heavy snow load. They’re held in place with a self tapping screw to keep them from moving.
Installing greenhouse hip boards
Both sides of our greenhouse will get a hip board and baseboard installed. You can see the partially installed hip board on one side of our greenhouse in the picture above.
In this picture you can see how we are securing the hip board to our arches. Notice the Tapcon screw installed through the top bracket. One bracket at each arch will get a Tapcon to prevent the hip board from moving. Each arch, with the exception of the two end arches, will have the hip board secured in this fashion. The two end arches will have a 3/8 inch hole drilled through the board and arch. A carriage bolt will be used to secure the hip board at each end.
After both sets hip boards are up we will install the base boards. Once those are on we will need to do a little back filling with dirt to help keep critters from getting inside.
After the base board work is complete the ends will need to be closed up and the door and door frames built. We will be framing in both ends with treated lumber that was reclaimed from our in the garden greenhouse. We are still sorting out the details of the end walls.
After the end walls are complete the grow boxes will be built and installed. They will be filled with sawdust and sand, mixed at 75 percent sawdust. We likely transplant seedlings into the grow boxes before pulling plastic.
The double layer of greenhouse plastic will be installed this fall once the temperature drops to around 60 degrees.
We picked thirty pounds of Roma and Better Boy tomatoes this week. We will be taking the Roma tomatoes and making tomato sauce with them. The Better Boy tomatoes will get cut into pieces and freeze dried in our Harvest Right home freeze dryer. We love the Roma for making spaghetti sauce.
Juicing the Roma tomatoes
We use a juicer attachment for our meat grinder to juice our tomatoes. The skin and seeds come out seperately from the juice and is collect in a bowl. It is still pretty wet and lots of juice left in it. It will be run back through the juicer several times until all the juice has been removed. The skin and seeds are then taken out for the chickens to enjoy.
All the juice is collected in a large pot that will go on the stove to reduce. Simmering it over the course of several hours causes the water to be reduced through evaporation. This cause the juice to become thicker, making it into a sauce. You can see in the picture below how far the level has dropped.
Hand operated juicers
If you don’t have a juicer setup like ours but want to start making tomato saucee you can get a hand operated juicer for far less money.
Water bath canning of our tomato sauce
After reducing our sauce down to the desired thickness it was time to begin the water bath canning process. We use the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for all our canning. It is an inexpensive yet comprehensive canning book for less than $8.
This batch is all straight sauce, no additional flavoring was added. We will flavor it to taste when we cook with it.
After it cooled we labeled the lid and moved them to the pantry.
This week we are pruning cabbage leaves in our garden. They had been neglected and had become over grown making it difficult to water, fertilize and inspect for insects. This task should have been completed a few weeks ago and things were really getting out of hand. Fortunately they’re
Why should you be pruning cabbage leaves
There are a few reasons your cabbage leaves should be pruned regularly, three of those reasons were mentioned above. When the cabbage gets lots of leaves on it the plant takes up a lot of room. This can make the task of watering and applying the Mittleider weekly feed challenging. Inspection for insects can be nearly impossible when not properly pruned.
Pruning cabbage leaves encourages the plant to start new growth and put more energy into new growth and growing the head of cabbage. Pruning a couple leaves each week provides you with some nutritious leaves to eat or use in a smoothie,
What leaves should you prune
Any leaves that are touching the soil in a Mittleider garden are the first ones that get trimmed. Leaves that have turned yellow, are broken at the stem or just particularly damaged by insects are also trimmed. Leaves that overlap other plants can also be pruned to make it easier to apply weekly feed and water.
What tools are needed
There aren’t any special tools needed for pruning cabbage leaves besides your favorite pruners. For this task I prefer the same pruners that get used to prune our tomatoes. The short thin blades on the Fiskars micro tip pruning snip are sharp and allow for precise pruning. This pruning task can be completed with bypass pruners or even a good pair of scissors.
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.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden