Monday, February 19, 2007

Why use a Grow Box versus soilbeds

What are the advantages of a Grow-Box?Dr. Jacob Mittleider's books on container gardening are among thevery best you will find anywhere. This is because Jacob learned hisgardening lessons for 20 years as a highly successful nursery growerof bedding plants in Southern California, and then he applied andadapted that knowledge to humanitarian projects in gardeningsituations and conditions for another 35 years all over the world.Mittleider books devoted to illustrating and teaching containergardening include such classics as Grow-Box Gardening, Gardening bythe Foot, Let's Grow Tomatoes, and The Mittleider Gardening Course.

They are available at the Food For Everyone Foundation website at, and as digital downloads on that websiteand do people want or need to grow in containers anyway?! Isn'tgrowing in the dirt natural, and the way nature intended it bedone? Or is something actually lacking in the soil today?It's true that the natural soil will give you a great garden. Eventhe worst soils - if you follow the Mittleider Method carefully -will produce bountiful, healthy crops, even without ANY soilammendments.

However, There are still many reasons some of you may choose to growin containers, or Grow-Boxes, as we call them. Soils everywhere areindeed lacking – in decomposed organic material, or humus. Theycrack as they dry, and they become very hard and difficult to workwith. These hard clay soils are especially difficult places forplant roots to grow, and often result in poor crops.Most soils that are available for family gardener's use today arealso lacking or deficient in the essential water-soluble mineralsrequired for healthy plant growth.

Thousands of years of weather-caused leaching and erosion, as well as natural and man-caused cropremoval, have depleted most soils of their water-soluble minerals,and therefore garden crops are hungry almost everywhere today.Furthermore, these soils do not even do a good job of providing thefive basic functions required of soil for healthy plant growth.These functions include:1. Afford anchorage for plant roots.2. Retain water and oxygen for plant use.3. Store minerals for plants to use for food.4. Act as a temperature regulator, especially in hot weather.5. Afford good drainage around plant roots.Grow-Boxes, and the custom-made soil mixes used in them arespecifically designed to solve the above problems of native soil.Using a combination of clean, slow-decomposing organic materials andsand, Grow-Box soil mixes absorb water well, they never crack orbecome hard, and they remain light and easy to work with. Meanwhile,your plant roots grow easily and fast through the light-weight,porous material.These custom soil mixes absorb large amounts of water quickly, whilestill maintaining high levels of soil air. That soil air makes Grow-Box materials excellent temperature regulators, almost like a swampcooler.

The organic materials also provide excellent drainage, especiallybecause the box is sitting on top of the natural soil. A realdrainage problem is almost unheard of when using containers. Andwhile perhaps not being as strong per square inch for purposes ofanchorage as natural soil, the plant roots grow so much more readilyand become so much bigger and stronger, the anchorage is taken careof very well also.The uncertainties of nutrition are taken care of by the scientificapplication of small amounts of scientifically balanced naturalmineral nutrients. And the Grow-Box soils are excellent storageshelves for these nutrients, so they are readily available to theplants' roots.Instead of requiring a tiller, or heavy digging with a shovel,preparing the soil for planting in a Grow-Box is a joy, and can beaccomplished with a light-weight hoe, or even a rake.There are no weeds, bugs, or diseases to contend with in Grow-Boxes! Starting with clean materials is essential, and everafterward, with proper care, you will enjoy working with much lessneed to fight these enemies of a successful garden.Because your Grow-Boxes are 8" off the ground, you don't have to getdown on your knees to work with your plants, as you do in naturalsoil.

Watering is a breeze, especially if you build and use the simpleautomated watering system illustrated and described in chapter 16 ofthe Mittleider Gardening Course and chapter 19 of Gardening by theFoot. These are available in paper-back at,and by digital download on this website and there is virtually no waste of precious water! Thismethod uses less than ½ the water of traditional methods. Inaddition, since you never apply water in the aisles – where the dirtis – there is almost no mud to contend with, so you and your plantsremain much cleaner when working in a Grow-Box garden.Root crops are a real pleasure to harvest! You can pull them easilyby hand, and anything growing in or on the ground is clean and bug-free.One of the best advantages of growing in a Grow-Box garden is thefact that you can grow so much more in the same space than you canin the dirt. Planting close together in the narrow boxes, andleaving clean 3'-wide aisles provides ample light for your low-growing plants with no more effort than occasional pruning of oldleaves from off the soil surface.Growing many plants vertically is the other way in which youmaximize your yield in a small space. Again, Grow-Boxes are themost efficient way to do this, as every bit of growing space iscontained and used to advantage. Using stakes or T-frames, andpruning to maximize light to your plants, will give you rewards inbigger harvests than you probably have ever seen.

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