Category Archives: Mittleider Garden

What is the Mittleider gardening method?

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.

Transplant tomato seedlings

Prune and transplant tomato seedlings in your Mittleider garden

Today we are going to prune and transplant our tomato seedlings from seedling flats to our grow boxes.  Pruning before transplanting is going to help make them stronger and help to get them through the shock of transplanting faster.  If you are looking for information on pruning tomatoes grown with the Mittleider gardening method, check out this post.

Transplant tomato seedlings

While we demonstrate transplanting these seedlings into a grow box, the same steps can be taken to put them into your native soil.

Why prune before transplanting?

Pruning tomatoes before transplanting is a good idea for a couple reasons.  First, by removing some of the leaves it is going to be able to transplant it deeper into the soil.  The more of the tomato plant you can get into the soil, the more roots it is going to establish.  More roots will help it to grow faster and supply more water and nutrition to the plant and those delicious tomatoes  we want to grow.  It is all about the tomatoes!

Reducing the leaf mass on the seeding will also help reduce transplant shock.  With less mass to try and support through the shock of transplant, the seedling will come out of shock faster.  Our absolute favorite pruning tool is the Fiskar.

What do I prune?

This is a good time to make sure all the suckers are removed.  To see what we typically removed while pruning seedlings be sure to see the video below.

Transplant them deep

The deeper you can transplant your tomato seedlings, the better.  The stem is just covered in root hairs.  Once they are below the soil they will begin to change into roots. Those new roots will help to get the added water, air and nutrients to the plants.

Take care not to get the terminal bud, or the growing tip, buried.  Doing so will kill the plant and end your chance of getting any tomatoes.

Give them nitrogen

To help get those tomatoes to recover quickly we also give them a shot of nitrogen.  The nitrogen is applied 3-4 inches away from the plants at a rate of 1/4 ounce per linear foot.  Once the nitrogen is applied we scratch it into the soil and then water it and the tomatoes thoroughly.

Here is the video

We made a video showing the pruning and transplanting process on our tomatoes.  We also will include a follow up video showing how all out transplants looked a week later.

adding egg shells to your garden

Adding egg shells to your garden

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.

adding egg shells to your garden
egg shells are not ideal for providing calcium to your garden

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.

Greenhouse side curtains

Greenhouse side curtains

We just finished installing our greenhouse side curtains on our geothermal heat sink project.  Typically a greenhouse will have sides that roll up to allow ventilation and excess heat to be removed.  Our Zimmerman High Tunnel kit is designed differently.

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.

greenhouse side curtain
this greenhouse side curtain is party open

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.

counter weight that lowers the greenhouse side curtain
When this counter weight is lowered the side curtain lowers
this winch operates the greenhouse side curtain
This winch lowers and raises the side curtain

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.

Greenhouse build progress

Greenhouse build progress

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.

Greenhouse build progress
Greenhouse build progress – preparing to install canopy

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.

Greenhouse build progress - canopy plastic
Greenhouse plastic installed on canopy of greenhouse

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.

https://youtu.be/_KLYGDmFoMA

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

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.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest
Preparing to harvest Beauregard sweet potatoes

This is our third year growing sweet potatoes and decided to try a different variety this year with the Beauregard.  Previously to this we tried  growing Georgia Jet sweet potatoes.  Here is our Georgia Jet harvest.

Removing the vines before harvest

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.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

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.

If you’re interested in the Mittleider Gardening method, you can get the Mittleider Gardening Course book on Amazon.

What the harvest looked like

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.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest
Beauregard potato size comparison next to XL glove

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.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

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.

Greenhouse build progress

Greenhouse build progress

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.

Greenhouse build progress
Greenhouse build progress – hip board installation

 

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.

We used a 3/8 impact adapter with a socket and our impact driver to insert the lag bolts.

Greenhouse build progress - installing hip board
Hip board installation on our Zimmerman high tunnel

What comes next

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.

Making tomato sauce

Making tomato sauce

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.

Making tomato sauce
Making tomato sauce from roma tomatoes picked thus week

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.

Making tomato sauce
3 and a half quarts of tomato sauce in the hot water bath canner

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.

Pruning cabbage leaves

Pruning cabbage leaves

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.

Pruning cabbage leaves
cabbage after pruning leaves

Watch our cabbage pruning video on YouTube

Other pruning topics

How to prune zucchini 

How to prune tomatoes 

Mittleider grow box maintenance

Mittleider grow box maintenance

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.

Mittleider grow box maintenance
Mittleider grow box being topped off with sawdust

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 deficiencyUrea 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.