The following response to a letter I received is important, I believe, in explaining some of the background as to why we do things the way we do. I invite all to study it, and appreciate any feedback (to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dear Mr. Courier:
What a detailed letter! You’ve obviously thought much about this subject, and I’ll try to give you Dr. Mittleider’s thoughts on the subjects you raise. If I understood you correctly, you are growing in 25% clay soil, 25% blow-sand, and 50% cottonwood chips. You are certainly wise to be concerned about adding proper nutrition to that mixture!
First, millions of field trials, in 75 projects conducted in 27 countries around the world for 37 years, which followed 19 years of experience as a commercial nursery-plant grower, have taught Jacob what he knows about feeding mineral nutrients to vegetable plants. You will have to judge for yourself whether or not that is sufficient to qualify his results as scientifically accurate. Universities on four continents think highly enough of his work to have awarded him PhD’s.
Knowing from this experience that the plant can best tell you what it needs, he has not been concerned about the cation exchange ratios, but has adjusted the Mittleider Magic formulas to produce optimum yields of healthy, disease and pest resistant crops. And yes, the formulas have been adjusted numerous times since the writing of More Food From Your Garden in 1975.
For the past two years Jacob (who lived in Assisted Living digs at the time) has been growing wonderful, healthy crops using the Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed formulas in a container garden with nothing but sawdust, perlite, and sand. And the roots cannot reach the ground because Jacob placed roofing tar paper everywhere to stop the nematode infestation. And he uses the exact same amounts as if he was growing in the ground.
We apply 2# of Pre-Plant mix, with the largest ingredient being calcium, to an 18” X 30’ soil-bed or Grow-Box, and do this one time per crop. On rare occasions we have found that more calcium, magnesium, or boron, or combination is needed, but not often enough to increase the amounts we recommend the home gardener apply at the beginning.
We apply 1# of Weekly Feed with the Pre-Plant mix before planting the crop. Thereafter, we apply 1# as a top dressing 4” from the plant stems along the row, and water it into the root zone of the plants each week until 3 weeks before maturity. This amounts to feedings of 3-5 times for such things as spinach, lettuce, and cabbage, and for ever-bearing crops we continue feeding until 8 weeks before expected frost, which amounts to 10-12 times in our temperate climate. I haven’t discovered where you got the idea that we apply Weekly Feed 22 times.
Our application of gypsum or lime is determined by the soil pH, with gypsum only used in drier climates with pH above 7. Calcium is always applied as nutrition for the crop, and applying it to the surface of the soil below the box before filling a Grow-Box assures plant roots a supply of nutrients as they extend beyond the Grow-Box soil mix into the native soil, which is almost always deficient in water-soluble calcium, etc.
Jacob has, as I mentioned in a previous paragraph, changed the amounts of nutrients, including calcium and magnesium. On occasion he has found improvement by increasing the amounts of these things, especially on ground that has been gardened for extended periods of time. However, the need for more ca and mg has not been general enough to warrant having all family gardeners change the application rates, or for us to change the formulas.
Jacob does not consider corn to be a very good representative for determining the needs of all vegetable crops, as it is a cereal – more like wheat or other grain crops. Our studies have shown that many vegetable crops use N, P, and K in close to a 110-60-110 ratio, and that is why the fertilizers use that ratio.
Regarding your concerns about leaching of excess minerals into the soil water, and eventually into streams, rivers, and lakes, we have had thorough independent tests conducted, by two highly respected soil labs, on Mittleider gardens of 4, 10, and 21 years’ duration. In no case was there a problem with either a build-up or leaching of mineral salts.
Consider that we apply less than 1/2# of actual fertilizers (including all nutrients, not just N, P, and K) to a soil-bed 18” wide by 30’ long, consisting of 3,000-3,500# of dirt just in the top 12”, and we do this between 5 and 10 times per year.
On the other hand, the “conscientious” organic gardener, who mixes 2”-3” of manure into his soil before planting, applies MANY TIMES more mineral salts to the soil than our average total application, and they do it all at once, making it far more susceptible to being leached into the ground water, etc.
We applaud you for trying to obtain the best information you can regarding the fertilizers you use to feed your vegetable plants. Very few people have the experience of William Albrecht in the things he studied. Dr. Albrecht very wisely determined that acid soil conditions were the result of nutrient deficiencies – as rainfall washes out the base elements including calcium, magnesium, and potassium. And he recommended replacing the nutrients as the solution to the problems of acidic soil.
Dr. Jacob Mittleider’s, experience taught him the same lesson, but the application was geared specifically toward growing healthy crops by applying proper amounts of nutrients, and backed up by real gardens in every conceivable growing situation. We believe this experience is unmatched by any individual or institution of which we are aware, in determining what is best as a single fertilizer formula that can be applied with confidence by all family farmers anywhere in the world.
Best wishes to you in your own gardening efforts. We hope you will give the Mittleider Method, including the Mittleider Magic fertilizers a chance to give you a great garden.
Jim Kennard, for Jacob R. Mittleider