05 November 2011

When I grow up I want to be Ruth Stout

I have read "The Ruth Stout No-Work Gardening Book" probably dozens of times, and it has a permanent spot on my bedside table. I am always a sucker for anything promising reward without effort, so it is no surprise that this book would be one of my all-time favourites. Except it's not so much the content as her anti-authoritarian and very funny attitude. Ruth Stout was not intimidated by experts, and she seemed to have a reasonable suspicion that most experts were guilty of complicating things unnecessarily. This book is a collection of articles written for Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in the fifties and sixties, so maybe not her best book, but it is the only one I have. Whenever I see old books for sale, I always look for anything by her.

Ruth Stout was the mother of permanent deep-mulch gardening, and she was very adamant that it was the solution for practically everything in the garden. I don't mulch religiously, because sometimes I just find it easier to weed a bit, and I plant stuff so close together that mulching between plants is plain too hard. I don't dig very much, but I do sometimes because it's the easiest way to get out perennial weeds, which sorry to say, do still grow through deep mulches. And I compost, contrary to Ruth's opinion that it's easier to just bury everything under mulch. I don't think it's more work, and I have a winter's worth of chicken manure to deal with every spring. I plant potatoes her way, by just tossing them onto the ground and covering them with lots of straw (though she would use hay, and I can't bear the thought of adding that many weed seeds to the garden). So I'm certainly no faithful disciple of her methods, but I think the main thing I've learned from her is to pay attention to my garden and trust my observations. 

A few weeks ago, over at The Duck Herder's blog I saw a documentary called "Ruth Stout's Garden" that is now on YouTube and I fell in love all over again. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I grow up, I want to be Ruth Stout.

I think you should watch this movie, too.


  1. Thanks to our public library book sale, I have loads of old OG magazines and she believe me is not the only cantankerous soul who wrote for them. It was completely full of iconoclasts and pseudocranks back in the early days, kinda like their founder.

    I like her but I always thought my garden would look terribly messy if I followed her to the letter. Oh wait: my garden IS terribly messy...

  2. I'm always happiest when my garden is neat, what with all the neatly aligned rectangular raised beds and all, but I'm hoping to loosen up a bit when I grow up.

  3. heehee, I know you will approve when you hear that I had another 20 bales of spoiled lucerne hay delivered to the veggie garden on the weekend. It was like Christmas!

    Ruth Stout - long may she live on in an endless parade of aging crotchety deep mulchers!



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