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Winter Rye and Potatoes Experiment

 
K Putnam
Posts: 189
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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The fun thing about inheriting a garden when you buy property is that you can ask questions like "did you go to a glacial sandbar to get your soil for this raised bed?"

I inherited a raised bed with some seriously and bizarrely silty soil. The nice thing is that in a maritime climate, winter, spring, and fall, it doesn't get too waterlogged. But, in the summer, I have had a hard time getting plants to put in any kind of serious root system. At first, they seem to have a hard time getting enough water to take hold, then get bigger and just kind of fall over.

In areas that I put a fair amount of compost down, things are doing better, but there was one section I had just relegated to growing shallots. Last year was so dry, I eventually gave up on gardening it and threw a cover crop down, which had what I believe was some winter rye in it. The rest of the blend was winter-killed, creating some nice ground cover, and the winter rye grew up this spring. Rather than turning it or smothering it, I just chopped it in place, dug in some potatoes and mulched with straw. I knew it would keep growing through the straw, but it has only taken a few minutes here or there to chop it back down and mulch in place.

The root system seems to have given my potatoes some much needed structure and this is the best result I have had in this bed to date. I tried growing potatoes here before...did OK, but still didn't really thrive. I'll have to see what the yield ends up being and if there are any other side effects, but so far, I am pleased with the result of growing right into the rye. This probably wouldn't work on a large scale, but it is working fine on a small scale. Once I dig the potatoes, I'll probably pull the straw mulch to the side and resow with a cover crop and see if I can't continue to build a little more structure into this bed. I'm also not sure if this would work with straight rye instead of a blend in which rye is a small portion. This seemed to give just enough structure that I could still garden in it.

 
Chris Sargent
Posts: 45
Location: SE Alaska
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I think you're on the right track. The good new is that silt has a lot of minerals and nutrients. I purposely collect river silt to add to my soil when making new beds. I'm also in a maritime rain forest so a higher content of sand and silt does help with drainage. But I also add a lot of compost and peaty native soil which helps retain moisture.

I think anything you can do to add organic material to the bed is going to help. Cover cropping seems like a great way to do that. I don't really know if rye alone or the mix is the best way to go. I'd think you'd want whatever gives you a good root system, maybe even some fodder radish or turnips that you can let rot in place to add organics below ground.
 
K Putnam
Posts: 189
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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maybe even some fodder radish or turnips that you can let rot in place to add organics below ground.


That is a good idea, too! I have some daikon setting seed pods right now in my fruit tree guilds. When those are mature, I'll go sprinkle some of those down there as well! They've done a great job breaking up the soil; no reason why they can't help hold it together!
 
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