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The Ultimate Ruth Stout Method Guide for No-Work Gardening + Organic Food

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Is your mind set on growing an organic food garden? But you’re shy of all that toil? Then imagine this – a low-effort, inexpensive approach to gardening that produces an abundance of nutritious organic crops! Say goodbye to the grocery store blues and hello to the no-work Ruth Stout Method of gardening!

The Ruth Stout Method fuses perpetual mulching with a ‘no till’ approach, enabling crop beds to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and self-regulate organic nutrient cycles. Stout’s mulch method regenerates soil ecosystems, allowing healthy crop growth with minimal time, effort, and expense.

no-sweat food garden sounds almost too good to be true! Right? So, who was Ruth Stout, and what does her method entail? How did she develop her gardening technique? And why should you use her system in your garden? 

Read on to discover Ruth’s way to Living Soil!

Who Was Ruth Stout?

Gardening without work -Ruth Stout 1of2 (ENG-MAGYAR)

Ruth Stout (1884 – 1980) was a famous American author of gardening books and autobiographies. Her maverick but eco-friendly, no-work method of vegetable gardening continues to inspire 21st-century permaculture gardeners, regenerative farmers, and soil ecologists.

Ruth was born in Kansas in 1884, the year the fountain pen was invented. Her parents, John and Lucetta Stout, were Quakers who together raised nine children. Ruth was child number five. 

John Stout was a schoolteacher and then a county school superintendent. He farmed as a hobby, and his children were exposed regularly to strawberry picking and soil under their fingernails.

Lucetta Stout was a spiritual soul with a stern belief in individual sovereignty. She taught her children to trust their inner voice and to navigate life with common sense and reverence for Nature. 

  • Ruth drew much from her mother – subtle humor, vegetarianism, and a ‘live and let live’ disposition.

The Stout family wasn’t affluent. But Lucetta gave her children free rein to discover and develop their natural talents. Independent thinking and self-expression reigned supreme over prudish Victorian-era conformity. 

  • While at school, Ruth proved a natural storyteller, writing essays for her classmates and impressing her teachers with her wit. 

In 1902, Ruth left home for New York, where she worked various jobs, from office clerk to factory production-line laborer to famine relief aide in Russia. She remained unmarried until 1929, when, aged 45, she tied the knot with Alfred (Fred) Rossitter, a psychologist with a passion for woodwork. 

When the Great Depression started in 1929 after the Stock Market Crash, Fred and Ruth moved to a 55-acre farm in Poverty Hollow, Redding Ridge, Connecticut. 

Ruth felt immediately impressed by the fecundity of the plants and trees on the farm and, despite having never gardened as an adult, began her crop-growing adventure at the start of her first spring on the farm.

The farm’s crop fields were extensive, and Ruth set about cultivating vegetables the conventional way – plowing, turning fertilizer into the soil, spraying the crops with pesticides, watering, and weeding regularly.

The plowing work got subcontracted. And, the plowmen were, more often than not, unreliable

  • Ruth tilled her vegetable garden beds for 15 years until 1944 when, at the start of spring, the recalcitrant plowman failed to arrive, which drove Ruth to her life-changing moment.

Eager to plant seeds, Ruth stepped into her fallow garden, perennials her only company. 

“We don’t have to plow for you. Why do we have to plow for other vegetables?” She asked an asparagus plant. 

The asparagus plant, Ruth reported, replied: “You don’t. Go ahead and plant.” 

And that’s what she did. Drop seeds on untilled soil, cover them with a moldy hay mulch blanket, and watch Nature do the work.

What is the Ruth Stout Method?

Padding a potato plant with a thick straw mulch layer.

Ruth Stout’s ‘no work’ gardening method involves: 

  • Completely covering crop beds with hay mulch
  •  Perpetually adding mulch
  •  Interplanting annual crops with perennials 
  •  ‘Chop & drop’ harvesting and pruning
  •  Planting cover crops
  •  No tilling or digging
  •  No agrochemicals
  •  Minimal watering and weeding

By perpetually blanketing her garden beds with 8” layers of hay mulch, Ruth allowed a thick underlayer of composting mulch to integrate with the topsoil, keeping it cool and creating a pH-balanced aggregated soil foundation for optimum moisture/water retention and healthy crop growth. 

  • When a layer began to decompose, Ruth added more hay.
  • Ruth mulched her food garden walkways with dry tree leaves.

Ruth’s system was effective because:

  • A year-round compost-in-place hay/leaf mulch forms a protective blanket that regulates the soil microclimate (moisture and temperature), allowing plants, soil microorganisms, earthworms, and arthropods to exchange nutrients, effectively balancing the soil microbiome and bolstering soil structure. 
  • A mulch blanket on top of the soil starves weeds of sunlight, killing them without herbicides.
  • Ruth didn’t need an auxiliary compost pile.  

By avoiding tilling and digging, as well as outlawing all synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, Ruth’s soil teamed with symbiotic microbial life:

  • Aerobic microbes (fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and protozoa) fertilize plants, build soil structure, and kill plant pathogens.
  • Earthworms and arthropods aerate and fertilize the soil.
  • Pest-repellant plants like catnip and garlic keep rodents, slugs, and aphids at bay. Pollinating insects and birds can also help manage pests.

Ruth’s last ‘no watering, no weeding’ veggie garden was a modest 45’ x 15’ with 2’-wide planting rows. 

In it, she grew vegetables for two people all year round, including:

And more!

Read More – Best Plants to Grow In Your Survival Garden, Part 1: The Basics!

After a leisurely daily breakfast, Ruth could garden and get all her household chores done by eleven in the morning! 

(Ruth downsized her 50’ x 45’ vegetable garden after her husband died.)

Ruth’s planting method was simple:

  • For seeds – part the mulch with a rake to expose a line of topsoil. Sprinkle the seeds onto the topsoil, lightly tapping them into the soil. Sprinkle cottonseed meal or sawdust onto the newly planted crop seeds to retain moisture – but don’t cover them with mulch until they germinate.
  • For potatoes– drop sprouting potatoes onto exposed topsoil and cover them immediately with mulch (the stems will push through the mulch).
  • For bulbs and transplants – clear mulch to expose a line of topsoil. Burrow a shallow hole with a spoon and plant the bulb. Return the mulch cover to the stem. 
  • Plant various annual and perennial plants in a bed and rotate annual crops as much as possible.
  • Always have several living roots in a bed during winter in the form of cover crops (radishes, oats, barley, rye, crimson clover) to keep the soil microbiome active and healthy.
YouTube video player

Here’s a neat video on Ruth Stout’s planting techniques.

The Ruth Stout Method of harvesting is equally non-intensive. 

  • Pull root vegetables and bulbs out of the spongy soil. Clip off leaves and roots and drop them on the mulch (aka chop and drop).
  • Pluck potatoes and garlic out from under the mulch.
  • Thin cover crops and harvest produce with gardening shears or a classic Japanese sickle.

Many of Ruth’s critics suggested that her success as a ‘no work, more mulch’ gardener was because her soil had been tilled and fertilized for decades before her perpetual mulching method.

Ruth didn’t deny that. Her retort was simple – “My crops are healthier and more bountiful growing with mulch!”

With a few hours of work, lots of compost, and hay, Ruth’s method also works on uncultivated soil. Be it sandy, silty, or clayey (read on to find out how).

  • Ruth proved that regarding human intervention in the veggie patch‘less is more!’

She understood how biodiversity strengthens a food garden – providing varied nutrients to build soil resilience, boost plant health, and naturally repel pests

And let’s not forget the year-round homegrown, home-cooked meals made without breaking your back. Or your budget! 

“I just plant and pick!” – Ruth Stout, Poverty Hollow, Connecticut, 1976.

The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year-Round Mulch Method
$12.99

Here's the best way to learn about Ruth Stout and her legendary no-work gardening strategy. This book details launching an epic veggie garden using her famous year-round mulch method. Ruth also teaches several little-known gardening hacks, including how to defeat garden slugs & pests without poison, the secret to growing delicious veggies all year, and how to outmaneuver frost and drought.

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Who is the Ruth Stout Method Suitable For?

The Ruth Stout Method is perfect for beginner and seasoned gardeners who want a low-maintenance, inexpensive organic food garden. With an Earth-patch and sufficient mulch, rural and urban gardeners worldwide can grow healthy crops and flowers on any scale.  

Can I Start a Ruth Stout Garden on Barren Land?

Yes. Here is how to start a Ruth Stout garden on uncultivated Earth. Start by preparing crop beds in late summer by tilling and adding compost to the soil before planting in spring: 

  • Test the soil pH values
  • Mark out the beds 
  • Add compost 
  • Till the soil
  • Add pH rectifiers 
  • Cover bed soil with hay mulch
  • Cover walkways with dry leaves
  • Chop and drop emerging weeds

You can take a soil sample to get tested for pH and nutrient values at a soil lab. Or you can buy a professional soil test kit, which will help you big time as your garden grows.

  • For acidic soil, add wood ash. 
  • For alkaline soil, add a cottonseed meal.
  • Use manure for compost if you wish.

Consider getting your hands on a set of inexpensive garden tools to get your Ruth Stout garden started with limited sweat or risk of failure:

  • If the soil in your garden is compacted, rent a tiller for a day or two. 
  • If your soil is relatively workable, invest in a broad fork to easily loosen and aerate the soil.
  • Check soil moisture levels with a garden soil multimeter and add water if necessary.

The labor and expense you put in to start your Ruth Stout garden will pay dividends in 12 months. Each successive year will produce more crops with less weeding!

Read More – What to Do With Old Mulch In Your Garden + When to Throw It Away!

Does Cardboard Help Mulch a Ruth Stout Garden?

Used cardboard boxes free of tape, plastic labels, and staples can be used with hay to sheet mulch a start-up Ruth Stout garden, helping to suppress weeds. Cut into pieces and laid directly atop grass or bare soil. Soak the cardboard with water and cover in mulch to start in-situ composting. 

What Can I Grow In a Ruth Stout Garden?

A Ruth Stout Garden can grow any plant, flower, or tree in a suitable climate, producing vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, and flowers. For best results, follow the planting directions on seed packs, paying attention to the time of planting and soil pH values.

What Types of Mulches Work In a Ruth Stout Garden?

Ruth Stout preferred spoiled hay to mulch her garden beds because it is rich in nutrients, decomposes quickly, and is easy to work with. She also used dry leaves, straw, pine needles, kitchen scraps, lawn shavings, wood chips, corn cobs, coffee grinds, and weeds.

  • Ruth dropped whatever organic waste she could find onto her compost-in-place mulch beds.

For natural mulch options and their benefits, watch Growfully with Jenna.

YouTube video player

How Much Mulch Does a Ruth Stout Garden Need?

Ruth Stout recommended a hay mulch cover 8” thick, estimating that a 50’ x 50’ field would need 25 x 50-pound bales or half a ton of loose hay for the initial treatment. The mulch needs frequent replenishing as the compost-in-place process reduces mulch cover and soil protection.

Having a steady supply of mulch is essential for a Ruth Stout garden. We’ve mentioned various alternatives to hay, most of which aren’t tricky to get your hands on. Rest assured, you will need more mulch!

Where to Get Free Mulch:

  • Ask your neighbors for leaves and lawn trimmings.
  • Ask farmers for spoiled hay and straw.
  • Ask livestock farmers for old stable bedding (hay, straw, and sawdust).
  • Start your compost pile.
  • Get free wood chips and arboreal matter from tree-felling companies.

Warning: Ensure that imported mulch is free of synthetic chemicals.

Why Should We Use the Ruth Stout Method?

Planting in the garden atop a thick and organic straw mulch layer.

Apart from providing healthy organic crops, the Ruth Stout Method has ecological and meteorological value in its potential to regenerate soil ecosystems and sequester atmospheric carbon. The method is simple, inexpensive, and scalable, making it ideal for all gardens.

By growing food at home and adopting regenerative agriculture principles, demand for commercial monoculture vegetables and fruit will plummet, giving billions of acres of farmland time to recover from generations of soil compaction, nutrient depletion, chemical dosing, dehydration, and erosion.

  • Our air quality will improve when food supply chains are less stressed. And fewer farm machines and trucks are required to produce and carry food from farm to market.

A healthy soil ecosystem will help tackle the ‘problem of climate change’ by remediating carbon cycles and soil hydrodynamics, thereby regulating evaporation and rainfall patterns. 

  • Healthy soil grows healthy plants, and healthy plants draw carbon from the atmosphere and channel it into the garden soil, where it becomes food for microorganisms, working in harmony with the soil nitrogen cycle, effectively stabilizing the soil microbiome!
  • Healthy soil acts as a filter for groundwater, ridding the water we drink of harmful chemicals and pathogens!
  • Here it is in a nutshell. Solve the food, water, and climate crises by phasing out mechanized monoculture while regenerating the soil with mulch, compost, crop rotation, plant diversification, and groundwater management.

The biodiversity nurtured in a Ruth Stout garden also addresses the critical issue of insect species extinction. The more species of plants and flowers we have growing in our cities and rural areas, the more diverse and healthy Nature’s insect, bird, and plant life.

  • The simplicity and holistic ethos of the Ruth Stout Method make it a vital and salient education tool for children, empowering them to be custodians of Nature and advocates for holistic living.
YouTube video player

The Ruth Stout Method is a forerunner of today’s permaculture movement, where mulched garden beds form a link in a self-sustaining chain of natural resource optimization that not only lowers the cost of living for humans but also addresses head-on the wasteful and harmful impacts of monoculture and consumerism.

In a world suffering from severe mental health issues (caused in no small way by alienation, loneliness, and a ‘crisis of meaning’), people can reconnect with Nature via a simple and manageable Ruth Stout garden.

  • With a Ruth Stout Garden, everyone can contribute to the regeneration of the living soil and realize their integral part in the Circle of Life!
Interview and Garden Tour With Ruth Stout - Mulch Queen

Watch this classic Ruth Stout documentary made in 1976 when she was 92 years old!

Take a look at Ruth Stout’s books.

  • Did you know that a teaspoon of soil contains more living organisms than people on Earth?

To a True Nature’s Child

The ancient Daoist sage Lao Tzu observed, “By doing nothing, nothing is left undone.” And Ruth, following in her mother’s footsteps, intuited likewise – do not try to force, overwork, or micromanage anything or anyone, especially Mama Nature! 

Said Ruth: “I don’t do anything if I don’t have to, and I don’t have to, so there you are!”

Let’s lift a glass of elderberry wine to Ruth Stout, the “Mulch Queen” who left us gifts – ripe for revolution!  

The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year Round Mulch Method
$18.95

Here's another hidden gem from Ruth Stout. This book dives deep into her year-round mulch-covering method. That's the secret to tapping into an epic and productive garden without excessive hoeing, weeding, plowing, cultivating, and back-breaking work. Learn from the easy-gardening guru herself.

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05/11/2024 07:56 pm GMT

More Ruth Stout Gardening References, Sources, and Works Cited:

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