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Ways to spread

Spreading compost by the bed

This has gotta be the most painstaking way to plant out two acres of veggies! To recap: different sections of the two fields are at different stages of tillage (Peter down the road has had to come back a couple of times to disc, and there’s STILL a small section to go), and of course there was no time to spread manure in the fall. It’s even a little more complicated, with a fair amount of chopped up sod getting in the way. Sooo, we’re working a few beds at a time, with different treatments depending on the crop.

Here, Tara and Lynn prepare a 50′ x 3′ (15.2m x 0.9m) bed for baby lettuce for mesclun. Because it’s seeded densely and grows quickly, we decided to apply a fair amount of that expensive certified organic compost, and then reuse this bed for at least one or two more mesclun plantings later in the season.

Spreading from Bags Method 1: We brought over a stack of 40lb (18kg) bags in the bucket of the Kubota compact tractor, emptied 8 bags one by one, and lightly raked them in. Thinking about it afterwards, it seemed easier to empty the bags into the bucket, use a shovel to spread, then rake it in. An extra step, but overall quicker to incorporate.

Definitely hand-work, especially compared to loading up an 8-ton manure spreader and driving it around with a big tractor, like we mostly used to do! Good thing we’re only giving this special treatment to a few beds for salad greens. And it is all getting done…

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8 Comments

  1. I really wanted to put in a large bed of cut and come agains this year. So far I have not gotten to it. Well, lots of things to say about the subject, but then this would be my blog rather than yours. LOL

    So, I am wondering is this your first year trying the lettuce bed this way?

    ~Faith

  2. matthias

    Hi Mike,

    That picture reminds me of how we have been spreading manure and amendments for the last few years.  Pretty Labor Intensive!  However with this years purchase of a kubota tractor with loader and a manure spreader things have improved a lot!  However my manure spreader is a ground drive model, so it only really works when we’re preparing an entire garden.  For our succession/fine seeded crops, where we don’t wan’t to spread the entire gardens ammnedments in a single go, we needed a different system.  Like your pic, we have always carried the needed manure/amendments into the field by hand( 5 gallon buckets) and ammended each 30 inch wide bed individually. But with acres to do this year I needed to figure something a little quicker out.  SO after a early tiling to aerate and help dry out the garden beds, we loaded our small pickup truck with manure/alfalfa/wood ash and kelp mixture and drove slowly over garden, one person in the truck and two shoveling out behind, desite the wieght the truck didn’t get stuck (just a 2 wheel drive) and we quickly spread 3 beds worth of ammendments.  Then back to the pile for more.  A quick tilling with the tractor mounted tiller and the manure was incorporated, tire tracks erased and we’re ready to seed.
    Time to spread amendments, till and plant (with six row seeder) one 30 inch wide bed of mesclun and one 30 inch wide bed of spinach 100 feet long was 15 minutes. 
    Even if you don’t own a truck, a tractor and wagon might work just as well.
    As usual your blog is a great inspiration, thanks for sharing! Have a great spring.
    Matthias

  3. Mike

    I think this is definately a challenge at a small scale.    Spreading compost bed-by-bed is by far the most labor-intensive task for me.  So far this season I’ve been taking matthias’ approach of pulling a loaded trailer slowly down the beds while a second person rakes the compost out at a steady rate.  It works reasonably well, and in a pinch (read: no help available) I even put the tractor’s cruise control to good use (!).  The downside is that the tractor is both the loader and the puller, so I’m hooking and unhooking the trailer a lot.  Not very efficient.

    I’ve decided that this fall I’ll contract someone with a real compost spreader to do all of my sections at once.  Then in the spring I’ll just be spreading nutrients – mostly alfalfa meal – bed-by-bed as I plant.  Hopefully it ends up being cheaper and faster overall.

    Keep up the great work Mike!

    -Mike

  4. I’ve been spreading bags of compost on my flowerbeds and it’s tough going.  I can only imagine how much work it is for you guys with the size of your garden.  

  5. EtienneG

    I wonder if they do small spreader, to tow with a compact-sized tractor such as the Kubota.  With appropriate wheel clearance for a commercial garden, it could be very useful.

  6. EtienneG

    A quick search for “compact compost spreader” on Google revealed a couple such product built to be towed by small tractor, and various design (wheel-driven, PTO, etc). Good to know, i will keep that in mind for my own tiny farm project!

  7. Yes, a small spreader towed by a small tractor would be ideal for this type of installation. I love the picture, and good growing!

  8. Thanks for all the stories and methods! With the blog, it really does feel like we’re kinda all farming together! :)

    The closest to an ideal spreader I’d found was a small, ground-driven one, the Newer Spreader. I considered getting it every year for a couple of years, but each time decided not too. As Matthias pointed out above, the thing with ground drive is, you gotta get going and keep going. What I need is something that can do a few beds at a time, sometimes in different locations. So a really small PTO-driven one would be great, and that I haven’t seen.

    For fall spreading, for an acre or more, I think a bigger regular spreader is really what it takes. I don’t know if anything is small enough to fit my Kubota. We’ve so far been able to get someone with a bigger machine to do it, but to be more self-sufficient, getting an inexpensive older, bigger tractor for plowing and spreading seems to be the answer. All things considered, they’re not that expensive if you can find a good deal.

    Meanwhile, I guess, like with your pick-up truck method, Matthias, it’s getting as big a pile as close as possible whatever way you can, and then, the shovels!

    Faith: Sorry, I think this post is a little unclear. This is the first time we’ve done a lettuce bed like that, but that’s because a) it’s the first time I’ve used purchased, bagged compost and b) we’re still tilling and working up the field as we go, a few beds at a time, which is also a first. But we’re not doing the entire garden like that (mercy!), only a few beds. Usually, I use the tractor bucket to roughly distribute compost, then quickly rake it out.  That’s a lot easier. It’s all still a lot of hand-work!

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