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.

Potatoes from the neglected hill beds

It is the second year of potato plants coming up without me planting them. Everything else I tried to grow here did not last.

In the spring I gave these hill beds a new layer of hay to keep the weed pressure down and hopefully the moisture in. Potato plants where sprouting everywhere again and I planted some squash as soon as it was warm enough. I also sowed some carrots and red beets. The squash was immediately eaten by snails and what I had sown never sprouted. I concentrated on my raised beds, so the hill beds where neglected mostly.

In the heat of summer we mainly watered the raised beds, only now and then the hill beds got a bit of water. We just did not have enough time to also water the hill beds. Then fall came and I asked my husband to mow around the hill beds, so harvesting would be easier.

I started with the hill bed that had the least plants, since I would be able to go trough that quick. Time is always short with 3 kids, garden and household. That will prove to be a mistake, but more to that later.

I scraped of the mulch material to the side and laid most of the potatoes free this way, so we collected what we found. After that we dough to find even more potatoes and destroy the mice holes. For the fact that there where so little potato plants here we found quite some potatoes. I got about 13 kg of potatoes out of this bed. There where some nice big once, but also lots of potatoes where also eaten a bit.

Many potatoes had also started to sprout again, some so early that they had already grown to plants again with very small new potatoes, others sprouted only shortly and where still usable.

A lot of potatoes have these small holes, as if worms have eaten trough them.

Also a snail laid eggs in a hollowed potato. I found a lot of eggs and a lot of small life in the hill bed.

I also found a lot of potatoes with these spots on them.

The second hill bed gave about 15 kg of potatoes, but I had sorted out the small potatoes right away. I pick up all of the potatoes, even the smallest once, since I do not want to have potatoes in these beds next year.

What I have noticed is that the soil in the hill beds is very dry, despite the fact that we had a lot of rain after the heat of summer. The soil does not take the moisture very well and because it is a hill the moisture just runs down. Also it looks like the straw becomes a little roof over the bed, so instead of keeping the moisture in the water is kept out. Therefore I am making these hill beds to no dig beds by using the mulch material as boarding material. I, or rather my son, eased out the soil to make a flat bed in stead of a hill. A thin layer of hay and the bed is prepared for next year.

The third bed had the most potato plants. Unfortunately I did not start with this bed and it had a good amount of frost before we came to harvesting. We ended up throwing a lot of potatoes away, because they had frozen and where no good anymore. This would have been the best bed and had the best and also bigger potatoes. After digging deeper we actually found a big bucket of usable potatoes. We generally do have enough potatoes this year, so it is not a problem. I just find it a shame to see so much food go to waste. Although it is not really waste, because these potatoes get composted of course. So these potatoes get recycled.

This last bed is also flattened out and got a layer of straw, since this is what I had to hand. These beds are ready for use in the spring.

Hotbed neglected

I really have to do something here

This corner of the hotbed has a lot of sow thistle with a few volunteer potatoes in between. The sow thistles are short before blooming, so it is high time to remove them. So said, so done. After 1,5 hours, with the children’s help in transporting the weeds away, all of the weeds are removed. Not all weeds came with there roots out, so these will grow back soon, but then I will just remove them again.

What I have noticed is that the potato plants in between the weeds have done well. They grew big and look healthy without any pest infestation.

Right behind this little area is a small area where there where hardly any weeds. In this spot the potato plants are very small and full of holes. Here the Colorado potato beetle has done its thing.

I do have to point out that we did not look for the beetle in this bed. It is interesting to see that the potato plants which are standing free have problems with pests and the potato plants which where hidden between the weeds are looking so much better and have no problems with pests.

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