[tomato] Was: Red Plastic Mulch; Now Hay Books

Doreen Howard (Tomato@GlobalGarden.com)
Mon, 1 Nov 1999 19:27:18 -0600

I did not use plastic mulch this year, but I tried Charles Wilber's hay book
mulch.  He is the 83-year Alabaman who wrote the book, Growing Guinness
World Record Tomatoes.  I interviewed him for an article on his method that
will appear in the Jan. 2000 issue of Old Farmer's Almanac's Gardener's
Companion.  I was impressed by some of his ways.  The man doesn't have a
great deal of education, and he doesn't know about soil biology.  But, his
experience and a keen sense of observation have taught him lessons
scientists are only now understanding.  He said that he lays his hay mulch
out in books (the sections off the bales) and butts them together, forming a
solid, thick mat.  I had always used hay as mulch, but I fluffed it up like
everyone else.  The fluffy hay did a good job, but soil-borne disease still
splashed up on to the tomato leaves.

Last spring I used Wilber's method of books that abutted.  The soil was
cold, and we had a freeze after I planted.  I wrapped the transplants with
newspaper, and they came through OK. I had absolutely NO disease on any of
my 8 heirloom varieties, despite close spacing and overcrowding due to
rampant vine growth.  When I pulled up my vines about 2 weeks ago, I found
the hay half degraded, but still in a solid mat.  The soil underneath was
very black and teaming with earthworms.  From my 8 plants, I harvested over
500 pounds of fruit.
Doreen Howard