Growing Organic Food with the Ruth Stout Method
By author Vlad Girboan
The trick in growing healthy organic food is creating a super fertile soil without adding any chemical fertilizers. For small-scale gardening, Ruth Stout advocated amending your soil with fresh compost and leaf mold will be more than enough. However, if you start scaling up, shoveling that much compost can quickly become a daunting task.
Luckily, along the years there have been countless persons who dedicated their life to gardening and finding better organic gardening methods. Some of their findings were then tested by other gardeners and the most successful methods became famous.
Table of contents
Who Was Ruth Stout?
Ruth Stout was one of the most passionate gardeners to have ever lived. Born in 1844 in the United States, she spent 51 years of her life gardening. She wrote a lot about what she learned through the years, particularly about her soil amending techniques.
Like many other inspired gardeners, Ruth Stout looked to nature to see how fertile soil is created naturally and tried to imitate the same methods in her garden. While she was definitely not the inventor of the methods she used, she was the first to write about it and document her experiments.
Here is a video if Ruth Stout’s Garden
The Ruth Stout Method
The Ruth Stout method is also called the lazy gardening method, and for good reason. Ruth studied the natural environment around her garden and tried to find a way to improve her garden’s soil fertility by letting nature do all the work. She figured out that maintaining a permanent mulch layer improves soil quality and protects it from the elements.
The best mulching material in her case was hay, which she had in abundance and readily available. She started covering her garden in a thick layer of hay mulch, imitating the natural conditions from the grasslands around her farm. The thick hay layer mostly smothered the weeds in the garden, sparing Ruth from pulling weeds all day long. As soon as new weeds appeared, she just covered them with more hay.
As months passed, the hay layer started compacting slowly and became thicker and thicker. She later judged that a 20 inch (50 cm) thick layer of hay is perfect for when first starting out. Although it seems like a lot, the hay will actually compact and break down, adding to the fertility of the soil.
Other Benefits of the Ruth Stout Method
The mulch layer prevents water evaporation so the garden requires less watering and it maintains a more constant humidity level. The bottom layers of hay will break down through the natural composting process and turn into beautiful fertile soil. This also improves the number of helpful bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms in the soil.
The top hay layer protects the garden from the sun, heavy rains, and wind erosion. UV light from the sun is known to break down nutrients in garden soil and heavy rains and wind often carry nutrients away, especially if you’re not gardening on a flat surface. At the same time, the top layers create a perfect habitat for beneficial bugs such as ladybugs.
Shortcomings of the Ruth Stout Gardening Technique
As wonderful as it sounds, the Ruth Stout method is not perfect. Hay and straw are high in carbon and lack nitrogen so you would have to balance that with something high in nitrogen. While Ruth used cottonseed meal in her garden, adding fresh-cut grass (free of pesticides), might be more convenient.
Since not all plants like the same type of soil, you might want to use different techniques around your garden. While potatoes will thrive in this thick hay layer, other plants will need different conditions.
Also depending on when the hay-grass was cut, your hay can contain a lot of various seeds that will now be added to your garden. One way around this is to use straw instead of hay. It insulates better, breaks down faster, and is relatively seed-free.
Ruth Stout method vs. Back to Eden gardening
Compared to the popular Back To Eden method of gardening, the Ruth Stout method holds up pretty well. Both Ruth’s method and the Back to Eden method rely on the natural breakdown and protection of a mulch layer.
For your mulch layer, choose the material that is easiest to get in your area. If you live in a grassland area, hay is the way to go. If grains are grown on a large scale in your area, go for straw bales. If you live in a forest area and you have tons of extra woodchips, use them as mulch. If you live in an urban area, bagged mulches are available at your local garden center.
If Ruth taught us anything it’s that gardening is not supposed to be a chore. Growing organic food is all about using the least amount of effort and letting nature do the work for you.
About the Author:
Vlad is a young gardener and dog lover from Western Europe. He bought a homestead in 2018 and he is now documenting his life in the rural setting of Romania. He strives to make his estate better with each passing day while also sharing personal vlogs, gardening advice and dog owner tips on his blog Lost in Valhalla
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