Lately I’ve been making a lot of hay. There are places on our property where the grass comes up to my hips, so we have no lack of grass for it. We’re also more than 2 months since our last significant downpour, so we have heaps of sun with which to dry it.
I don’t use any fancy equipment or machinery. I do it all by hand. It’s bloody good exercise. Each day, I spend some time with my trusty Niwashi Shark and wheelbarrow. I cut strings of kikuyu from around trees and buildings, and from under electric fences. I add it to my row of hay. I turn the entire row with a rake 2-3 times a day to make sure it dries evenly.
In a week or two, the hay is dry and it becomes bedding material. We use it in the chicken coop, in the duckling nursery, and Bunbun has a pile in which to burrow and make his bed. Once the hay is soiled, it will go into a big pile to compost down, and wait for its next life in my new project.
Recently I got my hands on a couple of books by Ruth Stout (How to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back published 1955, and Gardening Without Work published 1961). In them, she describes her life in her garden in the American 1930’s-50’s. Ruth and her husband purchased 55 acres in Connecticut. Then (having so much space to play with), she promptly went about creating a giant garden.
Like me, Ruth had problems with her garden. It was attacked by weeds and pests, and never produced the way she wanted to. She couldn’t grow things she wanted, while simultaneously ending up with gluts of things she could never use herself.
In time, Ruth stumbled upon the gardening method she is now famous for. Then significantly reduced the size of her garden. She gardened well into her 90’s with her motto of keeping things simple.
Reading her books, I like Ruth, a lot. She never worked past 2pm; took afternoon naps; and only let people work in her garden if they actually wanted to be there. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t very inspired by it all. Even though there is nearly a century between us, I can relate to a lot of Ruth’s problems, experiences and mistakes. I’ve decided I’m going to take her advice.
So we’re going to start again with our garden. One of our bigger projects at the moment is to build a “small” fenced garden using Ruth Stout’s gardening method. It’ll be somewhere between 7 and 9 square meters – a perfectly respectable size. Enough to feed Richard and I, the occasional guests, and Bunbun.
The truth is, I’m finding our big garden difficult to manage. It’s raided regularly by possums and ducklings. Pigs and rabbits are also a threat. Kikuyu is constantly breaking its way through my garden beds. Wind batters it regularly. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking struggle.
While I’ll always have big beds for crops like garlic, potatoes, popcorn and black beans, I also want a safe space with good soil to grow things away from the constant threats. I want to enjoy my garden again, instead of fighting it.
We’ve already got most of the building materials for the fence, though I will spend some money on good posts. The thing I really need for Ruth’s gardening method is an imperial fuckton of hay. Ruth reckons 20cm of hay mulch, minimum. So I’m making that while the sun is shining.
The next step is to erect the fence. The goal is to have the garden built by autumn, so it can have the winter to rot down the mulch. Stay tuned to find out how it goes.