Tiller Hacks

I decided to go big on a few easy-to-store crops this year, rather than try to grow a lot of veggies I don’t eat, or that require even the slightest extra effort to store. A man’s got to know his limitations, and mine is not having the time or desire to learn how to can. Hopefully that’ll change someday soon, but for now, I want food that I can throw in a five gallon bucket and forget about.

With that in mind, I finally took advantage of a piece of land I’ve owned for years and always intended to use to grow something. Up to now, that something has been weeds. I toyed with the idea of corn, but there’s a cornfield right across the street, and I don’t fancy my Cascade Ruby Gold miscegenating with the GMO stuff the farmer uses for feed corn. Plus, I can’t see the plot from our house, and pilferage is a possibility, from both two- and four-legged thieves. I settled on potatoes as the crop of choice – they’ll like the good, sandy loam down there; they don’t need a lot of attention; the crop matures safely out of sight below ground; and what grows above ground is toxic to critters and unattractive to humans.

So, with a 40’x30′ plot staked out, I had to consider how I was going to manage the plot. I’ve been trying to become a no-till guy, but a roto-tiller is just so damn handy, especially for getting plots started. Sure, it compacts the soil right below tilling depth, but judiciously used, I think it’s a great tool for developing new plots and mixing amendments into plots that have been in production. And 1200 square feet is a lot of turf to turn under by hand. So I loaded the tiller into the trailer and took it around the corner to get the plot ready.

IMG_20140518_191708_642A couple of hours work later, the plot was ready for planting. I wanted to use the tiller for the furrowing operation, so I scored a hiller-furrower for a Troy Bilt tiller off craigslist for $25. It’s basically a little ploughshare with removable wings that drags behind the tiller and either cuts nice furrows or piles soil up on either side of the tiller, for making hills. Unfortunately, my tiller is a Huskee, so I had to adapt the Troy Bilt part. A few holes in a piece of 1/4″ steel bar stock and a couple of clevis pins later, I had a passable furrowing attachment on my tiller:

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The results were quite satisfactory. After I got everything laid out and put in a guide string on a couple of stakes to get straight rows, the 40′ furrows only took about 30 seconds to plow. Not too shabby, and quite a savings in time and effort over using a hoe. I furrowed and planted 280 row-feet within a couple of hours. Here are the rows with the seed potatoes placed in the furrows, spaced a foot apart, ready for backfilling:

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That’s going to be a pretty picture when the whole plot is growing.

I’ve got a total of 35 pounds of seed potatoes in the ground – 10 pounds Yukon Gold, 10 pounds Red Norland, and 15 pounds of Kennebec. If all goes well, and I get just a pound of spuds per plant, I could be looking at multiple hundreds of pounds of potatoes by the end of the summer.

Now for more easy to store survival foods – corn, beans and squash.

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