Many Northwest Missouri residents look forward to planting vegetable gardens in the spring so they’ll have fresh produce for months to come.
In traditional gardens, you define the garden area, till the soil, add nutrients if necessary, plant seeds in rows or hills, water and wait. Another method that’s gaining recognition in the area is hydroponic gardening, which uses a water-based system to grow plants instead of soil. On Saturday, the public is invited to a free seminar in Kidder, Mo., that combines parts of both to produce one of the most scientific, sustainable and productive gardening methods in the world.
Master Mittleider Gardener Jim Kennard will host two informational seminars on Saturday at the Kidder Institute demonstration gardens about the Mittleider Gardening Method. Developed by Dr. Jacob Mittleider more than 50 years ago, the method first served as a way to teach people in developing countries to grow food in small spaces, harsh climates and poor soil conditions. Mr. Kennard learned about the method in 1978 and started following the recommendations in his own garden.
“I was blown away when my 8-year-old daughter helped me build the garden, and then she ran the garden for the gardening season, and we had the best garden we had ever had,” he says.
The two men became neighbors by chance when Dr. Mittleider moved about a mile away from Mr. Kennard’s home at the time. That gave him a chance to learn directly from the master himself, and the two partnered together on several projects for the next two decades. Mr. Kennard now leads the nonprofit Food for Everyone Foundation, which educates people and promotes Mittleider gardening in all parts of the world. Dr. Mittleider passed away in 2006.
“For the past 16, 17 years now, I have been doing it pretty much full time, pro bono. Just paying it forward, as they say, because of the great blessing that it has been to me, and I want to continue and expand on what he has done as much as I can,” Mr. Kennard says.
The Mittleider Method is based upon the idea that anyone can grow a productive garden in practically any environment. Dr. Mittleider spent years researching and using trial-and-error to determine how best to plant, water and feed vegetables and flowers. The final result is gardens grown in long, narrow soil beds or grow-boxes that feed off of a custom soil mixture. In this way, people can produce high yields even in rocky, sandy or poor-quality soil, or in small areas like tiny backyards or urban rooftop gardens.
Mr. Kennard says the most basic Mittleider garden can start from just “four sticks and two strings,” but there are many ways to upgrade it. Some gardeners choose to expand their gardens upward instead of outward using vertical gardening practices, or incorporate hydroponic methods into the feeding and watering process. It all depends on how much you want to learn.
“The simplicity of it is such that an 8-year-old can do it,” he says.
Mr. Kennard used to travel to different countries to hold seminars, but recently he decided it would be easier for the world to come to him. What better place than the center of the United States? The Kidder Institute building was built in the late 19th century and used for various educational purposes through the years. Mr. Kennard purchased the building in 2013 so it could be the home base for many demonstration gardens, greenhouses and training courses where people will flock to learn all about Mittleider gardening.
Two seminars will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. May 9 at the Kidder Institute, 961 E. Fifth St. The event is free to the public and will consist of two parts — a classroom presentation and instruction, and time spent in the gardens watching and participating in a soil bed assembly.
Participants are encouraged to register ahead of time by calling (816) 301-7058 or e-mailing seminar@JMLT.us. All participants will receive a free electronic copy of the book “Mittleider Basics Course,” which Mr. Kennard says is a “recipe” containing everything a person needs to know about constructing and maintaining a Mittleider garden. For more information about the method, visit growfood.com.