Tilling my experimental compost bed with a rotary tiller to plant potatoes

Tilling half of the compost bed to see if there will be a difference in potato harvest this fall

Finally we have finished the fence around garden 3, so the dogs can’t get in anymore, and it is potato planting time. I have been looking forward to finally starting to plant potatoes.

A little over 2 months ago we flail mowed over this experimental compost bed, hoping to improve the decomposing process. On top the result looked nice, but underneath the straw was untouched. At the time we did not have a rotary tiller, which we would have preferred to use, so we just let the compost bed be and see what happens with time.

Now, 2 months later, after doing some digging we found the compost bed looking quite ok, but obviously the material has not broken down completely. At least the rainwater could soak in and all of the material was wet and the decomposing process has progressed. There are a lot of earthworms in the compost bed, which is a good sign.

The compost bed is not finished decomposing yet and I hope it will be good enough for the potatoes to start in. Since I have way to little planting space for all of the potatoes it will have to do.

Rotary tilling a part of the compost bed

Recently we found a used rotary tiller for an acceptable price and where able to purchase this. Not quite curtain about the usability of the compost bed and I was worried that the rotary tiller would kill all of the earthworms, we decided to rotary till half of the compost bed and see if it will make a difference in harvest once the potatoes are done.

Tilling a compost bed with a rotary tiller

The rotary tiller we have purchased was modified by the previous owner, who had fixed the retaining board in a certain position. Normally the retaining board is hung up with some chains enabling the board to move up and down as needed. Using a rotary tiller for the fist time we just left that how it was. We tilled over half of the experimental compost bed twice and noticed that we need to do something about the rigid retaining board. Since the compost material is very moist the rigid retaining board pulled grooves in the material, which I closed by hand.

Compost bed has grooves after tilling with a rotary tiller

Starting half way the compost bed some material was thrown over back wards on the part of the compost bed we did not till. I shovelled that back and made the tilled part of the compost bed nice and evenly. The tilled part of the compost bed looked nice and fluffy and was much higher as the part we did not till. All of the different material was mixed together well (small parts, bigger parts, already decomposed material).

Now to planting potatoes

I only have a lot of small potatoes left in my storage and these are al sprouting. (Unfortunately I am buying potatoes for eating at the moment) This means I have more than enough seed potatoes and I did not buy any.

Sprouted potatoes

This does raise the question as to where on earth am I going to plant all of these potatoes? Well, I am starting in this experimental compost bed and just go from there.

In the part of the compost bed that we tilled, it was very easy to make a trench in the loose material.

Woman making a trench for planting seed potatoes with a hoe

On the other hand I very much regretted not to have tilled the entire bed while making a trench in the part that we have not tilled. This material was ratter compact and hard work to make the trench.

I made two trenches about 50-60 cm apart. The distance in the row could have been a bit more, but the compost bed is not wide enough for that.

2 trenches in a compost bed for planting seed potatoes

My son helped me and we planted the potatoes about 25-30 cm apart, paying attention to positioning the potato with the shoots pointing up. These shoots are going to be the leaves once grown out of the ground and need to be handled carefully. Some seed potatoes do not only have the shoots, but even already made some roots.

Last thing is closing the trench again. We planted different varieties and marked them with a number pack.

Experimental compost bed planted with seed potatoes and marking the different varieties with number packs

I only planted a fraction of the seed potatoes I have, so I am going to have to find some more solutions for all of these potatoes, but more to that in a different post.

Fixing the compost beds with a manure spreader

The compost beds in Garden 4 are needed this spring, so we need to do something for them to decompose better

As announced in my previous post about making compost beds, our manure spreader has arrived and we made us up to work on the compost beds that where only air raided.

We want to lay the beds new with the manure spreader to get the long material of hay and straw shortened, to get everything well mixed and loosened and to get the whole compost bed well air raided trough and trough. This way the compost bed should decompose better.

We made a mistake while building up the first compost bed new

Well you would think easy said and done. What’s more to that than loading it up and spreading it out?  Well we did make a mistake with the first bed (Garden 4 compost bed II). We loaded the manure spreader until it was full. Than we pushed aside the rest of the compost bed to make room to lay the compost bed new. So far so good. Then we started laying the compost bed new.

Spreading decomposing straw and hay with a manure spreader

Since I find it very hard to estimate the amount of compost that should be laid down, it turned out to be too thin. And here comes the mistake. We had to drive over the freshly laid compost bed again, partially compacting it again, to build up more compost.

Spreading decomposing straw and hay with a manure spreader, while partially driving over the already freshly laid compost bed

This, obviously, was a little disadvantageously. Since we already partially drove over the compost bed, we decided to add some more material (we found the volume of the bed a bit small). We loaded some more straw bales on the manure spreader. On top we added a shovel of horse poop to give the bacteria, that do the decomposing, some nitrogen to feed on.

We spread a layer of this over the entire compost bed. Afterwards I was not very happy with this last layer, because compared to what was already there, the new added straw was still too gut and was more like a mulch layer over the compost bed. The straw stayed very long, compared to the older material which was nicely shortened by the action of the manure spreader. Therefore we decided to flail mow over the compost beds after we finish setting up the second bed new.

Fixing the other compost bed

With the second bed (Garden 4 compost bed III) we did a much better job. We started with loading the manure spreader and removing all of the material from the compost bed.

Clearing a compost bed with a tractor with a front end loader with a grapple, with a tractor with a loaded manure spreader in the back

Then we started to build up the compost bed again, building up more material at once so the compost bed would have a nice thickness and we would not have to come back with more.

Spreading decomposing straw and hay with a manure spreader, while building up a compost bed

In between we left the manure spreader where it was and loaded it again where it stood. This way the compost bed was in a line and the material stayed nice and loose as we like to have it. The compost bed ended up shorter as it was, but that is no problem. We will add more length as material comes available next year. Generally we did not add extra material to this bed (no straw and no horse poop). We are curious to see if this makes a difference in the decomposing process.

The wind gave us some problems and we had to ad a bunch of material from the side back on the compost beds by hand.

A man and a woman raking straw, which was divided by the wind, back onto the compost bed

And this is how the compost beds look after laying them new with the manure spreader.

Compost beds after laying them new with a manure spreader

Flail mowing the compost beds

To make sure the top layer will not form into a roof, leading the rainwater away, we flail mowed both compost beds.

Flail mowing a compost bed with a tractor with a off-set flail mower

I am not sure if this would have been necessary, but this gave a nice evenly result.

Compost beds after flail mowing them

Sowing some green manure

To get some extra nitrogen in the compost beds I decided to sow some green manure. I sowed some mustard and some lupines, since these already sprout at low temperatures and it is still very cold here. These compost beds are for corn, pumpkin and different other things, so there is still some time before I will plant in there. The green manure will be cut of before I start planting and the material will serve as mulch.

Stay tuned for up-dates as the season will progress.

We also made a video of building these compost beds.

Turning hey and straw into compost garden beds for our self sufficient living

Building long compost piles to serve as vegetable beds on rubble for spring planting.
Expanding our thriving vegetable garden on rubble for more self sufficiency.

We strive to become mostly self sufficient when it comes to our food. We established a lot of garden beds on rubble last spring. We made raised beds and filled them with normal soil we had bought. Buying the soil was needed to have a decent start in growing our own food and planting the fruit trees we had purchased. We just are not very fond of it, since there is no life in the sifted soil and the nutritional value is also very low. Although, after a growing season, these beds are getting better and are filling with life, we prefer to try out new ways of creating soil to expand our garden area. After seeing a video about the “Ruth Stout no work gardening method“ I suggested to just roll out a straw bale in the fall and sow in there next spring. Well rolling out a big round straw bale is not that easy and we do not really have soil (mainly rubble) underneath for the plants to grow in, so we decided to give it a little different approach. Mulching is not enough we need to build up soil for the plants to grow in and this is how we started.

Building compost beds

We are starting of with a bunch of round bales which have been sitting on the round site of the bale. Normally you do not store round bales like that, but we actually pressed these bales to compost for soil for growing vegetables and had used these bales as a “fence” and windbreaker around the children’s playground last winter. Here’s the post about that. We where hoping that if the bales sit like that, moisture goes in and in the bales the decomposing process will start. This did not happen and the bales did not really start to decompose, so we decided to use the straw as it is and see if the straw decomposes better if we spread the bales out.

We have 3 beds we want to build with these straw bales. We used our wheel loader to pick them up and divide them on the 3 rows we want to build up new garden beds.

After removing the netting we used the wheel loader with grabble to loosen the bales and make a row with the straw.

This was done last July and after a bigger saw project we divided the sawdust that came together over the 3 rows as well.

After a while the dogs had flattened and compacted the straw by playing over it and we found that the new garden beds had too little material, so we rolled one hay bale per bed out over the beds. This we just let sit over winter and hoped the material would decompose in time to plant in the spring.

Meanwhile we know this was not sufficient and we give the beds a different working to get the soil we need in time for spring planting. With time we will see what works better. I will document this in a separate post. So if this interests you, stay tuned for what’s next.

If you want to see what we did, here’s a video for you.

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