Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gardening the Ruth Stout Way

I’m having fun with my vegetable garden. Mark brought me a big bale of hay to mulch with. Ruth Stout, my gardening guru, proclaims rotting hay her favorite mulch. The bale is from last year’s crop, from the top of the stack which means moisture has gotten into it and made it less valuable.  

Stout didn’t start gardening until she was 45 and didn’t discover her “no work” methods until she was near 60. Okay, so her “no work” still involves a lot of work, but nevertheless I love her unique approach to gardening.

She was born of Quaker parents in Kansas and came to gardening fame in Connecticut. She lived to be 96 years old, undoubtedly propelled to a long life by puttering in her garden. She claims “no fertilizer, no poisons, no tilling, no weeding, no composting, and little watering” make for a garden like nature intended. Her savior is permanent organic mulch. Put it on your garden wherever you are in the season, generously and often. Mulch fertilizes the ground as it breaks down, moderates soil temperatures, discourages weeds, and holds moisture in.

I follow Stout’s methods and quit tilling years ago. I rake the mulch to the side in the spring and run my hoe to make a furrow, spread seeds and cover lightly and that’s it. In the fall I lay on several inches of leaves from Grandma’s lawn followed by a couple of passes with the manure spreader. Now I’m spreading hay between the rows. On these super hot days, I feel good knowing the ground is shaded and moist around my plants.

I get pretty misty eyed about the whole covered soils thing. Bare ground is the enemy; just ask those affected by drought and flood. Healthy covered soils are what we work towards in our grazing strategies. And in the spring when the sand blows off the neighboring spud ground, I know we need to modify current farming practices to allow for more covered soils. I’m all for modern agriculture, we just need to remind ourselves about solid ecosystem principles while we’re at it.

Last fall's mulch on the left, new hay on the right

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