Our grow boxes and in garden green house is beginning to come together. We now have two 18 inch wide by 30 feet long grow boxes built from treated 2 x 8 lumber in our garden. To those grow boxes we are adding the structure to allow us to grow vertically and support our in garden green house. The grow box construction is covered on page 78 of the MGC.
Before mixing and adding our growing medium, sawdust and sand for us, we added our pre-plant mix to the bottom of the grow box. Page 85 in the MGC book tells us to add one ounce per linear foot. So to this 30 foot grow box we measured out and added 30 ounces of pre-plant fertilizer. The grow box is now ready to be filled with a custom growing medium.
We utilized the free sawdust we were able to get locally to make our custom growing medium and sand. Following the MGC book, we mixed three parts sawdust to one part sand. This is mixed by volume and NOT by weight.
One 50 pound bag of all purpose sand filled a 5 gallon bucket so we used that as our measuring tool. After each bucketful of sawdust was added to our wheel barrow we added approximately 1/3 of a bag of sand. After the 15 gallons of saw dust and 5 gallons of sand were in the wheel barrow we mixed everything with a shovel before pouring it into the grow box. Each 10 foot section of our 30 foot grow boxes required 15 gallons of sand and 135 gallons of sand.
Once the grow box is full and level we have to add our pre-plant and weekly fertilizer to the medium and mix it in thoroughly. Page 87 in the MGC book calls for 1 ounce per linear foot of the pre-plant fertilizer mix and 1/2 ounce per linear foot of the weekly feed.
The fertilizer can be mixed in with a potatoe for or a shovel, but we have an attachment for our gas powered weed eater and will be using it.
These are a little late in coming, but both boxes are now full and there is more progress on the green house portion. Later today we will order the green house plastic to cover the structure
If you are starting seedlings you will need constant feed. After your seeds have germinated the seedlings require a smaller dose of fertilizer than what would be applied in the garden. To give them a full dose of the weekly feed in a small container would burn them.
The MGC Book, on page 183 calls for the mixing of 1 ounce of the weekly feed fertilizer to 3 gallons of water. The nutrients do not dissolve immediately. Typically we will mix up a new batch and allow it to sit overnight to ensure everything dissolves.
If the constant feed is needed immediately one could add the weekly feed to a small amount of hot water and stir until dissolved. Add that solution to your bucket with 3 gallons of water and stir before using.
What containers can I use for the constant feed
My favorite container for solution is an old rectangular laundry detergent bucket. The shape makes it ideal for getting up close to the edge of the seedling table and our seedling flats. We can get the constant to the seedlings without slopping the liquid every where.
You can see the side of my bucket below. A measured 3 gallons of water was poured into the bucket. Then the water line marked on the outside of the bucket with a marker.
If you will have a LOT of seedlings then a plastic barrel or trash can with a lid would work to hold your constant feed. Avoid using metal containers, the solution will cause rust. To use the constant feed from a large container one would simply stir the solution and dip the watering bucket into the barrel.
The special device for watering seedlings with constant feed
A sprinkling can is simply a can with holes made with a small nail and hammer. For our own use here at home we took an empty 16 ounce can of green beans and made the holes. A small nail like the one shown below is ideal.
The beans I recently started from seeds for my fall crops are growing like mad and will need to be bumped up before I transplant them in the garden. To allow room for them to grow when we bump them up (transplant) we built a couple more seedling flats.
In your Mittleider Gardening Course book you can find a description and dimensions of the seedling flats on page 181.
The flat was filled with the same sawdust, sand and perlite mix that was used in the first one where our seeds are now growing. The beans will be transplanted into the new flat soon.
This morning I watered the seeds in the seedling flat that I planted less than 48 hours ago. Once watering was complete I peeled back the burlap to check on them and was surprised to see germination already! Now that I have germination the burlap will be removed. I will still water through the burlap to help protect the seeds.
From left to right in the picture that has currently germinated you will see arugula, kale, peas and the beginning of my beans. I will need to build some additional seedling flats so I can bump up the seedlings as they grow and become confined. These will be planted in our grow boxes and will have an in garden green house built over them to extend our gardening season.
These 30 foot long and 18 inch wide boxes are being built for our fall crops. We will also be building an in garden green house over these boxes. This will allow us to extend our growing season by 12 weeks.
Once construction is complete they will be filled with a mix of sand and sawdust as our growing medium. As that growing medium contains no nutrients for the plants we will be providing all of the necessary nutrients via an inexpensive mix that is applied on a weekly basis.
The PVC you see next to the treated 2×8 serve a few purposes. They help hold the boxes level and in place once filled with our sawdust and sand growing medium. They also support the a-frames we will be making by heating and bending some half inch pvc. Once the mini a-frames are in place they can then be covered with green house plastic to protect our fall crops.
Next to the grow boxes you can see our sweet potatoes growing like mad.
Mixing up a batch of Mittleider pre-plant is an easy task and is inexpensive to do. The three ingredients in Mittleider pre-plant are lime or gypsum, boron and epsom salt.
Do I need gypsum or lime?
It is easy to determine which one you need. If your annual rainfall is 20 inches or more you will need lime. If you receive less than 20 inches annual of rain then you will need gypsum. Don’t know your average annual rainfall? You can ask your local extension office or simply Google it.
Mittleider pre-plant mixing instructions
According to the Mittleider Gardening Course book, 4th edition, on page 51, we are going to mix 5 pounds lime of gypsum, 1 ounce of boron from 20 Mule Team Borax20 Mule Team Borax, and 4 ounces of magnesium sulfate from plain old Epsom Salt. Check your Walmart or favorite store for the best prices. The Borax is a washing additive in the laundry detergent area and the epsom slat will be in health and beauty. You will also need an inexpensive digital kitchen scale to weigh everything.
Lime is generally sold in a 40 pound bag. We like to mix the entire bag of lime at once. So to the 40 pound bag of lime we add 2 pounds of Epsom Salt and 8 ounces of 20 Mule Team Borax. This comes from page 53 of the 5th edition of the Mittleider Gardening Course book.
Every year when I start getting ready to grow seedlings I mix up a batch of seedling flat growing medium. By starting with new growing medium every year I ensure there are no insects, plant disease or weed seeds. This helps to ensure healthier plants are going into my garden and I am not introducing weed seeds to the garden.
How to mix custom soil
Time to mix up the sawdust, sand and perlite that will be used as our growing medium in our seedling flats. We mixed 2 parts sawdust, 1 parts sand and 1/2 part perlite for our seedling flat, as seen in the pictures below. The perlite is optional and can be omitted to keep your costs down.
We mix everything in a wheel barrow with a flat nosed shovel before transferring everything into our seedling trays.
The Mittleider Gardening Course book recommends 3 parts sawdust to 1 part sand. It also gives options to sand and sawdust, including mixing ratios. Get your own MGC book here if you don’t already have one.
Seedling flats are shown in the Mittleider Gardening Course book on page 181. The dimensions of the seedling flats are 18″ x 18″ x 2 1/2″. Once filled with the mixed growing medium we added 1 1/2 ounces of our pre plant fertilizer mix. (Page 51 in the MGM, revision 4)
Do you prefer to use your own soil?
Not everyone wants to mess with the extra work of acquiring everything to make a custom growing medium. The correct sawdust can be difficult to find and even expensive when you do find it. You can sterilize your own soil and grow healthy seedlings. See my blog post on Seedling Success Through Sterilized Soil.
We needed sawdust to fill our grow boxes and made a quick trip to Jamesport, MO to a sawmill. This lumber mill makes pallets and will allow us to take the sawdust for FREE. We just needed to bring a shovel and fill the truck ourselves.
They do not make pallets from walnut so this sawdust is safe to use. They have huge piles of excess sawdust and were happy to have us take some away. We will make a few trips here in the near future.
What sawdust is safe for grow boxes?
Any sawdust made from trees of any variety in the United States except walnut is safe for use in your garden. Walnut sawdust contains tannic which can retard the growth or even kill it if the concentration is high enough. If the sawdust has any walnut in it you shouldn’t use it.
Can you use sawdust from plywood?
There are two reasons you should not consider using sawdust from cabinet shops. The glues used in the process of making plywood can be toxic to plants and humans.
The second reason you shouldn’t use that sawdust from cabinet shows is that the particles likely either too large or too small for use in your garden. If they come from a planer then they will be too large to permit proper drainage and will sour in your garden.
Sawdust made on table saws, radial arm saws or with handheld saws is too fine. Sawdust that is too fine doesn’t drain easily and can result in compacting. If your growing medium is compacted the plants can’t get water or oxygen to their roots and will die.
How to pick the right sawdust for your Mittleider garden
If you would like to see how to determine what sawdust will work in your Mittleider garden be sure to read this blog post. There is even a video showing you the correct size and sawdust that will cause compaction.
But to put it plainly, sawdust from any source that isn’t a sawmill running a large circular saw isn’t going to work.
Can’t find a sawmill?
If you can’t find a sawmill locally that has the correct sawdust you can use wood pellets. Pellets that used for heating work as do equine pellets. For more information check out the blog entry on equine pellet sawdust.
Making Mittleider soil beds is the cheapest way to get started with the Mittleider gardening method. A Mittleider soil bed can be made with a few basic yard tools, a few sticks and some string. Any type of soil can be used for making Mittleider soil beds, even if it has sand, clay or rocks. A Mittleider garden can even be grown in a raised grow box filled with only sawdust and sand!
In just a few hours a class of beginners in this Mittleider gardening course boot camp were able to transform this bare patch of ground into a bunch of Mittleider soil beds. The raised soil bed allows for proper drainage. The edges of the grow bed have a raised ridge to contain water during daily watering. Watering just the grow beds and not the entire garden reduces your water consumption and helps to cut down on weeds.
Making soil beds with rakes and shovels
In the picture below you will see the boot camp class making 30 foot long soil beds. Those beds are 18 inches wide and are kept straight with 4 stakes and 2 lengths of twine.
Shovels and rake are used to move soil from the isle between the beds and into the soil bed. Those soil beds are kept straight with 4 wooden stakes and two lengths of twine. A simple and inexpensive garden level is used to ensure those Mittleider soil beds are level. Level soil beds are critical in a Mittleider garden.
Download the free 7 chapter on making a Mittleider soil bed
You can download the first 7 chapter from the Mittleider gardening course book for FREE. Those chapters cover everything you need to know to grow a soil bed in your own soil. Go to growfood.com/soil and get your own copy.
Watch Jim Kennard making soil beds
For the visual learners, you can watch Jim Kennard explain and then show you how to form up a Mittleider soil bed. He learned how do build them and worked directly with Dr. Mittleider.
These tomatoes are being grown vertically as part of the Mittlieder Gardening Method in Kidder, MO. They’re pruned and wound around heavy bailing twine to maximize the sunlight and air to the plants while making it easy to harvest. No wire cages to fight here! The 2×4 is just over 7 feet from the ground. Some of those tomato plants are 10 feet tall.
This week I’ve been attending a Mittleider gardening course and have had the opportunity see the system implemented and learn so much. I will have many more Mittleider posts in the future as I convert my traditional garden to a Mittlieder
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden