Friday, February 17, 2012

Golden Day with Rotten Hay

When I turned on the news on January 8th, I could not believe what I learned. The next two days were projected to be in the 50's.
 In January. In Northern Illinois.
I immediately called my co-worker, Lyn, and asked for buckets of manure. Bring as much as you can, I told her. The next call I made was to my boss. I told her I would be taking half days for the next two days, leaving at noon.
My plan was to work in my yard, enjoying the unbelievable gift of nice weather.
In January. In Northern Illinois.
True enough, the days were incredibly warm and sunny-a different kind of sunny that cast low and long shadows in the yard.
Here is the before. The raised veggie beds were never cleaned up, the parsley and tomato beds still sported skeletons of the plants from summer. The blue barrel is what Lyn brought me from her barn.
She usually brings manure and it has been pretty composted, in the past. This day, she brought something I had heard about, even read about, but never dreamt I would have access to it.

When I first began to garden, in Louisville, KY, I read all the books I could get my hands on. In Kentucky, I was faced with red clay. We had 2 small kids and not a lot of money, I didn't know how to bust thru the clay, until I learned about "double digging". The good news was, I was a youngish woman. The bad news was, I was going to double dig my garden. It worked, but it was slow and laborious.
When we moved to Memphis, the soil was even worse and I was even older! I had to find a better way. A little research, speaking with my Master Gardener instructors, I was introduced to this lady:
Ruth Stout
Ruth Stout wrote a book, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method. I was captivated by this crazy, charming lady. She did not want to waste any growing season, waiting for the local farmer to plow her garden. He was frequently making her late in planting. She began piling something called "spoiled hay" on her gardens. She had a neighbor with livestock and he brought over the hay from the stalls. 
In my city girl mind, I could not fathom such a thing. I had never seen spoiled hay and did not see how such a thing could help break thru the red clay of Tennessee. Living in a large suburb of Memphis, there was no way I was getting my hands on any hay, spoiled or otherwise, so I became a compost fiend. We all know what good compost does....

Forward 20 years to this blue barrel in my yard on a 60° in Northern Illinois. The barrel was so heavy, I needed a dolly to move it. I pushed and pulled it over to the raised beds and dumped it out onto the first one I came to. 
I could not believe what I saw, but I knew what it was, immediately. 
Spoiled hay. 
I had to laugh as I shoveled this wonderful stuff onto the 4 raised beds. I thought about reading Ruth Stout's book and how I thought there was NO WAY I would ever be able to garden with her "No Dig" method.  I filled the raised beds and had enough to move into the new Deer Bed. 
I don't know how much of this plant material is going to survive, the other side of the trees and shrubs have devastating deer damage, but this spoiled hay can only help. (see what I mean about long, low shadows?)
The hours ticked away much too quickly and I felt a sense of urgency as the sun got lower. I really wanted to move as much of my Impervious Pile of Grass as I could. 
As I got my shovel into the middle, I found a surprise. 
At this point, I had help. Nick came out and began to dig as I tossed the rough compost onto every single landscape bed in the yard. It felt like a race against time. The sun was not waiting for us to finish, it continued to set. Soon, it was sitting on the horizon and the wind was blowing cold again. Nick helped me put away the pitch fork and the shovels and the wheelbarrow. 
With everything put away, I took a cup of coffee out to the deck as the sun finally disappeared. I felt like I had really pulled one over on someone!
To be able to put the garden to bed so late in the season? With spoiled hay? On such a gorgeous day?
In January! In Northern Illinois! 
I watched the sun until no part of it was visible, knowing I would not steal another day until March or April. 
An incredible sense of gratitude came over me. I thought to myself, "Ruth Stout would be proud". 
More college visits have kept me busy. We head to sunny Florida, this week. We will have to wrap this up, very soon.


  1. Sissy, this spoiled hay seems like spun gold for the garden. I'm sure it will bring great results in the spring. Congratulations on getting it on there in January!

  2. Isn't it nice when you can get something done when you shouldn't have been able to. That good feeling will still be with you in Spring. Have fun in Fl.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. Hi sissy,
    I, too, read Ruth Stout. I was amazed by her method of just throwing compost material on top her gardens and then planting in them the next spring. I think it was the "No Work Garden Book" or something similar.

    I bet your garden will be amazing this year!

  4. Spoiled Hay-Hah! More like golden GOLD! What a gift! And congrats on a few fine days in January--and an upcoming trip to sunshine and warmth! Lucky!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Pure gold Sissy! Pure gold! You are going to have the most beautiful gardens this year!
    Have a good time in FL!

  6. Anonymous6:13 PM

    Sissy, Oh My this post was very interesting as I never pulled plants from garden last year or as you say put it to bed..May have to call the local horse farm was 45 degrees here in SW Michigan!!!
    Thank You for stopping by today and Yes, I'm feeling better and energized by your post. I long to place my feet in the dirt/earth and be re-energized!!

  7. Lucky you to get this spoiled hay; your garden is going to love it. And I knew that impervious pile of grass would turn to gold eventually:)I'm going to have to check out Ruth Stout's book--I'm always ready for anything that involves less work!

    Enjoy sunny Florida!

  8. I love your gardening enthusiasm...
    It's been warm here too and i am loving it. Today we even took our dogs on a long walk in the State excellent! Can you believe we have February, in Wisconsin? I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but this might just be a real early spring. Yipeeee! Enjoy Florida...we are going in March. I might need sunscreen here before that!

  9. What a great post to read! I felt your excitement from the beginning, your racing with the sun, and your gratitude at the end of the day. Hurray for you.


  10. Very lucky to get that stuff! And it has been wonderful to have a warmer winter. I have to fix my compost set up --too many tree roots are growing up into it.

  11. Just fantastic. I hope you get another day like that. We are having a crazy winter, but it will be another month before I might be able to see a sign of spring!

    Hope you are enjoying your winter.


  12. Congratulations! I cleaned my coop---I have quite a bit of spoiled straw and chicken poo to use this year. The ratio is good as I clean them pretty often and they get outside most days. Wish I could send some to ya! Does straw work as good as hay????

  13. Oh you lucky girl to get that gold for your garden beds. Your garden will be so energized this year. LOL! A lot of hard work but well worth the efforts. This winter has been good to us here in the north. I hope it continues. Have a wonderful week Sissy.

  14. Even though I grow a large veggie garden every year, I had never heard of spoiled hay! That's so interesting!! It will be fun to see if it really works as Ruth Stout said. Amazing that you could do all that in January so it's a good thing you took advantage of that unusually mild day:-) xoxo

  15. It has been such a treat to have a mild winter hasn't it. I enjoyed reading this humorous post tremendously! I haven't heard off or read Ruth Stout's book, but she seems like a gardener and writer I would really enjoy.
    I bet it feels great to get so much work done. In January! In Northern Illinois!

  16. I like the famous line shouted: "serenity now"

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