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my tater experiment appears to have failed

 
Leah Sattler
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I tried to grow potatoes in feed sacks, hoping to increase yield more so than plain heavy mulching does. There are quite a few potatoes to be dug near the ground but not up through the sack like I hoped. I started off by anchoring the sacks to the ground after rolling them so they were 1/4 the original height. I unrolled and packed them with hay as the vines grew. I thought it was the perfect use for all the feed sacks that weren't put to use as weed barrier. shucks. My theories so far for the failure are as follows.

It was too hot. days and days in the upper 90's and the stems may not have been insulated enough with the old hay from the winter roundbales to produce tubers.

the hay that I packed the sacks with as the plants grew may have been too "hot" in the composting sense. Some of it was slightly decomposed when packed. but I hoped it would drain well enough that any further decomposition would be halted.




any other ideas? next year I think I will try using 1/2 55 gal drums with the ends cut off. They are bigger, will hold up better to the 70mph winds and will hopefully give me the results I want. I can buy used drums for 5$ apeice that used to hold shampoo.

 
Charley Hoke
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Interesting concept, I have never thought about sacks. My first thought, are those sacks plastic, if so I would think they would retain heat. I'm not positive of that, just a thought.

My experience with hay is that it does get too hot during the composting process, plus if not turned regularly it gets slimy and gooey, particularly if it is put down thick.

I have been experimenting with the barrel concept, I have been using a burn barrel, basically it is a 30 gallon trash can with many 1/2" diameter holes and is designed for burning trash, I think.

Last year I tried using mulch, wood chips, and grass clippings. The results were, not too good. This year we are using compost with a mixture of rich garden soil. It's not ready yet but when we turn the barrel I will post my results.
 
              
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I would think you would need more of a dense soil instead of just loose hay.

I've never grown potatos, so this is just a guess.  Also, since so many people use tires I wouldn't think that heat would be that much of an issue.  Tires being black I am sure they heat up a lot.
 
paul wheaton
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Wow!  Excellent experiments!

And Leah, that looks like a nice crop of dogs you have there! 

Hmmmm ....  looking through all of the data here ... and thinking about all of the versions of this idea I've heard about in years past ....  I wonder ... 

Suppose you have a patch of soil that is 4 feet by 8 feet full of potatoes.  And then the potatoes start to get a bit tallish and then you added 8 to 12 inches of straw ...  The straw would not be too hot (as in fertilizer burn) and loose enough to allow potatoes to easily grow ....  And potatoes like things a bit on the cool side, so the 4x8 patch wouldn't let the heat in between the potatoes.  And the lighter color of the straw would reflect more light. 

Just throwing out some ideas ....

 
Charley Hoke
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paul wheaton wrote:
Suppose you have a patch of soil that is 4 feet by 8 feet full of potatoes. 


My primary tater patch is a spot of ground about 20 x 20 feet. It was a depression in the ground down by the creek. It was hard and rocky so last summer I hauled 4 or 5 pickup loads of horse manure, actually stall cleanings which consisted of wood shavings and manure. This filled the depression nicely and I topped it off with grass clippings and leaves in the fall.

This spring we planted directly into this mixture without tilling or turning it. This is the best batch of taters we have ever grown. We have actually been harvesting new taters for a couple of weeks now.

Interestingly enough as I was culling my taters from the cellar in the spring I tossed the half rotted taters in a leftover compost pile from last year. Then tossed on some old hay and a little of the horse stall cleanings. I was attempting to get a start on a new compost pile. Well the taters decided otherwise and sprouted and are doing as good if not better than those in the 20 x 20 foot patch.
 
Leah Sattler
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wow! that is great to know about the stall cleanings. I have access to all the stall cleanings that I can use. I can even have a dump trailer deliver them. (costs me nothing but a big hug). I have always used it in the planting areas used for vegetables with a heavy nitrogen demand (makes incredible asparagus) I was afraid to use it in my tater patch I didn't think they would like it.  Maybe I should have used that to fill the sacks.

david - I know that they can grow in straw and leaves. I have had aquaintences grow huge crops in the wrap around bins sold for the purpose and just filling them with grass and leaves as the taters grow. I'm always looking for ways to re-use things that would normally be tossed. I might try the sacks again along with the barrels next year and use the stall cleanings instead of round bale waste to see if that makes a difference. All that old hay still has plenty of uses.

charley -  the sacks are a woven plastic like material. That could have been the problem. I thought that if they can grow in tires than it wouldn't be a problem but who knows.

Paul - that is essentially what I have done in the past. There is a limit as to how high I can hill the straw without it all blowing away (not unusual to have 60mph winds here in the spring with the storms). I am trying to focus more on calorie crops and I was hoping to increase the hilling height by 1/3 or even double it. the tater plants sure seem to be able to keep up. the picture with the sacks was taken pretty early. right now thay have outgrown the sacks by up to three feet. But, of course, no extra potatoes.  shucks. oh, those dogs grow wild all over here do you need some?

 
Charley Hoke
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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A word of caution on stall cleanings, you may already know this but I found out the hard way, Never use them fresh, they will burn your plants, it is a combination of the urine and the composting of the wood shavings. I make big piles with mine and let them sit for 6 months or so. Once I dug into the pile about a foot with my hand and it was hot enough to burn. It was cool that morning and it was interesting to watch the steam coming out the hole like a smoke stack.

Once the stuff turns black it is usually safe to use, we use it like a mulch and side dress our plants.

We have been using a no till practice in our garden and the stall cleanings have been great for this. Just like my tater patch we just put down a layer about a foot or two deep in the fall, cover it with grass clippings and leaves and in the spring we have a nutrient rich bed ready for planting.

I have never tried the tire trick tho I have read where others have had success with it, just seem icky to me to plant in tires. I can see where the woven bags would work better than the regular plastic bags

This is our tater barrel, we started by placing a few inches of compost and soil in the bottom, then the seed taters, and a few more inches of compost and soil, as the plants grew we added more compost and soil until eventually the barrel was full. They just finished blooming so hopefully in a few more weeks we will be ready to harvest
tater barrel.jpg
[Thumbnail for tater barrel.jpg]
 
Leah Sattler
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The wheels are turning in my head now! I never thought to drill holes in the 55 gallon drums. I have learned my lesson with cleanings that are too hot. I dumped a whole pick up load on one spot thinking I wouldn't plant it that year. my soil is very heavy and a few feet down you hit clay that you could put on a wheel and make pottery with, so I was was needing to lighten the soil in the new area. Of course I couldn't resist trying to stick some stuff in it. Only thing that liked it was the peas. My pea vines that year were around 7' tall. All my freinds loved me that year. I didn't go anywhere without a basket of peas to give away! thanks for helping my idea evolve!
 
paul wheaton
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This is something I've mentioned before, so my apologies to those that have already heard it ...

I would be particular about what stall duff I would use. 

First, a lot of folks are using cedar shavings.  This is one of those complicated topics - sure the cedar is loaded with organic matter:  very good for your growies.  And cedar contains a natural herbicide which will kill or stunt your growies. 

The stuff about the manure being too hot is good info, so I won't cover that again.

Next up:  what sort of medications have the animals been fed?  Possibly a de-wormer?  Manure from an animal that has had certain dewormers can kill your earthworms.  No foolin. 

When it comes to wood chips, some are waaaaay better than others. 

When it comes to manures, almost anything is going to be too hot and/or carry icky stuff. 

For the potatoes, I think straw is the best.  Plain, organic, straw.  Oh, yeah, non-organic straw would be a really bad idea.  Broadleaf herbicides are often used on wheat.  The wheat plant takes it up and holds it.  The wheat is harvested, leaving behind the straw - loaded with the broadleaf herbicide.  Your potato plant is a very sensitive broadleaf plant.

(sorry folks, I'm really awful about raining on everybody's parade)
 
Charley Hoke
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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paul wheaton wrote:
(sorry folks, I'm really awful about raining on everybody's parade)


No rain on my parade, I appreciate your bringing that up. That has been something I have been concerned about, drugs that is. The shavings we get are mostly pine.

The pile I got from this year was mostly composted and was full of earth worms, literally thousands.

If the stuff is mostly composted, would you still have a concern about using it.
 
Leah Sattler
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cedar shavings are very rarely used in stalls. way too expensive and many horses have reactions to the oils. I also have concern over medications fed to the horses. the most commonly used wormer, ivermectin does not kill earth worms and most doesn't make it through the horses system intact. It can reduce hatching rates of dung beetles in the manure. Everyone must make their own decisions. for me the improved soil structure and yeild that the manure gives my allows me to harvest more of my own vegies that are way more organic than stuff i can afford at the store. If organic straw is available I say that is definitly the way to go. but if your option is to buy regular vegies at the store or use some manure that may have residues of wormers in it I say use the manure.  best imo is to have your own animal manure right outside your back door! I call all the dried goat berries my "home grown organic time release fertilizer"


http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/livestk/01224.html
 
paul wheaton
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Leah Sattler wrote:
cedar shavings are very rarely used in stalls.


I hope that's the case.

I keep running into it.  Somebody thinks they have scored the mulch motherload and it's cedar shavings.  I think it's crazy - but it keeps happening.

 
Susan Monroe
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Cedar shavings, black walnut trimmings, oleander debris, etc, all contain some form of toxic material, and all can be broken down into safe compost...

IF those materials don't constitute more than 1/4 of the compost pile,

IF the compost pile is moistened and aerated regularly enough to produce temperatures in the 160F range,

IF the pile is turned inside-out enough so all the material is sufficiently heated and rotted, and

IF it is allowed to compost and age long enough for the bacteria and fungi to break down the toxins.

If you can pick through the compost and can't identify individual components, it's good.  If you are still seeing cedar shavings and oleander sticks and leaves, keep composting it.

Sue
 
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