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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Experiment: Hay Potatoes and Ruth Stout

Monday, May 03, 2010

Experiment: Hay Potatoes and Ruth Stout          

I’ve been reading about growing potatoes in hay. I know people who have done it. I’ve even tired it—and failed! In the last article I read about the method, the guy layered spoiled hay with goat manure in it and potatoes and some dirt in a trench. Since I am sheet mulching a new bed in the front yard, I don’t have a lot of chicken yard hay—partially composted straw and chicken manure—available.  I decided to use some spoiled hay and unscreened compost instead. I figure I can layer on some more organic material as it becomes available.

This way of growing potatoes is not new. Ruth Stout wrote about growing whole gardens this way back in the 1950s and earlier. (There is a video of Ruth in her 90s talking about her life, garden method, and planting potatoes on Youtube: .)

Most of the stuff I am reading now is just repackaged Ruth Stout and her Mulch Gardening Method. She would say, “My Garden Is My Compost Pile!”  Rodale published one of her books in the 1970s entitled The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, and Cornerstone republished her How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back at about that time as well. She has a great down-to-earth conversational writing style and a fine sense of humor. I enjoy rereading her work and find myself gardening more like she did every year as my back gets crankier and my gardens get bigger.

Mother Earth Magazine has a nice article on Ruth Stout  you might find interesting.  Here are a few more:   and

I hope you enjoy reading and watching Ruth and perhaps trying out her method this growing season. She was quite a grand gal. I hope I am doing and gardening when I am her age! Begonia


2 Comments | Post Feedback

Preparing the Bed


I've tried growing a lot of different things in this dry spot on the south side of the house. Really hardy perennials were my only successes. I've moved them all out to try growing potatoes here.

First Layer of Hay and Compost


I've put the hay down on the cleared ground and have started to add the unscreened compost. You could use dirt or well rotted manure. The soil here is pretty rich already because I have been adding compost to this spot for years. I just want the potatoes to get a shot of nutrition right away.

Planting the Potatoes


I don't cut my potatoes. I just try to buy small ones with a good number of eyes. That way I am paying for eyes not potato starch! There is room for a couple more seed potatoes in this bed.



I am watering the lower layer because this is a very dry spot to begin with, and I don't know how much rain will fall here because the house with it's hip roof shelters this spot.

Cover Up!


I am putting a good foot of mulch on top of the potatoes to begin with. I will put more on as they grow up through it and it rots down a bit.

Watching and Waiting


I put some fencing around the bed to keep it tidy. When the potatoes are harvested, this spot will be occupied by Cold Frame #2, and we will be one step closer to having the south side being mainly a food producing area.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | By bulrush

I was wondering. Grass smells bad when it decomposes. Does hay smell bad when it decomposes?

Good Question: No Smell!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | By begonia

Grass smells bad when it decomposes only when it mats together and goes anaerobic. (When no air is present during composting, grass stinks like liquid or pig manure!) If you add leaves or some other rough carbon material to grass clippings, it makes a good addition to your compost pile or can be a good mulch. You can also use it alone as a mulch if you apply it in a thin layer and fluff it. You have to keep an eye on it though because as soon as it mats it can become a problem.

When I use hay as a mulch, I break up the flakes a bit. Even when a flake isn't broken up, it is rough enough that enough air gets in that you don't have an odor problem. I did remove a little of the hay from the potatoes as pictured. I need to do an update on my potato experiment! Begonia

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