Thursday, November 15, 2007

Heat and drought how does a Mittleider garden fare compared to other gardening methods

I am familiar with the situations that you are referring to, both heat and drought. While in South Africa we lived in the hottest capital of the country, although summer was our rainy season, so watering regularly was never an issue; no water restrictions worth mentioning. It is imperative though that you do water regularly to keep the soil moist at all times (dig a little hole and feel that moisture is there). Now that we live in Australia we again have very hot summers in our area but we are in the worst drought in recorded history. So we have water restrictions too.

Seeing that you will only have 2 or so beds I'd recommend the following:

Find out from your council if you are allowed to water your small veggie patch by hand (a bucket or watering can) during the days you are not to irrigate (sometimes restrictions are for automated systems that wet lawns and flower beds). If you are allowed, then watering two beds by hand is not too much to ask. (try not to wet the leaves of your crops).

If not, I'd consider attaching a water tank to the down-pipes of your roof gutters to make use of any little rain that may fall. You are free to use that water for drinking or irrigation. And maybe on your irrigation days you can fill up your tanks or containers. As a last resort I will consider using grey water.

Make sure you get enough sun. Having a sunny strip at a certain time of year does not mean that you will have it later, seeing that the sun moves N and S through the seasons. If shade may be a problem, consider planting more leafy vegetables that can ustilize the available light better.

If any trees are too close to the beds you might find their roots
competing sooner or later (besides the problem of shade they throw); you should be able to see their roots if they are present at the time you dig over your patch.

Keep to the recommendations of shaping the slightly raised beds. Once the veggies take off and fill their space they provide their own shade, just keep watering to make sure the soils stay moist. Veggies grow fast, don't have as deep roots as more woody crops and benefit by shorter irrigation cycles more frequently; there is no reason to irrigate deeper than the root zone as soil is not a reservoir for water. Too much water will only leach your minerals past the root zone.

Surprisingly, we have one more thing in common Diane - my landlord will not allow me to have a veggie patch anywhere. I found a wonderful alternative that, so far, works very well!

Where my wife works they had plenty of polystyrene containers/boxes!
Putting two and two together I realised that polystyrene (in our hot
climate) is a perfect insulation material. I find that they work much better out in the sun than plastic or even clay pots. They don't get cooked by the sun due to being white and thus provide good insulation so that the root zone doesn't over-heat or dry out too quickly.

I drilled drainage holes and now grow my veggies in them! The boxes are the perfect size and deep enough (8'' plus). I also have some in plastic pots and clay pots and the polystyrene outperforms them both. Now it is not ideal growing in containers; having your roots have access to natural soil such as in Mittleider grow-boxes is better; but I simply have no other choice. I can also move my containers around to wherever the sun gets to them more.

I keep my containers raised off the ground in order to make sure
they drain well and to avoid diseases (Same as what you would do for
seedling trays or seedling flats). Simply lay them on some wooden stakes or something similar.

The only other crop I grew amongst some open patches in the garden beds (where they get enough sun) is climbing (indeterminate) tomatoes. They yield profusely and a few plants will see to our need throughout our summer this year. I grow them as single stems up a stake and keep any leaves clear off the ground. Cucumbers, climbing beans or other climbing plants can also be considered.

The FFEF website has ample instructions on how to feed plants in pots. For those people in flats or small court yards, I recommend trying out growing in containers. Herbs are of course an easy and rewarding thing to grow in pots. A little goes a long way and you can dry them (in your Excalibur Diane) and cook delicious meals.

Consider also that if you have a friendly neighbor (who might have a better patch of ground); you may want to introduce them to the Mittleider Method and share the fun of growing and sharing a garden together and sharing in the costs.

All the best with your pursuits,

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Late fall early winter gardening

A 1,000 square foot garden can grow a tremendous amount of produce
IF YOU DO IT RIGHT (how about 5,000# of tomatoes)! If left alone,
or done haphazardly, however, it will be a big disappointment, and
you'll grow weeds instead, so "changing your ways" is definitely

You can always buy seeds from Burpee, Park, Harris, Gurney, or one
of the other seed companies on the internet.

Clay soil is NOT a problem if you will create slightly raised,
level, ridged beds as described in the Mittleider gardening books
and in the free e-book at www.growfood. com in the Learn section.
And be sure to use the recommended natural mineral nutrients as

Lay out and stake your garden with 18" soil-beds, and aisles at
least 3' wide. Use 4 2" X 2" PAINTED stakes per soil-bed.
Depending on your dimensions you can have 11 - 20'-long beds with 3'-
wide aisles.

I would only plant 1/2 bed of cauliflower and 1/2 bed of broccoli,
for the following reason. Single-crop plants mature all at once.
This means that even with only 10' rows of each you will have 20
heads of cauliflower and 20 heads of brocolli all mature at
virtually the same time, and THEY'LL ALL NEED TO BE PICKED AT THE
SAME TIME. Otherwise they get bad, and they attract both bugs and

Whenever you plant a single-crop vegetable, plant only what you can
use, give away, sell, or store in the 1-2 week ideal harvesting
window. If you want them all season you MUST do several small
plantings - spaced at 2-week intervals.

Be CERTAIN that your garden is totally weed free, including a 4-5'
periphery, at the time of planting. And use a 2-way hoe to quickly
and easily weed again about 10 days after planting, or as soon as
the weeds begin to show their faces. NEVER WAIT for the weeds to
grow bigger! They're most vulnerable when they are tiny, and they
are very easy to eliminate. You might have to do this two or three
times, but then you will have a healthy, weed-free garden all season
long. It will also reduce your problems with bugs and diseases!

Growing seedlings in a mixture of sawdust and sand in a 2 to 1
ratio, using plastic trays, is the best way to start the plants you
are describing, with the possible exception of the spinach. They
will grow faster and will be healthier than what you grow in the
ground from seed. The seedlings must have constant sunlight to
thrive, just as when they were in the garden. Growing seedlings is
very rewarding, and is a simple process, but you MUST follow the
steps accurately and consistently.

You can learn to become very competent at growing your own seedlings
by reading Chapter 22 of The Mittleider Gardening Course - available
in the Store section at www.growfood. com.

If you decide to grow from seeds in the ground, make sure your seed-
bed is soft and smooth. Scratch a SHALLOW furrow on both sides of
the bed near the ridges the full length of the bed (or as far as you
are planting that vegetable). For very small seeds mix seeds with
sand in a 1 to 100 ratio, and sprinkle carefully the length of the
row, as evenly as possible. Then cover the seeds WITH SAND rather
than the clay soil. Meanwhile, remember that only ONE OUNCE of small
seeds like tomato seeds includes TEN THOUSAND SEEDS, so don't plant
too many!

Which crops you should plant depends on the temperatures in your
growing area. Most places cannot grow warm-weather crops like
tomatoes, peppers, beans, melons, and squash in the winter months.
I suspect Mississippi is no exception. Wait to transplant those
into the garden until daytime temperatures are 65-70 and night-time
temperatures are 50 or above.

Cool-weather crops like cauliflower and brocolli, and even spinach,
beets, and the like, can be planted when it's colder, but don't
plant if you have frosts at night, and remember that even these
hardy plants need daytime temperatures above 50 degrees fahrenheit
to grow.

Using black plastic is generally NOT a good idea when planting
seeds. The open space needed for seeds to emerge and grow
successfully leaves room for weeds to grow as well. And weeds from
all around the opening will find it and choke out your tiny
vegetable seedlings as they emerge. Meanwhile, the plastic makes it
very difficult to weed thoroughly and successfully.

Black plastic can be used successfully when growing seedlings, but
it is not a cure-all, and I believe is less desireable than leaving
the ground bare and weeding properly.

Using soaker hoses for watering is much less than ideal for several
reasons: The holes are easily plugged; weeding around the hose is
difficult; the hose is easily cut when attempting to weed around it;
water quantity is uncertain and often inadequate.

The best and easiest watering method I know is the semi-automated
method taught in chapter 16 of the Mittleider Gardening Course.
This uses 3/4" Schedule 200 PVC pipe drilled with 3 #57 holes every
4" running down the center of the soil-bed, and lifted off the soil
about 2" by small 2 X 4" wooden blocks. Water is controlled by an
inexpensive ball valve placed at the head of each row, and the whole
garden is plumbed together for fast and accurate watering.

If you can't or don't want to automate your watering, simply wrap a
large rag around the end of your garden hose, then place the hose in
the soil-bed. If your beds are level the entire soil-bed will
quickly receive the needed 1" of water. And whichever method you
use, remember to water daily - especially in warm weather - unless
it rains.

Successful Gardening!

Jim Kennard

Labels: , , ,