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A generation ago, Ruth Stout was world famous as the "No-Work Gardener." Her secret was a layer of permanent straw or old-hay mulch over everything.
She was best known for growing potatoes by "just throwing them" on the ground and covering them with hay.
But I usually end up mulching with half-dollar bales of half-rotted wet hay that won't fluff up like fresh, dry hay or like that straw she talks about just tossin' on and kickin' aside. These can be laid out on the soil like floor tiles, and will dry and intermesh to some extent in the wind and sun.New potato vines can have a struggle getting through the compressed hay.
But toads adore a hay mulched garden, as do slugs and snails.Drawbacks that never seemed to bother Miss Stout included slugs and snails, cold, wet spring weather, and mice and voles that would tunnel around, safe from predators, under the hay mat.
In wet years, potato sets under a deep mulch will rot before they sprout, and slugs will get what's left; it is best to delay mulching till it warms up or plant well-started sets in bare spots raked out in the straw.

Keep the dogs in the backyard and the grass cut short in a wide apron all around the garden to deny deep rodent cover (rabbit and woodchuck cover as well), and don't mulch the garden till the ground dries out and rainfall totals less than an inch a week.You must feed a permanent mulch. While the constant breakdown of the hay into compost attracts earthworms and adds tilth to the soil, it uses up nitrogen that must be replaced. Near the ocean, we can also mulch with salt hay, a species that grows only in the tidal salt marshes.
Last time I priced straw at a garden center, it cost $5 for a two-third-sized 40-pound bale. I learned from Lyman Wood, a contemporary of Miss Stout's and founder of the Garden Way Companies, that when weeds in the hay sprout, you just go along the row with a pitchfork, lifting the hay and dropping it to smash down the new growth. But it's a whole lot easier than hoeing or tilling.I've also found that, after a soaking rain, you can go along a mulched row with a little propane flame-weeder and shrivel new hay and weed sprouts to a frazzle.

Unfortunately, the old vines can't be burned in the fall without taking the mulch with them. In the North, particularly during a long, cool, and wet spring, it can keep soil too wet and cool for top production.If you try the Stout method, the agricultural school experts recommend spreading eight to ten inches of loose straw or hay over seed potatoes and then maintaining a settled-hay mulch of four inches.

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