Ruth Stout was an eccentric and revolutionary gardener who came up with what has since been called the Ruth Stout Method. This method involves an intensive deep mulch system that uses no chemicals and requires very little work.
Born in 1884, she didn’t even begin gardening until after she moved to the Connecticut countryside with her husband in 1930. After more than ten years of gardening in the traditional manner with plowing, tilling and pesticides, she had grown increasingly frustrated with the traditional process especially with the plowing aspect as her hired plowman was frequently late or delayed because of mechanical problems. On such a day of waiting for a belated plowman, she had a fabled encounter with an asparagus plant who asked her why she didn’t plant her garden like she did her asparagus. This made logical sense to her and thus the Ruth Stout Method of gardening began to take shape.
The Ruth Stout Method involves using hay to cover and insulate your crops. This keeps the soil moist, acts as a natural fertilizer, and keeps weeds to a minimum while allowing seeded crops to emerge from the loose hay. Imagine your garden as a giant compost pile. Any waste that is compostable should be added to you garden as well, although it is best to add these at the bottom layer with more hay over top. Ruth’s answer to most gardening problems was to simply add some more mulch!
Ruth herself was a very intriguing and eccentric figure. She was born into a Quaker family in Kansas. In her youth she claimed to help Carrie Nation in her vandalism and protest of an alcohol serving establishment in Wichita. Her brother, Rex Stout is the writer of the famous Nero Wolfe mystery novels and later affectionately called her garden the “garden dump.” She moved to New York when she was 18 and in 1929 she met her husband Alfred Rossiter and a year later moved to Connecticut and started on the path to becoming one of the gardening world’s most eccentric and innovative minds.
After the creation of the method she wrote tirelessly (most likely in the time her own method saved her), eventually writing 9 books and many articles for Organic Gardening and Farming magazine. She often gave talks and lectures to garden clubs about her method.
Although often claimed to be a “no work” method, the Ruth Stout method certainly has some attributed to it. However it is far less than your average garden would require and is, in many ways, a more natural way to organically garden. By all accounts Ruth Stout was certainly an enigmatic and compelling figure and a true innovator in the world of gardening.
Written by Savannah Miller, Business Development Intern, Spring 2012