Archive for October, 2010

A Garden Bedtime Story

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Once upon a time, a long time ago, so long ago it was before DDT was even banned and before the Southwark Queen Village Community Garden was even a gleam in Libby’s eye, there lived two very interesting gardeners. They weren’t a prince and princess, but they had kingdoms they ruled wisely – they did it organically. One was a stubborn old Connecticut  garden writer named  Ruth Stout, who believed that mulch was the cure to just about everything in the garden,  as well as a great preventer of aching backs and repetitive motion disorders in the gardener. The other was Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening magazine, which published Stout’s columns.

“The good gardener should be devoting a lot of time to his garden in autumn,” Rodale wrote in The Basic Book of Organic Gardening (1971).  To which she added in her book The Ruth Stout  No-Work Garden Book (also 1971), “Except for strawberries, putting the garden to bed is no job at all for the year-around mulcher.”

Both of them were staunch believers – nay, proselytizers – of “putting your garden to bed.”

“If you don’t believe it, turn to Nature. What is she doing…?  Look where you will, you will find that Nature is scrupulous in blanketing the earth against the rigors of wintertime,” rhapsodized Rodale’s book.

Stout was more methodical: “Decide where your tomatoes will be next season and put corn stalks, cabbage roots, etc…..”  In other words, drop your pole beans, chop the stiff squash vines, lay down your pepper plants, use all the organic detritus you have.  “Now spread hay thickly over this refuse. When you plant your tomatoes your soil will be soft, moist and weedless,” she proclaimed. “With a thick mulch (weeds) never get a break.”  And in the spring? “You just pull aside the hay and plant.”

Rodale was less sanguine about weeds. “One year’s seeding makes seven years weeding,” he quoted the old adage. But he, too, recommended planning your next year’s garden as you start putting this year’s garden to bed. Beans will grow in very poor soil, but some other crops – rhubarb, melons, asparagus – benefit from the addition of compost or manure to the garden detritus.  Then lay down that hay!

Stout  recommends eight inches  for asparagus –loosely  so the stalks can wiggle up  through it next spring. Thickly for everything  else.  And the strawberry exception? She recommends a light covering at first, to discourage any new growth if the weather turns warm. Then when the temperature hits 20 or less, she recommends a full ten inches, adding:  “How would you like to lie in bed on cold winter nights without a cover?”

Oh, and their gardens lived happily ever after.

– Linda Witt