Welcome to the blog on Ruth Stout gardening. What I like about this type of gardening is that is really all about common sense. Think about it, what is common to any garden ever grown on the planet earth?
It’s a medium to grow in and take nutrients from and water and the sun. Of course you will need seeds, but hopefully that is a no brainier. How it looks, how you did it and how wonderful it did, really has no bearing on the above three groups of things. Soil and nutrients, the sun and water and seeds. Any thing else is just a waste of time if you supply all the above.
I planted out my first Ruth Stout garden in only 6 months after I had started it. Of course, it’s what you start with is what is important. Soil / mulch to grow in and that deep topping of hay. If your soil and mulch is healthy with all the things plants like, and if you add a little of water, then you will probably be successful. Then there is the hay that keeps down the weeds.
About my farm and the soil.
You could have easily call the farm a rock garden. Before I knew better I purchased a tractor and plowed the soil. Much to our dismay, we ran into rocks as big as my head. I guess you could have called me a rock head? While there were rocks, the actual soil was amazing. Almost any thing I planted grew very well. It took over two years to get all of the large rocks out of that garden. But that was just the start of things. Initially where the garden ended up was one huge weed pile with some of the best weeds know to man and others I had never seen. Stirring up the soil was just an invitation for them to prosper. I am sure many of the weed seeds had been just waiting for me to plow them up ten years before.
Even worse our neighbor had grass that clumped and produced what I am sure was billions of seeds every year and they all blew into the garden. After three years of this I gave up.
The weeds had kicked my rear and I had lost the battle.
If I was younger and perhaps a bit more stupid, I probably would have fought them for five more years!
My suggestion is to never do what I had done. The answer is to NEVER disturb the soil and only add to what is there (create new soil). After that is in place, never dig you new soil up as well. It will just not be necessary as your new soil build will not need cultivating with a plow or shovel or most anything else except for the actual planting. That is called no-dig gardening and that describes what a Ruth Stout garden is all about.
How to start a Ruth Stout Garden
OK, you wont need a PHD to get this going. No college degree is required, and you don’t need to be a NASA Rocket Scientist. In-fact having any of what I just listed may hold you back. There is no need to do computer modeling or any thing that requires scientific thinking to get started. The following is all that is needed:
- Some land
- Mulch and green matter
- Brown paper boxes
My first garden started with a plot of land that was 50 by 100 foot. The plot had never been grown on and it had a really good collection of native grass and weeds. It even flooded at times during some heavy rains. 80 % of the plot had good light most of the day. I surrounded the plot with cheap plastic fencing and drove in the ground fence posts. I needed this because of some of the farm animals would really love some of my vegetables. They had been born as taste test animals and if you let them would take a test bite of everything in my garden. I used a piece of hog wire for the gate of the plot.
Mulch and green matter
This was a continuing thing. I amassed a huge collection of leafs, hay mixed with horse manure and all the chicken manure I could get my hands on. Most anything that was organic was dumped into a really large pile. I actually drove through neighborhoods and picked up all the grass cuttings and leafs the people had set out for the dump. One thing I would suggest is that you do not use cow manure. The reason is that the quality usually is not as good as the horse type and will have many more weed seeds. This is directly related to what the horse and cows are eating. Most horses are fed a higher quality feed than cows which will eat most any type of fodder. Not so much when it comes to horses. I have two horses, and my neighbor across the street keeps and feeds many horses. I am lucky to get a huge load of manure mixed with high quality hay every two weeks. Most places that keep horses will be glad to give you all the manure mixed with hay.
ONE Caveat – Never, and I mean never use horse manure mixed with wood shavings. Wood shavings could be caustic and will poison you and your plants. Many people who keep horses use wood shavings. Make sure you don’t. (I lost 350 tomato plants because of this.) Experience is a hard teacher.
Brown paper boxes
While Ruth Stout never talked about brown paper (cardboard) I use it as a weed guard between the exposed soil and my new soil building mulch and green matter. I go dumpster diving for all the boxes that are thrown away. Usually I drive around the back and find some and then ask the store if it’s OK and some time I don’t ask. In about six months the paper will almost have decomposed. I had the police check me out once and ask me what I was doing in the back of a store. He laughed when he found out what I was doing.
If you can get your hands on some bad hay, then you are in luck. I had problems with this and had to purchase mine. At the time it was rather expensive. You can also use tree leafs as a replacement for the hay or as a mixture which I did as well. The hay is the reason why a Ruth Stout garden works so well. You can use straw, but hay probably has more micro nutrients than straw. I am not sure of this, and straw is not generally available here in Central Texas.
Putting it all together:
Note that I have 1 1/2 ft of hay on top. You could and can use less, but I was amazed how fast my hay composted. As far as the mulch, use as much as possible. After the mulch is laid down, water it really well and then place the hay on top. I probably put in around 6 inches of mulch or more. After layering, let the garden rest for about six months. The length depends on how composted your green matter is. After a period of time you will be amazed what has happened to the compost under they hay. It will become your new soil and will breakdown quickly into something a vegetable plant would like to live in.
Keep adding hay as needed and as often as you can. I also composted coffee grounds in my compost. I can get hundreds of pounds of free coffee grounds locally and if you live around or in a large town, so can you.. After composting they add nitrogen to your garden. You must compost the coffee grounds first. Don’t mix them directly in with your mulch.
How to plant a Ruth Stout garden.
Again not Rocket Science. As you probably know there are two ways of planting a garden. One is planting seed directly, and the other is using starts. Some seed like carrots cannot be planted as starts and are usually planted as seed.
Pull back the hay from the area where you will plant seed. Plant the seed just like you would do in any garden which would be directly in and covered by soil. After planting and watering, pull up the hay as close to the seeds but never on top of them. Wait until they germinate and get large enough to apply hay around the started seed plant.
Pull back the hay from the area you want to plant starts. I use an electric drill and a small garden drill to make holes for my starts. Plant at the proper depth and then water all your starts very well. After watering pull the hay around your starts. The drill makes planting starts very easy.
Planting potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Potatoes usually use seed potatoes to start and most sweet potatoes use slips. In a Ruth Stout garden, planting potatoes is easy. Just make sure you have plenty of mulch to plant on. Note I said on. Pull back the hay from the mulch where you want to plant your seed potatoes. Make sure to water the mulch before you work with your seed potatoes. Place the seed potatoes about a foot apart on top of the thick layer of compost. Then completely cover the seed potatoes with hay. Try for a foot of hay. As the season moves on, make sure to water your seed potatoes and soon they will pop through the hay. Add more hay if needed. Just make sure the new popped up potatoes are well covered and lightly watered. Mostly deep watering is not needed. In a couple of months you can dig you hand into the hay and harvest small potatoes. We harvest everything in June or July here in Central Texas.
Sweet Potatoes are a bit different. Again you will need a good thick layer of mulch and hay. If you don’t know what a sweet potatoes slip is, then here is a good opportunity to order or grow your own. When your slips are ready and heavy with roots, make sure your bed is watered really well. Then with a one inch stick, punch a hole in the compost that the slip will be inserted in. Make sure the punched hole is as deep as possible in the mulch and hay. After inserting the slips, water lightly again. Soon you will see the slips start to cover the whole bed and make vines every place in and around the garden bed. Sweet Potato leafs can be eaten. Once the vines are completed their life cycle as in looking dead,it is time to harvest. Be careful when harvesting the potatoes and sweet potatoes with a shovel or something sharp as you can cut them. Both the potatoes and sweet potatoes need to be left outside on a tarp to dry off for at least one warm sunny day. A small layer of soil can be left on both of them. Both can be kept until next year to grow again, or stored in a cool dry place and eaten all the fall or winter. My wife keeps some potatoes in the refrigerator. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown in containers. Note: You will not need as much hay with the sweet potatoes. 6 inches at most or less. Weeds will not have a chance surviving in a sweet potato bed because the sweet potato leafs will completely cover the bed. More on containers later.
Things to talk about.
Weeds. There is no garden in the world that is weed free. Some weeds must be pulled, especially some of the more larger ones. If you are having some weed problems, just add more hay. If you are loosing hay into your compost, just add more hay. At the end of the year most of your hay will have killed off many of your weeds and become composted. To reestablish your garden, just add more mulch and more hay. Over the years you will be amazed how deep your garden will become and how weed free it will be. It will be easier and easier as you add compost and hay. All that hard work at first will pay off later. In Her book, Ruth actually didn’t even add more mulch, but just more hay.
More to come
As the spring growing season starts, I will be adding more on my garden and the results. Also in the works are thoughts on how we will grow in our garden next fall and winter. We are looking at adding low tunnels to the garden. The hoops would be permanent and we would just add the plastic cover in the fall each year. This I am really looking forward to.
Come Back soon as I expand on this Blog on Ruth Stout
Dennis in Central Texas
I eat an all plant diet and have for about a year. I am now 77 and have as much energy as I did when I was much younger. This book (PDF) is free. To get this Book go HERE.