Christmas day was forecast to be the last nice day in a while, so I got some more of the 55 gallon drums setup with dirt and seeded them with winter rye. I am trying to get the soil in these containers ready for strawberries, potatoes and peanuts in the spring. All of these need a loose rich soil for optimum growth. Onions will also need to be planted in their final location sometime in February, and think I want to use these 55 gallon containers for them as well. So through the winter I am trying to create a healthy soil by growing rye and also wheat to cut back and put the greens into the soil to decompose. After some growing I will turn all the plants under and grow another crop while the first sowing again decomposes. I would love to get a clover to use as a cover crop, but may have to wait as I have many other things to spend my money on right now just getting the garden where I want it for spring. When I am ready to plant my crops I will once again turn the plants into the soil then set my new crop in to grow as the
In the bottom of the barrels I cut four holes to set 3″ hydroponic net cups into. I have a 3″ hole saw but it does not fit into my drill… so I used a 2 3/4″ hole saw. I could use the Dremmel to enlarge the holes a bit, but you can see from this photo the cup sits down into the gutter and into the water. That is all the cup needs to do. The net cup sitting above the bottom of the barrel will be covered with soil, so will not be a problem. You will also notice there is an air space above the water and below the bottom of the barrel.
I tried to space the holes as evenly as I could across the bottom of the barrel. These net cups will be wicking up water from the gutter and into the soil so you want them evenly distributed across the bottom. I went with four cups instead of three because of the size of the container. I feel having four wicks will keep the soil properly moistened during Texas’s super hot summers.
For wicking I then filled each net cup with peat. I have used old dishtowels to line these cups to keep the peat in place, but in time they disintegrate. So this time I am using just the peat. You can also use peat mixed with your other soil components like compost, but whatever you use pack it down into the cup tightly.
After packing all four of the net cups I put a thick layer of peat across the bottom of the barrel. Then I added some manure and compost and mixed it all together. I also threw in some of my shredded paper and some chicken manure. This was mixed well and then I cut some of the rye grass and wheat I have growing in the first barrel I set up and spread a layer of the cut grass across the top of the soil.
I then added more peat then the compost and manure and mixed that layer well. I sprinkled with some more shredded paper and mixed that into the soil and smoothed the surface to be even. Then I sowed the rye grass seed I have and lightly watered.
In time I hope to have more barrels looking like the first one I did above. You can see where I was cutting into this grass to use in the other barrels. The chickens get a handful here and there but the purpose of this grass is to be cut and worked back into the soil.
When I get to the point where I am turning the grass under to decompose I will also be adding some alfalfa pellets I picked up from Tractor Supply. I paid $10 for a 50 pound bag and will be adding some of these pellets to the chickens feed. The rest I will be adding to the soil to improve it.
I did play around with ways to break up the pellets for both feeding to the chickens and adding to the soil. A pair of pliers easily breaks up the pellet into smaller crumbled pieces. I decided this crumbled pellet would be OK to mix into the soil, but was not sure the chickens would eat it like this. So I ran these smaller crumbled pieces in my Magic Bullet and it ground them down to a nice powder. This is the form I will add to the chickens wet mash I feed.
Out of curiosity I put some pellets into a bowl and added water. I left them overnight and came back to a nice moist mash of alfalfa. Right then I decided this would be much easier to mix into a soil mix and would only crumble the stuff then grind for the chickens. Not only do I think the wet alfalfa mash will work nicely into the soil but could also be used in this form as a top dressing around plants. Any water not absorbed I will pour off and use to water plants or even use in a sprayer as a foliar spray.
The barrels were only filled to about the halfway point. I expect the grass to grow a bit and in a few months when I turn it under I will add more of the peat/compost/manure to bring the soil level up closer to the top. At that time I will have ready compost to add with the alfalfa pellet mash. Another quick cover crop and I should be ready for planting.
I am looking forward to seeing what this new approach to my soil will give me in next seasons harvest. Even though I am using containers for my garden, I still have to think about creating quality soil. Since I do not have extra money to just purchase a quality compost, I am having to be creative and build my own. But my being a penny pincher is going to give me a living soil that in the long run will be much more productive in the coming years.