Liebig’s Barrel

The Law of the Limiting Factor – With a Modern Twist

In this lesson I’m going to share a forgotten natural law that food gardeners all over the world are using to grow bigger and better backyard crops.

When you apply the gist of this law to your food garden you’ll be able to harvest loads of crispy fresh vegetables… armfuls of aromatic herbs… and baskets of sweet fruits… all from your own backyard, patio or balcony.

Are you ready?…

I’m going to spare you the history here, but I’ve included a few links below. So if history interests you just follow those links.

Liebig's Barrel. Source: Wikipedia

Liebig’s Barrel. Source: Wikipedia

What’s important here is that Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, often referred to as Liebig’s Barrel holds the secret to having a bountiful harvest by ensuring that your plants have optimum growing conditions.

This law states that the growth of your plants is not controlled by the total amount of nutrients available but by the scarcest nutrient – the limiting factor.

It’s worth reading that again… the growth of your plants is not controlled by the total amount of nutrients available but by the scarcest nutrient – the limiting factor.

Does that make sense to you ?

Now here’s the twist…

The fertility of your soil, in other words, the amount of nutrients in your soil is just 1 of 15 factors that can limit the growth of your plants; and ultimately the size and quality of your harvest.

What’s more, if we rank these fifteen factors in order of importance soil fertility only ranks at number 10 out of 15. There are nine other factors that have a bigger impact on the health of your crops. To be successful you must first remove these limiting factors.

We can group these limiting factors into five groups. Let’s quickly review them in order of importance.

Secret to Success Mindmap

Growing bigger and better backyard crops is not rocket science. Simply remove the limiting factors one by one.

Note: You can download a detailed mind map below.

First up there’s you … the gardener

And you bring the three most important limiting factors to your food garden.

The most important as a limiting factor is your gardening system. A system is a proven set of gardening activities that Saves You Stress Time Energy and Money. It’s something that continually evolves with your knowledge and experience. And it is absolutely critical to your success as a food gardener.

Then comes your skills, knowledge and experience; and then your resources such as gardening space, time, energy and money.

The next category is the seeds and plants you plant in your food garden. How they match your skills and gardening system; and their origin. In some conditions heirloom seeds may be best. In others hybrids will do better.

Next is your climate which determines the length of your growing seasons. The critical limiting factors are your average minimum and maximum temperatures, the amount of sunlight, your average rainfall and the prevailing winds. Most of these can be adapted to some extent with growing structures.

The fourth group is your soil. The first limiting factor in this group is soil fertility. This is the quality and quantity of nutrients available to the soil life and to your plants. And it is worth noting that the quality of the nutrients is more important than the quantity.

Then comes soil biodiversity… in other words how alive your soil is. And then we have soil structure. Whether it is a clay, loam, or sandy soil.

The last group of limiting factors is competition. It includes pest, disease, and weeds in that order. This group is where most food gardeners struggle and where they usually focus a lot of energy and resources. But this is the wrong end to start.

Fact is, if you remove, or limit, the preceding four groups of twelve limiting factors pests, diseases and weeds won’t even bother you.

Let’s recap Liebig’s Barrel or the 186 year old natural law that can help you grow bigger and better herbs, veggies and fruits if you apply it with a modern twist.

The growth of your plants is not controlled by the total amount of nutrients available but by the scarcest nutrient – the limiting factor.

To be successful you must remove the limiting factors. And the most important limiting factors are the growing system you are using, and your skill in using the system.

The great news is that implementing a food gardening system is not rocket science. And in your next email I’ll give you a framework of a proven food gardening system that any food gardener, irrespective of their skill level, can use to remove all the limiting factors one by one.

I’ll send you an email the day after tomorrow with the link to that lesson.

Dig Deeper

1. Bonus: Detailed PDF mind map showing all 15 limiting factors

2. History Link 1 (opens in a new window)

3. History Link 2 (opens in new window)

Take Action

1. Any questions… please ask them in the comments below.

2. Please share your thoughts on Liebig’s barrel as well.

3. And don’t forget to share this lesson with your friends and family using the social media links.



  1. Marietjie Van der Walt says:

    The Law of the Limiting Factor makes sense to me and I believe if you don’t have a passion for growing your own crops you
    will not be able to make a success of it.
    Which seeds are the best to start with?

  2. Cathy Weideman says:

    Hi Di-Di. May I give you all the info on my setup so you can see what I’m doing wrong or if it is a stupid idea.

  3. Dorothy van der Walt says:

    Good morning! I have recently discovered that the topsoil of our plot was sold when the plots were measured out about 20 years ago. What’s left is orange, and sandy/stony. Are there ways that we can build back, or will we have to buy topsoil?

    • Hi Dorothy. That really makes one angry. Anyway, in the short term you can build back with a combination of good compost and manure. On the long term add green manures and patience. Also, don’t plant crops with a high nutrient demand for the first year or so. Best of luck.

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