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.
Today I wanted to share my thoughts about adding egg shells to your garden. While I understand the thought process behind why folks add their ground up egg shells to the garden, I am going to explain why I believe it is a mistake to add them.
Why are egg shells needed in the garden?
You will see lots of folks recommend adding their egg shells to the garden because they contain some of the calcium that all plants need. Calcium is one of the many nutrient that all plants need. Nutrients is law 5 of the Six Laws of Plant Growth in the Mittleider gardening method. If you want to learn more about plant nutrition then the Grow Food website is a terrific place to get started.
Some plants, like tomatoes, are heavy calcium feeders and will need supplemental calcium. Insufficient levels of calcium manifest in tomatoes as blossom end rot. Have you ever seen blossom end rot on your tomatoes? You likely had a calcium deficiency in your garden.
For areas with 20 plus inches of rainfall, the calcium helps to amend the pH. When the garden soil pH is outside of acceptable levels the plants are unable to use most of all the available nutrients. If your pH is not correct your garden will suffer.
So what is wrong with the egg shells?
Is there something wrong with adding the egg shells to your garden? No. The egg shells are not going to do any harm to your garden. But they are also not going to help your garden when it actually needs calcium.
Plants need their nutrition to be inorganic
Understand the items in the rest of this paragraph can make you a better gardener. Plants need their nutrients in the form of a water soluble, inorganic material. The nutrients and plant does not take from the air are absorbed with water in through the roots.
Egg shells are organic and are not water soluble. Until they are are converted to an inorganic state they simply wont be of any use in your garden.
Can I just wait for the egg shell to be converted to inorganic?
Sure, you can wait. But I do not think you should. First off, there is no real way to determine when the organic egg shells are actually going to be converted to that inorganic state and become water soluble. It could be a year or more until it is available to the plants. When it does finally become available we really do not know how much is available and if it will be enough for the plant.
What can I use to provide calcium to my garden?
To better provide calcium to your garden you can use either gypsum or lime, Typically speaking, areas that receive less than 20 inches of annual rainfall will need gypsum. If you get 20 or more, then you can use lime like we do. It is available at most farm supply and garden stores and is relatively inexpensive. We get ours in 50 pound bags and it typically lasts us several years.
If you would like to experiment a little and try adding calcium to your garden, such as to fight blossom end rot on your tomatoes, you can try something like the Bonide Hydrated lime. If you are in a law annual rain fall area then try gypsum, known as Calcium Sulfate Dihydrate.
Video discussing why I don’t add egg shells
Recently I recorded this video while I was starting seeds and discuss my thoughts on adding egg shells to your garden. It mirrors much of what you read here. You can watch me getting seeds started in a seedling tray as I discuss it.
This update is late in coming, my apologies. This blog entry is going to be short and sweet, with an embedded video from YouTube. Until fall and winter return I’m not really going to be able to trust this system beyond what a normal greenhouse does. Stay tuned for more content on it this winter.
Our greenhouse side curtains are entirely different. They attach along the sides near the bottom of the greenhouse. When the sides are opened the curtain drops towards the ground from the hip board.
This picture below shows an open side curtain during the install process. These is a side pocket on each end that prevents wind from blowing around the ends of the curtains.
How the side curtain operates
The operation of the side curtains to open and close is quite simple. Through the use of a counter weight and winch one person and open and close the side curtain. A length of cable runs from the winch on one end of the greenhouse, along the hip board, to a counter weight at the opposite of the greenhouse,
At the top of the top of the greenhouse side curtain is a hemmed pocket along the entire length. Through that hem is length of pipe. A small hole was made through the side curtain below the pipe approximately every 6 feet. one end of a length of line is put through the hole and tied off around the pipe and curtain material. the other end of the put through a pulley and then crimped onto the cable running between the winch and counter weight.
As the cable is let out from the winch the curtain is lowered. To raise the side curtain you simply operate the winch and bring in the cable.
Why a drop down greenhouse side curtain?
There are two reasons why I like the idea of a greenhouse side curtain like the one on the Zimmerman greenhouse kit. By lowering the curtain towards the ground instead of from the ground up there are two advantages.
When the side curtain is open, the opening is at the top and not at the ground level as is typical for most greenhouses. This allows the gardener to vent excess heat from closer to the peak of the greenhouse. This could be particularly advantageous for tall plants that are grown vertically.
The second advantage is in helping to keep critters out of the greenhouse. In the typical greenhouse when the side curtain rolls up from the bottom all nature of animals can easily get into the greenhouse. Our side curtains are always secured at the bottom, making it more difficult for unwanted pests and animals to get inside.
It has been a while since we sharing an update on our greenhouse build progress. Not much was accomplished during the heat of the summer. Now that fall is here we have taken advantage of cool weather and got busy with this project. The structure is up, the end walls are built and all of the double wall plastic is up and secured. The blower motor that inflated the canopy is installed and operational.
What’s left to do to the greenhouse
What do we have left to do with this greenhouse? The side curtains on our greenhouse need to be installed. This Zimmerman High Tunnel kit has curtains that secure at the bottom and drop down from the top to vent excess heat. After the side curtains are up and operational, the door needs to be built, covered with plastic and installed.
Once the door is on we need to bury an electrical line pulled through conduit. It will provide the power to the for the inflated fan and the fan that will blow air for the heat sink. Once the power is run to the greenhouse we will work on the grow boxes and making the heat sink operational.
The grow boxes
We have all four of them built and pushed to one side of the greenhouse. They need to be placed, spaced out, leveled and secured in place with stakes. An application of preplant will applied to the soil inside the grow boxes. Then they need to be topped off with a mixture of sand and sawdust. After mixing in an application of weekly feed and preplant with the sand and sawdust the grow boxes will be ready.
The two grow boxes down the center of the greenhouse will have the a-frame structure built to allow vertical gardening. That can be built after the seedlings are in and in the warmth and comfort of an operational geothermal heat sink greenhouse.
What’s left for the heat sink
So far we don’t have any more greenhouse build progress to report on the heat sink portion of this project. But it’s on our list of things to accomplish. Once the greenhouse is buttoned up the heat sink is our next project. The pipes on the inlet side of the heat sink will be bundled together and cut at the same height above the ground. The fan that will move air through the heat sink will be mounted on top of the barrel that will be our manifold. That barrel will then be partially buried over heat sink pipes.
Watch the video update of our greenhouse build progress
This video is part 7 in our YouTube video series on our geothermal heat sink greenhouse build. If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing to our channel.
Today we went out to complete our Beauregard sweet potato harvest. We had a hard frost two nights in a row and it killed the sweet potato vines. The first killing frost has always been our indicator that it was time to harvest sweet potatoes. You can see the frost damaged vines below.
To avoid fighting with the vines during the sweet potato harvest we typically pull all the vines and toss them into the pen for the chickens. During the vine removal process some of our Beauregard sweet potatoes pulled free of the sand and sawdust in which they grew. Here you can see all the vines are removed and several smaller sweet potatoes are visible on the top of the grow box.
Harvesting our sweet potatoes by hand
A big advantage to using the Mittleider Gardening Method and growing sweet potatoes in a grow box filled with sawdust and sand is easy harvesting. We are able to dig into the sand and sawdust with just our hands, no tools or potato forks necessary. Just a pair of gloves was need to complete our Beauregard sweet potato harvest.
This is our first year growing the Beauregard sweet potato. At the time of this blog entry they’ve only been out of the garden a couple days and we’ve not eaten any. We won’t know if we truly like it until we’ve eaten some and made a few pies with them.
Aesthetically, I like color and medium size of this variety. The massive potatoes we got with the Georgia Jet took much longer to bake and was more than what one person would typically eat with a meal.
Here is a representative of the typical size of sweet potato from our Beauregard harvest.
Final harvest amount
This year we decided to plant sweet potatoes and my favorite Yukon Gold potatoes in this grow box. Half of our 4′ x 15′ foot grow box was used for growing Beauregard and Yukon Gold. We didn’t weight everything to see how much we actually grew, but you can see how many we have in our 1 yard garden cart.
Review of the Beauregard sweet potato
After a curing period we will do a review of the Beauregard sweet potatoes we grew this year. Once we have eaten several and prepared them in different ways we will share our thoughts.
As always, thanks for reading our little blog and our entry on our Beauregard sweet potato harvest. Please consider leaving comments for us.
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.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden