Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to setup a Mittleider sustainable soil bed garden.

First off, you MUST have direct sunlight all day long for vegetables to thrive. Therefore, use only the space that has no shade. And don't worry if it seems small! You'll grow twice the food in one fourth the space others are using, so just do it right in the space you

have. And actually, starting small is a good idea anyway! It's easier, more fun, and won't wear you out!

Level ground, or something with a slight Southern slope is best, in order to catch the sun's strongest rays, and to avoid rapid water run-off that will wash out your soil, seeds, and seedlings.

Begin by clearing your ground of EVERYTHING! No weeds, rocks, or anything else is allowed.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness" certainly applies here, and you surely want your garden to be a thing of beauty, as well as being productive!

Measure and stake the perimeter of your garden. This gives you an important starting point for figuring out how many soil-beds you can have, and then placing them properly. Let's use
25' X 35' as an example of what your garden area might be.

It doesn't really matter what direction your beds face, so far as sun exposure is concerned.

What does matter, though, is that the beds be level, and that you plant taller plants to the North or East of shorter plants. This is to assure that taller plants don't shade shorter
plants, and rob them of essential sunlight. So, align your beds to maximize those factors as much as possible.

I'll assume we are able to run the beds lengthwise along the 35' dimension. Your soil-beds should be 18" wide and any length you choose. When you become experienced in this method of growing, and want to specialize in growing certain crops all the time, you may want to begin using 4'-wide beds, but let's stick to the best family garden layout for now.

The ideal size for aisles is 3.5', and since we have 25' width in our example garden, this will give us 5 - 18" beds with 3 ' aisles. If you have only 23' you could get by with aisles a little narrower. But don't squeeze those aisles! You will be growing plants that need all of that space, and reducing the aisle space only leads to problems of not enough light and air for your growing plants!

We'll make our beds 30' long. This leaves us 2.5' on each end of the garden for walking, and 30' is a good length, because it makes caring for the garden easy. More about that later.

Using 18"-long stakes, stake your 5 - 18" X 30' beds, with 4 stakes per bed.

Apply 32 ounces of the Mittleider Pre-Plant Mix, and 16 ounces of Weekly Feed Mix to the soil under your strings. This amounts to about 1 ounce and half ounce per running foot of those VERY important natural mineral nutrients. Dig or till the soil of your soil-bed to a depth of at least 8".

Then, using nylon string, tie strings between the stakes, to outline your soil-beds.
Begin making raised, ridged beds by pulling about 2+ inches of dirt from the aisles into the 18"-wide bed area under your strings. Smooth and level that dirt, and then check the level of your bed area. It must be level to make watering easy and efficient, so don't ignore this step! Move dirt from the high spots in your bed to the low spots, until your bed is no more than one inch higher at the water-source end than the other end.

Make 4"-high ridges all around your bed by pulling soil from the center of the bed to just beneath the strings. When you're finished you should have a planting area that is about 12" wide and between 1 and 2" above the level of the aisles, with 4" ridges, the top of which are 18" apart. Re-check the level of your planting area, and move soil as necessary to keep the bed level from end to end.
Your Mittleider "Best of Organic" garden is now ready to plant!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Water Retention Amendments or Shade Cloth?

Water Retention – Amendments or Shade Cloth?

Dear Jim;
I keep up with the digest and I have a question also with respect to using
shade cloth. On the island that Iit
is arid and has high winds. The soil is of volcanic origin and porous, so
water does not stay in the soil suspension for very long. It evaporates
quickly or percolates away quickly. In a case like this would shade cloth
prove to be beneficial? The sun is always out, so any advise to control
excessive heat and/or water evaporation would be appreciated.

First things first. If you use the level 18"-wide ridged soil-beds,
you will minimize the quantity of water you have to use. Water about an
inch in the 10-12"-wide planting area every day - and even twice a day if
necessary. This will be better for your plants than any shade cloth.
Plants must have sunlight to photosynthesize, and reducing that will reduce
your yield with most plants - especially fruiting plants. We use shade
cloth only in the last extremity - if all else fails.

Which direction do the winds come from? Can you build or grow a wind-break
between the prevailing winds and your garden? Close-planted shrubs or trees
can greatly reduce wind damage. But you must make certain that the
wind-break does not shade your garden! Build it far enough away that it
does not block any sunlight.

Now, since your soil is very porous, you may be able to improve the
water-holding characteristics and reduce your water usage further. do you
have access to coir - or coconut husks? Finely chopped, these are great at
retaining water, and would be a wonderful addition to your soil. Lacking
that, you should look for other clean organic material, such as coffee
hulls, rice hulls, sawdust, etc. that you can get very inexpensively, and
add large amounts to your soil-beds, working them into the soil as you can.
Be very careful if you already have plants, however, that you do not disturb
the soil and cut your plants' roots!

If you aren't already, I recommend you begin feeding your plants a balanced
natural mineral nutrient mix. They will be much better able to withstand
the harsh weather conditions if they are healthy in the first place. The
formulas are on the website, and if you have problems getting anything, I
can ship the micro-nutrients to you (see The Store, Fertilizers - at the
bottom of the page).