My little nursery is used to using loose fill potting mixes, but today we got a pallet of compressed 3.8 cu ft bales of potting mix in error. Given our schedule we are going to need to use it. How can we best prep these bales? We have a very basic house-made flat filler that can't fluff the mix for us. So we need to fluff and pre-moisten before use. Any tricks or tips I should know? Worst case scenario we use an old bathtub, a shovel, and a digging fork. Any better ways? Should we cobble together our own machine? I appreciate any suggestions.
I used to use these bales and switched to the loose awhile ago, but here's how I did it. When possible, I would push each whole pallet off the truck onto the ground to loosen the bales first. Open the bale at the top where the dirt is the loosest. I would make 4 angled cuts from the top of the corners to the center and then cut across the top to open it. I would put the bale right up to a 3' x 3' big bucket and make a 12' slit down the front from the top so that the mix is funneled into the bucket, and start to push the loose dirt into the bucket, using your hands to break up the mix into really fine pieces. As there got to be more room in the bale, you can take a hand, go down the side and break off a larger piece and push down on that with your palm and then break that up. When you get to the bottom third, you can take the bale and slam it on the ground on all four sides and then break that up.
It really doesn't take that long to do a bale-about 8 mins or so if you are fast with your hands and thats with no clumps at the end of the process. I really think its faster/easier to break it up in the bag where its confined in a small area and keep pushing the mix out (and then pouring it out, once you get enough out-I would loosen a bunch, then pour that out) then dump it on a bathtub where its spread out and you can't see the clumps so easily.
I would get about 1/3 out, then moisten and mix that, empty the bucket etc. Not sure what you are filling, but I was doing 3.5" pots and didn't want any clumps. I had workers that would dump a bunch of the dirt in the large bucket and break it up and my way was always faster and no clumps.
Just experiment. For one pallet of it, I don't think its worth the time to make a machine for it. Let us know what works for you. I just had to use a few pallets worth of it this past summer, so if you come up with a better way-I want to know about it in case I have to use them again! Good luck!
Long before I bought my soil mixer, conveyer belt and flat filler I used a small flat bed trailer with solid bottom to mix soil componants with a huge aluminum shovel. Then as time went on I used a PTO driven tiller on the back of a tractor on a concrete slab to fluff and mix. All this was really time consuming and labor intensive. Try to look for a used soil mixer and conveyer belt. That way you can mix and convey into the flat filler really easy. Otherwise it depends on your labor situation and just how many cubic yards you will use each season. Labor is not always dependable but machinery usually always shows up on time! :) During my busiest sales year I was able to mix and fill 50,000 one gallon containers by myself with the machinery mentioned above. Properly chosen machinery is a wise investment.
I remember hand filling 45,000 4 1/2 inch pots for Geraniums. We cut open the peat bags and smashed them with a tractor bucket to bust them up then added perlite and sand. Next we would turn the pile over several times to mix then run it through a small portable shredder. Oh the good old days.;)