Garden Magic – Ruth Style

I field many questions about our front yard garden. This was summer of 2015. I vowed to never mow that slope again.

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My "secret" is straw - tons and tons and tons of straw. My straw comes from the Missoula Maze. It is in perfect condition when it arrives, it has been climbed on for a couple of months, weathered (exposed to the elements) for a few months and the maze owner wants to be rid of it as much as my garden pines for it.

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This isn't my secret. There once was a magical woman named Ruth Stout, who shared with the masses, her love of gardening in a slothful manner. She fed two people all year and never worked a lick in her garden after 11am. I watched this, and there I was, hook.line.sinker.

Why straw? It killed my grass; I love dead grass. I put the straw directly atop the green grass and never had to dig out any sod. My neighbors are indefinitely casting a skeptical eye in my direction. 'What is that crazy hippie girl up to now?' It really was as easy as Ruth said it would be. I'm not going to stretch the truth though, I did have to weed. I spent several hours a week weeding. Hopefully the weeds will lessen over time. I rarely had to water. I watered once or twice a week for about 20 minutes as the temperatures crept into the 100s. That straw retained so much moisture.

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My pal Abe helped me create rows that would settle naturally on the slope, over time. He had some old willow branches needing a purpose, so he spiked one end of each of them to stake in the ground. We made rows to hold the straw on the hillside. It looked a titch cemetery-like to me, I get-off a bit on that skeptical eye cast upon me, in the hood.

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I didn't mess around with the amount of straw stacked into each row. One bale doesn't go a very long way if you really want to keep the moisture in and weeds down. I ran out of straw in November 2015, so I ended up getting more in February 2016 and covered the remaining grass. The spring straw still killed that grass, even with less time to work. The demonic weeds that continuously broke through were campanella and bind weed. The rest of my results were pure magic.

*This video takes place November 2016 - I'm putting my garden to bed after the first year of harvest.*

The only fertilizer I used was a bit of Happy Frog and some backyard compost. The garden blew minds.

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Tomato plants as tall as me, peppers bigger than my hand, cucumbers (which I've never been able to successfully grow) as long as my forearm, and squash bigger than a baby were quickly emerging from the straw.

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We were literally giving squash away in exchange for hugs.

The first frost, was more of a stress inducer than it has been in years past. I was out in the yard past dark putting my babies in a giant fort to keep them warm. I'm thankful for all of our sheets. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to those green tomatoes.

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We had nearly another month of ripening time before I had to pick everything and fill our house with a harvest much too big for our family of four.

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"♡ I'm not going to lie, I cried a tiny bit in my garden today. Frosty nights are coming. I'm so thankful for every last bit of our harvest/produce this year. What an amazing trial run with a front yard farm. I'm looking forward to planting seeds and starting again in 2017. This is my tiny love letter to the earth. ♡" -10/11/16

I'm plotting where to put things next year. I upped the number of bales I ordered to 80 (fall 2016) from 50 (fall 2015). I'm covering the back raised beds with straw this fall too. I'm a believer.

Q&A:

"How do you actually plant something in the thick straw?"

If I was planting a start, I simply pushed the straw aside and dug down into the earth. I combined a layer of compost with the soil before putting the start in the ground. I packed the soil down around it and pushed the straw back around the base of the plant. For seeds I just didn't dig as deeply into the soil. I covered the row of seeds with a lesser amount of straw and added more straw as the seedlings emerged.

"How do you keep deer away?"

I'm not sure if we just lucked out, or if the stakes freak them out, but we used this product and had no signs of deer. We have, in the past, grown pumpkins and they were consumed, upon ripening, in no time flat.

I'm still learning. I'm learning from Ruth's books, videos and magic. I'm learning from my own trial and error. Growing your own food is important. The most important piece of advice I can give is to just try it. Start small, plant a few seeds and see what magic you can grow.

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