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Ruth Stouth

Posted by simply_divine_joe z8 Pacific NW (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 3, 05 at 2:10

Gardening Without Work is one of her books.

She believes in mulching not tilling. That's a radical change from the normalcy of organic gardening. A lot of folks are into this idea of a no work garden and seem to think that mulching is the most beneficial manner of growing a garden. Its an unorthodox way of tending to a garden.

Even though I've read some of her ideas on a workless garden I 'm not sold on this idea. Old habits are hard to let go but in this case I've tilled for years and have had an excellent harvest.

What do others think of this method of mulching instead of tilling.

Happy gardening,
simply_divine_joe


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Ruth Stouth

I helped my father in the garden as a child and spent many an hour with "hoe in hand". Last year was my first year gardening without him, and thanks to many hours of lurking here, I tried the "lasagna method" of gardening for the first time, as well. In the areas of my garden where I set out my starts, this method worked very well for me. I still haven't figured out an easy way to sow seeds (beans, corn, etc.) and think I may return to "normal" gardening for these crops. Try a small area where you set out some tomatoes and peppers and see what you think. A little newspaper, some hay or straw and a few bags of grass clippings is all I used. The moisture that the mulch holds in, kept my tomatoes much greener than my neighbors, once the summer really heated up. I would argue with Ruth, that it is not no work, but less and different work. I like it.

Brett


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RE: Ruth Stout

Joe:
I believe that growing conditions and climate have a lot to do with the success of gardening under permanent thick mulch, as Ruth Stout did. Gardening author Steve Solomon comments in his book, Water-Wise Vegetables, that it doesn't work for him west of the Cascades, because it fosters generations of snails, slugs and sowbugs living in the mulch.

I used to live on the west coast, where you can garden year-round, the snails, slugs, ants, sowbugs, earwigs, fleas etc. are in the garden year-round too. I guess that in a mild-winter climate, it doesn't get cold enough for their populations to die off or go dormant.

Now that I'm in a true four-season climate, where the ground can really freeze, insect populations are kept in check by the cold, and summer temps in the 90s can dry out the ground very quickly, heavy mulching in the garden makes sense. But in mild areas that don't have extreme heat in summer or extreme cold in winter, I'm not so sure.
--O


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I love Ruth Stout's books and started all my gardening plots with either a thick mulch of hay or old carpeting. The carpeting was a BIG MISTAKE and we are still paying for it. I am sure in Ruth's day, there was only wool carpeting and it decomposed very nicely. Polyester and nylon carpeting doesn't fully decompose. The backing does and allows stuff to grow through. You then have a huge mess of carpet pieces that you can't dig out or dig through.

Just say no to carpet!!!


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RE: Ruth Stouth

It works quite well, actually. Here in the PNW, most of the soil is acid, which helps to foster slugs. Raising the pH really helps.

Last fall, I used that technique to just kill off the horrendous field grass: lime, then cardboard, then straw mulch. In May, there were a few weeds because I ran out of straw (early rains, cost went up), but I just pulled what few there were.

The advantages are many, the disadvantages are few.

First, there is no reason to turn the soil. Mother Nature has been mulching and growing for a loooong time with a high degress of success. Man has been farming for far less time and has been making dust bowls and deserts with his plowing. Plowing exposes the soil to the sun, wind and rain, which kills the microherd within, blows the lose soil away, and what is left tends to wash away.

Heavy mulching kills the weeds (esp if you put cardboard down to give an initial boost by severely cutting off sunlight to the weeds), keeps watering to a minimum, reduces heat/cold, wet/dry fluctuations which can stress plants, doesn't use gasoline at $2.50/gal, and it builds the fertility of the soil.

I see that a lot of people start in the spring, have some problems because they're in too much of a hurry, and think the method doesn't work. And it is true, to a certain extent. If you've just stomped or mowed the weeds, they're working hard to come back. If you've laid down cardboard, your young seeds are going to be fighting that. The mulch is barely starting to break down, and so aren't providing a lot of nutrients. But if you start any time now to fall, and let winter help you out, next spring you will have a viable planting area.

For small seeds like carrots (if you started the project in the fall), all you have to do in spring is rake back the mulch, scratch up the surface a bit, spread your seed, cover lightly, then mulch gradually as the plants get larger.

Larger things like potato pieces can just be laid on the ground and covered with mulch, adding more as they get taller to shade the tubers, reduce water stress & prevent greening.

For larger seeds like corn & beans, just part the mulch, poke a few seeds into the now-weed-free & soft soil, and add more mulch as they grow.

Another thing that newbies might forget is that the mulch shrinks continually. You can't just lay some down 8" thick and think that's all you have to do. You have to keep adding it. If a weed pops up, it's usually easy to pull -- just lay it on top and it becomes mulch. Poetic justice!

The really big advantage for me is the lack of weeds. I go out in spring, pull back the mulch, and there is a soft, weed-free bed that looks like chocolate cake, full of worms. If there are a few slugs, I collect them and throw them into the chicken pen as a treat for my girls. I get my seeds and sow them.

Then I look over at my neighbor's beds: he's just dragging his rototiller out, the beds are a mass of weeds, and he's either going to have to wait a couple of weeks for the weeds to die and be dug in, or he'll have to pull them all out first. My way or his? There's just no contest.

RUTH STOUT WINS!

Sue


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Wow, Sue---Thanks for your Ruth Stout Wins letter. I too live in the PNW. Right now I am gardening in the new Raised beds my husband made for me out of Port Orford cedar. I am using grass clippings like crazy around the veggies. However, I am having some problems with slugs and snails and possibly sowbugs eating the new little things. I just picked off a tiny cucumber that yesterday looked great and today was 3/4 eaten by something. I am convinced though that if I keep at this, I will have wonderful raised beds with soil to die for. I have not used cardboard yet. So you tear it up or just lay it down in between the veggies? Also, I buy the expensive bait that is kind to animals and death to slugs. And speaking of chickens, do you let them out in the garden in the fall to find the slug eggs?? I guess they are pretty good at that.
Sue
PS---My name is Sue also


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RE: Ruth Stout

This is the first year I have tried the straw mulch method, and living in southern Oregon with summer heat at over 100 for days on end, it was worked amazingly well. For the first time in years, I haven't struggled with blossom end rot on my tomatoes. What I have found that really works is Ruth Stout's idea of alfalfa meal. I purchased 80lbs at the feed store last week and put it around my yard. Everything is going crazy in the last week! My morning glories suddenly developed huge leaves and are growing over a foot a day, where they were spindly before. My eggplants and peppers almost have seem to double in size. Everything that seemed to be struggling before has taken off and got much stronger... in one week! For my garden this has been the best idea I have found.

There is one major drawback though. Our neighborhood for several years has fought a rat problem. We have brought Vector out in the past but their methods didn't seem to control the problem. Vector had told us that rats usually never nest in an area with cats for fear of killing their babies. So, several years ago I got two kittens hoping they would keep the problem in check at our home. All the other neighors are catless. These two white angoras have met the challange. My neighbors love them because they see them coming in their yards and have left for them their killed rats. We had never seen a live rat on our property only an occasional killed rat. These cats are great hunters and regularly patrol my garden. Now, in the past week I have had them bring me 3 killed large rats! I am sure the alfalfa is attracting them from other areas in the the neighborhood where they wouldn't come in our yard before because of the cats. I would not put alfalfa out again if I didn't have cats in an area with rats! It is too gross!

Next spring I am not going to sprinkle it in my straw as Ruth Stout suggests, but actually bury it when I do my transplanting. I also am going to start some alfafa tea, which I have read is phenominal for roses and don't think will attract rats.

One lesson I have learned about the rats is the following. For years our neighborhood had raccoons and oppossoms. The neighborhood got friendly traps and worked on removing all of them. Within a year we had a rat problem. Now I have read that raccoos and oppossoms kill rats and keep them in control. In addition I found that rat poisons kill the owl population in your area who hunt rats. I hope the raccoons move back in and have told the neighbors my findings and they agree we wish we had our raccoons and oppossoms back.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I have extremely sandy and nutrient poor soil, a weird pocket in a very clayey area. When I moved here 9 seasons ago, I determined that tilling would only create a dust bowl, so I established perennial beds about 4 feet wide and I use hay as a permanent mulch on the beds and wood chips on the paths. It's taken many years of organic supplements to build the soil, but the soil is at last full of earthworms and I can grow just about anything. My perennial flower beds offer many plants that entice good insects, and the entire garden ecology is healthy. I used to have bean beetles, potato bugs, aphids galore, but the only real pests I still have are the squash bug, though they were few this year.

There is no hoing to do and very few weeds. In spring, when I'm trying to get early lettuce in (I plant in blocks), I remove the hay from the whole section of the bed so the soil warms up fast. For plants like kale, tatsoi, radishes, I just create a row by parting the hay. I grow corn in hills about 3 feet apart and stagger them up a row. The open pollinated 'Golden Bantam' does really well like this and I plant three to four hills at a time so I have corn over a long season.

I also store my fall crops of scorzonera,turnips, beets, and carrots right in the ground by piling hay over them. The ground never freezes solid here so I can harvest a couple of weeks worth on a sunny winter afternoon. I also grow hardy greens--mache, upland cress, spinach, in a low tunnel greenhouse made of hoops and plastic that just spans the bed.

Works for me.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I started gardening Ruth Stout way when she wrote her first book(i'm giving my age away)in a few years, all of the problems work themselves out. the bugs and slugs are just gone! balance of nature. I have most of her books "Gardening without work" " No work gardening book"" How to have a green thumb without a aching back"and last, and certainly least is "I've always done it my way" The story of her personal life bothers me, but it certainly dosent detract from her wonderful way of gardening.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I've just started several 'no-dig' gardens. Never heard of Ruth Stout but there's plenty of info around on how to. Don't know how it will go but the peas, broad beans (fava beans), kale, broccoli and lettuce are all doing very well. I'll be planting beans in about 2 months.
Keeping fingers crossed.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

few more thoughts--its been proven that tilling exposes more weed seeds to light, and allowing them to grow, and while tilling is fine for some, each year it will get harder to manhandle a tiller around, and-as you get older, the tiller gets heavier---just speaking for myself, i get lazier, so heavy continous mulching is the only way for me to continue gardening, combined with raised beds.


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RE: Ruth Stout

Maybe someone can clue me in. I just moved from California where I had my vegetable garden in raised beds, in clay-like soil. Now I'm in RI, and trying to resurrect my Mom's veggie garden that was neglected for several years after her passing.

The problem is that there are a lot of roots in the bed, and it is really beyond me at my age to do double-digging. When I say a lot of roots, I mean really dense roots. I guess grass roots from the neighboring lawn. This is much harder to dig in than the CA clay. Even using a pitchfork to try to break it up doesn't work.

So, I was about to go to a rototiller, even though I had heard that they are not good for the soil, when I rmembered "Ruth Stout:" and googling brought me here. Any idea if her methods would work in this situation?

And the recipe is lime, cardboard, vegetative mulch?

thanks.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

First, you will need to be sure that the roots are from the lawn and not trees. A dense mat of tree roots under a thick permanent mulch will love you for the protection you gave it.

If it is weed roots, then the permanent mulch might eventually work but, despite the miracle claims of some, my experience has been that in virgin, compacted or neglected soil, there is usually no substitute for some tilling to loosen the soil if you expect to harvest anything over the next couple of years. If these are indeed grass roots, then I would suggest going at it with a fork and, perhaps, a pick, doing a little at a time until done. You shoulnd't find them too deep in the soil. You may have to rake the soil occasionally during the spring to expose buried roots that will tend to continue growing.

If they are tree roots, you will have to do some serious digging & chopping. I would suggest viewing the affair as an inexpensive and rewarding alternative to a health & fitness club.


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RE: Ruth Stout

Also, (missed it in your post before) no "recipe" should ever include lime unless soil tests prescribe it.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Trudy,
The soil in New England can be brutal. My soil was so stony when I started my garden that I couldn't bust it up with a spading fork. I used a pick and tiller; even with the tiller it bounced around a lot and didn't dig very deeply at first. I got rid of tons of stones and improved the soil with winter rye, then tilled it under in the spring. After a few years I was able to stop tilling and just added mulch to the top of the ground. Raised beds helped because I didn't walk on the soil.

Your root problem may be from trees. I have the same problem in one of my gardens and it is definitely tree roots. You can't kill them by mulching because they love it and will grow even thicker. Eventually they suck all the moisture and nutrients out of the soil. The best way to get rid of tree roots is by tilling; after that you may be able to get by with no tilling for a few years until they grow back again.

So don't be afraid to use a tiller or spading fork if it is necessary to solve a specific problem. "No digging" may be a desirable goal but you may have to do some digging to achieve it!

Bob B


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I just want to add my experience using whatever you want to call it, lasagna method or Ruth Stout. I had a trangular area by my back porch maybe 8x8 that was red clay and thoroughly compacted with roots left from euonymous coloratus (killed by herbicides before it ate the house). I couldn't till, I tried so I thought here is the perfect spot to give this a try. I dumped several bags of shredded oak tree leaves on this for one fall and winter season. The next spring I was able to dig down and plant several perennials and roses and shrubs. The digging was amazingly easy, I am totally impressed and plan to enlarge another bed using this method.

I too am one of the original Ruth Stout devotees. I do own and still use my wonderful Merry Tiller that I believe I can use until I am 100! It is a delight to use and at either 3.5 or 4 hp very light. I can dig up lawn with it.

However, for several years I have kept my tomato patch under mulch and leave my stakes (steel posts) in place. I just dig a new hole add some nutrients, remulch and I am done.

As a contrast, the parts of the garden that are still being tilled sprout a new bed of weeds after every tilling. There must be zillions of weed seeds in that darn soil. My plans are to get the whole thing under mulch asap!

I would suggest starting with a very small area to see how it works for you, but I know it will.

gld


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RE: Ruth Stouth

An update on my no-dig beds ... bitter disappointment. Even though I laid newspaper 20 sheets thick the couch grass just ignored it and the beds are now riddled with the cursed stuff!!!
I'm now going to have to dig them to clear the couch grass. I always mulch heavily and will do the same with the re-dug beds. I've found that mulch around 10cm (4") deep keeps the weeds at bay. The seeds rae still there just waiting for a bare patch to show up. They grow as soon as I part the mulch to plant something. At least they're few in number and the soil is soft so they're easy to yank out.
Must see if I can track down a copy of one of Ruth Stout's books to see how she recommends doing things.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

alfalfa meal mentioned by ContraryMary in S. Oregon--I am interested in the alfalfa meal that you mentioned using and that your plants flourished after you applied it...but I am confused about the rats--do you think they were attracted by your use of alfalfa meal? Did the alfafla actually grow? I had thought alfalfa meal was not seed and was an amendment. Does it attract rats?

Your photos of the new gardener are wonderful!
--pking


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RE: Ruth Stouth

  • Posted by corrine1 7b Pacific Northwest (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 22, 12 at 1:28

I also garden in western WA using mulch & have similar success as belgianpup never having used a rototiller, but used to hand dig.

Due to fatigue & pain from a chronic illness I became unable to garden as before. Hand turning with a garden fork or double digging beds were a thing of the past when we built permanent raised beds for part of our garden & began to edge the other part with cinder blocks or CMUs replacing the rock pile as edging as we acquired the concrete blocks.

Since mulch worked before to reduce weeds I began using even more of it. After my son & husband dug the beds one of us applied 2-4" of mulch & pull back to plant. As we acquire more we add more. My favorite easy mulch is dried grass clippings because they also feed the soil as long as the lawn is natural not a weed & feed grown lawn.

Permanent paths in both areas of the garden help all of us know where to walk and are easy to keep weed free when I use a heavy mulch burlap bags, or upside down carpet. I've never had a problem with the synthetic carpet & have used it nearly 20 years in several parts of the garden. One time we had it buried over a weedy section & forgot about it piling chicken manure and bedding over it for years. My young son was digging a hole for a large plant and found it down there. He couldn't figure out why I had planted carpet in the garden.

The result of using more mulch was that I could continue to grow & harvest fruits and vegetables for my family with less work! The only time I remove mulch is in spring when I want the soil to warm up faster in order to direct sow. The mulch does keep it cooler & cool, wet soils rot seeds. I presprout our peas & that helps prevent rot.

There are numerous nontoxic ways to attract, trap & remove the slugs, sow bugs, & earwigs -- they don't win the battle here as long as I keep up patroling & removing them. I think if I didn't have mulch they'd just find some place else to hide.

Last year when our daughter & hubby bought a previously occupied, but left vacant for over a year home in January we helped them cover sprouting weeds with cardboard & wood chips/coffee grounds/grass clippings. Fewer, but not all weeds were controlled as emerging plants prevented complete coverage. Keeping up with hand pulling in the uncardboard/mulched areas was a lot more work, so they were thankful for the areas we smothered early on. With minimal work they were able to enjoy their garden space & edibles with no tilling of the soil. We just layered up for the vegetables & used mulch there, too,

Hope that helps ~ Corrine


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Lovely, inspiring thread.
Basically I guess you have to combine undiluted Ruth Stout way with other techniques that work for you. I am on a steep hill and the less digging here the better, all of my soil is created by me in hybrid terrace/raised bed structures. Occasional hand hoe cultivation does good.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I LOVE Ruth Stout, and was thrilled to find this thread. :)

Have you seen the movie about her on You-tube? I just found it this week, and it is wonderful -- getting to see her in her garden and hear her talk was so fun.

I've been using her method for years, and yes, Raymondo, when I started the mulching with quack grass/couch grass underneath I was shocked to find that the grass simply loved the manure, newspaper and hay and grew up through it very healthy. Just dig all those white roots out and then you'll be couch grass free and ready to experience the good parts of Ruth's method.

One of the great parts about it for me is that my garden is never ready to till -- I've always got something growing whether it's garlic or overwintered greens, carrots, rutabagas and parsnips, or early spring lettuce . . . so when, exactly, would I till? My neighbors here in the WV mountains all think I'm crazy with all the hay, but they're also impressed that I've got stuff growing (and to eat) when they don't.

It works. really.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

eliza,

Could you post the link to the Ruth Stout video on You Tube? I did a search and couldn't find it. I tried 'no till gardening' and 'longer than 20 mins', but couldn't locate it.

Thanks!
wildrose


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Hi Wild Rose -- I tried to put up the link, but my tech challengedness has prevented me from doing it successfully. BUT if you go on You tube and ask for Ruth Stout, it shows up -- actually they show up, it's in two parts. Also, the first part has one version that stops in the middle, but another version plays all the way through.

I hope this works for you -- sorry I couldn't get the link to post!


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I read Ruth Stout's books in the 1970's and I knew that when I got a chance, I would garden like her. As soon as I had a house I got busy and mulched like crazy. I still do.

Now, I have raised beds mulched with leaves and hay. I fertilize with alfalfa cubes and horse manure. I have luxuriant vegetable gardens and thriving flower beds and fruit trees.

I love Ruth Stout's no work gardening and I recommend it to everyone.


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RE: forgot to add

OOOOPPPS!!!

I forgot to say that my neighbor has an un-mulched garden every year and it is laughable! By the end of summer there are waist high weeds he has to fight to get anywhere near what are left of his vegetables.

My garden in contrast is neat, green, and extremely productive. Maybe one day my neighbor will learn something........


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I noticed my neighbor was tilling his garden plot last Sunday.

But with Ruth Stout's hay mulch in MY garden, I have already gotten in peas, pole beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mesculan lettuce mix, beets, turnips, carrots, kale, collards, swiss chard, mustard, radishes, onions, potatoes, and on Sunday I put in tomatoes, green peppers, and jalepeno peppers.

Most everything is up and doing fine, while he has yet to put anything in his tilled garden.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

  • Posted by jolj 7b/8a-S.C.USA (My Page) on
    Tue, May 29, 12 at 18:18

I love Ruth Stout No Work Garden Book.
But mulch will only kill Annuals, not perennials like Wild Garlic, wild dew berry or Bahia grass.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Dont know if anyone is still interested but I too started the RS way back in the 70's. ( people thought I was crazy ) Over 35 years later I still do it !
I use cardboard/paper to start.
I aint afraid to use carpet..... even if some threads end up a mess..... I save a lot of time not weeding.
Passion flower and trumpet vine are NOT hindered by even 6-8" of wood chips !
Ajuga does NOT like to be mulched : (
This year I will have to pull up carpet that has covered an area for 2 years ( you only need a few " of mulch if you carpet area first...... soon some weeds will grow on TOP of carpet with the mulch becoming compost : )


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I'm so glad to find this forum. I've been using this method since 1975, at first with a small garden in Texas, but since 1985 with a very large vegetable and flower garden in Connecticut. I follow her method exactly, never fertilize, only water when I plant, never dig, and throw on a foot of straw once/year. I think Ruth Stout was a genius -it really is no-work and the soil only gets better every year!


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Did this one year with potatoes and grew lots of slugs who ate the potatoes. Last year I hilled the potatoes then mulched with newspaper and leaves. Excellent weed control and slugs couldn't get at the taters. Have always tilled. This year the tiller stays parked and I'm buying a Broadfork from Lee Valley Tools just to loosen the soil as per Eliot Coleman. Will mulch with compost for most crops but will use leaves again for taters. Interesting comments here about how the slugs get controlled after a few seasons when the soil ph increases. Again, Coleman says pest and diseases exist because the soil is unhealthy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lively Dirt - The Garden Blog


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RE: Ruth Stouth

"Again, Coleman says pest and diseases exist because the soil is unhealthy."

That's a fantasy. When you don't want to use pesticides, you have to say something. Flea beetles and squash vine borers don't care about your soil - they eat your plants. When you plant a lot of the same crops in the same space, it's like putting out a come-and-get-it sign.

If Eliot Coleman came out and said 'Losing part of your crop every year is the price of being pure and not using pesticides,' he'd sell a lot less books. No one wants to hear that.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

Did you have less of a problem with bugs when you used newspaper as mulch?


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RE: Ruth Stouth

heyPG
What kind of bugs ?
In ohio we have had drought for many years and I rarely see a slug..... even though I mulch as much as 10" in some areas..... CARDBOARD is the best for weeds ( then carpet.....then a lesser amount of "pretty" mulch on top.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

pretty.gurl I had no trouble with slugs in my taters using newspapers and leaves after hilling them. I have also been blessed with never seeing a Potato Bug in my garden in nearly forty years on the same plot. I don't expect that to change in the next forty years :-) I think it helps that I have very few gardening type neighbours, so there is little importation I do get a few flea beetles in the spring, but they never seem to amount to much. Crop grows just fine.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

pretty.gurl I had no trouble with slugs in my taters using newspapers and leaves after hilling them. I have also been blessed with never seeing a Potato Bug in my garden in nearly forty years on the same plot. I don't expect that to change in the next forty years :-) I think it helps that I have very few gardening type neighbours, so there is little importation I do get a few flea beetles in the spring, but they never seem to amount to much. Crop grows just fine.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I had a visit from pill bugs and their friends. They loved my peppers. I got them from wood that I buried. I would love to try newspaper or hay but I am a little hesitant. I might just go with black garden fabric.


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RE: Ruth Stouth

I had no idea that the lasagna style method was a Ruth Stout method since I've been using it the past few years. But I can say that this year I've had way less pests than I've ever had! My kale had some bites, but overall not bad. Even my beet greens had minimal bites. I was very pleased. Last year we had a drought (middle Tn) so I did water some to get it through that spell, but after that, NO WATERING! Not once! and the produce kept coming, especially the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. I didn't use cardboard this year, but I wish I did, as that made a huge difference as far as weeds go. I'm never going back to the traditional method.


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