Getting Started
On Minibed E7

Dateline: 23 January 2017 a.d.

Tillage Radishes

In my previous blog post I told you about how we're having a bit of January thaw here. And I've been in my garden, checking it over. One of the things I'm interested in seeing is the cover crops I planted last fall. I planted only a few tillage radishes as a cover crop, a couple of which you can see in the picture above. The radishes did not get too big, as I planted them late in the year. Next year I will plant them sooner.

If you have my Minibeds-on-Plastic report #1 you know why I'm interested in growing the tillage radishes. I intend to plant several minibeds in my experimental garden with them late next summer. I will also, as explained in the report, be using other cover crops to build the health of the soil in my minibeds. For example...

Those are not minibeds, but the picture shows five different things discussed in my Minibeds-on-Plastic Report. 1) The 30" wide by 15'  raised beds I have in another part of my garden 2) An occultation cover of DeWitt woven plastic on one of my raised garden beds, weighted down with tire sidewalls. 3) An occultation cover folded in half and used in the walkway between garden beds. 4) A cover crop of oats (center), in January. 5) A cover crop of mustard, in January. 

Though I don't specifically mention oats and mustard as cover crops in the report, I do make it clear that the Minibeds-on-Plastic concept that I'm pursuing will utilize cover crops in the bed rotations, and I will be doing no-till gardening in the beds too.

After pulling up those tillage radishes, and seeing several other plants in the garden that could be pulled and tossed into my compost pile, it occurred to me that I should try composting some of the garden waste in a minibed. This isn't an original idea with me. I saw it mentioned recently in a YouTube video by my gardening friend, David The Good. 

David and his family are living (and gardening) among the natives in a mysterious undisclosed Caribbean location. You can subscribe to David's YouTube Channel and follow the adventure. Every so often, you'll see him sporting a Planet Whizbang hat in his videos. That always puts a smile on my face.

It seems like a good and logical idea to pile garden waste in a minibed and let it compost down. But I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that a compost pile will not "work" unless it is at least a 36" square cube in size. The minibeds are only 30" square, and the bed frame is only 3-1/2" high. That's hardly big enough.

But I don't call it a Minibeds-on-Plastic experimental garden for nothing. 

I rounded up a variety of old and mostly mushy vegetation from my garden and made a pile in Minibed E7 (please refer now to your copy of The Report to locate minibed E7). Into the pile I put the tillage radishes, along with beet tops, kale tops, carrot tops, chard tops, broccoli tops,  buckwheat straw (from a cover crop I planted last year), and some odd tree leaves. 

I cut up some of the bigger pieces of vegetation with a knife before adding it to the pile. Here's a picture...

That's quite a pile, but it will settle down considerably in time. It is best to cover a compost pile in order to maintain a steady moisture level, so I put a piece of 1mil black plastic over the top...

One tire sidewall on top, four on the sides, and the plastic will stay in place. I'll push my compost thermometer into the pile in the spring and see if it has any heat to it. It might not, and if not, I think I will redistribute the contents into bed E6, while mixing in some high-nitrogen feathermeal.

The feathermeal is vile-smelling, but it does a fine job of getting a compost pile hot (and I just happen to have half a 55-gallon drum of the stuff). 

As I contemplate this minibed compost pile, I think it might be a good idea to make some sort of frame extensions and stack them up so I have a compost bin that is more of a 30" cube in size. Perhaps something along the lines of my Lee Reich compost bins would work.

And so, I'm off to an early start with my Minibeds-on-plastic experimental garden. A considerable amount of snow is forecast for tomorrow. Working in my garden in January was fun while it lasted.


If you are not familiar with my new Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening idea, click here now: Minibeds-On-Plastic Introduction.


  1. Have you ever read the book Lasagna Gardening? It might be an interesting thing to work into your minibeds experiment. (And if that is a part of your book, I apologize. I haven't had the chance to get it yet.) Sheet composting is how I build the soil in all my raised beds. I never worry about how hot it gets or how long it takes for it to break down. I build layer after layer of different compostable materials and just plant on top of it. The plants really seem to love it. My raised beds are taller though - mine have 12" sides.

    1. Hi Jen,

      Lasagna gardening is a great technique. It will integrate with minibeds very well. But the minibeds are not raised. They are frames only to hold the big sheet of plastic from blowing away, and to provide a structure for various bed accessories. My experience with board-framed raised beds was that the soil dried out quickly and then needed frequent watering. With flat-soil minibeds, surrounded by the black plastic, there is a large reservoir of soil moisture for the bed plantings to tap into. I don't believe I will need to do any watering. That was my experience with Tom Doyle's Plant-and-Pick system, which Minibeds-on-Plastic is derived from. I never watered the garden with that system, even in very dry stretches, and the plantings thrived.

    2. Our garbage service changed to a special "lift arm flip top can" and I was able to gather about 8 old garbage cans from neighbor's. Drilled holes in them and they are perfect sized composter bins and moveable if need be. During the gardening season I'll post them at the end of growing rows or under trees. The worms always get in and when heavy rains hit they will rise to the upper level of the bins. They work wonderful for rotation feeding.