Sherry & Terry's Blog

Fertile Ground For Change

Organic gardening, much like most things in life is a process, a work in progress. Growing up with parents who were avid gardeners was no guarantee towards having an organic green thumb.

Our parents were of the generation that enthusiastically used fertilizers. Somehow, much like the push for new parents to use infant formulas for newborns, fertilizer companies managed to convince our parents they just weren't doing it right. Fertilizers were used like second nature, used without question.

As an eight year old, I remember driving with my folks south down Richmond's Number Five Road and seeing the Mylora Farms sign. This farmer's market sold organic produce. It really didn't mean anything to me aside from the fact that one of their tractors was decorated and towed a large wagon of colourful fruits and vegetables in the annual Pacific National Exhibition parade in Vancouver during late August.

My parents did not use a compost, thinking it was too dirty. Fruit and vegetable peelings went into the garbage with all the other trash. Our next door neighbours used an open compost bin made of wooden planks. I had never seen one before and Mr. H. took pride in being an organic gardener. However, unbeknownst to him, his wife had a bag of fertilizer stashed in the crawl space of their home and she would add it when he was away at work! She whispered to me, "Just to be safe."

My parents, like many gardeners, hired a tractor operator to come and plough the garden's soil every planting season. The first ploughing was to do a general turning and the soil was left to dry for about a week. Then the tractor arrived to do a more intensive job leaving the soil fine and ready to seed.

When Terry and I bought our first house in 1979, we continued to call in the tractor. We hoed, weeded and cultivated as was the norm. In 1983, our niece gave Terry a book by Ruth Stout called the No Work Garden Book and still it took us until 1993 to get around to mulching. Old habits die hard! 

When we bought our current (1957) home in 1988, it was a gardener's nightmare! An elderly bachelor renter whom, it seemed, had never heard of a lawnmower, had let the front and backyards grow into four feet tall grasses which had collapsed and become a two foot high carpet! As ugly as the landscape of the property was, we could see the great potential in this quarter acre. Over and over, Terry mowed down the grass down until we could see dirt and eventually over time, a lawn appeared. The cut tall grasses were place where we decided the veggie garden would be and that was the initial start of our foray into mulch gardening. 

We graduated from ploughing to doing our own rototilling when we inherited a used rototiller from Terry's parents but in the early 1990's, we finally saw the light! It really began to dawn on us that we were not doing a good service to the soil if we were chopping our insect and worm friends into millions of little pieces. Thankfully, we had never used fertilizers. By this time,we had a young brood of three sons and time was in short supply and there in the bookshelf staring at us was Ruth Stout's No Work Garden Book!Ruth Stout's No Work Gardening Book

Ruth Stout was born in 1884 in Kansas, one of nine children of a Quaker family. She moved to New York at the age of 18 and married when she was 45. She too gardened conventionally until she decided it was too much work so she experimented using hay and other vegetable matter. It became obvious to her that mulching was her answer to "getting top results with a minimum of labour." 

Ruth was a contributing writer for 15 years for Organic Gardening magazine when her No Work Garden Book was published in 1971 at the age of 86! We follow most of her mulching techniques using 4-8 inches of grass clippings and leaves. Hardcore Ruth Stout followers would not be watering nor even moving soil to plant seeds. It was common for her to just shift the mulch covering and toss the seeds. Potatoes were dropped and covered with hay. No water, no weeding, no digging shallow trenches. If weeds appeared, more hay was placed over them.

So, we thank Ruth Stout for teaching us many good green thumb lessons. She helped us  simplify our gardening lives, proved to us that Mother Nature really does know best, that mulching her way keeps the soil moist, the insects and worms happy, the weeds down and the harvest bountiful. It's straight-forward and simple, as are the best things in life!

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