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No Dig Gardening- The Ruth Stout Method

Updated on May 28, 2013

No-Dig Gardening the Ruth Stout Method

No-dig gardening is a gardening method that was pioneered by Ruth Stout. She also claimed that her garden was not only no-dig, but also no-water, no-compost and no weeding. She was a revolutionary gardener in her time, a real gardening rebel. By making observations of nature and thinking independently she was able to go against the accepted way of doing things and simplify overly-complicated processes.

Ruth was born in Kansas and grew up in a house with nine children. When she married, she moved to a house in the country in New York. One of her first tasks at that house was to start a garden, and she was surprised and frustrated to find out that she was expected to rent machinery and workers to get her garden going. She felt like things could be done better. After years of experimenting and observing nature she found that gardens will grow just as well with a fraction of the work when you modify the standard methods

No-Dig Gardening
No-Dig Gardening


Ruth claimed that she grew all the vegetables needed for her family with no digging, no watering, no composting and no weeding. The main element of her method is mulch. Lots of mulch, which consists mainly of hay. To start, cover your garden with at least six inches of hay and compost materials. The mulch will compact as the season goes on and it is stepped on and rained on. This is known as permanent mulch. The thick layer of mulch traps the moisture in the ground, which eliminates the need for watering. It also eliminates the issue of trying to walk around in a muddy garden.

Many people think of mulching as a task to be completed in the fall season. Ruth suggests that you should not wait, you should start mulching as soon as you learn about this method. It can be started at any time of year.

I get my hay bales from the hardware store or farm store for about $5 for a standard square bale. You might be able to find bales that have been sitting out all winter (with the added benefit of being pre-rotted for you) from a local farmer at a much lower price. They can no longer use these bales as feed so they are usually happy to sell them at a low price.

Ruth Stout Books on Amazon - Where to Buy Ruth Stout Books

Below are the three books written by Ruth Stout. Gardening Without Work is an essential book if you are going to try the no-dig gardening method. I have found that the leaf scoops are incredibly helpful for moving mulch and hay around the garden.

no-dig gardening
no-dig gardening

Planting and Composting

Another huge benefit of this method is that you do not need a compost pile. Ruth believed that you should skip "that tortuous business" of building composting areas, turning the compost, and hauling it to your garden. Just throw your compostable materials such as kitchen scraps and leaves directly into the mulch layer of your garden, then toss another thin layer of hay on top of the compost material. The bottom layers of hay and compost will continuously break down, feeding your garden and enriching your soil. All you have to do is add new hay once in a while to replenish what is lost to the soil.

This mulching and composting method also encourages large populations of earthworms, and the worms aren't disturbed by any digging or machinery. The mulch also prevents weeds from growing. If you see a spot where weeds are poking through, just add more hay to that spot.

When it is time to plant seeds you will need to pull the mulch layer back and place the seeds into the soil. Ruth had a different take on potatoes, though. She would just toss sprouted potatoes onto the mulch and she claimed this method always produced large and healthy potato plants.

"There is peace in the garden. Peace and results." -Ruth Stout

Ruth Stout's Garden

In this video you can see Ruth herself talking about her life and her gardening method.

Guestbook Comments - How has no-dig gardening worked for you?

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    • chi kung profile image

      chi kung 5 years ago

      I have a book on it with full instructions - if I'll have a garden I'll definitely follow the instructions - so much fun this way!

    • sharonbellis profile image

      Sharon Bellissimo 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      This sounds like a great method for people who perhaps work full time and have little time for the garden - that's me! Thank you for an informative lens.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 5 years ago

      I have heard of this type of gardening and it is really interesting :)

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Very interesting. I am hoping to be able to garden in the future and would be interested in doing her method.