Monday, 9 April 2012

Breaking New Ground for Tuber Planting — The Celtic 'Lazy Bed' Adapted

Since the move, I have access to ample land, but none of it has seen recent cultivation. In fact the soil is compacted, stoney, and seems to contain very little organic matter below the top four inches. It would be heavy work for a spade, and the area too great.  Other methods are urgently needed if I'm to catch the planting season.

The 'lazy bed' method was used historically in Ireland and the West Highlands to grow potatoes on unpromising land. Its advantages include minimal disturbance to soil fauna, conservation of soil humus, and most importantly, economy of effort.

I started by mowing the area to be used for the bed. This is not absolutely essential, but the resulting short vegetation will be more reliably killed off by the lazy bed technique. My Simon Fairlie Austrian scythe did the job in a couple of minutes...
Next, mark out the bed with lines. I'm opting for three foot wide.
Rake the grass cuttings onto the bed area, and simply drop the seed tubers in place...
Add any available organic matter (traditionally seaweed, but in this case rotted hay) evenly over the bed area...
Now, make a vertical cut in the turf one foot out from the bed-edge. I used a wooden batten as a straight-edge.
Then the one-foot strip is is turned over onto the bed to bury the tubers. This involves a lot of bending if you use a spade, but is very quick and painless with a digging hoe (Azada)...

Two chops with a digging hoe to undercut the turf...
... and follow through with a deft upward hoik...
... assisting the turf into place with the boot.

It's important to maintain a hinge of turf at the fold point, otherwise weeds will not be smothered.

Repeat the turf-folding on the other side of the bed...
...and finally, add loose soil from the bottom of the trenches to the centre of the bed. A long-handled Irish shovel makes easy work of this...

Whew. All done in two hours.

The second bed is quicker since one edge is already cut.
Some weeds will inevitably grow through, so this technique is most suited  to crops with vigorous foliage giving good smother characteristics — main-crop potatoes, oca, yacon ... I'll see what else I can get away with.  Anything to avoid digging. Any surviving perennial weeds will be forked out at harvest time, leaving clear ground for overwinter crops.

There's more on the use of authentic lazy beds (including demonstrating their advantages in poorly drained soil) over at Connemara croft.

Update (Above) Oca plants in early summer. Extra mowings have been added to the surface of the beds to suppress weeds until the crop canopy closes over.

By late June, blight has finished the potatoes, so I'm lifting some. Turf incorporated in the bed has not fully decayed yet, making it difficult to dig, or prepare for a following crop.
The Oca crop in the shot is now giving full weed suppression...

...and once winter frost has killed back the oca foliage, the few remaining perennial weeds are visible.

When the crops are lifted in early January, the soil is clean and friable with just a few weed roots to pick out, and I'm glad to say, lots of earthworms. 
A quick rake over and this will be ready for planting garlic or early spring crops.

Really, this ground should be double dug at some point, but the lazybed method is very effective as an initial sod breaking technique to get the space productive with a minimum amount of labour.


  1. Welcome back! and congrats with your new place its lovely over there! Thats quite an interesting way to grow potatoes etc, i think ill have to try it considering i havent rotavated my plot yet!

  2. Damnation, wish I had seen this prior to digging over grassland for putting in my excess potato tubers (got rather carried away this year). Looks a fantastic idea and is very well explained.

  3. Very nice job, very clean and neat looking, but that is going to produce a massive amount of Oca. Hope moulding them later in the year wont be a problem.

    I stick with me tyres and rocks for the Oca, ridges for the potato crop.

    BTW - the oca seeds sent have done well over the past two years, this is the third year of growing - and there are now three more growers here in Ireland propagating from your original supply.

  4. Ian, I can't seem to email you. I am in Australia and would love some true oca seed as we don't have much genetic diversity over here. We are allowed to import oca seed. Could you email me at rowan.99 (removing the space)

  5. Hope you have a good harvest

  6. That is awesome. When I saw the title of the post I thought about hurgleculture. It's slightly similar with the overturned sod, but this is much simpler, and certainly less effort.

    I've only just discovered your blog, so now I'm off to see what else I can learn.

  7. This is highly informatics, crisp and clear. I think that everything has been described in systematic manner so that reader could get maximum information and learn many things.
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