Ruth Stout Mulching vs. Biointensive Gardening

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by lilyrose, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. lilyrose

    lilyrose Well-Known Member

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    I've read that keeping about 8" of mulch on a garden area naturally enriches the soil in a decent amount of time. Ruth Stout wrote a book called No Work Gardening which goes into this. You put manure and any nutrients the soil needs on and just pile on the straw. Everything breaks down over time and the soil gets really nice.

    I recently read a book on biointensive gardening where double-digging is suggested. It appears to require a ton of work.

    Naturally, the mulching method holds more appeal.

    Can anyone here tell me if the double-digging method is smarter to use than the mulching? And if so, why?

    I assume it must be better or else, why would anyone choose that method over one that is easier?
     
  2. Jimmy Mack

    Jimmy Mack Well-Known Member

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    The no till method takes more time to establish and requires more material. Do you have enough organic material to cover your garden to an 8 inch depth? A couple of times a year? It takes more time to process because the material has to compost in place without the normal turning and O2 exchange of an active compost bin. Then the theory is the edaphon (worms, bacteria etc) in the soil work to mix the composted material with the top layer of the soil. This can take some time, and as a result, the new no till garden may not even be ready the first season.

    Yes the double digging method does require alot of work but most gardens don't need to be double dug every year. One method is to remove the top layer of soil in foot wide strips and then fork the strip. This allows the gardener to reach depths of two feet or so. The resulting garden soil is fluffed and expanded so as to create raised beds - no need to add any additional soil!

    Most plants love well drained soil. A layer of solid organic material may not drain well at all. In fact, there's a trend in horitculture away from the "copius amounts of organic material" approach to a consideration of the proper amount of humus within soil with good structure. So its not about just adding organic material on top of organic material but considering total soil structure. Most will draining soil comprised mostly of inert material like rocks.

    Lots depends on the type of soil the individual gardener is working with as to what method will work better.

    I'm of the general opinion that no till is a better option for the orchards, forest gardens and perennial gardens while most veggie and herb gardens benefit from digging the soil. When the entire garden is dug the gardener is able to start with a "clean slate" free of weeds. Also cover crops need to be dug in and might not work under the no till method.

    Fluffed up soil grows better plants. The top few inches of the veggie and herb garden really benefit for regular cultivation under a three prong cultivator. Water and gravity both can compact the soil during the growing season.

    happy cultivating,
    Jimmy
     

  3. lilyrose

    lilyrose Well-Known Member

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    Jimmy, I really appreciate the indepth response you took time to offer. That's very good information and makes great sense. ;)

    Could you see mulching as a favorable method if the soil you're dealing with has been compacted by machinery with topsoil removed?

    Or do you think doubledigging is still the best way to go?

    Erosion is also a factor with my area.
     
  4. kathy H

    kathy H kathyh

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    Okay in my opinion I think lasagna gardening is the way to go in my area. We started here [ calif, sandy loam] with one deep dug bed, two rototilled every year on rototilled one year then winter cover crops and one layered bed. The layered bed is the best.
     
  5. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    I've done both. Did the biointensive years ago when I was young and it near about broke my back, but great results. Thing is, I had just as good results with Ruth's method and it didn't hurt my back. Just tossed as much hay/wood chips as I could get onto some cardboard and planted in that. I got the ground wet and poked holes thru the cardboard the first year and set my bedding plants in the holes. The next year I was able to get all the sawdust/manure I could haul from a local stable and expanded my garden. I still put down the cardboard because I was planting right over a weedy/grassy/supposed to be a lawn, but I didn't poke holes thru the cardboard. Had really great results.
     
  6. lilyrose

    lilyrose Well-Known Member

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    Cyngbaeld, so you're saying you just laid cardboard over grassy lawn and added the mulch, etc. and later the ground turned into good soil for your garden?

    If so, that's pretty incredible! I do have back problems so I have to take that into serious account.

    I'll have to check out the Lasagna method. I've heard of it and need to learn more.
     
  7. suelandress

    suelandress Windy Island Acres Supporter

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    Ruth Stout is my garden goddess!! I did have problems getting enough stuff to make 8" thick mulch initially, but then I learned the art of driving around in the fall grabbing people ALREADY RAKED AND BAGGED leaves! What nice folks....to put stuff out on the road for me :goodjob: :sing:
     
  8. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    I vote for Ruth too.

    BooBoo
     
  9. moonwolf

    moonwolf Well-Known Member

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    You can also enhance the mulching method.

    After putting down whatever layers of weed killing mulch and let it decompose so the soil underneath is softer and more worms come in. Those worms are like mini-tillers. Then you can sew some green manure crop such as buckwheat and let that grow up to about a foot high. Then take a h.d. weed trimmer and what that buckwheat down to lay as a layer. It will break down and add to the mulch as well as adding nutrients. This is a good way to supplement putting down lots of much. Other than buckwheat, you could also use nitrogen fixing clover or hairy vetch. Or you can sew faster growing oats or rye grasses. Anything like that you can use as green manure also double duties as the weed killing mulch and also enhances the base for planting your garden crops, etc.
     
  10. Paula

    Paula Well-Known Member

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    We vote for Ruth too. We started a new garden several years ago in a place where there was no topsoil. Bulldozed to death. Now it's the best soil on the place. We were late mulching some of it this year and the weeds had grown up shoulder high. DH tried just stepping the stuff over and laying mulch (old hay) on top of it. 1 month later we had no trouble planting in it, 3 months later everything - thick stalks and all - are completely gone. Nothing there but moist, rich soil. I love it.
     
  11. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    I didn't bother to wait for the stuff to decompose. Just planted in the mulch. The first year at the house I didn't have time to do anything. The closing dragged out until it was past optimal time to plant. Then I had to leave for two weeks to be with my mom after her heart surgery. so I just threw down what I could find, mostly just old hay, made holes and stuck in my plants and left a non gardening friend to water for me. Still had a pretty decent harvest.

    The second summer I covered the entire area (much larger than the previous year) with cardboard and about 12 inches of coarse sawdust/manure and planted in the mulch. No holes into the ground at all. Had a bumper crop and next to no weeds. Of course I moved the next summer and didn't have anything except in containers.
     
  12. Mid Tn Mama

    Mid Tn Mama Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I vote for Ruth Stout too. I use all the paper products that must be thrown away in the garden. We have almost no garbage to haul to the dump. The rows are made of cereal and other boxes. Junk mail is shredded and put around plants once they are too big for slugs to be a problem.

    I am not strong enough for the tiller so it saves me the waiting for a man to get around to tilling it. I plant intensively (rows are big enough for my arms to reach the middle. This crowds the weeds.

    I don't plant whole rows of something either. I think that just encourages whatever bugs to just mow down the row. It confuses them to come to something that isn't their favorite.
     
  13. john#4

    john#4 Well-Known Member

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    I took Ruth’s method and change it a little. I marked out beds 4x20 put on 7” of old hay. Do this now or in the fall. I put lime, bone meal right on top of the hay.
    In a 4 ft. wide you will get, 3 rows of tomatoes (stager plant them), 4 rows of green beans (eat just the outside rows, save the inner rows for seed) Plant most vine crops 3ft apart. Two deep. Again stager them. Large vine crops stager 5ft.
    Once you have tried this, there is no other type of gardening. I have not turned the ground, put your hay right in top. :goodjob:
    John#4
     
  14. Jimmy Mack

    Jimmy Mack Well-Known Member

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    "Could you see mulching as a favorable method if the soil you're dealing with has been compacted by machinery with topsoil removed"

    sounds challenging, mulching may be your only option unless you're able to bring in more top soil.

    good luck with that!
     
  15. steff bugielski

    steff bugielski Well-Known Member

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    I too do the Ruth method. I have treid both and this if far less time consuming,and no man needed. My garden is great this year. I cover the whole thing wheelbarrel at a time all year long. I use bedding from the goats. The chicken stuff goes in the paths. I will never in my life till or dig again.
    Steff
     
  16. Shahbazin

    Shahbazin Well-Known Member

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    The soil around here is some sort of heavy adobe clay; in the winter, it's waterlogged, & when it dries out, it turns to cement. It's full of huge granite boulders, too. So, when I clean out the sheep barn, or the chicken pens, I just dump all the old bedding (manure, straw, wood shavings, alfalfa stalks), about a foot or so deep (it settles) where I want the garden to be (I mow first if the weeds are real high), water it down real good, & let the earthworms move in! Excess water can drain out of the pile on the bottom, I do put a chicken wire fence around the preimeter to keep out rabbits. After it's rotted down at least a month, & isn't "hot", I'll go ahead & plant stuff right into it, & everything grows great. Why dig when your critters provide a never-ending supply of organic stuff that you have to haul somewhere anyhow?
     
  17. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    I, too, am a fan of Ruth Stout. I have read all of her books, preferring the earlier one in which she still has down home flavor rather than the later, more heavily edited one without country charm.

    I seem to recall that the Stout garden had been plowed or roto-tilled for the most part BEFORE the mulching system without tilling was adopted.

    I am of the opinion that If you can spade or double dig the soil before the mulching you would be better off.

    I have a tractor and implements and can go to the extreme if I so choose.
    At one point in time In my sandy soil I placed a heavy layer of organic matter and then roto-tilled. Next I added more organic matter and used a post hole digger to bring water holding clay to the surface as well as form holes for the organic matter to drop into. I then disced the garden to essentially close the holes back up, hopefully filled with much organic matter. Once again I added more organic matter and roto-tilled the whole thing again. Once the garden was going I then mulched as plants came up or were transplanted.

    The next year earthworms were found throughout the garden when I roto-tilled. That year I again added more mulch and never tilled again.
    As I added organic matter I also added manures or other nitrogen sources so that the garden didn't starve while awaiting the in-ground sheet composting to take place.

    Once garden soil has reached a certain point it takes little to care for it and provide nutrients to it.

    Who among you can't resist bags of leaves beside the curb?