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
yahoogroups.com - 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 **
, 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
[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
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
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).
emphasize the incorporation of whatever organic
material can be obtained into the soil. So he's guiltless
He also stressed that - although Third World farmers were
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
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
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
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
The core of the advice in the books can be gleaned from the
website - there are free tutorials on the site. These are
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
If I were buying one of the books (which I probably would if
I had more money), I'd get 'The Mittleider Gardening
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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