While you endure the cold winter months why not plan for a really great vegetable garden next spring. Maybe even one that could provide some income in addition to the food you eat yourselves! Does anyone have children who need responsibility – and spending money?
To illustrate the potential, I’ll describe the yields achievable by growing one crop in a quarter-acre garden. I realize that most of you may only want or be able to grow a garden of 10 or 20% this size, with multiple crops, however let’s tickle your imaginations! I’m aware of many Mittleider gardeners who are growing commercially – some with multi-acre gardens.
The Method is often called “the best of organic gardening” and “the poor man’s hydroponic method”, and with good reason. The best elements of many gardening disciplines have been blended and adapted for the home vegetable gardener, to maximize your yields in a truly sustainable garden.
Consider this: Just a quarter-acre of tomatoes grown properly using Dr. Mittleider’s instructions, and selling for only $.50 per pound, would yield $25,000 per year! Have I got your attention? Let’s see how it’s done.
A quarter-acre, or 10,390 square feet, will accommodate 78 30-foot rows of plants, grown in 4′ X 30′ Grow-Boxes, with 3 1/2′ side aisles, and 5′ end aisles. Planting 9″ apart gives you 41 plants per bed or 3,198 total.
By growing a tomato that averages 8 ounces (some varieties are even much bigger), and growing vertically, each plant should produce 16# of fruit from July through October. How? Good varieties produce a cluster of 3-7 tomatoes every 5-7″ up a 7′ stem in 4 months of production. Using 4 per cluster and 12 clusters gives 48 tomatoes, and at 8 ounces each, your yield would be 24# per plant. Let’s reduce that by one third, to be conservative.
This amounts to 51,168 pounds of tomatoes (16# X 41 X 78) – or $25,584 at $.50 per pound. Who says you couldn’t live out of your garden! And similar results can be achieved growing right in the soil.
Now there certainly are costs, including labor, as there are in any serious endeavor. Start-up costs include 1) making and filling the boxes, 2) making T-Frames, 3) wires or pipes, and baling-twine strings, and 4) automating the watering. However these are one-time capital expenditures and will be more than recovered in the first year.
Next, suppose you’d like to increase your yield even more. After all, commercial hydroponic growers can produce 660,000 pounds of “plastic,” tasteless tomatoes per year on one acre. Of course, they have multi-million dollar investments in year-round greenhouses, automated systems, etc. By simply putting an inexpensive “in-the-garden greenhouse” or arched PVC roof over your Grow-Boxes or soil-beds, (see Appendix C of The Mittleider Gardening Course book, pages 276-282) and covering them with 6-mil greenhouse plastic, and then adding a little heat on cold nights, you can lengthen your growing season by another two months (1 in spring and 1 in fall), or 50%!
Now you’re looking at 75,000# of tomatoes per quarter-acre, or almost half the yield of the expensive hydroponic growers! But you’re growing “in the dirt”, because your boxes are open at the bottom, so your plants get all the natural nutrients available from the soil (producing better flavor). And you only use the plastic covering on cold nights during two or three months, so your plants benefit from direct sunlight as well, further improving their flavor.
Do you think these numbers are hard to believe? Just visit a greenhouse tomato operation and see tomato plants that are 20′ and 30′ long – still producing after more than a year!