March 12, 2013

Hay: It's Not Just for Horses

written by Yvonne

We FINALLY harvested some greens - spinach and collards.  And boy were they delicious!

We've also been enjoying carrots as well.

As Spring fast approaches, we needed to get hay to implement the Ruth Stout gardening method.  So we made an outing to Woof'N Hoof in Mint Hill.

We hadn't a clue how much hay to get. All we know is that the hay needs to be 8" thick to start and more will be needed once that all settles down. We filled up Tom's truck with12 bales. We should have gotten a clue that we over bought when the woman at the store said, "How big IS your garden?" I very proudly said, "Oh, it's big."

Now that Tom has thousands of other critters to take care of (bees), the worms have taken a back seat. It just became too labor intensive to keep up with the worm compost so we decided to dismantle it.  We'll still compost our kitchen scraps, but they'll go in the big composting bins with grass clippings and yard waste.  That way we're only keeping up with one composting system rather than two. Nonetheless, Tom put the worms to good use by scooping up all the worms and all of their castings....

and relocated them directly into the garden.

Once that was down, the spreading of the hay began. One of the beauties of Ruth Stout's method is that you shouldn't have to weed a bed ever again. You simply pile more hay on top of the weeds and that snuffs them out. So, we figured me might as well test it out from the get-go and simply pile the hay on top of the weeds. Bed 2 had all the rye grass in it which Tom turned under several weeks ago. However, much of the grass re-rooted so instead of tilling it under, I just piled the hay on top.

Then I piled some more...

and more...

until we had a good 12" layer.

Critics of Ruth Stout's method say that the hay makes for an unattractive garden. Personally, I'd rather see the hay than weeds. I suppose it's not super attractive, but you know what? If it makes easier work of gardening, who the heck cares? (That was her philosophy too.) Besides, it's in the backyard and as of yet Home & Garden hasn't come knocking on my door, requesting a photo shoot.

I thought we'd give this patch yet another try. We tried for a few years to get something happening in this mostly shady spot but nothing took root (except weeds). Last year we didn't try anything. So I layered it with hay and we'll plant something or other in it soon.

When you have plants growing, like this cabbage (left), you simply pull the hay around the base of it, keeping the moisture locked into the soil and the plant exposed to the sun and rain. Then, you mush down the weeds (right) with a thick layer of hay. Ironically, after tucking the hay all nice and neat around this cabbage I ended up harvesting it for dinner the next night. I pulled the pant out, cut the head out of the middle, left the rest of the plant in the bed and covered it up with lots of hay. From here forward, that's how we're to handle the 'waste' material from the garden. Instead of taking out the stalks and roots of plants, we are to lay them down, cover them with hay, and they'll compost right into the bed.

I tucked the hay all around the rows of spinach...

as well as the collards. You'll notice I didn't put any hay to the left of the collards. That's because there are pea seeds planted there which haven't sprouted yet. Anywhere seeds have been planted should be free from hay until they sprout. Otherwise 1. you won't know where the seeds are and 2. they won't grow because the sun can't get to them.

I tucked hay around the remaining cabbages as well.

Here is the before, where most of the green you see in Beds 1-3 are weeds...

and here is the after.  The green at the far end of Bed 1 is garlic and a lot of weeds. I have to take some time to clip out the weeds before spreading the hay around the garlic. But that'll be another day. Our last frost date is April 15 so we're keeping the hoop houses on Bed 4 where the spinach and collards are just in case we get a freak winter storm between now and then.

Remember when I said we didn't know how much hay to get? Well it took all of three bales to cover what you see here and the misc bed up near the house. Needless to say, we overbought by a little - 9 bales too many! Oh well. We'll definitely use one more bale to cover the potato patch and to finish out the rest of these beds and there's no doubt we'll use more as we go along.

Oh, and if any of you want to start using the Ruth Stout mulching method of gardening in your own garden, no need to find a source for hay. We have some to sell ya! If you're in Charlotte, we'll even deliver it to you.