Saturday, October 31, 2009

Irrigation of the Beds

Irrigation of the Beds

Jim - concerning the watering of the beds - if using the pipes, is water running
thru them to create a constant drip or are the faucets turned on for a length of
time to allow 1 inch of water to accumulate.

Since the plants are planted closer together, would this inhibit the air flow
that helps to dry the leaves of the plant if watering overhead? Or is overhead
watering not recommended.

I have been using a watering wand that I point to the base of the plants and
flood the area.

I can see the irrigation method to be easier but I was thinking of using a hose
from my house (I have only a small yard), connecting to the pipe for a period of
time before moving to the next location.

Sorry for all the questions, I am trying to adapt what you are advocating to my
situation. Last growing season I experienced problems with calcium deficiency
in my tomatoes, so I definitely see the need of the nutrients. If the
irrigation system is not to be constant, I can adapt that, too.


A watering wand will work for a small garden. Another way to do it with less
constant supervision is to wrap an old towel around the end of the hose to slow
down the flow of water, set it at the end of the bed and let the water fill the
bed from end to end. This of course presupposes that you have leveled your beds

If using automated watering, you turn the water on for just a few minutes, just
long enough to give you 1' of water in the planting area. We don't like the
soaker hose idea much, because you don't know how much water your plants are
getting - it could be way too much, or not enough.

To automate the watering for a small yard I would look at the plans in chapter
16 of the Mittleider Gardening Course book (if you don't have it and can't get
it right now, the chapter is available free on the website, in the Store

Make enough pipes for all of your beds. You definitely don't want to be moving
the pipes from bed to bed. Just connect all of the pipes together with a Header
pipe, and place a plastic ball valve at the head of each bed, so you can water
one or two - or as many as you have pressure for - beds at one time.

The holes in the PVC pipes are pointed down to the dirt, with the pipe raised
off the ground about 3" - placed on short pieces of 2 X 4s. Don't water the
plant leaves, since that encourages diseases and loses water to evaporation.

Don't stop with just the lime! Use everything, and you'll have wonderful
success. Now, please forgive me as I vent for a couple of minutes.

It's so funny (actually it's really SAD!), I was reading on a very big website
today and the "expert" wrote that it is "dangerous to force-feed your plants
with synthetic chemicals". Now, I agree with that!! Don't any of you DARE to
take a big hypodermic needle filled with "synthetic chemicals" (whatever those
are) and forcefully inject it into each of your plants' stems! It's dangerous to
your plants' health!!
The reality is that it’s impossible to force-feed your plants. They get nutrition by osmosis, which dictates that the movement of a solution is from an area of lesser salt concentration to an area of greater salt concentration, until the two are equalized. Therefore, if excess fertilizer (which is salt) is applied to the soil water at the root zone of the plants the excess salt will draw the water OUT of the plants. They can’t possibly take it in!

In addition, "since a plant can't tell the difference between nitrogen
from a leaf and that from a fertilizer bag" (J. I. Rodale), and since the plant
accepts mineral nutrients only by the process of osmosis through its root hairs,
and since the ONLY WAY to assure that your plants have proper balanced nutrition
is to know what is in the soil water by which they are fed, it makes sense to me
to spend a few pennies to provide that balanced nutrition of natural mineral
nutrients, instead of GUESSING what they might be getting from a bunch of manure or compost.

Jim Kennard

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shading to reduce heat losses

Shading plants is an extreme measure, and needs to be used judiciously for best results.

Since photosynthesis is necessary for plant growth and development, and since direct sunlight makes that happen, place 25-30% (maximum) shade cloth so that it shades the plants only during the hottest part of the day, and they can benefit from direct sun the rest of the time.

All plants can benefit from this, but especially the high value crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and pole beans should be considered. They all love warm weather, but anything over 95 degrees will stop fruit production.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grow-Box Sizes What's Best and Why

There are production and efficiency-related reasons for the sizes recommended for your Grow-Boxes or soil-beds. Do not make the mistake of thinking any size is just fine, or you will discover that you are not getting the yields you expected. Remember, the "poor man's hydroponic method" is a recipe!

Widths narrower than 18" put some plants too close together when planting two rows. They also crowd the roots in some larger crop varieties. Also, there's less available water, which can lead to water stress, and boxes can dry out faster in hot weather.

Widths wider than 18" make watering and feeding more difficult and less efficient. For example, placing fertilizers down the center of a box or bed that's 22" wide will leave young plants hungry, because their roots haven't spread far enough to find the food. Applying two bands of fertilizer doubles the work and may still not solve the problem, depending on how well the watering system dissolves and distributes the fertilizers. Also, the water will not reach young plants' roots as well, and they will suffer from lack of moisture.

Even the size for the 4'-wide boxes has been worked out for maximum yield and efficiency. This size allows for planting 4 rows of most plants, and two rows of vertically-grown varieties. Some folks mistakenly think they can get by with a 3'-wide box, and they pay heavily in lost yield. The reason is that most crop varieties need
the 2 feet of space between the inside rows for light and air.

The 5'-wide boxes demonstrated in Jacob's first book Grow-Box Gardens are no longer recommended for several reasons. First, it's difficult to reach into the center of the box. Second, efficient planting requires it be done across - rather than lengthwise – and then watering becomes a problem. Watering must be done by hand, since the automated watering system doesn't work well for planting across the width of a 5’-wide bed, unless 3 watering lines are used for each bed.

Remember also that aisle widths are important! We recommend 3 1/2' widths - especially for soil-beds. You can do alright with 3'-wide aisles if you prune diligently and regularly. Aisles less than 3' usually do not provide sufficient light and air for large crop varieties, and thus reduce yields. It's also difficult to get equipment down narrower aisles.

The box depth of 8” works very well - especially if plants can send their roots down into the native soil

For a patio planter with a bottom - or if planting on cement, etc. a deeper box can be good to give more room for root growth and to avoid overheating in warm weather. However, a deeper box takes more material to fill, which adds to the expense. It also requires more water, and keeping the soil mixture moist is critical to success. And finally, the fertilizers are distributed throughout a greater volume of soil-mix, so young roots have to search for them.

Benefits to having a deeper box include aesthetics, if you're using your Grow-Boxes in a landscaping scheme. It also makes it easier for people who have difficulty bending over to work near the ground. Some people have successfully used Grow-Boxes between 2 and 3' deep.

Once again, remember that the 8" depth is most efficient for watering and feeding, and govern yourselves accordingly.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Functions of Soils

Mineral soils perform at least four functions for plants:
1. They provide anchorage for plants.
2. They store plant food (nutrients) for plant use.
3. They hold water for plants.
4. They supply aeration (oxygen) for plant use.
5. They act as temperature regulators for plants.

These five soil functions should be kept in mind when working with or selecting a soil type, or when making an artificial soil media.

Some soils perform these functions better than other soils. For example: Clay soils do well with the first three functions, but on the fourth and fifth soil functions they do poorly. Sandy soils do well in the fourth and fifth soil functions, but fail, quite severely, on the first three functions. Clay loam and sandy loam soils
perform well on all five soil functions. Peat soils do well on functions 1, 3, 4, and 5, but in function 2 they fail.

These examples show that almost all types of soil fail to perform all the functions that the ideal soil is to perform.

In traveling one quickly realizes that crops are grown on many different types of soil. The crops appear to grow equally well regardless of the type of soil. Any and all kinds of soils and soil types that perform the above-mentioned five functions will grow satisfactory crops. This includes both natural soils and artificial soils.

Thus, clay soils can be improved by increasing the drainage and loosening them up, either through proper cultivation or by incorporating organic residues.

Sandy soils can be improved by incorporating peat moss, sawdust, organic residues, green manures, etc. These materials increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soils.

Since peat soils are low in fertility, they must be supplied with the proper fertilizers which the crops require.

High summer heat has an effect on the growth of many plants. Some plants are called heat-loving plants. Other plants are called cool-loving plants. These two words are used correctly in some places, but they do not tell the whole story in other places.

Almost everyone is acquainted with nurseries that deal with plants. Nurseries are divided into many groups, such as: tree nurseries, ball and burlap, container growers, flowering plant nurseries, potted plant nurseries and florists, indoor foliage plant growers, orchid growers, azalea growers, vegetable and bedding plant growers, and still others.

The bedding plant growers will be used to illustrate that plants can be grown out-of-season. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potatoes, etc. are heat-loving plants. They will freeze at 32°. But bedding plant growers (nurseries) grow these, and other heat-loving plants, during the coldest part of the winter season.

Pansies, stocks, calendulas, cabbage, lettuce, etc. are called cool-loving plants, and they are grown by the nurseries in July and August–the hottest part of the summer. Bedding plant nurseries must grow plants out-of-season to have them ready for sale, to the retail public, when the proper planting season arrives.

All will agree, at least in Southern California, that the plants that the nurseries grow out-of-season, for resale, are of the highest and finest quality. How can they do it?

It is really quite simple. They merely provide the ideal soil for the growing media, and the proper environment. In other words, for the cool-loving plants, which they grow in the hottest weather, they provide diffused sunlight, and a cool, light weight, porous soil media for the plants to grow in. For heat-loving plants they provide heated greenhouses and a lightweight, porous soil media. In both cases
the soil media is the important requisite.

In many places the soil is gray clay, red clay, brown clay, or black clay. Because of the universal shortage of organic materials, and the lack in using those that are available to improve clay soils, the heavy frequent rains pack the clay soils almost like concrete. They set up so hard that the plant roots have a very difficult task trying to penetrate the soil deeper than a few inches.

In the cooler season of the year the demands on plant roots to provide moisture and plant nutrients to the stems and leaves is much less demanding than in the heat of summer. Also, the soil temperature is more ideal for plant root growth. Other factors being favorable, vegetable crops can perform their normal functions in cool weather.
However, when the weather gets hot, both day and night, the clay soil
temperature rises. The rains are less frequent, and between rains the hard clay soil contracts and large cracks develop. These unfavorable growing conditions are usually more than many vegetable plants can cope with; thus they just do not mature the crop, if planted in the hard soil in the heat of summer.

Realizing that nurseries grow plants all through the year, many experiments have been conducted using a soil media similar to that used by nurseries–a lightweight, porous, organic and inorganic media.

The results were most impressive. Common vegetable crops were grown
successfully every month of the year, in areas where they were only grown seasonally before. The results of the experiments indicate conclusively that if plant roots can penetrate the soil with ease, to the depth that they can reach the soil temperature they prefer, then plants will grow and produce even though the temperature above the ground becomes much hotter than the soil root zone.

In other words, the root zone temperature in the soil (approximately 6" to 8"), is more the determining factor whether plants will grow in the heat of summer, than the temperature above the ground.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Birds and weeds

I have a vegetable garden. It's surrounded by a chain-linked/cyclone
fence. It's about 22' x 10'. I have some corn growing. The past few
years, the birds have been getting to the corn, just before I am
ready to pick it. Someone told me to use fishing line to use
vertically and horizontally across the top. The corn is already over
the top of fence, so chicken wire wouldn't work.

Does anyone have any suggestions??

I also have sooo many weeds. I weeded the garden before I planted,
(or so I thought) I am constantly weeding. Is that normal?? I just
can't kill all of them. Round-up seems to be like fertilizer to
them. I looked on past posts and someone recommended boiling
water. I will have to try it. I also tried the mixture of vinegar,
salt and dish soap; it didn't work either.


Weeds are just about the most common problem that keep people from having great

"E & O" weeding is what I recommend strongly. Early and often, and by early I
mean as soon as the seeds sprout you should take them out - either with the
2-way hoe (see Tools in the Store section of the website or
with the garden rake.

Continue weeding as often as necessary. Jacob said many times that "1 years'
weeds makes 7 years' seeds." That is the sad truth, and it means that unless
you have been weeding your garden diligently for 7 years you probably still have
weed seeds that will sprout when they are brought to the surface by the hoe,
rake, shovel, or tiller.

Keep at it, and DON'T let Roundup or any other store-bought solution take the
place of elbow-grease. Half the benefit of gardening is the fresh air and
exercise we get taking care of it.

Don't be afraid to take your ridges down in the process of weeding. It only
takes 2-3 MINUTES to pull down the ridges of a 30'-long soil-bed, and about 5
minutes to build them again with the rake. This simple process will eliminate
the large majority of your weeds - especially if you do it a couple of times.
And hoe in the aisles when necessary, also when the weeds are tiny.

I've never seen birds bother corn as it ripens, so I can't give you advice
there. Anyone??

Jim Kennard

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Feeding the garden during an emergency

- Save for future reference!
Q. In a survival situation, if I could not go to a store to purchase the raw materials to mix my fertilizer, what would I do? What would I need to add to the soil to get the same results?

A. What would you do if you couldn't go to the grocery store and buy everything you need off the shelf? First off, while you can do it, you wouldn't blame the stores for having so much good food, but be thankful it's there, and use it properly (and don't blame mineral fertilizers for being so good).

Secondly, many wise people buy more than they need of items that store well, and create a "year's supply" of the essentials in their basement or other cool, dry place. This is the biblical answer, for those of you who may
remember Joseph in Egypt, who saved grain and fed the Egyptians and others, including his own family, during a 7 years' famine.

How does this apply to gardening? Seeds, triple sealed in a can and stored in a cool, dry place, will remain viable for a very long time. For about $40 You can buy a Garden In A Can, which has enough seeds to grow 2/3rds of an acre garden (more than enough for most families for a year). You can get them from the Foundation website under Materials, or, from Mountain Valley Seeds, in Salt Lake City, Utah for about $45. The website is I highly recommend you get a can. They are all open-pollinated, or heirloom seeds, so you can even save the seeds for future years' crops.

What about fertilizers, so you can continue to have great yields of healthy vegetables? FERTILIZERS WILL STORE INDEFINITELY, AND MAINTAIN THEIR POTENCY. Therefore, if you are where you can buy pre-mixed Mittleider Magic fertilizer, I strongly recommend you buy and store enough to grow at least one year's garden.

If you can't get Mittleider Magic readily, I recommend the following as a good alternative. Order enough Mittleider Magic Micro-Mix from the Foundation's website store ( for at least one year's supply. Then buy bags of 16-16-16, 15-15-15, 13-13-13, or similar mixes and Epsom Salt as explained in the directions on the Micro-Mix package. Do not mix them together until they are needed, but rather just store the materials in a dry place.

An alternative you might try, although I can't guarantee it, is Scott's Peters' Professional Pete Lite. This mix, while more readily water soluble, is fairly similar to Mittleider Magic, as near as I can tell.

For Pre-Plant mix, you should buy lime (rainfall more than 20" per year) or gypsum (less than 20"), Epsom Salt, and 20 Mule Team Borax, in the ratio 80-4-1, as recommended on the website and in the books.

Now, what do you do if the emergency goes beyond a year, and you've used up all your fertilizer? First off, don't expect the same quantity and quality of production as you obtained with the balanced mineral nutrients, but you can grow a healthy garden using manure tea. Here's how:

Get a large burlap bag and a 55 gallon barrel. Find cow or horse manure (chicken or turkey is twice as hot, so less will be needed), and fill the bag 2/3's full. Place the bag in the barrel and fill it with water. Let the manure "tea" soak or "steep" for 24 hours, then use the tea to water your vegetable plants.

Replace the bag of manure in the barrel, fill again with water and let steep for 48 hours. Use the tea, then dump the spent manure out and till into an unused portion of the garden - it has no more nutrient value, but can improve soil tilth.

Remember to plant your plants a little further apart when using this method, because they will be competing for less available nutrition. And every watering needs to be with the manure tea for your plants to be healthy and thrive. You'll likely grow a smaller garden, and spend some time finding manure.

If manure just isn't available, consider saving kitchen scraps and human waste. Many countries do it all the time, so it's not the end of the world. And all clean, healthy plant residue should be saved and properly composted for re-use in the garden - again as manure tea.

A rule of thumb for how much fertilizer you would need to store, in order to have your year's supply, is 15# per 30' soil-bed. Even though you will only feed something like lettuce or cabbage 4 or 5 times, remember that if you are really living out of your garden, you will be growing two or three crops, and doing it from March or April, right up until frost in October or November. Therefore, see the following list for suggestions on how much to store, depending on the size of your garden.

20' X 30' (4 soil-beds) 25# 60#
40' X 65' (16 soil-beds) 100# 240#
50' X 100' (30 soil-beds) 200# 480#

By the way, 16 soil-beds, properly worked and cared for, especially if combined with good seedling production, could produce a VERY large amount of food. As an example, if only one crop was grown, you could produce 8-10,000# of tomatoes, or even cabbage - if you grew 3 crops. That’s a 40 times yield on the fertilizer investment.

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Radishes are an excellent thing to plant if contamination of the soil is suspected. They are hardy, will grow quickly, and show symptoms of deficiencies, disease, etc. well.

Meanwhile, apply the Pre-Plant fertilizer mix in the recommended dosages of 2# in each 18" X 30' soil bed or Grow-Box, and add Weekly Feed to each bed at the rate of 1# in each 18" X 30' bed or box.
If you ordinarily do not receive more than 20 inches of rain each year, one flooding certainly will not change the pH and make your soil acidic. Therefore, if you normally receive under 20" of rain per year, the Pre-Plant mix should have gypsum, instead of lime, so it doesn't raise your pH, but it does everything else lime will do.

The chances are slight, but flood waters could bring disease into your garden from your neighbors, etc.

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