Garden Grower’s Guide
By Kim Nichols
The following techniques are excerpts from a book I found in my Mother’s library written in 1971 by Ruth Stout. Her approach was to heavily mulch her garden year-round with organic leaves, wood chips, compost from the kitchen (we talked about last week), and six to eight inches of layered bailed hay.
If you are first starting out – begin to gather your materials together from your yard and kitchen while you are planning your garden blueprint for the spring. I do a blueprint sketch because no matter what medium I use to make cute little signs, within weeks they are not legible resulting in me having to guess my varieties of vegetables until they are big enough to show their characteristics. I’ve found having a layout on paper; it is easy to update and use for reference in the future. Jot down not only successes and failures, but insect activity and yield. It also serves as a weather almanac with just a couple of sentences. Documenting your efforts will be most valuable to you in seasons to come and for those that come after you.
If you are feeling more creative you can start a binder that resembles a scrapbook. You can fill the pages with your chronicles of your garden including your blueprint for this year (so you know what you might want to move next year to rotate your crops), make your own little seed envelopes and staple them into your book with dates harvested, etc. It can be as rewarding and valuable as gardening itself.
This mulching method is particularly effective for defeating drought – which may be what is coming in the very near future, although you’d never guess it to be the case, with all the moisture we’ve had this year. Better to plan for the worst and hope for the best, I always say.
The benefits of year-round mulching are effective weed control, natural pest management, drought resistance, plowing is unnecessary, crops yield more and growing seasons are extended, and your trash cans will be lighter to haul to the street.
We’ll start here with her excerpts from the book about drought-prone climates:
“Many people have asked me if mulching adequately protects flowers and vegetables from drought. The answer is, Yes; through eleven seasons of year-round, over-all mulching, with several droughts, the only crop I have lost has been one late planting of corn. I have never watered anything in the vegetable garden after the mulching has taken hold (one full season).
For those of you that have not taken advantage of the year-round mulching method the following suggestions are for you. Let’s say it’s middle of May and you have a feeling it is going to be a dry summer.
With little help your early crops will make it; spinach, lettuce, peas. The only thing you need to do for them is gather together some leaves and hay and put six inches of mulch around them. Shade lettuce if you can, three crops are saved.
Use hay, if you must, you can buy salt hay. It’s rather expensive but it rots slowly and will last for a few years. If, however, you know a farmer who has “spoiled” hay (hay that has been wet and is unfit to use for food) the very best thing to do is to get a few loads of that. It rots more quickly than salt hay, which is fine, for when it rots it enriches the soil. Or if you are so inclined and have a scythe and a field of weeds or grass, and some ambition, you can cut your own mulch. Don’t be afraid of weeds with seeds, in heavy mulch they don’t have a chance.
You can save your beets, carrots, parsnips, and kohlrabi too. The very first thing is to thin them much more than you usually do. Then collect mulch (leaves, hay, weeds, garbage, sawdust, excelsior), and have it handy. Now give your plants a thorough wetting and at once put the mulch all around them six inches deep and between the rows. If the mulch is wet, too, so much the better.
This watering would not be necessary if you had had mulch on your garden all winter and spring. Mulch not only preserves moisture but prevents weeds, which during times of drought, are particularly harmful for they use up the moisture which the vegetables need so badly. More to come next issue….