By Flo Decker: Montgomery County Master Gardener
The Mittleider Gardening method is an easy-to-use method that allows gardeners to raise an abundance of vegetables and other crops on almost any soil, in practically any season, in almost any climate, and virtually at any elevation. For more than fifty years Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider traveled to 27 countries teaching and helping gardeners develop successful gardens. In 2013, the Montgomery County Master Gardeners constructed four beds at the AgriLife Extension Demonstration Gardens in Conroe following the Mittleider method. The gardeners wanted to demonstrate that sufficient vegetables to feed a family of four could be grown in a small space; these gardens could be duplicated in any urban back yard.
Before building grow boxes it was necessary to develop a plan to help determine the types of plants to be used. The following questions helped with the decisions:
When should each variety be planted?
Should we plant seeds or seedlings?
If seedlings are best, when should seeds be started indoors?
How much space is needed between plants?
Can the plant be grown vertically?
The answers to these questions determined the number of beds that would need t-frame posts.
The next decision, should custom-made soil or native soil be used? We decided on a custom-made soil, explained below. In Missouri, home of the Food for Everyone Foundation, the Mittleider Gardens are all planted in native soil. Homeowners can plant in either type of soil keeping in mind the five purposes of soil:
Anchor the plants – give them a firm foundation in which to grow and develop
Retain and release moisture – ideal garden soil should be about 25% water
Retain and release oxygen – ideal garden soil should be about 25% air
Retain and release nutrients
Mitigate for temperature fluctuations – keep plants cool in the summer and warm in the winter
Development of the Mittleider Garden was guided by instructions in The Mittleider Gardening Course book and from You Tube videos (see Mittleider Gardening Videos 127 videos that explain various aspects of the Mittleider Method.)
The procedure we used for the beds at the AgriLife Extension Gardens was:
- Leveled a 4×16 foot area for each bed.
- Constructed frames that were 4 x 16 feet and 8 inches high using pre-treated lumber or the cinder blocks already in place.
- Sprinkled pre-plant fertilizer along the outer 18-inch edge of each side within the grow box. Used 1 ounce per linear foot. (See recipe below)
- Filled each grow box with a custom-made soil. (3 to 1 ratio of sawdust to sand. It’s important to use a coarse grade of clean sand such as concrete sand, sharp sand, torpedo sand, or playground sand, NOT builder’s sand.)
- Added three T-frames posts approximately 5-feet apart within two grow boxes. (See photo)
- Leveled the soil from side to side using a 1” x 4” board that was wider than the grow box, to provide an even surface for watering.
- Spread 1-ounce per linear foot of Pre-Plant Fertilizer and ½-ounce per linear foot of Weekly Feed Fertilizer along the outer edges within the grow box.
- Dampened the area.
- Mixed the fertilizers and the custom made soil using a Mantis Tiller.
- Dampened area as needed.
Pre-Plant Fertilizer Recipe:
- 20 lbs. Garden Lime* (agricultural/dolomitic)
- 1 lb. Epsom Salt
- ¼ lb. (4 oz.) Borax
In a wheelbarrow or large container, add the garden lime, then the Epsom salts and then the Borax. Mix thoroughly and store in airtight container such as a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid.
Weekly Feed Fertilizer recipe:
- 25 pounds of All Purpose Fertilizer (13-13-13 up to 17-17-17 will work)
- 4 pounds Epsom Salts
- One (10 ounce) packet of Mittleider Micronutrients (can be ordered on the Internet)
- 3 pounds garden lime/gypsum or 1/2 cup Perlite to control moisture
Since some plants would be grown vertically, guide wires had to be installed.
By growing vertically, more plants can be grown in a smaller area. In addition it’s we learned of these benefits:
Plants are easier to feed, water, prune, and harvest.
The fruit does not get sunburned.
The vines and leaves are less likely to be damaged during harvesting.
The fruit does not touch the ground and, therefore, is less likely to rot, get stepped on, or eaten by bugs and animals.
The foliage gets better air circulation and exposure to sunlight.
The final items installed were the pvc pipes for the automatic watering system.
All instructions for building your own garden can be found on You Tube or in The Mittleider Gardening Course book. For questions or additional information on this or other gardening topics, call the Montgomery County Master Gardeners at 936-539-7824 or visit our website at www.mcmga.com
On May 9, 2015 join us for Open Garden day at the AgriLife Extension Office, 9020 Airport Road in Conroe. You can visit all of the gardens and personally view the Mittleider Demo Garden.