Sattin Hill Market Farming Course Module 5: Prepping Soil & Building Beds (FSFS243)

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Episode Summary

This episode of Farm Small Farm Smart features the fifth module in the Sattin Hill Market Farming Course, where Josh Sattin walks us through what has worked for him on his farm when it comes to prepping the soil and building beds.

Today’s Guest: Josh Sattin

Josh Sattin is a farmer at Sattin Hill Farm in Raleigh, North North Carolina. As an educator and professional videographer, Josh has published hundreds of educational farming videos on his YouTube to help make a difference in the local farming and foodscape.

            Josh Sattin – YouTube | Instagram | Website

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Things to consider before getting started (01:05)
  • Test the soil and make adjustments if needed (02:15)
  • Do you till the ground? (03:49)
  • Approaches to building and prepping beds (05:08)
  • The deep compost mulch system (06:14)
    • What is a mulch and what does it do? (06:55)
  • The benefits of the deep compost mulch system (08:14)
    • The benefits of a nice-looking farm (10:08)
  • The disadvantages of the deep compost mulch system (11:03)
  • The potential for erosion (13:03)
  • The compost that Josh uses (13:54)
  • How to tell if a compost is good (14:22)
  • Potential issues with compost (15:28)
  • Not all compost will be good for the deep compost mulch system (18:23)
  • Bed Building Strategy (21:09)
  • Silage tarps: what they are and how they work (21:52)
    • The cons of using silage tarps (24:16)
    • Some silage tarp FAQ’s (25:20)
  • How to go about building beds (28:21)
    • Why put down a layer of carbon (31:35)
    • Dealing with cardboard (32:49)
  • What to plant first depends on your soil (36:31)
  • How scalable is the deep compost mulch system? (37:22)
  • Why add woodchips to the walkways? (38:19)
    • The negatives of using wood chips (41:45)
  • Alternatives to wood chips (44:05)
  • Mulching beds with landscape fabric and the Back-to-Eden method (44:50)
  • Recapping the module (46:13)

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FSFS243 (SHFC 5)

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO . Today, we're continuing on with Josh Sattin�s Sattin Hill farm course. It's module five, prepping soil and creating beds. If you want to watch the video of this module, you can do so on Josh's YouTube channel using the link below. And if you want to download resources related to this module, you can do so at paperpot.co/josh.

[00:00:29] Now let's get into it, Josh satin on prepping soil and creating beds.

[00:00:35] Josh Sattin: Welcome to module five of the Sattin Hill farm course in this module, we'll be talking about prepping soil and creating beds. And before we get into it, I just have to give a huge thank you to the sponsor of this entire course, Paperpot Co. but more on them later.

[00:00:47] Later in this module, we talked about things to consider before getting started, the deep compost mulch system, which is what I use on my farm, what it is, the pros and cons. Talk about compost, how to build beds, walkways, and mulch. So let's get into it first with things you want to consider before you get started.

[00:01:07] Hope you got a chance to watch module four of this course and continue on the theme of thinking ahead and planning building systems and a design that will make you successful long-term is a big part of what I'm trying to get across to everybody that's watching this course. Putting the time and effort upfront to designing your farm will save you tons of time and labor down the road.

[00:01:26] I've made the mistake on my first generation of my farm. We're putting beds in the wrong spot I had to then move them, cost me a lot of time, energy, and money, and it was silly. So the more time you can put in upfront to get the best chance of being successful is going to be super important.

[00:01:39] So piggybacking on module four, when you're thinking about farm design and where are you going to put your beds, that's going to be the first thing you want to do. But once you do that, you want to measure everything out on the field and sort of stake things out where they're going to go. Take a step back, walk around and think about it some more. Maybe you'll make some adjustments. You'll then know where your field blocks are going to go or where your tunnels are going to go.

[00:01:57] And once you have that dialed in, then what you want to do is think about digging drainage ditches or address any drainage that you need to consider. Again, we talked about that a lot in module four. And once you get all that sorted out, then you'll kind of know where you're going to be working, and that's when you can start going ahead and doing some of the prep work for building your beds.

[00:02:15] One thing you might want to consider is doing a soil test before you get started. I'm not the biggest proponent of soil testing. I've actually never, I don't think I ever tested the soil here. In the system here that I'm going to be talking about, a lot of what happens is you're bringing a lot of material and also letting biology kind of sort out some of the stuff.

[00:02:33] But at Raleigh city farm, before we started building beds there, we took some soil sample, and it was a good chance to make some coarse adjustments. So I've used Logan labs. That's this is not sponsored by Logan labs, but I do use them, and they were great. And so with those tests that we got back, there was a couple of things that were�

[00:02:48] Far out of spec one, the pH was super high and we were low in sulfur. So we added sulfur because that will lower the pH, and of course will add sulfur. A lot of those coarse adjustments take a long time to work in the soil, so the earlier you get them out the better, again, speak with an agronomist if you want to get more in details about this. I am not an expert at this whatsoever.

[00:03:07] And you remember with soil testing, they can be helpful, but it's just one tool in a whole bunch of things to consider when you're talking about soil, making adjustments and amendments and those sorts of things. You can take multiple samples throughout your farm, or you can take multiple samples and then mix them together to get sort of an average.

[00:03:25] And remember, it's just a snapshot in time at a certain place on your farm. And so that it's going to change a lot depending on the time of year and what's going on in the soil and all those kinds of things. So it's one thing to consider. But you can, as I said, work with an agronomist if you want to get really into that stuff and dial it in. For me, I kind of let the plants kind of tell me what to do, and we'll talk about more of that stuff later.

[00:03:43] So the question then is after you've done your soil tests, maybe put out some amendments, if you needed to make some adjustments there. Do you till the ground or not? Now, I probably know I'm a big proponent of no-till farming operations, but I have not opposed to initial tillage on a farm before you build beds.

[00:03:59] But if you're going to go home, go ahead and do that disturbance to the ground, you've got to think about why you're going to do it. Now for me here, we did till this, and that was mainly because I had to level it out and smooth it. And so if you have to go through until just to level things out or you have to use a tiller or a rotary plow to dig ditches or trenches, do all that groundwork ahead of time.

[00:04:23] Like if you have to adjust the slope of the land and need to bring in some big equipment or things like that, like do all that upfront, create that big disturbance and then you won't have to disturb the ground after that. In a tillage, you got to think about why you're doing it. Don't just tell just to till, right?

[00:04:36] So, if you're going to incorporate things like you could add some compost, compost, or amendments, that's a great way to incorporate that into the ground. If you want to work more with the soil instead of on top of the soil, which is more of the method I'm going to be talking about in this course, and in this module is building soil above the soil that�s here.

[00:04:52] For me, I till just to sort of level things out and make sure I could rake it and kind of get it smooth. And I think that's important to level the ground because once you build your permanent beds, you're not going to want to disturb the ground. And so any coarse adjustments, you want to get sure that that's taken care of ahead of time.

[00:05:08] Now, there are several approaches to prepping ground and building beds, and we'll be talking about the deep compost mulch system in this module because that's the system that I use, but a lot of the strategies that you can take for prepping ground and building beds is really like a time versus money thing.

[00:05:24] Now, there are lots of ways to increase your soil biology, soil health, and organic matter over time using compost�I mean, sorry, cover crops and animals and stuff like that. That has very low input costs, but they take a long time. And if you have soil that's really far off from growing vegetables in it.

[00:05:41] Maybe something that you don't have the time to do, but you can do it with cover crops, animals, some compost on your own farm and stuff like that. But another thing to consider is if you can actually get a lot of good compost, right? If you can't get a lot of good compost to infuse into your farm, then maybe have to take some of these other approaches, like cover crops and things like that.

[00:06:01] With that said, there is no perfect approach to this, but I just want to show you what I do and what I found to be useful, helpful, and has worked for me. So let's get into the deep compost mulch system.

[00:06:14] So the deep compost mulch system, this is what I use on my farm and it's been working really well for me. And so let's first talk about what it is and the term deep compost mulch system, I'm not really sure where it started from, but I know Jessie frost and I were kind of tossing that around a little while ago.

[00:06:29] And maybe it came from somewhere else. Maybe not. I have no idea it's called different things in different places. Some people call it no-till. Some people will call it a lasagna beds, which is definitely part of the strategy that I'm going to be talking about and how I build my beds here. In Europe, it's often called no dig, which that term was really developed and spearheaded by people like Charles doubting, who just lays down a lot of compost. It's a very simple method.

[00:06:50] It's very similar to what those guys are doing as well. So, let's go through the name deep compost mulch system. So what's a mulch? A mulch is anything that you put on the ground to cover the ground, it could be leaves, it could be woodchips, it could be plastic or landscape fabric.

[00:07:07] It could be anything that you just placed on the ground to cover the ground. And so what's the point of a mulch? Well, you often hear this, like, oh, I'm just going to mulch this. I'm going to mulch that. Well, there's a general term for covering the ground. What it does is it will protect the soil from the elements. It will keep moisture in the soil.

[00:07:26] Right? Cause the wind will come across. It'll keep the moisture down in the soil where it's needed, and it will also keep weeds from growing, for the most part. So you'll see mulch being added with landscapes like around people's homes or under trees or in people's gardens. Mulch is great because it does all of those things.

[00:07:42] So in this case, we have a mulch system, but it's made from a deep compost. So what we do is we add four to six inches or more of compost. We put down a whole bunch of compost and that acts as a mulch. So we're going to be growing in that compost that's going to be our soil, but it also doubles as a mulch system because we're putting down so much compost that it acts as a mulch on the surface.

[00:08:09] Now that you know what the deep compost mulch system is, let's get to the pros and cons and we'll start with the pros. And in no particular order with these pros here, I just want to go through them a little bit so you can understand them. One thing is weed control. So as I mentioned, just a few moments.

[00:08:23] When you put down a lot of compost, it acts as a mulch and will cover the surface and keep weeds from growing. Now it's not a hundred percent accurate in terms of like keeping all the weeds at bay, but we'll talk about some of the ways that you can go about prepping your soil before you even put down the compost, which is just as important.

[00:08:38] If not more important than just putting down a lot of compost. You can get started very quickly on a farm with a deep compost mulch system. Pretty much independent of what's going on the ground now, if you put down a bunch of compost, you can start growing quickly. And I think a lot of people are eager to get going, and it's a great way to get started quickly.

[00:08:55] You can also do this anytime of the year. So if the ground is prepped, you can build beds anytime of the year. And there's some benefits about certain times of the year. And we'll go through that a little bit later. If you have poor soil in terms of you have like heavy compaction while you can put down a bunch of compost and grow in it and let biology and broad forking and stuff like that over time, loosen up the soil.

[00:09:15] But again, if you have poor soil and you want to get started right away, you can, with this. You'll be limited with some of the kinds of crops you can grow, but it's one of those things you can get started very quickly. If you're converting from a tillage farm to a no-till farm, this is also a great strategy because you're going to have that transition period where you have a whole bunch of weeds come up after you till which is one of the negatives about a tillage farm.

[00:09:38] And so we can easily convert it well, not easily, but it is a way you can convert it is by using the deep complex mulch system. It infuses a lot of organic matter because we're going to be bringing in all this compost into the system here, if you have low organic matter in your soil, of course, this is a great way to do that.

[00:09:54] It comes at a cost in terms of labor and money, but it does infuse a lot of organic matter right away and get you going. It also looks really nice. And I say this a lot that don't discredit how your farm looks and I'm not going to be superficial here at all, but there's a couple of things about having a nice looking farm that's important.

[00:10:13] First of all, it's great for marketing. Even if people aren't coming to you, if people are coming to your farm, they get to walk around and see how nice it looks. And they're going to want to buy vegetables and feel connected to the farm and want to support you. If you're advertising on social media or on a website, you need some photos.

[00:10:29] Of course, a nice looking farm always sells the products really well. It keeps it really tidy and neat and. For me, that also is a morale boost because you know, there's farming is tough. When you're out on the farm and the farm doesn't look great, you kind of get down about it. So anything you can do to make the farm pleasant and look nice, it makes you happy.

[00:10:48] It makes you want to go out and work. And so don't discredit that. And I know a lot of what my farm looks like. You see lots of photos and videos, but it generally looks great when you put down a bunch of composts. Let's get on talking about the cons.

[00:11:03] No particular order, let's talk about the cons of the deep compost mulch system. I think the first thing is the availability and quality of the compost that you have access to. I've gotten lots of messages over the years that say, Josh, I really love your system. I'd like to incorporate this into my farm, but I just can't get compost or it's not good or whatever.

[00:11:21] So. It's great, we can get our farms started quickly and there's a lot of benefits here, but if you can't get compost or good compost, then you are really relying on that source and a large amount of that material to get this going. And so that may not work for you. I'll get more into compost in a little bit in this module.

[00:11:38] One thing is the cost, right? You have to buy a lot of material. And I know for a lot of people that are worried about the cost, it is something that's real. You have to do shell out money for it ahead of time. To me, it's totally worth it. It's a great investment into your soil, which is one of the best places to invest money.

[00:11:52] But if you don't have the money, you're really strapped for cash. As I said earlier, you're kind of trading time versus money. So if you don't have the money, it's going to take you a lot longer with cover cropping and composting yourself and doing all those kinds of things. You can get there eventually, but this is much, much quicker.

[00:12:07] So you're trading time for money, which for me is totally worth it. And it's a great way to get the farm started. It does take a lot of labor to build these beds and there are some ways to mechanize it if you have like a front-end loader, but we'll talk about that a little bit later, but generally it's mostly wheel barrels and stuff like that.

[00:12:25] And human powered. It's a human powered event. So keep that in mind. It does take a lot of energy if it's just you and your partner, or maybe a friend or two, it's going to take a while to build beds. And you're going to be pretty tired, especially if you're a little bit older, but you can get a bunch of friends together on bed building day and make it happen.

[00:12:40] At Raleigh city farm, we had days we had maybe 10, 12 people together and we could get a whole block of beds done in a couple of hours. It went really quickly. I was actually really surprised. It was just a bunch of younger people that were energetic, but either way, if you get a lot of people together, you can make it happen pretty quickly.

[00:12:55] And it is kind of fun. And it's very rewarding when you see it happen. But if it's just you and maybe one or two people, just keep in mind, it's a lot of labor. Another thing I think you want to consider is when you build beds, especially when you put a bunch of loose fluffy compost on the ground, there is the chance of erosion.

[00:13:10] And this has happened to me before, and it was really devastating. And I put down a bunch of compost, got a rain event and lost a bunch of soil. So, before you get plants in the ground, there's roots holding things together and all the biology and everything is like tied together, you could definitely lose a lot of soil and that can definitely happen.

[00:13:28] So it's one thing you want to think about in terms of like, if there's certain times of the year where it's rainier or you get thunderstorms, you may not want to start beds, then you want to try to get things going ahead of time. And so another way you can really protect your soil of course, is using tunnels, which you guys know.

[00:13:42] I absolutely love, but for me, I was able to put my compost in here and it wasn't going anywhere, but the chance of erosion is definitely real.

[00:13:54] I'm sitting out in front of the star of the show here. This is the compost that I buy. And I mentioned in the last module about how I keep it out in the driveway and those sorts of things. But one thing I didn't mention was the fact that I always keep it covered with a tarp. And the reason for that is this is the most valuable asset on my farm for the most part.

[00:14:09] And I want to protect it. It's very expensive. So then just hard to get. And it's a big part of my system here. So keeping it covered with a tarp will protect it because when we get heavy rainstorms, it will wash a lot of this away. So if you can cover it with a tarp, that's a good idea. Now, how do you determine if compost is good?

[00:14:24] And that's what I want to talk about here. First of all, the best way you can do is just get ahold of a sample or go somewhere where it is and check it out, look at it, feel it, touch it and smell it. That's a great way to figure that out. And I think it'll be very obvious to you if it's not good. And a lot of the things you're looking for obviously should look like composts, right.

[00:14:42] Should look like soil, but the smell is super important. If you smell it and it smells like ammonia or manure, in anyway that's off-putting, you'll know something's up. Like it should smell rich and organic and soil and you'll know like when you pick up a handful of soil, it always smells really good. So that's how you can tell, like, if you're actually looking at it, but another thing you can do, which I recommend, is talk to other local growers.

[00:15:04] I've had plenty of these conversations with other growers and say, Hey, where are you getting your compost from? What kind of experiences have you had? And they'll say, Hey, got from this place, it was horrible. Or they didn't show up on time or whatever. This place has great compost, but it's really expensive or it's not available right now or whatever.

[00:15:17] So have those conversations because talk to people that have actually used it before you invest in it and then apply it to your farm because if you put something out in your field and it's no good, it�s going to be a lot of trouble moving forwards. So I'll talk about some of the issues I've had with compost buying it.

[00:15:32] I bought a bunch of compost that wasn't finished yet, and this was a problem for a good chunk of my season at Raleigh city farm. We got some composts that just wasn't finished and when they dropped it off, it smelled horrible, like everyone on the farm was like, what is wrong with that compost? And again, it goes back to what I just said about using your senses.

[00:15:50] You'll know when something's off. And that was definitely the case with this compost. We really had no other options. So we put it on the field, and it caused a lot of trouble. It killed everything for multiple plantings and caused a lot of trouble moving forwards. So if that's the case where your composter either is sending a compost that�s not ready, they're rushing it or their process isn't right.

[00:16:07] You might have to buy it and finish composting at yourself, evolving, checking, temperatures, watering it, flipping it, all the things that you have to do. And that's a real bummer because you're paying a lot of money, and you're tying up those resources and space on your farm. And another thing you have to deal with, but you are paying for the compost, so it can get very tricky, but you do have to consider that if you want to�if that's your only source and you're trying to make it work. That's some of the other things that can happen.

[00:16:33] You could have weed seeds in your compost. And so that could be a result of their composting process, them not getting it hot enough or something else in the process. So, it would probably at that point, will negate why you're doing the deep compost mulch system. We're trying to put out a deep compost mulch system so that we are smothering the weeds and having to reduce our cultivation.

[00:16:51] So if there's weeds in here that haven't been killed, you plant, you put this out there and water it and it'll start growing, that's going to be a problem. One of the biggest things that's been plaguing compost lately is the persistent pesticides and herbicides that are in the compost that come from sources that are coming into the compost making.

[00:17:10] And I have friends that this has happened to you in some situations that had multiple sources of compost that were all contaminated. They put on their field and had trouble for a very long time. And there is some remediation that can happen, but it takes a long time. And then you have areas that are out of production, and it absolutely is a bummer.

[00:17:25] So again, it comes back to talking to other growers in the area and making sure they had good luck with it before you purchase it and put out in your beds. Another thing is biosolids, this does come up from time to time, depending on who's making your compost. And there is a manufacturer near me. I went and checked out their facilities.

[00:17:42] They were super cool, but they're very upfront with the fact that use biosolids. Bio-solids are like the solids that come out of the wastewater treatment facility. And I think there's a lot more research that has to be done with this, but I just am not going to buy that stuff and put it out and grow vegetables in it.

[00:17:56] Yeah. There's a lot of reasons that people say is not a good idea. You know, for residual pharmaceuticals and stuff like that. But the other thing is like, if someone finds out that you're using biosolids to grow vegetables, they're not going to be very happy about it. So keep that in mind.

[00:18:11] It's just something that I'm going to stay away from. I think there's a lot of applications at the moment for landscape applications and things like that, and there's more research that has to be done, but keep in mind, I would say if it has biosolids in it, I would definitely stay away from it.

[00:18:23] Now, all composts are very different and the majority of compost that you buy are not designed for this kind of system that we're talking about here, the deep compost mulch system. Most composts are used as a boost in fertility and nutrients and things like that. People will take the compost and they'll put out a quarter of an inch or half an inch and till it in and get that incorporated in their beds. They're not building soil out of it.

[00:18:45] So you have to keep that in mind because. If you just use straight nutritional compost like that, like it's going to be not soil. You have a lot of trouble growing in it. It'll be too nutrient dense. So what I recommend is trying to find a mixture. And so for me, I've been lucky enough that my local compost manufacturer developed a mix that's 50% compost and 50% leaf mold.

[00:19:08] And that's what I've been using and it's been working out great. And I already started a leaf mold pile a couple months ago for going to be�I'm going to be incorporating that in my beds over the summer. And so leaf mold is great and there's other options out there, too, but leave mold is great because it's really a good carbon source and has a lot of nutrients in it. And so for me, this has been great because it basically is soil that's ready to go and it's super nutrient rich.

[00:19:30] Josh Sattin: And this has been working out really well. If you can't get that, you might be able to get leaf mold separately and then buy commercial compost and layer it or mix it and those kinds of things. So this is an option.

[00:19:40] I'm lucky enough that this is available, but for me, this only is available a few months out of the year �cause they only make like so many batches of leaf mold, so I had to plan ahead to get what I needed. I always recommend that you buy the best compost that you can, spend the most money on it.

[00:19:53] Not just to spend the most money on it but get the best compost because investing in your soil is going to be super important. And it's one of those things, if you have good soil and you'll grow good vegetables.

[00:20:04] Let me jump in here real quick and take a minute to talk about our sponsor, Paperpot So. Huge thanks to Diego and Paperpot Co. for sponsoring this entire course and making this whole thing possible. I am really excited about my partnership with Paperpot Co. for a variety of reasons. First of which is they're an awesome tool company.

[00:20:20] So if you're looking for a broad fork, for example, which I mentioned earlier in this module, they have really high quality Broad forks for sale on their website. They also have other tools and supplies available and they focus a lot on just providing really high quality tools that are very efficient for the small scale like you and I.

[00:20:34] In addition to owning Paperpot Co., Diego is also a podcaster and a YouTuber, his podcast, Farm Small Farm Smart. He's interviewed hundreds of farmers, including myself a few times. If you want to go check it out, focuses on growing techniques and far business stuff. Things that I really love to nerd out about.

[00:20:52] There's links down below for the podcast. You can find it at Paperpot.Co. Also, Diego and his team have created lots of additional resources for this course that you can find at Paperpot.Co/Josh. Back to the module.

[00:21:09] Now let's talk about building beds and I'll go over the overall strategy here. And then we get into each step specifically. First of all, we're going to prep the ground. Like I mentioned before, we either need to till or not till, put down any amendments, do any drainage work or digging ditches, maybe level the ground or terrace it or whatever you have to do. Get all that stuff done first.

[00:21:26] And then what we do is kill everything that's on the ground. And I can't stress this enough, the importance of putting in the time and energy upfront do all the planning so we have less work down the road. And this is a big part of it, is killing everything that's on the ground already, and we're gonna use silage tarps for that.

[00:21:41] That's my preferred method. After he's in silage tarps, we'll get into laying down material and all the steps involved with that. So let's get into talking about silage tarps.

[00:21:52] Silage sharps are an incredible tool. And I really recommend that most farmers have one or two of them on their farm because they're not only very effective, but they're also reversible because they're black on one side and white on the other. You can use them for a variety of applications, but for our situation here, we're trying to kill everything on the ground. A silage sharp is the most effective tool that I found to do that.

[00:22:12] And it's great because it requires very minimal labor from the farmer as well, which I absolutely love. So the principle at work here is what's called occultation. Occultation literally means to block from sunlight or block from light. So when you put out tarp over the ground, you don't let any light penetrate to the ground and that's what's going to help us kill what's on the ground.

[00:22:31] So there's a couple of things that can help us here. And I want you to understand how it works. After you do your ground prep, so maybe you tilled it, added some amendments, dug your drainage ditches, or done any ground leveling or terracing or whatever you have to do, get the ground wet, so either water it down or let it rain really well, make sure it's nice and moist, and then put the tarp on it with the black side facing up.

[00:22:51] It�ll block the light, but the other thing that's really cool about the silage tarp is that because it's black side up, it will absorb heat from the sun. It'll warm up and warm up the soil and that's going to force everything to germinate. So after you go through it and till or create a disturbance, those weed seeds are up near the surface and they're going to germinate and grow.

[00:23:08] And we're going to facilitate this and encourage that to happen by adding moisture and heat. So as those weed seeds grow, they germinate and start to grow. There won't be any light for them, and they'll die. If we come through and add material on top of the surface there and not disturb the ground, we won't have weeds, or we'll have very minimal weeds.

[00:23:24] We can really lower them on the time we have to put into cultivating and weeding. And that's one of the big things that's important is you want to make sure everything dies ahead of time. And so that's how the silage tarp works. Not only for the weed seeds and everything that's in the ground, but also any grasses or anything that�s there already.

[00:23:39] By covering it with the occultation, it'll kill everything with enough time and enough heat. Keep in mind about the size of your tarps. As I mentioned earlier, with the planning on your farm, you want to make sure you have tarps that fit your field blocks or your tunnels. I like buying my silage tarps from Farmer's Friend.

[00:23:55] This video is not sponsored by farmer's friend, but I bought a 32 by 105 foot tarp here. And the reason I chose that size was that I cut it in half. So now I have two 16 by 105�s, and they fit perfectly inside my 14 by 100-foot tunnels. So plan ahead, get the right size tarps, that can be really helpful for you with your plan on your farm.

[00:24:16] Now, there are a few cons with using silage tarps, and I don't want to dismiss them. The first of which is it is a lot of plastic and I know that can be a concern for a lot of people. I don't like to buy a lot of plastic, but it's part of what works in this situation here. Silage tarps last several seasons if you take care of them.

[00:24:32] They're very durable and very sturdy. And as I said, they're used for a wide variety of applications. I use greenhouse plastic. This will be on these tunnels for many years to come. And it really helps me grow more food for my local community. That's not shipped across the world.

[00:24:47] So there's trade-offs with all that. But you have to consider that with buying this much plastic. It can cause some compaction over time. I have not really seen this too much. But you think about it, if you have a tarp on the ground, you have a lot of water sitting on it or a lot of snow, it can create some compaction if you left there for a long period of time, but for our context and what we're trying to do here, we're trying to kill everything.

[00:25:08] And once it's killed, we're going to take the tarp off and be ready to go. So I haven't had that much problem with the compaction over long periods of time. But some of you may, if there's a lot of weight sitting on top of it. Here's some questions that you might have about using silage tarps. The first of which is how long does this take and the answer I always give everybody is it takes as long as it takes.

[00:25:27] Because it varies so much, depending on what's in the ground, what's growing, where you are, what time of year it is and those sorts of things. You do not want to rush this step. You want to make sure that you kill everything that's there because if you don't, we're defeating the whole purpose of why we're doing this.

[00:25:43] We're trying to kill everything, not disturb it, build our beds. We can eliminate the amount of weeds that grow and reduce our need for cultivation and weeding. Now, there are some things that are more persistent. For example, bermuda grass is really hard to kill. It'll live for a very long time. And so that will take longer.

[00:26:01] People want to know, like summer versus winter, summertime can happen very quickly because we're getting a lot of heat on the ground, and you can kill things a lot faster. The wintertime is very slow because there's less heat. So again, it really�give it as long as it takes. Plan ahead. Always be thinking about like, if there's places you want to expand the farm, just put out a tarp, and you'll get to it when you get to it.

[00:26:21] Another question I get asked about a lot is does this harm the microbiology in the soil? Now I just take the word from people that know about this way more than I do, and they say it's not really much of a problem. It's really only working on the top section of the soil, and it rebounds very quickly, so I haven't really worried about it so much.

[00:26:36] Are there alternatives to using a silage tarp? Yes, absolutely. A great way to do this is using animals, you can use pigs or chickens, things like that. I've used chickens plenty of times in the past to clear land here. In fact, the first two tunnels here, I use chickens cause I had them, there are a couple of things with chickens.

[00:26:54] One thing is they're not quite as effective getting all the weeds out. So I still think a little bit of tarping can help, and they are great in the wintertime because in the wintertime, obviously the tarp isn't going to be as effective. You do have to worry about them in manure that they put down, which is a great fertilizer, but in terms of food safety, remember to follow the 90-120 rule for waiting until you can harvest.

[00:27:14] So keep that in mind, when you have raw manure on the ground. Other options, you could not tarp and then just use landscape fabric on top of your beds throughout the first season or two. This is not a strategy that I like. I don't like putting landscape fabric on my beds if I could help it. But what you can do is you can use landscape fabric with holes in it and just transplant.

[00:27:34] So I wouldn't say you would have a lot of luck with direct seeding because the weeds are just going to grow right through. But if you put down landscape fabric with holes in it, and then you can still keep the ground covered, tried to occultate it and grow at the same time. We did this as an intermediary step in a tunnel at Raleigh city farm.

[00:27:49] And we weren't able to tarp in there and the weeds got a little bit out of. So, what we did is we put down landscape. However, we planted longterm crops, like peppers and cucumbers and stuff like that in the holes, in the landscape fabric. And we were allowed to then keep the ground covered and kill the weeds at the same time, grow crops.

[00:28:05] So there are all alternatives out there, but the best thing to, as I said, kill everything by using a silage tarp, let it go as long as it takes, and then build in your beds.

[00:28:16] Now that we went over how to kill everything on the ground using a silage tarp, we can get on top of the how we're going to build our beds and we're going to build permanent beds. I'll get into the reasoning and rationale behind that in the next module, which is about my no-till practices and creating living soil.

[00:28:29] But for right now, we're going to build permanent beds and it's how we're gonna go about doing it. So we've already laid out our tarps in the areas we've determined where we want our field blocks or tunnels. So we'll pull back the tarp and we can start deciding how we're gonna lay out our beds.

[00:28:43] First thing you have to figure out is your bed width, which I've said before, I prefer a 30-inch bed and you can do whatever you want, but that's what's been working well for me. And I recommend it for most people. You also have to figure out what you want your walkway width to be. The ideal width that I found to be is between 14 and 18 inches and most preferably at 18 inches. We use 18� walkways at Raleigh city farm, and they were awesome.

[00:29:05] They were very comfortable, easy to work in. I didn't find myself stepping in the beds very often, especially if you have people coming by that aren't really familiar and comfortable with this kind of farming. It's great. Also the harvest totes fit in there nicely. And also if you have a crop that gets too big, like it spills out into the walkways, which often happens for example, this bed of kale right here.

[00:29:25] You can see how some of the walkway just disappears. If you have a wider walkway, it'll be easier to get by and you won't be stepping on the crop and stepping into their beds. So if you can sacrifice a little bit of growing space for having wider walkways, I really do recommend that. I think it works really well.

[00:29:40] My first-generation of the farm here, we had 14� walkways and they were okay. It was little tricky with the slope, too. Again, I would have rather had 18, but when you're in a small space, you want to make sure you're maximizing your growing spaces. Sometimes you have to sacrifice some walkways.

[00:29:54] And that leads me to the design of the tunnels here. Now I wanted to have 30�beds and I wanted to have four across, and that would allow me to have more successions and an option to have a higher variety of crops. So in this tunnel, I have 8 48-foot beds, and it's separated in the middle by two feet of walkway and one foot on either side in from the edge of the tunnels.

[00:30:15] Now for this to work, I had to get pretty narrow walkways. So what I have is I have 12-inch walkways between my beds, and I have six inches on the sides of the outer beds. And I filled those with wood chips originally. So that's what I had to go with here, which is 12 inches. It's tough sometimes, especially with the slope and when you have crops to get really big.

[00:30:33] Again, I would like to have 18-inch walkways, but those are constraints inside of a 14-foot tunnel. So after you have the tarp pulled off and you measure out where all of your beds are going to go, what I recommend is that you use these wooden stakes. I got these at Home Depot. I've shown this in lots of videos in the past, and you drive these in at the ends of all the beds and they stay there because they'll permanently mark where the beds are going to be, and then you can run string lines using these.

[00:31:01] So what you'll do is you'll lay all these out and take your time getting these in the right spot. But then what you can do is run string lines to mark out your beds and then we can get going on starting to build them. The first thing I do after I measure everything out and put in the stakes and put out the string lines is broad fork.

[00:31:19] And I think it's a great idea to broad fork before you get started. We'll talk more about how I use the broad fork in this no-till system, but I find it helpful to just broad fork to get started and then start laying down your layer of carbon. Now for me, I use cardboard, but let's first talk about why you want to put down a layer of carbon.

[00:31:38] It acts as another weed barrier that will eventually break down, so it gives you a little bit more time of weed suppression, which is great. Also having that carbon interact with the soil is fantastic. And also with the compost. But what I really recommend is that you wet it down to facilitate that. So for example, a cardboard, which is what I'm gonna be talking about mostly in, in this because this is what I use, when you get it wet�

[00:32:01] Like, if you leave a piece of cardboard out on the driveway and it gets wet, what happens when you pull it back? Like there's always worms and stuff under there�it's all this activity and we've scraped worm food. So putting that down gives you that barrier and jumpstarts some of the biology, which is great.

[00:32:15] If you don't want to use cardboard, other options are straw and hay. Straw�s awesome if you have it readily available, hay is great, too. It's got a ton of nutrients in it, but it often has seeds in it because it's grass. So that can be a problem. And you have to think about how to deal with that. You might have to put that down and then tarp it to kill everything in there.

[00:32:31] So that's another option as well. So with cardboard, the reason why I go with cardboard is because I'm fairly close to an urban area, and there's just tons of cardboard, not even urban areas. Everyone's got a lot of cardboard nowadays, and it's fantastic because it's a waste stream. It's either going to get put into landfill or maybe recycled, but we can turn it back into soil, which is awesome.

[00:32:49] So things to recommend when you're dealing with cardboard, try to get the largest piece as possible. It will make it the quickest to layout and easier to manage. Make sure that the cardboard you're getting isn't like glossy or painted, you'll see like red or blue boxes, like boxes of old liquor bottles and stuff like that.

[00:33:06] Like, don't use those. I usually say like, if you wouldn't want to eat it, you probably wouldn't want to put it down in your soil. So plain cardboard is fine. it's been working out really well for me. I haven't had any issues. Try to find cardboard that doesn't have a lot of tape and staples and stuff on it �cause you're going to have to take all that stuff out.

[00:33:22] So if you find a good source that is big pieces and doesn't have a lot of stuff on there, you�ll save yourself lot of time. When you lay it out, make sure that there's no gaps in the cardboard. So if there are some gaps, make sure that you're putting other pieces over to cover it.

[00:33:36] So anything you can do to cover it up is great. I wouldn't put down too thick of a layer of cardboard. We made this mistake about using some really thick stuff or doubling up in some places at Raleigh city farm. It doesn't break down fast enough. And what happens is that if you get a bunch of water coming in, it'll sit on top of the cardboard and run out.

[00:33:50] So don't put down too much and it might create an anaerobic environment underneath the cardboard. So one layer of cardboard is fine. Don't think more is better in that situation. When you put it down, you want to wet it down.

[00:34:05] As I said, it's super important to get the process started of breaking down in to feed the soil. But when you're laying it out before you're building beds, we're going to put down cardboard everywhere in the beds and the walkways, just the whole place is going to cover with cardboard. You don't want to put up the whole thing at once.

[00:34:19] And we figured out this the hard way, if you do that, the wind will blow it all over the place and you'll just be running around chasing cardboard. The other thing is that when you're bringing in wheelbarrows, you'll be running over the cardboard and destroying it. So what we do is we just do section at a time, wet it down, and then we'll add our compost.

[00:34:34] And when we added our compost to the tunnel, specifically, in this case, we started with this, the low bed. Then we did this bed and then what we did is we did these two beds at the same time. These are on the uphill side, and we just come in from the end and just dump compost right in front of us as we work.

[00:34:49] And we work from one and two and we kind of do both of these at the same time. And the reason for that is it's hard to work the wheelbarrow at the edge, and you'd be hitting the tunnel and all those sorts of things. Now, when we're laying down compost, I usually do four to six inches. If not more basically as much as you want to put down and can afford and have the energy to do that.

[00:35:06] This is a lot of material, as I've been saying about compost before. And you can do the volumetric calculations to figure this out. But for me, if I'm putting down four to six inches on a 50-foot bed, it's roughly two to two and a half yards per bed. And I've been paying roughly $30 a yard, I think in the past a little bit less.

[00:35:23] I think now it's a little bit more, so that turns out to be about 60 to $75 per bed. And frankly, that's a great investment. I'll get $600 with a lettuce on one bed flip, and that'll cover more than that bed. So I don't think in terms of the financial cost, it's a big deal, but in terms of labor, it can be challenging to get all that in because for the most part, if you're working on a small scale, you're going to be moving the compost in with a wheel barrow.

[00:35:45] So bringing it with wheel barrows and then just use a hard rake to shape your bed and just take your time with it. But you know, the more people that help you, the better, and it'll go a lot quicker. And then once you have the beds laid out, we're just going to add wood chips in the walkways.

[00:35:59] And I'll get into the reasons that I will use which chips in a few minutes. But you want to add the wood chips to the point where they're level with the level�the surface of the compost. And as you walk on the wood chips, they will compress significantly, and they'll need several applications over time.

[00:36:15] Because they'll just start getting squished and breaking down and those sorts of things. So just keep in mind, even after you build your bed, you're going to have to need a couple of applications to do that. So I did, as I said, I keep it level, and that way, it keeps everything for moving around, and that's it. It's good to go.

[00:36:31] At that point, you can plant. A lot of people ask me about like what you can plant at the time, and depending on what's going on in your soil below, if your soil is not super compacted, you can pretty much plant whatever you want. I generally recommend shallow root crops for the first round or two, like lettuces and greens and stuff like that.

[00:36:48] If you do want to plant stuff like tomatoes into the system. What I recommend is punching through both the compost and the cardboard down into the native soil below and just try to get them as deep as possible, but I'd recommend that you do shallow root crops. I've tried�I've done carrots in the system on the first round.

[00:37:05] And it did work in a lot of situations because some of my earlier beds were�the first two tunnels were from my farm originally, so the soil wasn't as compacted and was in better shape, but I'd said you probably should stick to those kinds of things right off the bat, those shallow rooted crops.

[00:37:22] One question you might have about this deep compost mulch system and building the beds in this way is how is the scalable, how can you do this? I'm more than a quarter, an acre, half an acre. I've seen some farmers personally that have done this on larger scale. One to keep in mind is Jared Smith of Jared's Real Food.

[00:37:36] I went to visit Jared right before COVID he's out in San Diego, and he builds a lasagna beds with straw and compost, and he has a front end loader, and he can do this on scale. And what he does is he comes in from the side and just lays down the material from the side and just works from one side of the field to the other. And it works out really well.

[00:37:53] Other examples of this Daniel Mays of Frith Farm has got a system where he lines up like three wheel barrow and takes the front end loader, dumps it in there, and then people will bring out the wheelbarrows, and he'll do that as close to the beds as possible.

[00:38:05] On larger scale, a great example of the deep compost mulch system would be Local harvest, if you guys want to check out what they're doing. So there's a lot of options out there if you want to do this at scale, but frankly, if you're going to move that much material, the best thing you're gonna need is a front end loader to make that happen.

[00:38:19] A big part of the system was adding wood chips in the walkways. So let's get into talking about wood chips. Wood chips are a huge part of the design and operation of the farm here. I use it to mulch major walkways around the farm, but specifically the walkways in between the beds are super important to mulch with wood chips. And I want to talk about why there's so many benefits from that. The first and most obvious one is weed control.

[00:38:44] And I have to say in the year I've been farming here, I've not pulled a weed out of my walkway. And that comes from all the things I already mentioned, so tarping to kill everything, covering with cardboard and then wood chips and it smothers it out and then continually adding wood chips as needed. So weed control is great.

[00:38:58] Anything could do to reduce the time and energy you put into cultivating and weeding is fantastic. One of the biggest, helpful things about woodchips is the fact that it retains moisture. So for me, it's a little different than controlling moisture, a lot of my tunnels, but if you�re growing out in the field and what it does is it holds moisture, right?

[00:39:16] Wood chips will soak up moisture. And the reason why it's beneficial is when you have raised beds, the outer edges of the beds will dry out faster, obviously, because they're more exposed to the wind into the air. So by putting in the woodchips at that the same level as the compost or the soil, it will hold moisture in and release it over time.

[00:39:33] And I noticed, especially for things like when you're trying to germinate stuff, the outer edges can sometimes dry out quickly and get poor germination. So having wood chips there that can hold moisture is awesome. Also, when you have raised beds, the shape of the beds will change over time. And so the shoulders will sorta will sort of fall off and soften.

[00:39:52] And by having the wood chips in there holds it all together. Now, biologically speaking, the wood chips are great because they add a lot of fungal life to the soil. Now, most of the compost that we're adding is going to be very bacterially dominated. The wood chips will add a whole nother fungal element to it.

[00:40:05] And that gives more balance to the system. And it's great to have that. There's a lot of benefits in that. I don't want to get into all that stuff, but just keep in mind, it brings more diversity and adds fungal life. Remember there's no walls between the walkways and the beds. So if plants or microorganisms need to move around and get what they need, they can do that �cause there's no wall there.

[00:40:26] They're pretty low maintenance in terms of the woodchips. Everything has maintenance, but in terms of all the options for maintaining your walkways, I think wood chips are the least amount of maintenance. Usually when we're doing a bed flip, I will come in after flipping in a bed and just see if I need more wood chips and add at that point.

[00:40:42] And it's just a little bit to top it up off after a while, when you compress it enough, you will have a good amount of woodchips there. You won't be having to add it so much. Wood chips are waste stream. And so for me, what I'm getting them from is from tree companies. And I'll talk about that a second, but this is�these are wood chips that I get.

[00:41:01] And these are coming from trees that are cut down. Either trees are cut down limbs being trimmed off or whatever. And most tree companies are going to put this in a landfill and pay for that to go into a landfill. Some are recycling them or turn them in a mulch or those kinds of things. But for a lot of time, this stuff is just a waste stream.

[00:41:18] And so for if we can, as farmers, take that waste stream, and this is just pure carbon, break it down and add it to the soil, that's a fantastic, that's a win-win for sure. And so I think it's great that we're pulling in these wood chips and adding them to our farm. A benefit that I keep saying gets overlooked a lot is the fact that wood chips look really nice.

[00:41:36] They make the farm look really nice. And that contrast between the dark soil and the lighter colored wood chips, I think is really cool. It looks nice. And it makes you want to work there. I want to talk about one of the negatives about wood chips and then probably some questions you have about this. So the one negative I can think of is that sometimes the wood chips sometimes wind up going into the beds.

[00:41:52] Especially for me on a hill, they tend to always go downhill, but it's really not a big deal. Right before I flip a bed, I'll rake them back into the walkway and flip the bed, only takes a few seconds, not a big deal. Everything takes maintenance, but I find that the wood chips are the least amount of maintenance of all the methods out there.

[00:42:08] So the questions you might have about wood chips and the walkways is about nitrogen tie-up. You probably heard about this. Nitrogen tie up is when you have a bunch of carbon in the soil and it'll hold onto the nitrogen and not let the plants have it. And so that can obviously be a problem for plants that need nitrogen to grow.

[00:42:24] This is not going to be true. This is not going to happen when you're putting woodchips in the walkways. Now, the time where this is a problem is if you're incorporating the wood chips in the soil, that's when you'll have that interaction. But when they're in the walkways or even on the surface, it's not going to be a problem. So don't stress about it.

[00:42:39] Where can you get wood chips? This people ask me all the time, just call local tree companies and I recommend you just literally pick up the phone and call them, don't send emails and all this stuff like call every single tree company you can find and say, Hey, I'm looking for free wood chips. Do you do that in my area? Can you put me on your list?

[00:42:53] And go through and call them. Eventually someone will call you back or answer or tell you that yes, they have wood chips or those kinds of things. And if you don't hear from them for a while, just follow up periodically. You can also call local municipalities, have gotten it from local municipalities.

[00:43:10] There's also a company called Chip Drop. You can sign up for deliveries. I think I've signed up for years and maybe got one delivery, so in my area, that isn�t best option, but you just build relationships with tree companies. And sometimes if I'm getting a bunch of deliveries pretty frequently, they'll just call me and they'll say, Hey, I got a load I'm in your area. Can I come drop it off?

[00:43:26] So it's not that hard to get. Now some areas in the country, this is not going to be a possible input for you depending on if there are deciduous trees and people are cutting them and wood chipping�turning them into wood chips and those sorts of things. So there might be other options for you for a carbon source that you can mulch with, but�

[00:43:44] Yeah, that's what we've been doing here. Now people always ask me about what kind of wood chips to get. There's certain kinds of people think are not good. Again, we're not incorporating them into the beds. They're next to the beds. And they just break down sort of independently of what's going on in the soil.

[00:43:55] And so I just get whatever shows up, so when people ask me what kind, I say, the free kind. It's whatever they're shipping up and bring it to me works pretty well. What are some alternatives like if you're not going to wood chip your walkways, what are the alternatives? Well, one is landscape fabric, which, no, thank you. I don't want to manage that.

[00:44:11] That's a headache and the less plastic, the better. Of course, I was talking about using a lot of plastic before, so I want to minimize that whenever possible. Or you can just cultivate your walkway, so you have to constantly be running a wheel hoe or a scuffle hoe down your walkways and maintain them that way. That's another option.

[00:44:30] Or you can experiment with living pathways. I know there's some people working on that, and we have like grass strips in between your walkways or other plants. So there's other options out there. They all take maintenance. I just find to have the most benefit and the least amount of maintenance using wood chips.

[00:44:49] You might be wondering if you need to mulch the surface of your beds. Cause I think a lot of people have that inclination to do that. So let's go over that. If you follow the steps and procedures outlined in this module and how to create beds by killing everything and going through all the steps that we talked about, you won't need to do that, but you can, if you want to, in certain situations. A lot of people use landscape fabric and there's some other benefits other than weed prevention from landscape fabric.

[00:45:10] It will actually lower the soil temperature a little bit. And if something that I was considering experimenting with this summer, but I'm not going to be growing during the summertime. Also, if you cover the ground with landscape fabric and you have holes in them, and you grow plants in them, if it rains hard, you'll get less splash up onto the plants.

[00:45:27] They'll stay drier, they'll stay cleaner, and then washing them will be a little bit faster. So there are some benefits about using landscape fabric, but in general, I would rather keep the soil open. And do it in the method that we talked about, and we'll talk about cultivating and stuff in future modules.

[00:45:43] So another question I get asked about mulching is the Back to Eden method, you guys have probably seen this online where people just put down tons and tons of woodchips. Well, that system can work long-term with the right situation by adding other compost and other biology. But frankly, if you're going to grow in a market garden sense, you cannot run a Jang seeder through a bed of wood chips or doing a lot of the kind of stuff we're trying to grow.

[00:46:13] To wrap up this module, I just want to continue to stress the importance of taking your time upfront so that you can have a successful and efficient farm moving forwards. And all of these steps I outlined in this module will help you either eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of cultivation that you need to have and the amount of weeds that would be present in your beds.

[00:46:30] So remember, just to recap here, decide where your field blocks are going to go, do any groundwork they need to do, so tilling, adding amendments, digging drainage ditches, maybe leveling the ground or terracing those kinds of things, wet down the soil either by doing it by hand or let it rain cover it with a silage tarp, black side up.

[00:46:50] Wait until everything is killed. I can't stress enough about waiting long enough for things to get killed �cause if you pull it back and things start to grow, the whole thing was�there was no point in it. So plan ahead and make sure you leave enough time for that. Once you pull the tarp out, measure out your beds, put down your stakes in the ground and you can start building beds, broad fork the ground, put down cardboard, wet it down, put compost in the beds, wood chips in the walkways. and you have a market garden.

[00:47:12] This has worked out so well for me. I obviously love it. I couldn't imagine doing it any other way at this point. And so this wraps up the module, but next week, next Thursday, we'll be talking about my no-till practices and how you can create living soil. If you have any questions, remember there'll be a live Q and a session every Monday at 3:00 PM.

[00:47:29] Eastern. There you have it. Module five of the satin hill farm course. If you want to watch this video. Or download notes from this video you can do so using the links below. Thanks for listening to this module. I hope it helped stay tuned next week for another module, but until then be nice. Be thankful and do the work.

 

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