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Deep Mulch Gardening with Ruth Stout

This Unorthodox Gardener Stopped Tilling and Turning

One of our longtime GardensAll community members sent us a link that ties in with the use of hay and straw in our gardens, the Ruth Stout way. The article is fascinating and engaging, even beyond the funny fact that Ruth Stout used to love to garden naked. Now no lewd ideas here… rather, it seems Ruth was more like a child at play in the garden where she loved to spend all day.

No matter what degree of clothing she had on, it’s quite clear that Ruth Stout was an innovative and creative gardener. Ruth observed nature and how it “gardens” and she began to do more of that. Copying nature’s example, Ruth learned how to grow orme food with less effort.

Ruth Stout gardener, deep mulch gardening
Ruth Stout in her garden in her 90’s.

Born in Topeka, KS in 1884, Ruth lived quite an interesting life, but never gardened until she and her husband moved from New York City up to Redding, CT in 1930. There, she began her journey from the typical form of gardening to the deep mulch, easy-going style she promoted during her entire second half of life before she passed away in 1980 at 96 years of age.1)

Ruth entertains with reminiscences about her growing up years. Her philosophy –

“Do what you want to do and don’t tell others how to behave!”

Next – more about Ruth’s gardening methods.

Ruth Stout’s Gardening Methods

  • Hay mulch – used in place of watering (many of us would choose straw instead to avoid the hay seeds)
  • No digging or tilling
  • Minimal effort (resembling the lasagna method)2)
  • Minimal weeding
  • Year round food growing (protecting the crops with hay mulch)
Ruth Stout, American author, gardener, independent thinker. Born June 14, 1884, died August 22, 1980, Ruth was best known for her “No-Work” gardening books and techniques.

Ruth Stout, was an American author, gardener, independent thinker, best known for her “No-Work” gardening books and techniques. . Born June 14, 1884, Ruth died August 22, 1980.3)

As her popularity (and perhaps notoriety as a maverick) increased, Ruth became a go to source for many organic and no-till practitioners. Her books are considered standards. These include Gardening without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and Indolent, and the Indolent and How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening

We really enjoyed the video as Ruth (in her later years but charming as ever) demonstrates her methods of planting, harvesting, and mulching.  “I have a vegetable garden 45 by 50 in which I grow vegetables for two people and, sorry to make you jealous, but I haven’t been in a super market for at least 14 years.” 4)


Ruth Stout, American author, gardening maverick, fond of no-work gardening.
Ruth Stout, American author, gardening maverick, fond of no-work gardening.

And yes, near the end of the film, she mentions her enjoyment of gardening in the buff. She always presumed her husband, who busied himself with wood carving, was unaware of this habit… until one day when she came home late.

We really enjoyed this video documentary on Ruth, up next.

Timeless Ageless Gardener, Ruth Stout

Now for the delightful Ruth Stout timelessly portrayed in this video on her life.

To learn more about Ruth’s methods in her own written words, you may enjoy this article:
Gardening Without Work, the Ruth Stout Way 5)

In closing, sharing a couple comments from the GardensAll Facebook community members, and be sure to heed the words of caution too.

Do NOT use oat straw mulch! Gretchen says:
“Ruth claims that using mulching materials that contain seeds won’t be a problem as long as you use a deep enough mulch layer. I chose straw this year instead of hay as I assumed it would have a lower seed burden. Unfortunately, I chose oat straw and my garden is a hot mess. A thickly mulched, hot mess. Next year, I will be going back to woodchip with composted chicken manure to add nitrogen.”

But then, Debbie says:
“I have used this method for growing vegetables for quite a few years with great success. There are so many advantages; no tilling which actually does more harm than good, great tilth that increases moisture retention, wonderful habitat for the beneficial earth worms, and the soil becomes so loose and easy to dig in over time. Weeds nearly become nonexistent other than seed that blows in. The soil is fed naturally by decomposition of the mulch and you don’t need to water as often. My mother’s traditional tilled garden was so labor intensive and this is not.”


Now let’s get plantin’!

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