Ruth Stout Gardening Method
There are several gardening methods available for those who wish to grow their own vegetables and fruit. If you do not have time for hoeing and weeding this summer, or if you are physically unable to bend and toil in the garden in the usual way then you may want to consider the Ruth Stout gardening method. Ms. Stout wrote several books about her method of no-till, no-weed gardening. She gave lectures, wrote articles and had visitors to her garden from all over the world. What’s more, Ruth, a liberal, out-of-the-box thinker lived and gardened well into her nineties.
The Lady, Herself. . .
Ruth was one of nine children born into a Quaker family. Her brother was a well-known novelist in his day and an avid orchid grower. Ruth is said to have smashed saloons with Carrie Nations in her youth. This lively woman grew up in Kansas and then moved to New York when she was 18. It wasn’t until the age of 45, when she moved to Connecticut with her husband, that Ruth took up gardening. And it was considerably later when she developed her gardening method.
Ruth liked to boast that she grew all the vegetables for two people, had a few flower beds, did all of her housework, her cooking and answered a lot of mail and she never did any of it after 11 a.m. Her gardening system does not consist of any plowing, or weeding. According to Ruth, she didn’t use fertilizer or chemicals of any sort on her garden. She also did not water.
This is how one couple does it. . .
Ruth Stout Gardening Method
Ruth developed her method by watching nature. She noticed that nature did not require any hoeing or weeding to propagate plants. The ground was covered with a layer of dead leaves in winter and in the spring new life still sprouted.
What is Ruth’s secret? Permanent mulch. Ruth kept a mulch of hay over her garden year-round. This mulch keeps in moisture, prevents weeds from growing, and as it rots it fertilizes the soil. Ruth recommended starting with a layer of household vegetable waste—the hottest material available to the home gardener. In Ruth’s time she could easily enough find a neighbor who was getting rid of hay that had become moldy and thus unfit for livestock. She would happily take this material and place it over her garden. While Ruth preferred hay for mulching, she said that pretty much any plant material would do. According to Ruth one should keep a mulch layer of approximately eight inches. Over time this layer will be tamped down and flattened and new mulch will need to be added. It is a continual process. After a few years, as the mulch has had a chance to break down and nourish the soil, the garden will yield more abundantly.
Nothing in this world is perfect and the Ruth Stout gardening method is no exception. There are a few plants such as cockleburs and morning glories that mulching won’t kill, but Ms. Stout argues that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. For the most part the mulch will keep weeds in line and out of sight. Which then begs the question, how can this mulch keep weeds at bay but allow vegetables to grow. Weeds still grow of course, but when they appear, simply place more mulch on the offending plant and it will be smothered. One could also turn over the hay should weeds start to grow or the hay to sprout. Stout’s gardening method does require some work but gardeners who have tried this method insist that it is still easier than tilling and hoeing.
What about acidity? If one put pine needles and oak leaves into his mulch mightn’t it become too acidic? Stout’s response to acidity was to simply add lime or wood ash.
Another drawback is the sheer amount of material needed to keep reasonable mulch over a garden. A 50 x 50 foot garden would require about 25 fifty-pound bales of hay. Also, hay may have been abundant enough in Ruth’s day to find farmers willing to throw the stuff out, but these days a person is likely to be paying for hay. As mentioned before, however, any plant material will do including grass clippings, fallen leaves, etc.
Mice, voles and slugs are all attracted to the mulching material-- another drawback of Ruth’s method. Ruth attested that she never saw any of these creatures in her garden but others have not been so lucky. I have read, however, that chickens love slugs. Cats are good for mice and voles. If you have pets they may be useful in keeping your garden pest free, only take care not to give them free-range in the garden for too long or they could end up doing more damage than the creatures of which you are trying to rid your garden.
The Ruth Stout gardening method is relatively simple and easy to maintain. It requires no special skills or knowledge, no back breaking labor and very little time to keep up. It is ideal for the aged and the infirm in that it requires little to no bending or getting down on one’s knees. Best of all, those who have tried it say nothing but good things about it. If you are looking for a simple, time saving gardening method, consider Ruth Stout’s gardening method.
More by Ruth Stout
- Ruth Stout And Permanent Hay Mulch
Her secret was a permanent straw or old-hay mulch over everything
- Mulching Tips from the World of Ruth Stout: Organic Gardening
Garden legend and personality Ruth Stout dishes the dirt on mulch and explains why she lays it on so thick.
- Ruth Stout' s System
How to use mulch to cut down on weeding and heavy labor in your garden. A reprint from Ruth Stout' s book, Gardening Without Work, published by Lyons Press.