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Ruth Stout style market garden, is it worth it?

 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 495
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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What are your thoughts on the deep mulch ruth stout gardening technique on a large market garden scale?  Do you think it is too resource intensive to be of much benefit in this application or would you recommend it?  Has anyone tried the deep mulch on the 1 acre plus scale with success, and are the continual inputs offset with less labor?
 
Kamaar Taliaferro
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here's someone doing it in the Ithaca area of New York state. This video from a year ago hasn't been updated since but it might give you some ideas;



Geoff Lawton's video about permaculture soils has a segment where he demonstrates a quickly formed ruth stout-esque garden. It's tucked away somewhere in there.
http://permaculturenews.org/2015/05/03/permaculture-soils-geoff-lawton/
 
Pat Yount
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Location: Troy, United States
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I don't have an answer or opinion but our community garden is modeling our garden this year from Ruth Stout's recommendations.  We are just now covering the garden with old hay.  The garden has been in existence for two years and this third year has presented the challenge of limited participation so we chose this method to curtail the tilling, weeding,etc as much as possible.
 
Kamaar Taliaferro
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@Pat Yount

any tips on how to foster discussion about projects in community gardens? Seems like anytime I suggest something I'm met with a "good idea" and a blank stare.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 495
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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books food preservation fungi hugelkultur trees
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Kamaar, I've found that a lot of people will get on board if you just start doing something.  For instance at your community garden if you wanted to start implementing a Ruth Stout style garden first convert your plot to that style and get one other person to do the same(that way it's not just your crazy idea), once you have that first follower and an example to point to it becomes MUCH easier to have a productive conversation about larger scale projects.....
 
michelle salois
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I've just been thinking I want to move to this method too.  I've not been happy with the wood chips approach since smaller seeds just don't work as well but grass invaded anyway.  gotta find a way to transport hay though to my city lot.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 495
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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books food preservation fungi hugelkultur trees
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michelle salois wrote:I've just been thinking I want to move to this method too.  I've not been happy with the wood chips approach since smaller seeds just don't work as well but grass invaded anyway.  gotta find a way to transport hay though to my city lot.

You might be able to get a farmer to deliver you hay and straw in small bales if you live near a hay producing area.  I've had really good luck getting hay and straw delivered through Craigslist, you'll pay a little more for the convenience of having it delivered and you'll pay a little more for the small bales than you would for big squares or round bales, but you pay less for the tractor, pick up, and trailer for moving it yourself....
 
Lakota Myers
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This makes me think of the chicken tractor book. Didn't he use those to build up beds and then just move them along down the line then over to the next row and so on? Then when the manure had composted enough he planted in them.
 
R Jay
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Location: 54 North BC Canada
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Before using hay/straw for mulch, I suggest you read this article written by David the Good:

http://thegrownetwork.com/hidden-dangers-straw-bale-gardening/
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 770
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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michelle salois wrote:I've just been thinking I want to move to this method too.  I've not been happy with the wood chips approach since smaller seeds just don't work as well but grass invaded anyway.  gotta find a way to transport hay though to my city lot.


Michelle, I wouldn't give up yet.  If grass is invading (and that happens to me too), your wood chips aren't deep enough.  When planting small seeds, actually any seeds, you never plant in the wood chips, you move them aside and plant in the soil underneath.  You will have the same issues if you try to plant seeds in the straw or hay.  You either move it aside and plant in the soil, or make a "hole", fill it with soil, and plant in that.  I sometimes do the same in woodchips.  Pull the chips aside to make a row, fill it with compost, and plant in the row.  I do that in areas that the chips haven't broken down enough underneath to plant in them, because my soil is very heavy clay. 

In response to the initial inquiry about anyone doing deep mulch on a larger scale, I watched a video of a couple that covered a two acre property with wood chips.  It wasn't level to begin with, so in some places they put the chips several feet deep to level it.  They brought in more than 500 dump truck loads of chips and are having fantastic results.
 
Tyler Omand
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Location: Maine
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I really like what Jim Kovaleski is doing here in Maine on his 1/2 acre super productive market garden. Here is his synopsis of the technique he wrote for his talk at the annual MOFGA Commonground fair:
"I'll share how I am using a scythe to mow and gather fertility from a meadow polyculture as fodder for the Micro herd in the soil.concentrating The fodder from 5 acres of meadows averaging 3 cuts a year using all the plant material, essentially fresh cut hay, as a feeding mulch for the 1/2 acre of market garden beds at Lamb Cove Farm.I will also talk about my observation that the meadows having all the plant material removed for 7 years are surprisingly much richer than when I started. "  ---Repeat: He scythes 5 ac of meadow 3 times a season!!!--- that plus market gardening year round (he market gardens in the winter in flordia) is the ultimate fitness plan! He is a super fit older gentleman!
I have been to his talk several times and his technique consists of starting with 3' beds spaced 30' apart roughly on contour - 30' is 3 passes with his scythe - he just windrows the cut meadow into roughly 3' wide, 2'+ tall windrows and he utilizes the soil block system from 1.5" to 6" with high quality compost soil mix for most of what he grows. He then just plugs the 6" block transplants into the windrow. He plants root veggies at the edges at the edges of these now permanent beds to till the edges. He cuts and mulches the beds 3 times per season. That's it - no water -  no fertilizer - just roughly 3-5 acres of meadow condensed onto a intensively planted 1/2-1 acre of market garden beds. His veggies are pristine and gorgeous!. He talks about the advantage of using a custom site specific nature created polyculture as the ideal fertilizer suited perfectly to that site. He argues his meadow is grazed completely by his scythe, not selectively by grazing animals, and he mimics rotational grazing with how he cuts his meadow so he is seeing regenerative results similar to proper rotational grazing.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 770
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Tyler, very interesting.  Thanks for posting it.
 
Pamela Smith
Posts: 64
Location: BC Canada Zone 5&6
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Yes, it is worth it to have a Ruth Stout garden. I actually had to look this up to see what it was. I am on pure sand. It is reclaimed land, so I have been only adding hay and woodchips every year to my garden for the last 3 years. Sadly the first 2 years my husband insisted on tilling. Now he finally sees the benefits of a no till garden with hay mulch. The summers get really hot. We can reach temperatures of 100F. Weeks of 80-90F is not uncommon. Hay also helps keep the sand "soil" from drying out.

My problem was since my base is sand the water kept running off. So last fall I started building garden beds. I dug 1.5 feet below the boards, put in rotting wood, waste from last years crop, hay, my sandy "soil" a bunch of nutrients and mycrobz then more hay and topped with woodchips. Each fall I will be topping with more hay and then wood chips. I should get an amazing garden if not this year next year for sure as everything breaks down. Hay, as it breaks down has so many wonderful nutrients the plants can use. Add to that some Mycrobz and compost and you have a powerhouse garden. My new beds are 4 ft x 30 ft. I built 4 last fall and hope to build another 6 this year. I put 2 bales of hay in each bed. Bales are 80 pounds each. I will be adding 2 bales to each bed every year until I get some nice soil. Then add one bale each year maybe more.

Pictures are some produce from my 2016 garden. (only let me post 3 photos. Do not know how to post more)I built up walls with sand and topped it with hay and woodchips. You will see I did not use the 8 inches recommended. I used about 2-3 inches of hay with no manure yet look how well everything grew.
Is it worth it to use hay? You tell me. I will not use anything else but hay. As for cost, hay out here from a good source is like 8 bucks a bale for an 80 lb. bale.

I am also hoping to level about 1/2 acre of land scatter hay all over it about 3-4 inches thick and start growing green manure crops in it to build up a base to grow corn for a small market garden one day. Hay is my only logical choice and it has proven to do very well for me.

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raspberries with hay mulch in the spring
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garlic with hay mulch in the spring.
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a garden bed of veggies growing with hay mulch
 
Pamela Smith
Posts: 64
Location: BC Canada Zone 5&6
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I also started an orchard 4 years ago.  I planted 1-2 year old fruit trees. The orchard is all fine and course gravel, no sand or soil of any kind. I have been building up around the trees with a thick layer of hay for the first couple years and now hay and compost. 2015 gave me my first crop of pears. 2016 gave me my first crop of peaches and cherries. At this rate I can easily have excess fruit for sale in another year or 2. Here are 3 more follow up photos at the end of the season of 2016.

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We harvested approx 40 pounds of raspberries in 2016
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peaches were sweet and juicy
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Strawberries were grown in a mixture of peat moss and hay
 
Al Freeman
Posts: 44
Location: North Texas plaines
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I just typed about a thousand words with pictures and everything only to have this stupid system erase everything.

I'm outta here!
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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