Sub Acre Ag: Bed Prep

I have spoken much about the fabulous compost mounds at one of the farms I will be at so I figured it was time to post some pics. At left is a shot of the mound I will be working. It was about 7′ tall about a month ago, and I hacked away at it for several hours with a rake and hoe to make it into the flat(ish) mound you see now. This is the newest mound on the site, and there are still patches of raw leaves mixed in. This mound had unstaked tomatoes on it last year with squash mixed in in no particular order. I have pulled off the top foot or so of compost which seems to have eliminated most of the weed seed -it has laid bare for 2 weeks with almost no new germination!

To give some perspective of the fertility Mecca I have stumbled upon, look at the sheer amounts of compost available at this farm. To think that 10 years ago it was perfectly common for leaves, the raw materials of all these mounds, to get buried in a land fill!! The mounds are spaced to allow the valleys in between to be flooded during the drier months from uphill ponds that have refilled with the spring rains. The mounds then self irrigate by capillary action. The owner seems to have read some Permaculture books!

In January, I had planned to use the tall mound that I leveled as well as the nearest mound in the background. That mound is being used by the super sweet (and helpful!) Hmong couple that also uses the mounds, but the owner gave me a second plot-I was a bit concerned at first… The pic at right about as close to a “before shot” as I can get. Imagine 1,000 more of those 8′ weeds covering a hodgepodge of moguls form 4′ to 6′ tall. The good news is that it is still compost -just 10 years old. but in the mean time it had hogs on it intermittently and sat fallow last year (hence the weeds)- both good for a fertility standpoint. The owner rough cleared the ground with a Skidsteer- honestly I don’t know how else it would have been made tillable. It was still pretty beat up, but the end product was very nice -hell its 3000 sq feet of compost 2′ thick!

At right is what it looked like after about an hours work this past Sunday with the Grillo and Berta rotary plow. You can see the tilled soil on the right and my “test” trench on the left. The Grillo is every bit as good as I’d hope. As it turns the soil (albeit this soil is DIVINE!) it fluffs it remarkably -the end product is essentially a double dug (first you throw it out to make a trench, and then throw the soil back on top) 18′ deep and amazingly light. Doubt me? If I stray into the tilled soil when I was walking behind the Grillo and I sank almost to my knee! I finished this plot tonight -with some double work to try to level it a bit better it took only about 3 hours to till up 3000 sq feet with a novice operator. In that time I only used about a third of a gallon of diesel. I want to switch to B99, but I can’t use enough fuel to refill the tank! Working the Grillo is certainly much easier than using a pitchfork, but its not a spectator sport. The Grillo and plow weigh in almost 350lbs, and you have to steer it -manually. Both times I have tilled I have needed to stop after about 90 minutes as my arms were shaking with fatigue and I was dripping in sweat despite the 45 degree temps.

Here is a better shot of the tilled ground. Fluffed, light, and over a foot deep!

There are some hazards of working at the farm. First off its wet. Here is one of the chickens making the most of it:

Next there are geese seemingly everywhere -the flock is over 24 and growing. At almost every turn there is literally a mother goose hissing you warning for being to close to her clutch of eggs! If her warning is unheeded, Daddy goose is on his way to give you the old “What for”!

The Insanity of April is behind me. I am out of Rain Barrels until late May (I have picked up, built, and delivered 69 in the past 6 weeks- that is over 160,000 gallons saved annually!!) and the speaking engagements are behind me. For the next several months I will be able to focus on parenting and husbandry (both agricultural and otherwise). Looking forward to it!!

I have about 4 posts in the queue- hoping to catch up this week. In the mean time, the moral of this post is that NONE of this would be possible if I hadn’t reached out and started to work in the community on Sustainability issues. If I hadn’t become active I never would have found this resource in unused and freakishly fertile land


5 Responses

  1. I sit here, jaw agape at the compost. You seem to have stumbled into eden there. Is that trenched plot going to be for the potoatoes?

  2. One recommendation is get a soil test. If it is pure leaf mold, then it may be deficient in Nitrogen, and you would need to add manure.

    2′ of humus, wow! Reminds me of the stories of turn-of-century France. The would bury manure in the winter so that the heat given off would warm the soil and they could grow out of season crops. After decades of this, you can imagine what it was like.

  3. That mound of compost looks like the ones at the organic dairy near me. They have about a dozen piles, each 50 yards long ten feet wide and four feet high. They fill the bed of my pickup truck until it’s overflowing, and you can barely see the dent in the pile. Great stuff…

  4. Freakishly fertile . . . I love that.

  5. Kory -Tell me about it! This land is fabulous! The trench was just a trial run on the rotary plow to see how well it threw the compost, but both areas will get potatoes. This spring is VERY wet here so I am being flexible and planting my spring crops of carrots, lettuce, and beets in between the potato rows. This is just good practice anyhow I suppose.

    RobG That is good advice regardless. The flat area housed hogs for a few years so it is pre manured, the mound is not and your comments are a good reminder. I have read of the french growing early cukes by half burying hay bales gutting them, and filling the, with manure. they then plant cukes on top in a thin layer of soil. brilliant!

    e4 -I figure there is at least 1000 cu yards of compost here. Its unreal.

    Katieconinuted. Thanks! This may be as close as we get to finding the fertility of the soils the settlers found when they first tilled the prairies. Our legacy must be to begin to rebuild that fertility! We’re effing up seemingly everything else for our kids, at least I can leave them 20 acres of uber fertile soil!

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