The Mittleider Gardening Method – My Results
This past year I have had the most successful vegetable garden that I have ever had in all my 20+ years of trying!
It’s December now, there’s snow on the ground and it’s very cold outside. My vegetable garden plants have all died with the several frosts and hard freezes we’ve had and my growing season has come to an end.
This past year was my first attempt at using the Mittleider gardening method. I’ve always had an interest in yard plants, landscaping and gardening, and being self sufficient in general. A youtube poster I subscribe to (LDSPrepper) happened to share some of his experiences with gardening using this method earlier this year/late last year that caught my interest and I thought I would give it a go.
What really piqued my interest was his comparisons between several different gardening methods all in his back yard. He included his materials costs, labor, and yields in his analysis. Any one of the methods he used looked pretty good on their own – and if that’s all you saw in your yard you would think you were doing pretty good.
But when he showed the comparisons with less work and expense and greater yields, it was enough to convince me to try the Mittleider method of gardening for my vegetable garden!
What is the Mittleider Gardening Method?
In his Gardening Course Book, Dr. Jacob Mittleider teaches what plants require to produce food so you can feed yourself and your family; and gives tips, suggestions and advice as to what he has found as the most effective ways to accomplish that, in terms of cost and labor. How you choose to fulfill those requirements would be entirely up to you.
The Mittleider Method would be the implimentation of Dr. Mittleider’s research, documentation, and scientific studies/observations.
Ultimately it comes down to giving plants ONLY what they need – anything more than that being a waste of time, money and labor.
Ordering from GrowFood.com
Because of my general interest in gardening, I wanted to purchase the whole library of Mittleider materials. The suppliers are a small non-profit organization that I get the feeling are doing the best they can with their limited resources. I remember my order not going completely smooth and there were some concerns with whether one of the dvd libraries I had ordered would work on my computer.
I received a phone call from Mr. Kennard, the president of the Food for Everyone Foundation explaining that he was aware of the issues and gave me a refund on that part of the order, a discount on the rest of the order and threw in a copy of the not yet then released version of the course book. I have to say, what they lack in resources, they more than make up for in service! You’ll be hard pressed to find a more genuine, caring and helpful person than Mr. Kennard.
Most of the products I purchased were in electronic format and available for immediate download once my purchase went through. I dived right in and started devouring the “new to me” concepts immediately. The materials ranged from some of Dr. Jacob Mittleider’s earliest publications from back in the 1950’s all the way through to the 2013 revision of the course book – which was revised mostly to compensate for the practical availability of materials that are currently available to the general public.
Minimum things you need from the supplier to get started:
I was able to find local sources for the rest of the necessary items.
The Course Book
The Mittleider Gardening Course itself is a 265 page manual which is divided into several sections – an Introduction, Soil Bed Basics, Grow Box Basics, Advanced Topics, and several appendices that include tool recommendations, planning forms and guides, seedhouse plans and a lot of additional helpful gardening tips.
Included in the course are
- providing plants with the proper nutrition,
- proper spacing,
- growing vertically,
- irrigation, and
- pruning methods
all for increased food production, decreased labor and costs, and disease prevention.
It’s not necessary to read the manual front to back. I would recommend first determining if you will be growing directly in the soil (referred to as Soil Beds in the manual) or in raised beds (referred to as Grow Boxes in the manual), then reference the section that applies to your situation. As the gardening course covers both methods (Soil Beds and Grow Boxes), the instructions that apply to both methods are included in both sections – so there is no risk of missing anything if you choose to skip one section or the other.
Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider – How the Mittleider Method Course Evolved
The Mittleider Method for gardening was developed by Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider over a span of 55 years both in his own commercial nursery and while conducting agricultural training programs around the globe.
While studying the diets of people in developing countries as part of a study for the Loma Linda University in California, Dr. Mittleider observed that the diseases, insects, and nutritional deficiencies in all the countries visited were similar to one another and their agricultural problems weren’t that very different from those found in the U.S..
His conclusion was that solutions could be found by following specific scientific agricultural practices. What developed has since been called the Mittleider Method of gardening.
The method is based on maximum utilization of space, time, and resources. Crops are large because plants are close together, nourished by supplemental feedings of natural mineral nutrients (as in hydroponics), but with no special equipment.
It claims to be 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.
Mixing the Fertilizer Recipes
The course teaches plant nutrition requirements and provides two plant food recipes:
- a pre-plant which is applied before planting for all crops and mid-season for everbearing crops and
- a weekly feed which as you might have guessed is applied weekly.
The specific recipes are in the book and if one was inclined and had the resources, they could get all the individual minerals and mix it from scratch. However, the easiest, least expensive way the course recommends for the weekly feed recipe is to purchase a packet of micronutrients that have already been combined in the correct ratios and add it to 25 lbs. of a balanced fertilizer (recommended is 16-16-16). The ingredients for the pre-plant fertilizer are readily available and inexpensive to obtain.
I purchased all the necessary ingredients, doubling the recipe, and mixed them up in my kitchen which resulted in about 60 lbs. of the weekly feed and about 50 lbs. of the pre-plant. I spent about $60.00 total – $40.00 for the weekly feed and about $20.00 for the pre-plant. The weekly feed contents and ratios are very close to those found in Scott’s Miracle-Grow which goes for about $2.50/lb. – a savings of $110.00 with the first batch alone! I put the fertilizers in 6 gallon buckets with screw on lids and store them out in the garage.
The recommended irrigation was different from the expensive drip system I had installed in my existing vegetable beds but when I read about it, I thought “genius” and had to give it a try. So I modified one of my existing beds to incorporate the course’s recommendation. I also built a trellis (referred to as a T-Frame in the course) for the plants I wanted to grow vertically.
I really wanted to put this method to the test. I wanted to see if I could grow watermelons in the short northern Utah growing season – something I had never successfully done before. So I went ahead and planted a couple of watermelons, and added to those a few cantaloupes, a cucumber, tomatoes, peas, corn and some varieties of lettuce.
After following the course for a few weeks and liking the results I was getting, I decided to expand the system into another of my existing beds – planting another couple of cantaloupes, another watermelon and another cucumber. Noting that these plants were now a few weeks behind and really putting this method to the test.
Some Things To Be Aware Of
1. The course assumes you are starting fresh and is therefore missing recommendations for how you would modify existing garden beds and circumstances.
2. If you, like me in my haste to get to the “good stuff”, just glanced through the instructions at the beginning of the book on how to use the course, you might have missed a couple of things that might be confusing as you read:
- the course is divided into separate sections for growing in the soil or growing in raised beds and some information is duplicated accordingly – once this is understood, it actually makes a lot of sense that it was organized this way and I don’t know how I would have organized it any differently.
- the instructions on interpreting the Learn More references in the margins which will refer you to other parts or lessons in the gardening course. Those references are shown in bold type. The underlined references are suggestions for you to look at additional information provided in other books written by Dr. Mittleider.
My Conclusions Following the Course
Gardening this way was sort of a paradigm shift for me. My whole life, I had focused on providing deep infrequent watering in order to develop a deep root system for drought resistance. I had focused on great soil preparation with composts, manures, other mulches and organics and by adding things like perlite and vermiculite and the such. Truth be told I have very expensive gourmet soil.
This course made me look at vegetable gardening as a method to get the plants to produce food fast. I had to let go of wanting deep roots or pretty plants or great soil.
Time spent was a few minutes each day pruning/weeding/harvesting and a few additional minutes once a week applying the weekly feed. the irrigation was on a timer and happened for a few minutes twice a day and I changed that to three times a day during the hottest part of the season.
- The vining plants made it to the top of my 7 foot trellice in a very short time and before the end of the season, the ones I allowed to had made it all the way back down to the ground and then some.
- The peas and lettuces produced great and lasted longer in the heat than any previous year’s crop had before bolting/production stopped.
- More corn than my family was able to harvest and consume.
- More cucumbers than my family was able to keep up with even between eating fresh, pickling and sharing with others.
- More tomatoes than my family was able to consume.
- 18 awesome cantaloupes.
- 3 awesome watermelons and 2 mediocre ones (no worse than grocery). One of the mediocre was due to breaking the vine it was on because it got too big (I thought it would be fun to experiment with growing a watermelon vertically which got too big – Mittleider recommends limiting vertical growing to vines that produce a maximum of 6 lb. fruits) and the second had to be picked just before last frost to salvage it.
I only wish I had known about the Mittleider Method 20 years ago. I would have saved thousands of dollars and immeasurable labor – not to mention the pounds and pounds of fresh-from-the-garden produce I would have been able to enjoy and provide to my family.
Is the Mittleider Method organic? What about all those chemicals?
One of the greatest controversies surrounding the Mittleider Method is around the terms “Organic” or “Chemicals” or “All Natural” – will using “all those fertilizers” hurt the environment and poison my soil? These are valid concerns and should not be dismissed lightly.
Plants are amazing factories with the ability to create thousands of nutrients from just a few water-soluble IN-organic minerals / chemicals / metals. In theory, plants can NOT absorb organic materials. Plants require chemicals to grow and produce food. If you are gardening with only manures and composts, you will have to wait for those materials to break down before your plants can make use of them. At that stage, there will be no way to assess the levels of the minerals available or determine their ratios relative to one another.
More is not better! Too much fertilizer is just as bad, if not more so, than too little. The Mittleider Method Gardening Course teaches the right balance to give plants and when to give it to them in order to provide optimal conditions for food production – even in less than optimal growing conditions.
This is a video interview with Jim Kennard addressing the truth about organic gardening (organic farms can pollute too) and using chemicals in the garden. It addresses how many chemicals from the periodic table that your plants have to have and the elements in the periodic table you want to avoid. It compares costs, dependency, pollution/salts and soil toxicity, pollutants leaching into the water table, and some of the fallacies being propagated in the agricultural community.
If you were to get one and only one instruction manual for how to grow a successful vegetable garden, get the Mittleider Course.
Who is the Food for Everyone Foundation?
The Food For Everyone Foundation was incorporated in the State of Utah in 1998. Their purpose is to develop and teach the best possible gardening methods and techniques that will work in most climates and locations around the world.
The President of the Foundation, James (Jim) Kennard has been a Mittleider gardener for over 30 years and has worked directly with Dr. Jacob Mittleider on several gardening projects around the world including Russia, Mexico, Okinawa, Papua New Guinea, several challenging locations within USA and many others.
These projects and workshops are designed to teach and train the public in effective gardening methods and encourage self-reliance in food production within their communities.
You can learn more about the foundation here: http://growfood.com/about-the-foundation/
- Dr. Jacob Mittleider, The Garden Doctor – Utahn has traveled the world teaching people how to grow crops in any soil
- Mittleider Method Organic Farmers Using Fertilizer