A fundamental question in vegetable gardening is - what is the proper use of organic and/or chemical materials? Let's determine the truth of the matter, with four basic principles and a few brief examples from Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider's worldwide experience.
I. First, let's consider what plants need, and where and how they get it. Plants require 16 elements for healthy growth, and 95% of the plant is the result of photosynthesis using just 3 elements ? carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen - all of which it gets from the air without man's intervention. The other 13 elements come from the soil and make up only 5% of the plant, but are nonetheless very important, for without them the plant will fail. Most importantly, the plant can only access these 13 nutrients as water-soluble minerals through its root system.
II. The next important principle to understand is that everything in this world is a chemical. Every element that makes up a plant, as well as everything in our bodies, and everything in the soil in which we grow is chemical. Therefore, we must not get carried away in refusing to use chemicals in the garden in favor of something else, because there is no something else!
III. Most soils contain all 13 nutrients, but due to thousands of years of leaching and crop removal, the water-soluble compounds are mostly gone, and what is left in the soil is not readily available.
This is not a big problem for trees and shrubs ? they grow slowly enough that they can wait for the natural chemical processes constantly going on in the soil to make small amounts of nutrients water soluble. However, this is not the case with vegetables. They grow very quickly, multiplying their size many times in a few weeks, and many complete their life cycle, including flowers, fruit, and seeds, in only 60-90 days! This is why they often need assistance.
IV. Organic materials can improve soil structure, provide food for beneficial soil bacteria, and add mineral nutrients. Before using them, however, they should be clean - weed, insect and disease-free. And beyond that, there are still three problems with depending exclusively on organic materials. 1. You never know which nutrients and what amounts were in the previous plant. 2. Much of the plant was eaten and became part of the man or animal. 3. The nutrients are not usable until the old plant has decomposed and they have reverted once again to water-soluble minerals. This takes time and fast-growing vegetable plants can't wait. Plus, even more nutrients are lost or become unavailable in the decomposition process.
Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider has worked and taught in many countries for 39 years, and he always found the people were growing organically ? doing their best with compost and manure ? as they have been doing for thousands of years, and yet they were starving! So, with his 20 years of background in the Nursery/Bedding Plant business, he experimented with small amounts of natural mineral nutrients to supplement the organic materials being used ? always using the best amounts and ratios he knew. By doing this he increased peoples' yields of healthy vegetables everywhere he went by as much as 10 to 1. And over time, he improved his nutrient mix to the point that today, using the Mittleider Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed mixes properly, anyone can grow healthy trees, shrubs, and virtually any variety of plants successfully in almost any soil or climate. That's why they are sometimes called "The poor man's hydroponic mix," but we recommend growing in the soil so the plants can get the best possible natural nutrition.
We apply less than ? pound of a balanced mix of the 13 mineral elements to the 3500 pounds of minerals already in a 30' Soil-Bed ? and do this only 4 or 5 times for most vegetables. This does not injure the plants or cause a toxic buildup in the soil. In fact, extensive tests by both the Brigham Young University and Stukenholtz Soil Labs found no toxicity in any Mittleider gardens, including his personal garden that was in use for over 20 years.
On the other hand, misuse and over-application of mineral salts can cause problems. This has been the case in Russia for many years. When Dr. Mittleider began teaching and growing there in 1989, the USSR's Agriculture Agents actually stole plants from his garden, looking for nitrate toxicity in "those dark green, beautiful plants," hoping to expose him and force him to leave the country. But there was no toxicity! And before long the Agriculture Minister went on their National TV to proclaim "The only food grown in Russia that's fit to eat is grown in a Mittleider Garden." They went on to make him the featured speaker at the Yalta Conference of Agriculture Ministers, and they gave him an honorary Ph.D. from Timirjazjiv Academy, the most prestigious Agriculture school in the Country. For several years they even gave Timirjazjiv Certificates to graduates of Mittleider's three-month Agriculture School at Zaokski!
Therefore, in using mineral nutrients, always consider the content, purpose, and amount carefully before applying them to your soil. They are salts, and even table salt, while good for us in small amounts, can cause health problems if over-used - and large amounts are toxic and can even kill us. It's the same with all of these materials ? whether they are good or bad depends on the amounts and how they are used.
In summary, Dr. Mittleider puts all available clean, healthy organic residues into the ground immediately, for the maximum benefit to soil and plants, and then uses small amounts of God-given natural mineral nutrients to assure that his plants have complete and balanced nutrition. I recommend you use the knowledge Dr. Jacob R Mittleider has gained from his extensive education, training, and practical experience to assure the greatest success in your vegetable garden.
To Benefit from Dr. Mittleider's worldwide experience, visit the Food For Everyone Foundation's website at www.foodforeveryone.org. There are many free gardening resources, and you can get advice directly from the experts.
Jim Kennard, the President of Food For Everyone Foundation, has a wealth of leadership, financial, business, teaching, and gardening training and experience upon which to draw in helping the Foundation to achieve its goals. He is a retired CPA, practicing as managing partner in a Salt Lake City firm since 1972, and has also owned and successfully managed several different businesses, including hotels, shopping centers, apartments, and retail establishments during the past twenty five years.
Jim has been a Mittleider gardener for the past twenty-eight years, he is a Master Mittleider Gardening Instructor, and has taught classes, worked one-on-one with Dr. Jacob Mittleider on several gardening projects in the USA and abroad, and conducted projects himself in Armenia, Madagascar, and Turkey. In addition to assisting gardeners worldwide through the FAQ pages of the website and the free Gardening Group, Jim grows a large demonstration garden at Utah's Hogle Zoo, that is seen by more than 700,000 people each year. Visit and learn at http://www.growfood.com.