The Mittleider gardening method is based upon a scientific protocol of cultivating plants in the ground in either raised beds or grow boxes so they can garner the ultimate benefit from the 16 essential nutrients they need to thrive.
The gardening method, created after years of research by Dr. Jacob Mittleider, is centered around the concept of maximizing the crop yield using the least amount of effort and space.
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The Mittleider gardening method is also highly beneficial in reducing the growth of nuisance weeds and thwarting both plant disease and damage by destructive insects.
Growers are experiencing some incredible results with the Mittleider gardening method. The only downside to the Mittleider gardening method is the custom fertilizer mixture that is essentially necessary to follow the doctor’s outlined growing plan. For folks who favor the use of only organic or naturally homemade fertilizers, this drawback may pose too much of an obstacle to overcome.
Who Was Dr. Jacob Mittleider?
For more than two decades Dr. Jacob Mittleider ran a successful gardening business in California. Then, he began to travel around the globe teaching folks in 27 countries how to grow their own groceries more efficiently.
During his travels and teaching sessions, Dr. Mittleider discovered that gardeners, no matter where they were from, all struggled with the same things: plant nutrition, plant disease, and destructive insects. The good doctor determined that plant diseases and bug infestation were largely influenced by poor plant nutrition.
Mittleider began working on a nearly fool-proof method of growing crops that could be successful in any geographic location and soil type by using a specific type of fertilizer formula and a targeted method of watering.
Dr. Jacob Mittleider passed away in 2006 at the age of 86. But, the Food For Everyone Foundation lives on, now under the supervision of the doctor’s protege Jum Kennard.
Mittleider Gardening Basics
The Mittleider gardening method can be used to cultivate home-grown crops to make the best use of a small space or in place of a traditional large ground, plot-style garden.
Dr. Mittleider believed that, when grown in the right soil with the right fertilizer mixture, even a 4-foot raised bed could yield enough produce to fulfill the needs of a single person.
Mittleider believed the soil substrate should be a mixture of a few different types of mediums, but preferably a 50% to 75% compilation of peat moss or sawdust and a 25% to 50% percent mixture of perlite, sand, or Styrofoam pellets.
The easiest and least expensive way to start Mittleider gardening is to use your existing raised beds and soil to cultivate crops. If you do not already have such a setup or need to infuse more quality soil into your grow boxes or raised beds, it is recommended to blend in some sand or sawdust to develop a true-to-form Mittleider growing operation.
The first part of the Mittleider soil blend offers excellent water retention properties and the second part of the mixture offers very little water retention. The mixture permits the crops planted in it to retain the moisture levels they need to grow and fend of drought conditions but also prevent water logging from happening which can cause rot, mold, mildew, and a host of plant diseases – as well as be a potential attracting agent for destructive insects.
There is no need to test your soil when using the Mittleider method if you follow the fertilizer recipes diligently, but it is still not a bad idea to do so. The recipes included at the bottom of this articles will infuse the 16 vital nutrients into the growing substrate that crops will need to flourish.
The Mittleider gardening method is also very water specific. The raised beds are built in a manner to easily accept watering with either a typical garden hose or an automated watering system that pushes water directly to the roots of the plants.
On average, a Mittleider garden consumes 40 percent less water than a traditional ground plot garden or container garden.
Seeds and Plants
The Mittleider gardening method promotes a close sowing of plant seeds.To make great use of small space gardening, Mittleider strongly urged the use of vertical growing aids to keep the crops growing upwards while supporting their growing weight.
Plants are trimmed to train them to grow following Mittleider’s method of yield maximization. Some fans of this gardening method staunchly maintain that your crop yield can be increased up to 10 times the normal expectations.
A Mittleider growing box or raised bed should be at least 18 inches wide up to four feet wide – depending upon the amount of space available for gardening. The length of the grow bed is determined by the amount of space available and the length of any self-watering system hose you plan to use.
Remember to leave a walkway between the raised beds or growing boxes. If a growing bed is wider than 18 inches, plants will be cultivated in two rows, so the bed will need to be worked on both sides.
This manner of gardening is designed to deliver the essential 16 nutrients to the plants – no more and no less.
All excess vegetation is trimmed to avoid the waste of both nutrients and plant energy to maximize the crop yield.
Top 9 Nutrients Focused on in the Mittleider Gardening Method
Three of the nutrients plants need to grow are found in the air, but all of the rest are provided by the soil. This is why the proper mixture of quality soil is so vital to the success of any gardening endeavor.
As Dr. Mittleider found on his world travels, gardeners attempting to cultivate crops in poor soil were in a constant uphill battle and needed to adapt the natural soil found in their region to infuse the 16 necessary nutrients into the soil that plants need to thrive.
You can order your packets of micronutrients from True Leaf Market (image above) for around $17, or you can go to the Food for Everyone Foundation. The micronutrients are then mixed with 3 pounds of Epsom Salt and 20 pounds of 16-8-16, 20-10-20, or 16-16-16 NPK organic fertilizer.
The micronutrients in the packet are calcium, magnesium, sulfur and 7 trace elements. Many organic plant foods carry a balance of these micronutrients, which can be added to the NPK and Epsom salt mixture.
Soil tests can help you determine if your medium is deficient in one or more of these micronutrients. Some organic gardeners argue that the micronutrient packet is not organic because it contains synthetic chemicals to simulate the minor nutrient needs.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Mittleider Gardening Method
The initial setup of a Mittleider garden can be labor intensive, especially if you have not already included growing beds in your crop cultivation plan. But, once the basic gardening infrastructure and watering system are in place, the amount of routine maintenance is typically substantially less when compared to other types of growing produce.
Mittleider Gardening Method Pros
- Ability to grow a large yield in a small, compact space.
- Inexpensive setup.
- Low labor maintenance.
- Reduction in plant disease.
- Reduction in destructive insects.
- Conservative water usage.
- Works in any type of agricultural growing zone.
Mittleider Gardening Method Cons
- Not natural or organic fertilizer.
- Start-up nutrient mix infusion required.
- Not suited for growing large crops like soybeans, rye, alfalfa, sorghum, oats, or wheat.
- Weekly feeding of nutrient mix required.
- Dependent upon commercial fertilizer, making the garden unsustainable in a survival situation.
- Not well suited for traditional companion planting.
Mittleider Fertilizer Pre-Planting Mix Recipe
- Gypsum is recommended is your climate receives less than 20 inches of rain annually.
- Use lime if your climate receives more than 20 inches of rain on an annual basis.
Mittleider Weekly Plant Feed Mix Recipe
- 4 pounds of Epsom salt
- 25 pounds of all-purpose fertilizer 13-13-13 up to 17-17-17
- ½ of a cup of Perlite as a moisture controlling agent.
- 1 packet of Mittleider Micronutrients
When planting seedlings in a raised bed or grow box, do not start feeding them until they have been in the soil for four to five days.
How To Use Mittleider Feed Recipes
Sprinkle half an ounce of either the start-up feed or the weekly feed recipe for every square foot of the growing area. Sprinkle the feed between the rows or plants on not directly on the crops – and then water.
Stop feeding single year crops like beans, potatoes, corn, peas, and root vegetables three weeks before harvest time. For plants that are ever-bearing, like cucumbers, squash, peppers, and tomatoes, feed only until eight weeks before harvesting.
What Plants Grow Best Using The Mittleider Gardening Method?
- Melons of all types
- Fruit trees of all types
Personally, I like the setup of the Mittleider gardening method because it is so efficient from both a yield and manual labor perspective. But, I am adamant about making my own fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides, so I adapt the Mittleider method to suit my own gardening habits, using the Borax (not the same thing as boric acid), lime, and Epsom salts – and it still works incredibly well.