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Down the Road

A new type of gardening
By Milton M. Gross
Mar 16, 2014 - 12:25:31 AM

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Here it is mid-March, some of the ice has melted off our driveway, and it is time to start thinking about gardening.

The new type of gardening I will do this year.

Well, it may not actually be new. But it's new to me. I just read about it. After using a different "new" for the past 30 years.

My very first garden, not including my try at growing onions as a high-school student in the Future Farmers of America club, was among the weeds in Swanville. I picked my first tomatoes out of that mess.

Which I kept hidden from visitors, as it seemed to be a mess.

Today (with lots of cover crop seeds for sale) that mess is called a cover crop. Nice how time can improve things.

I went online to look at cover crops and found some pretty interesting reading. I also didn't learn some new words, such as macronutrients, micronutrients, leguminous, fabaceae, rhizobial, and a few more. The educational part may be all right, but I'm just looking for a way to make my organic gardening a bit easier. (Maybe next winter after my organic crops are all "in," I'll try to learn what these words mean. When I'm done, I'm fairly sure I'll be all "in.")

Anyhow, to shorten this technical, educational stuff a bit, for about 30 years, I've been sharing the "new" way of gardening I learned by reading Gardening Without Work, by Ruth Stout. When I first saw the title, I knew Stout wasn't telling the truth. All gardening requires too much work. I knew that, but I read her book anyway. (A new edition is being offered by

But her way was less work! It involved not plowing and keeping the weeds away but instead placing three or more inches of straw among the crops and between the rows, if you're still old fashioned enough to have rows. By golly, she was right -- sort of. Once you got that straw down, weeds didn't grow....until the layer of straw grew thin from turning into good garden earth as it lay between the rows of crops. Then you had to put more straw down, which, my not being a farmer, meant buying straw.

I bought it, put it in the back of the car so no one could ever sit there again due to the bits and pieces of straw that would never come off the seat, drove it home, unloaded it, broke the strings, and spread it. See how much work that wasn't?

Next came the fun. The writer explained that if visitors laughed or scoffed at the straw, you would pick up some and throw it at them. If they laughed or scoffed again, you threw some more at them. You never got to explain the straw, but you kept the number of visitors away -- a kind of pest control.

I've been using that method these 30 years, but I've given up explaining it to the garden variety gardeners who use tractors and chemicals in their gardens. Their minds are made up; they love playing with tractors...

...and with bags of chemicals.

I've never used chemicals, because (A) they sound evil and (B) I never could afford them.

But cover crops, the method also known as soil fertility management, or green manure, is supposed to remove all that trouble of buying the straw, brining it home, putting it on the garden, and throwing it at visitors. You just plant this stuff and -- and here's where their directions vary a bit from my soil fertility management plans.

They recommend waiting for autumn to plant the cover crop. Whoa, that means I've already gone through my usual straw chores all summer. Never mind. I'll plant it early in the spring.

Next spring, they say, after it has grown a bit -- grown in a Maine winter? -- you plow it under to nurture the earth and then plant your garden. My plan is to hold off on that cover crop til early spring, then plant it. While it is trying to grow -- grow in early spring in Maine?, I'll then plant my regular garden veggies....just dig a little trench among the growing-in-early- spring cover crop and stand back.

While I'm standing back, I'll explain that cover crop, according to some website the name of which I forget, produced good earth several inches deep compared to just where the straw meets the ground. (This sounds especially helpful if I plant the veggies several inches deep...whoa, sounds like a lot of needless work.)

Those veggies I plant should grow so fast among that cover crop, I'll probably have to stand back a fair distance. (While I'm standing back, I also can think about the straw I'm not buying, transporting, using, or throwing at visitors.)

In the fall, I won't plant new cover crop. Why would I with the current one doing so well? (Another advantage of the cover crop is it may look a lot like weeds, so I won't have to get rid of the weeds -- if I can find them among the cover crop.

Why not just let that same cover crop grow year after year?

I don't know yet, but I'll probably find out next year.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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