We decided to show you our black solider fly bin and discuss why we have them. For those of you watching our greenhouse build videos, you may have noticed a white rectangular box in one corner of the greenhouse. We will also give you a quick tour of it and show you how it works.
You can see our build post on this bin and get some additional information on the black soldier fly in this older blog entry. We bought our plans for the bin, as well as our starter BSF larvae, from Northwest Redworms.
What we feed the black soldier fly larvae
The black soldier fly larvae will eat just about anything. Any food that you might consider as fast food for human consumption is terrific for black solider fly larvae. We have a brewery near us and they give us the spent grain from the brewing process and we feed that to our chickens and add it to our black soldier fly bin.
In the past we also have fed them a cheap dog food and grain after moistening it first. The dog food was more expensive for us than grain, but there was almost no unconsumed pieces. With grain they will not eat the hull of the grain.
With the feeding of grain you will eventually need to remove the uneaten portions of the grain. It is typically lighter than the contents of the bin and can easily be scooped off the top.
If you do not have a brewery close you could likely get food scraps for free from a restaurant, school or fast food place. With a little bit of your time you should be able to secure a good source of free food for your black soldier fly bin.
A great source of fat and protein for the chickens
Black soldier fly larvae are high in fat and protein, over 30 percent of each. The chickens absolutely love them and come quickly when we start tossing them out to be eaten.
It does take a fair bit of food to grow black solider fly larvae. For every 100 pounds of food added to their bin we expect to harvest around 20 pounds of black solider fly larvae. If we were buying all their food that might not make good sense, but remember we get our spent grain for free. At the end of the summer we will have saved money by reducing our chicken feed bill.
Video of our black solider fly bin
Here is our latest video of the black soldier fly bin we keep out in the greenhouse. You can see how it works and get a quick look at the BSF larvae in action. We find it interesting and our chickens absolutely love them. When we throw out the larvae for them to eat they really get excited.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are putting together this video series on how to grow a Mittleider garden cheaply and to grow in your soil. Most homes already have the tools needed to grow in your own soil. With a little of your labor you can have your own beds in and ready for the next step before planting.
You don’t have to garden in grow boxes to have a Mittleider garden
There seems to be this misconception that one has to have expensive grow boxes to grow a Mittleider garden. That is absolutely not true. You can grow as good of a garden in your own soil for a lot less money.
But you don’t understand, my soil is horrible
Those words are heard a lot when trying to convince someone to stop amending their soil and grow with the Mittleider method. You can grow in your soil. Because we provide all the nutrients the plant needs on a weekly basis the lack of nutrition in your soil is entirely irrelevant. With the Mittleider gardening Method the soil is used for the following:
it provides the plant with anchorage and protection for the roots
Holds air and water for the plant
It stores the nutrition we apply to the soil beds
Get the 7 lessons on growing in your own soil for FREE
Why I don’t like a 4 foot grow boxes in a Mittleider garden
I’ll be honest here, I don’t like 4 foot wide grow boxes. They’re popular and you will see all kinds of articles and videos where they are recommended. They require too much bending over of the gardener for my liking. For a Mittleider garden I think they’re generally a mistake.
It is difficult to tend to stuff in it and you can’t reach from one side to the other. This becomes particularly evident when things are grown vertically. Reaching towards the middle of the box to prune or harvest from a mature plant is near impossible. Sure, you can push through and get it done but you risk damaging plants. you could even knock off nearly ripe vegetables.
The top of these tomatoes in the picture below are a little more than 3 feet apart. I can only prune and harvest easily by going down each side of my grow box. Growing these tomatoes in a 4 foot wide grow box would prevent the easy access necessary to properly care for our plants.
Are there good uses for 4 foot grow boxes?
There are indeed. First, if you’re on a very tight budget yet determined to have a grow box the wide grow boxes will work. For the cost of two 18 inch wide boxes you can build one 4 foot box. But if you’re on a budget I’d highly recommend growing in your own soil.
The only time I might recommend a 4 foot wide grow box in a Mittleider garden is for growing potatoes. We have heavy clay soil here in Missouri. Our grow box dedicated to growing potatoes allows them to sprawl and makes harvest a breeze. It is isolated from the rest of the garden and is used only for potatoes. In this picture below we grew sweet potatoes last year.
What size grow box do I prefer?
That’s easy. An 18 inch wide grow box is ideal, particularity for vertical crops in my Mittleider garden. We built these grow boxes in our in the garden green house.
Garden rows and which direction they should run is a topic that is discussed frequently. Selecting garden row direction doesn’t matter if your tall crops are planted in the right rows. With a Mittleider garden the rows running in either direction work well with a couple simple rules.
The direction of your rows should be determined by the natural slope of your garden area. In a Mittleider garden grown in your own soil your rows need to be level. Using the contour of your gardening area you layout your rows is best. This will require the least amount of work to keep those rows level.
If your garden rows run north and south you will want to plant any tall crops in the rows to the east. This permits the shorter crops to get a full 6-8 hours of afternoon sun and prevent them from being shaded out.
For the garden rows that run east to west the gardener would likewise plant tall and vertical crops would be planted in the rows on the north side of your garden. Allowing all your plants to get a full 6-8 hours of sunlight is one of the six laws of plant growth with the Mittleider Gardening system.
I’ve heard rows running one direction work best
Because of the contour and available growing area in our yard we have two garden areas. One has rows running north and south while the second has rows going east and west. Both produce equally well. This is true because we plant our tall and vertical crops to ensure everything gets adequate light. Light is the 1st of the 6 laws of plant growth in a Mittleider garden.
Are there any row directions to avoid?
With a Mittlieder garden the only rows you need to avoid are ones that will face south. A south facing row will be in shadow and prevent the plants from getting adequate sunlight. There are other considerations on selecting a garden location that will be covered in a fewer blog entry.
See our gardening areas in this video
In this quick video you can see our two Mittleider gardening areas and hear the reason why row directions don’t matter
Recently we made changes to the in garden greenhouse. Arguable some of these changes are improvements. They were all minor additions that didn’t add much cost to the project. Ideally these changes would have been made and implemented during the build. If you are considering building this I’d highly suggest altering your build plans to include these changes.
During our time with the Mittleider in garden greenhouse I’ve changed a few things about it and added my own personalized touches to it. I’ve outlined these things in this little video we shot today.
We built the in garden greenhouse from the instructions provided in the Mittleider Gardening Course book. We don’t provide a supplemental heat source to it, but are able to increase our growing season by about 6 to 8 weeks. It allows us to start planting hardy plants 3-4 weeks before our average last frost of the year.
After the first frost of the year it also allows us to continue growing and protecting our vegetables by simply closing it up and protecting the plants from the cold. On a sunny day we can easily see temperatures inside the greenhouse rise 30 degrees above the outside temperatures.
When it comes to gardening in grow boxes in your Mittleider garden it is extremely important to choose and obtain the correct sawdust. Not just any sawdust will work as your Mittleider garden sawdust.
Most any type of tree will work, with the exception of black walnut. Black walnut has toxins in it called juglone that can stunt, deform or even kill other plants. If the sawmill cuts black walnut you should avoid that sawdust, even if it is free. Do nut use walnut for your Mittleider garden sawdust for any reason.
The only kind of sawmill that you should consider as a good source of sawdust is one that runs a large diameter circular saw blade. The blade kerf is wide enough that you will get the correct size of sawdust particles. See the video at the bottom of this post to see the correct size and an example of a sawdust that is far too fine.
Band saw sawmills
Sawmills that run band saw sawmills are becoming popular and can be found on homesteads where folks make their own lumber. Unfortunately the kerf is much smaller on these types of mills and the sawdust particles are too fine for our purposes and isn’t a good source for our Mittleider garden sawdust.
The size of the sawdust particles is important
Have sawdust that is too large, such as wood chips, will result in poor drainage and souring of your growing medium. This can prevent water from getting to our plant roots and even cut off oxygen. Either can surely kill your plants. (Remember the 6 laws of plant growth?) Planers or even wood chippers would be a common source of wood chips that are too large.
Just as too large can kill your plants, so can sawdust particles which are too fine. This sawdust is would be collected from table saws, band saws, and that cool saw you see in stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s. This sawdust is far too fine and can cause compaction. Once hard and compacted your plants can struggle to get water and nutrients. This fine sawdust is often free, but it can cause real problems in your garden and needs to be avoided.
What if there are no sawmills near me?
If you’re unable to locate sawmills near you and are determined to grow in sand and sawdust then you can buy equine pellets. When the pellets become wet they turn into a usable pine sawdust that works well. It takes just a few minutes to transform the pellets into a usable sawdust.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden