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No-Risk Garden

by Tara

Last fall, Tyler and I surrounded our camper with hay bales from our friend Patty's farm in order to prevent cold winter winds from rushing underneath our camper. Months later, the bales had served their purpose and were decomposing into wet, rotty compost, while hosting flush after flush of rubbery black mushrooms. So, we removed the stuff by the pitchfork-ful and deposited it in a pile by our compost bins.

Camper in First Snow of 2013

It eventually occurred to me that some people grow gardens in rotting straw. And if people do it in straw, why not in hay? This spurred an evening of excited googling, as I grew more and more inspired to create a zero-risk, mostly zero effort garden. I was even more raring to go after I watched this video of gardening maven Ruth Stout, author of a kick-ass book called Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent.

Originally, I'd been waiting to make a garden until we could dedicate the time and energy to designing the perfect array of permaculture-inspired, no-weed-no-till-raised-beds. But, considering that we won't start on that until next year, I decided it would be fun to try an experiment right now. Ruth's laissez-faire attitude helped me realize that I could.

So, I built a simple box around the pile using leftover wood scraps:

Rotting Hay Garden

I sprinkled on what remained of last year's potting soil.

Planting Garden

I ran up to the house site to grab a package of shims we used for our window and door installations, and stuck them in as markers.

Red Onion Planted (Shim as Label)

I tossed in an onion that had been sprouting in the compost bin...

Planting Sprouted Onion (from Compost Pile)

And I chucked in some potatoes that were sprouting in a basket in the camper kitchen.

Planting Sprouted Potato

As for the rest of the garden, I sprinkled in pea seeds and collards seeds, kale seeds and basil seeds. I tossed in lettuce mix and cucumber seeds. I planted several kinds of peppers, a pot of dill, and a bed of garlic chives. And the best part? All of this came from half-emptied seed packets that our friend Joy kindly sent me earlier this year. Thanks, Joy!

No-Risk Rotted Hay Garden!

All in all, I spent zero dollars on a garden this spring. Since I'm busy working on the house 99.9% of the time, this thing is going to have to be pretty self-sufficient. If we get food, great! If not, it will have been a great experiment, and the first of many gardens to come.

Next Entry
A Picnic Table!


how very inventive, already looking forward to a harvest post!! My Mom always uses several months old straw/cow manure mix in fall when tilting the soil. Free fertilizer on a dairy farm.
Posted by Margrit on July 1st, 2014 at 7:44 AM
We got a copy of Ruth Stout's "No Work Garden Book" in a free box of books in front of a used books bookstore in Chicago. Good thing I love digging through free books :) The best gardening book we have!
Good luck on the potatoes! We also have Egyptian walking onions that spread on their own...We will dig them up and put them on our land.
And everything looks very lush there!
Posted by Joan on July 1st, 2014 at 7:02 PM
Woo! No fuss gardening! That's the way to do it!
Posted by maddie on July 3rd, 2014 at 8:29 PM
Oooh, walking onions are so fun. I have no idea if they grow up here. I can't wait to see what comes up for you! The kale has been delicious so far, but the dill didn't come up for me (or I might have accidentally weeded it out!)
I read somewhere once that you're not supposed to grow potatoes from grocery store potatoes because of some kind of fungus that they leave in the soil. Supposedly you're only supposed to grow from seed potatoes. But I've always been a bit skeptical about that. Can't wait to see how yours do!
Posted by Joy on July 3rd, 2014 at 9:42 PM
Thanks, all!

Joy - The potatoes are from our local organic farm, so I'm not worried about them leaving behind a fungus. They're doing the best of everything, actually! Them and the peas you sent me. :-)
Posted by Tara on July 16th, 2014 at 10:30 PM
Hey, that's really creative! Thank you for sharing your tips and pics!
Posted by Mary Preston on October 27th, 2014 at 9:56 AM