[Market-farming] Ruth Stout style gardening

Liz Pike liz at laughingbrookfarm.com
Thu Feb 5 09:55:47 EST 2004

Hi Neil,

Interesting you should ask.  After multiple equipment breakdowns this past
fall, I resorted to hand-prepping a 3/4 acre space for starting this spring,
which includes layering similar to Stout.  I've got another 4 acres that
should have been prepped, but I've decided to pasture pigs on them.  At
least they won't break down & I can sell & eat them ; )).   I've also
applied for a grant to do the pigs so we'll see.  Maybe that's the reason my
equipment broke down...if I'da plowed & prepped I would have missed the
grant opportunity.

I've done some layering, but a bit different than Stout.  Stout's form of
gardening requires huge amounts of organic--meaning natural, not
certified--materials in order to produce the "layering" effect.  The
proportions needed on a commercial scale sometimes are not available or are
too expensive.  In addition to lack of availability/expense, sometimes the
hay can actually increase labor if it doesn't rot down in time, and must be
moved out of the way to plant, or if it harbors weed seed.  Nothing like a
nice warm mulched soil bed for sprouting weeds long before veggies have a
chance.  Also, if the hay was grown with herbicides, sometimes that can
affect seed germination/growth if there isn't enough composting time to
break down the herbicide.

I seem to recall one quote that said Stout used 25 bales of hay for a
50'x50' garden.  On my former farm, I used the layering system here & there
over the years before I ever heard of Stout (or the more recently acclaimed
Lasagna Gardening).  That was on a 1/2 acre intensively planted veggie area,
but there was no way I could do it for the whole of my commercial production
area (16 acres).  I found that green manures/cover crops provided the same
effect while also keeping down weeds, something that hay/straw tended to
aggravate.  For those just starting out, it's certainly a good way to begin
but as skills and growing space increase, other methods will win out.

My beds this year have been constructed with strictly on-farm materials,
multiple wheelbarrow loads of horse manure (I have 7), leaves, chicken
litter, and old moldy hay that I KNOW was cultivated from weed-free fields.
I only buy hay from fields where I've actually watched it grow so I know
without a doubt I'm getting weed-free stuff, an option I didn't have in my
old area.   I tilled the beds last year with a tractor-mounted tiller, so I
just ubarred them and began piling on the stuff, stirred it, and broadcast
annual rye over the top.  The beds are about 12" high at this point, having
compacted 4" since originally built.  They do not have supported sides.  So
far, so good.  The earthworm count underneath has multiplied rapidly though
the materials may not have broken down enough to plant as early as I'd like.
But that's ok.  All in due time.

If this doesn't work (I've been out of farming for close to 3 years now),
I'm going to take away from all this the message that some force in the
universe is telling me to hang up my overalls.  I just wish the msg would be
written louder so I wouldn't have to spend so much time guessing!

Liz Pike
Laughingbrook Farm
Westfield NC
http://www.marketfarming.com   new content added daily!!

More information about the Market-farming mailing list