Monday, May 6, 2013

The Ruth Stout Gardening Method: Victory Over Clay Soils

One of the reasons I haven't posted in a while is that every single piece of electronics I own is in open rebellion.  I can't seem to load photos from my phone to my computer; my Ipad won't talk to my computer; I've lost the power cord to my camera.  So anyway....

An update on the Ruth Stout gardening technique.  Ruth Stout's idea is so simple that it seems unlikely to work.  There's nothing to it really.  Just keep 18 inches of mulch on your garden.  It compacts pretty fast, so when it does, add more.  Weeds growing through the mulch in thin spots? Add more.  That's all.

I tried it for two seasons in my huge rural garden and was amazed.  It eliminated all, and I mean all, weeding.  I used to spend hours and hours and hours weeding.  But with that huge, deep cap of mulch in the garden, none.  No time at all.  It also meant much less frequent watering. Also, I added compostable items directly to the garden.  Veggie scraps and such were just tucked under the layer of mulch here and there in the garden.  So that's easy.

And I had one of the best crops I've ever had.

Here in town, I wasn't as hopeful.  The soil is solid gumbo clay, convered in a 60 year old lawn of thick St. Augustine.  I was sure I needed to do as almost all my neighbors do: either build a raised bed garden with purchased soil or dig in a few feet and replace the soil directly in the ground.

I tried digging but gave up after an hour in the brick-like soil yielded no more than a couple of sad little trenches.  Then I put it out of my mind in the flurry of moving in.  Then I decided to make that spot my Ruth Stout trial bed.  I just started heaping hay and leaves on it, as well as kitchen scraps. Four months later I moved aside a bit of the mulch and plunged in my hand trowel to discover rich, soft dirt active with gorgeous earth worms.  I've planted the area with tomatoes and a few peppers and I'd show you pictures of my first harvest if my camera were working.


  1. Didn't Ruth Stout use a lot of salt marsh hay? Not much of an option here, but it sounds as if you're managing without it. I hope that Austin is treating you well, and also hope you get the camera working!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  2. Hi Annie,

    I know it was hay but I had not noticed that it was salt marsh hay. I think she also used whatever was at hand -- cornstalks, etc. I've used whatever hay I could come across at my old rural garden. Here in Austin I had a couple of bales of partially decomposed hay and also mostly whatever leaves I raked up from around my yard. Mostly tons and tons of pecan leaves. It's all an experiment!

  3. I tried that a couple of years ago and maybe it depends on the type mulch used, but my garden produced less than it ever has with cypress mulch. The weeding was much easier though.

  4. Made these four days ago, just tried them for lunch...I will never make another kind of dill pickle! Thank you so much for the recipe. They turned out great!