More On Mittleider

     I promised to report on the 'Mittleider Method' after I'd read a couple of his books.
I got three of the books on Inter-Library Loan and read them. I also subscribe to a Mittleider mailing list on - run by a guy named Jim Kennard, who seems to be the one who is 'spreading the word' now.
Kennard has gone to various Third World Countries, and taught courses in intensive-food production there, etc. I believe Kennard to be absolutely on the up-and-up, and sincere about what he advocates. I don't think there's any question of that whatsoever.
I've been very clear that I am using tire-planters, and not their recommended 'grow-boxes', and will continue to, and I've been welcomed on the list.
Here's what I've gleaned from it **SO FAR**, subject to change. And again, I emphasize that this is what I have gathered so far:
Dr. Mittleider (now elderly, or maybe even deceased, I don't know) worked at Loma Linda University in California.
Mittleider standardized aspects of a (sort of) 'one size fits all' approach to gardening and taught it in various Third World Countries, as well as in the USA, with spectacularly good results.
As near as I can gather, in about the same time frame, a whole bunch of people 'discovered' the same things: raised beds, intensive planting, drastically improved soil. Many 'methods' and books resulted: Jeavons' books, Bartholomew's square-foot gardening, etc. - and the Mittleider Method.
And each one who wrote a book about it tended to be dogmatic and say that his particular way was the *only good way*. Well, if you've discovered something that works spectacularly better than what you knew before, then you're going to be impressed with it, and teach that particular method to others. This is natural. But they shared a lot of elements....
[Mittleider also did a terrific amount of work on plant diseases and malnutrition: what causes various problems and how to correct them. I'm not discussing this. I haven't read it, and I am not qualified to discuss it even if I had read it.]
I can understand using a (sort of) 'one size fits all' method when you're writing a book or teaching a course - you almost have to do this.
Many components of the method are those that experienced gardeners *already* know work, and work very well indeed: raised beds (he calls them 'grow boxes') or flat beds (for drier conditions) with practically hand-made soil, intensive planting, starting seeds in a heated or unheated greenhouse, etc. --- all the good stuff. These may come as a revelation to inexperienced gardeners, but they won't surprise those with more experience.
The books lay out a system of gardening that I've no doubt will work very, very well (as do the methods of others: Bartholomew, Jeavons, and the like).
Now, we come to the more controversial part of it:
Mittleider put great stress on a particular fertilization method (and not an organic one).
He *did* emphasize the incorporation of whatever organic material can be obtained into the soil. So he's guiltless there.
He also stressed that - although Third World farmers were *already* doing this - they were still not getting good results. And this, he felt, was due to the plants' lacking one or more elements necessary for optimum health. Organic fertilization, he said, can be 'hit or miss' - well, this is true or certainly *can* be true. I can see the logic of this.
Mittleider did a lot of experimentation and came up with a particular fertilization method. Great stress is put on incorporation of the proper amount of trace elements, as well as the big three (N-P-K), on a particular schedule and in particular amounts.
Mittleider laid out fertilizer amounts and a schedule which - he claims - will work beautifully. I cannot do this work on an individual basis, so I'm happy if someone has done it and knows what will work.
The website sells both complete fertilizer and a trace-element mixture that can be added to a standard commercial N-P-K fertilizer for those who find it uneconomical to pay the shipping costs of the complete fertilizer.
I'm going to order the trace element mixture for next season and I'm going to follow their fertilization recommendations and see what results I get.
I actually *could* order minute amounts of each trace element myself from a chemical supply house but it would cost vastly more than the $9.95 they are charging for the trace-element mixture. I used to do the purchasing for a university physics department, and I *know* that it would cost more. Much more. Shipping alone would be more. Nor would I know how much of which element to use. So I welcome the sale of these trace elements - this is a useful service.
I'll run a few experiments - adjoining planters with regular commercial fertilizer and with Mittleider fertilization - etc. and see what happens. I'll weigh the yield. Reporting on this will not take place until next autumn.
The website also sells the books and two software programs which assist in garden planning. I've not used the software, although I'm awfully tempted to order the $9.95 version.... might do so. I wish they had a free trial period, but - OTOH - $9.95 is *very* low for a piece of software that must have taken considerable time and work to write. (My husband is a software developer, and I *know* how much time and effort can go into even a 'little' program and this isn't a 'little' program.)
Bill, btw, the very wide spacing between the 18" beds (that you noticed) is so that the plants can sprawl out into the paths. Tomatoes would certainly do this (mine would anyway!), and squash and so on. Of course, you don't need that much space between rows of lettuce, carrots, etc., or other small stuff.
But this is a more-or-less 'one size fits all' approach so I can understand why they advocate such a wide spacing, for simplicity and uniformity's sake. Mittleider also recommended suiting the size and shape of the garden beds to your own particular circumstances, but gave sizes that he recommends for those without special requirements or without experience to know what will work for them. (This would include my tire planters: Kennard has told me that they know of several people using the Mittleider method combined with tire-gardening.)
The books don't go into as much detail on starting seeds, growing out the seedlings, etc. as I've seen in some other books, but - after all - they are covering the whole spectrum of vegetable gardening in general. It would be unfair to expect as much info on seed-starting as in a whole book on seed-starting (like Nancy Bubel's 'Seed Starters Handbook).
The core of the advice in the books can be gleaned from the website - there are free tutorials on the site. These are worthwhile, IMHO.
If anyone is ordering any of the books, be aware that at least one of them is a cartoon style book, with hand-style lettering. In other words, not all that much to it, although the essentials are there. I think this is "Mittleider Grow-Box Gardens" - I've returned the books to the library now so I'm not sure, but I think this is the one.
If I were buying one of the books (which I probably would if I had more money), I'd get 'The Mittleider Gardening Course'.
The big book I read is 'Food For Everyone' and I think some of the advice in it has changed (although maybe it has been incorporated into newer editions - the book I read was very old). This was Mittleider's first book, apparently. It also trails off into 7th Day Adventist religion here and there (Loma Linda University is an Adventist-sponsored school) which is odd, and I found it off-putting and inappropriate in a book of this nature -- but it can be easily ignored. My guess is that Mittleider's co-author on this book wrote the religious parts, as neither of the two other books I read (with Mittleider as the sole author) included anything about religion, except possibly in a preface or introduction.
That's all I know about it! :)
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A very interesting report, thank you very much for this!
John H. Immink Victoria BC Canada

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Upload wrote:

We learned about deep/raised bed gardening from UK gardener John Seymour in his book _The Self-Sufficient Gardener_ (1979) and have not looked back since. Pretty book too.
Now, about the trace elements thing. We had trouble with our lower garden and added some Peters trace elements (experimental). This made an almost immediate improvement for us. And then the results of our soil tests came back verifying the lack of certain substances. That was my first experience with purchased trace elements.
Great post, thanks!

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