The Ruth Stout No-Work Gardening Method


Learning how to grow your own vegetables is one of the smartest choices you can make. Not only is it satisfying to know that you can provide for yourself and your loved ones, but you can also be sure that you are consuming healthy, chemical-free food.

Conventional gardening methods can be time consuming and strenuous, but there are some excellent natural alternatives that are well worth exploring. The Ruth Stout ‘no-work’ method is one of the very best.

The Story Behind Ruth Stout’s Method

Ruth Stout was born in Kansas in 1894 and lived to the ripe old age of 96. She began gardening when she was in her 40s using conventional techniques. She didn’t enjoy being dependent on the plowman to come and prepare her land, and she also became tired of the heavy labor that the gardening involved. So, in 1944 Ruth decided to try something a little different.

She stopped tilling, she stopped digging, she stopped watering, she stopped composting and she stopped weeding.

So, what exactly did Ruth do?

The Fundamentals Of The No-Work Approach

Having observed that you never see bare soil in nature, Ruth’s main principle was to cover her garden with a thick layer of mulch and leave it in place at all times. This mulch provided a covering that kept the soil cool and moist, and with a consistent level of humidity.The Ruth Stout No-Work Gardening MethodWith a thick mulch in place, the soil is protected from the damaging UV rays and heat of the sun, as well as being sheltered from heavy rains or strong winds. This mulch also prevents most weeds from growing. Ruth suggested that everyone should begin with a mulch of at least 8 inches thick to ensure that the most resilient weeds cannot break through to the surface. Over time, the mulch breaks down and adds nutrients to the soil.

What Are The Benefits Of The ‘No-Work’ Method?

The no-work method involves minimal raw materials and is a low-cost way to grow your own vegetables. Neither huge quantities of water nor elaborate and expensive watering systems are not needed for a successful harvest.

There is no digging, plowing, hoeing or laborious weeding involved, which makes this an ideal method for those who aren’t able or willing to do long hours of manual work. The amount of maintenance required by this kind of garden is low, so you’ll be saving your back as well as saving some dollars.

It should go without saying that one of the biggest bonuses of having less work to do in the garden is having more time to spend with family and friends.

Mulching Creates A Rich And Fertile Soil

The benefits of the no-work approach for the gardener are many, but Ruth Stout’s method also treats your garden soil with great kindness. Leaving the soil undisturbed means that worm populations will begin to flourish in your garden.

Worm casts are rich in nutrients, and their movement is good for aerating the soil and ensuring good drainage.

As well as this, the fungi and micro-organisms essential to a happy, healthy soil will increase. A rich and fertile soil means vigorously growing plants and a good yield of crops.

Related: 24 Lost Gardening Tips from 100 Years Ago

What Materials Can I Use For The Mulch?

Ruth had a very flexible approach to the materials that can be used for mulching – straw, hay, leaves, wood chips or any other kind of vegetable matter that will rot.

Consider what you have access to in your local area. Let yourself be guided by Ruth’s no-work principles.

What kind of materials are readily available to you for free? Begin by working with these, and make sure your initial mulch laying is laid to the depth that Ruth suggests.

If you see any weeds that are managing to break through, just add more mulch.

How Do I Sow My Vegetable Seeds Into The Mulch?

When it comes to sowing seeds, the process is very simple.The Ruth Stout No-Work Gardening MethodPull the mulch apart enough to be able to see where you are placing the seeds.

Plant your seeds in the ground and cover them back up again with a little soil. Leave the mulch apart.

What About Growing Potatoes?

Ruth’s casual approach to potato growing is very refreshing! Take your sprouted potatoes and simply toss them onto your mulch leaving them at around a foot apart.

Place an additional 4 inches of mulch on top of the potatoes. As the sprouts begin to grow, continue adding more mulch. So simple!

Should I Be Using Any Additional Fertilizers Or Manure?

Your vegetables are constantly being fertilized by the rotting mulch, so you never need to feel that they are not being well fed.

Ruth Stout stated that she only used one additional product, and that was a soybean or cottonseed meal. This adds a little additional nitrogen to the soil. If you find that your garden needs additional nitrogen, both grass clippings and coffee grounds are quick and easy ways of doing this.

Food waste can be composted directly in the garden rather than on a separate compost pile, preferably by being placed underneath your main mulch. Remember that with a heavy mulch that is constantly in place, your soil will naturally and inevitably increase in quality over time.

What Else Do I Need To Know?

Ruth Stout had a deep love for nature and a very light-hearted approach to her gardening. She observed the natural environment and learned from it. Experimenting with her method for yourself can be great fun, especially when this is approached with Ruth’s spirit of playfulness. The advantages of the no-work method are many, and it is well worth trying your hand at it.

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