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Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout  RSS feed

 
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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This classic organic gardening book has just been put back into print by Norton Creek.
Used copies go for $30-40 on eBay, but he is republishing it for under $20.
It can be purchased for $11.27 @ Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Gardening-Without-Work-Ruth-Stout/dp/0981928463/ref=nosim?tag=robertplamondon

She was an amazing lady, and a great story teller.  Except for preparing dinner, all of her day's chores were finished by 11a.m.  a lot can be learned from her writings.  I just ordered my copy (my 'ex' gave away my 1961 printing!)

This classic organic gardening book has just been put back into print by Norton Creek.
Used copies go for $30-40 on eBay, but he is republishing it for under $20.
It can be purchased for $11.27 @ Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Gardening-Without-Work-Ruth-Stout/dp/0981928463/ref=nosim?tag=robertplamondon

She was an amazing lady, and a great story teller.  Except for preparing dinner, all of her day's chores were finished by 11a.m.  a lot can be learned from her writings.  I just ordered my copy (my 'ex' gave away my 1961 printing!)

Here is a video of her documentary that was released when she was 92 years old:









RuthStoutBook.png
[Thumbnail for RuthStoutBook.png]
 
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
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Just added a new addition to my book collection. Thanks!
 
Posts: 180
Location: Missouri/Iowa border
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Definitely a classic! I would recommend reading the writings of this eclectic woman. She might not have all the answers, but she's definitely entertaining.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Many attribute her with inventing mulching, but the name of Chapter 1 is "God invented mulching".
She certainly put it into millions of gardener's minds as a perfect, natural way to grow healthy gardens.

At the age of 87 I grow vegetables for two people the year-round, doing all the work myself and freezing the surplus.  I tend several flower beds, write a column every week, answer an awful lot of mail, do the housework and cooking-and never do any of these things after 11 o'clock in the morning!"



That was written before the internet, or e-mail existed.
 
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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Bought the book. 

Love Ruth Stout

Excited about all this permaculturalizing. 

Therefore:

Dug a little swale. 

Mulched it with a freaky amount of old hay. 

Planted seven tomatoes on the inferior edge of the berm. 

Continued placing freaky amounts of mulch on the down-hill for about a foot past the tomatoes. 

Lost five of the seven plants to what is believed to be a cut worm. 

Cussed cut worms will all known profanities. 

Cut top and bottom out of two liter sodie-pop bottles and placed them around the tomato stems. 

Growth rate of remaining two tomatoes has been freaky in spite of zero amendments to the soil and zero water applied even during a 3-4 week lull in rainfall (Welcome to south Mississippi where we get about 60" of rain per year but none in either May or June and never in September or October unless building a house and schedule your dirt-work during this time to take advantage of the dry weather.)
 
John Polk
steward
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Welcome aboard George.

Ruth Stout and J. I. Rodale are responsible for putting the word 'organic' into gardening here in the US.  They both influenced my sister and I in growing healthy foods back in the 60's...long before GMO's and synthetic foods become the standards of the food supply.

Permaculture is "beyond organic", but 'organics' is still the rudder that steers our ship.
I am hoping that the book becomes a best seller again, as the more people that turn their backs on the paradigm "Better living through chemistry", the better for the planet, and our futures.
 
Posts: 288
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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George, you caught my eye in the HugelKultur forum and I landed here looking for more info on Ruth Stout's techniques.  Can you describe for me the technique you used?  I just got four books in and can't justify more until they're finished.
 
George Collins
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Miller,

Back during the summer, I first watched the Geoff Lawton video, Greening the Desert. I subsequently sought to reproduce the technique he described. If memory serves, he dug a swale, mulched it with "half a meter" of refuse from nearby organic fields. He then planted nitrogen fixing trees on the uphill aspect of the swale and planted his long term overstory trees immediately below the berm created by digging the swale. He then planted other trees that became progressively shorter the further away from the swale they were planted. 

Using this mental model, I constructed a short swale using naught but a shovel. Once the swale was in place, I filled in the swale ditch with a bunch of woody weeds. Next, I got a trailer load of old hay left over from another project earlier in the year and placed all of it over the swale ditch and the berm and for a short distance beyond the berm on the downhill side. I next put seven tomatoes three feet apart just at the edge of the berm on the side opposite of the swale ditch. 

Immediately on the uphill side of the berm, I planted a row of bush-type squash plants to provide additional shade to the swale ditch as well as piling all manner of weeds that I cut down from adjacent areas on top of everything else.

As we were in the middle of an already dry time of year, I filled the swale ditch level full of water a couple days before transplanting the tomatoes. I watered the transplants once, maybe twice to help them with transplant shock.  Thereafter I caged them and left them to fend for themselves until cut worms got five of the young plants. I protected the last two with plastic soda bottles

At the same time that I transplanted the seven tomatoes into my Stoutkultur, I transplanted probably 20 or 30 others into various spots about my yard and my fathers garden. Only a few of the others attained any appreciable size but even the best of the rest of my experiments attained not even a third the size of those in my Stoutkultur. 
 
David Miller
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Very nice (cutworms aside), I have seen those "Greening the Desert" series on youtube, very cool stuff.  Sounds like you did a perfect swale for a drought. 
 
pollinator
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Location: Stevensville, MT
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I am putting together a book/dvd/magazine page for Paul, and to save him some time from making a (short paragraph) written review of everything, I figured I'd ask permie folks to write "what Paul would say" in each thread something is talked about.

So what would Paul say about Ruth Stout (or the No work garden book)?
 
George Collins
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Ruth Stout - The lady who accidentally got it right and cried, "Eureka" louder than anyone else since Archimedes (and liked to garden in the buff).
 
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Oh, thank you for this! I just added it to my cart. I've never owned any of her books but How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back was one of the first gardening books I ever read as a young teen. She was very inspiring and I tried mulching for the first time that year.
 
John Polk
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Bump
 
pollinator
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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If I want to use this method and not work after 11 am, I have to figure out how to solve a few ..."difficulties"!

- I cannot find hay, maybe straw imported from mainland Spain... (not organic, so full of round up?)

- Whatever natural hay we still have (wild oats grow in winter) goes to the animals.

So, unless you rely on a truck and live in a place with hay ...who can answer THIS question:
"What is the surface of land you need, planted with grass, for what surface of garden you grow?"

or put it this way:
"Out of your garden, what % do you have to dedicate to mulch production?"

 
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Very good questions. Jim Kovaleski uses a large amount of mown grass for not so large a garden. Not sure if the ratios he uses/describes are in this particular video.



In my mind, onsite mulch creation is the more sustainable method, as if everyone went permie tomorrow, where is the mulch coming from?

Cover crops, diversity and good husbandry seem to be the answer to sustainable and even regenerative agricultural systems that require a lot less inputs than are typically used (tilling, fertiliser, pesticides etc).

Also 'self mulching'. Well worth the time.







 
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:If I want to use this method and not work after 11 am, I have to figure out how to solve a few ..."difficulties"!

- I cannot find hay, maybe straw imported from mainland Spain... (not organic, so full of round up?)

- Whatever natural hay we still have (wild oats grow in winter) goes to the animals.

So, unless you rely on a truck and live in a place with hay ...who can answer THIS question:
"What is the surface of land you need, planted with grass, for what surface of garden you grow?"

or put it this way:
"Out of your garden, what % do you have to dedicate to mulch production?"



Hi Xisca,  I think this is an interesting question.  I am trying to do a Ruth Stout experiment in 2019.  I have mulched an area that is 13 feet by 50 feet to a 8-12 inch depth.  I did not use hay exactly.  I cut an area of unused pasture (I did not use a scythe, I used a walk behind sicklebar mower).  About half of the length of the mulched area also had a layer of autumn leaves added prior to the grass mulch. I am planning to plant this area in potatoes, and do a direct comparison of Ruth Stout mulched potatoes vs my current potato growing method.  I am interested in comparing yield, maintenance/work time, and most especially vole damage between the two systems.  

Total area mulched was approximately 650 square feet or 60 square meters.  In order to mulch this area I cut an area of pasture very close to 100 by 100 feet, so 10000 square feet or about 930 square meters.  This is approximately a mulch production area : mulched growing space of 15:1.  The pasture I was using for the mulch had not been grazed or mown other than by the deer this season, it is in the far corner of the pasture and I never got over there with my livestock.  It is also fairly low production, unimproved pasture, so I'm sure more biomass could be produced with focussed attention paid to management and fertility.  It does seem clear to me that in order to use this system, a significant area of land has to be devoted to producing the mulch biomass.  For Ruth Stout and many people, the mulch used is purchased or salvaged waste/spoiled hay so the system is repurposing a waste product essentially.  

It would be interesting to look at different forms of biomass mulch, and different grass/plant species that might be more productive of biomass per unit area.  
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
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Thanks for feedback and sharing! So basically you used 15 times more surface to cut than the one you covered?

"For Ruth Stout and many people, the mulch used is purchased or salvaged waste/spoiled hay so the system is repurposing a waste product essentially.   "



So this system work thanks to the "other" system! Or else it is difficult... Here we cut by hand because of stones and slope, so it would be slower than what you did.

When you did this, did you find it was "no work"? just joking.... well, "less weeding" method is right! Or "no dig".
 
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I have her book and been experimenting with her technique. A few things to realize:

1. You need space. Notice that there are no walkways in her system and everything gets covered, and must remain covered.

2. It takes time. The first year will suck and you will spend most of your time smothering grass with hay, while at the same time trying not to smother your vegetables. Every place you have an open spot where a vegetable is growing is where the most tenacious undesirables will also grow. In hindsight, I would have given up trying to grow crops in the first year at least and just make sure everything gets well and truly smothered.

3. It will surprise you at how much hay is actually required to do an effective smothering job. Grasses that send out runners under the ground will happily send runners up into the mulch.

4. Direct seeding at a high density is not easy. You will probably come to the conclusion that the trade off for less work, is a decreased yield per square foot. Until the system is stable, direct seeding in general is hard. This is because as soon as you leave an area uncovered so the seed can germinate and grow, every other seed that is already in the soil will also germinate. I think all that mulch primes dormant seeds and as soon as you uncover the soil it's a seed germination party. In hindsight, I think I would have uncovered my mulched beds periodically in the first year to encourage germination, and then smothering out the seedlings again to create a stale seed bed.

5. Yes, hay does contain grass seeds (duh), and yes they do germinate. But I have yet to see these seedlings actually thrive when they germinate in the mulch. Even with less than 6 inches of hay mulch on top of newspaper these masses of grass seedling just never seem to pan out into anything. I've even let them be to see if the test bed turns into pasture but no, it did not. All the talk you see online warning about hay as a mulch I think is coming from people who haven't actually tried it.
 
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It seems easier to me to use wood chips.  They don't come with weeds, they smother more effectively, they are available almost everywhere.  I've never found the free hay she talks about using.
 
Tim Springston
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:Thanks for feedback and sharing! So basically you used 15 times more surface to cut than the one you covered?


When you did this, did you find it was "no work"? just joking.... well, "less weeding" method is right! Or "no dig".



Yes, 15 units of area of mulch production for every 1 unit of mulched growing space.  

I think the "No Work" aspect of this gardening system is highly dependent on your source of mulch.  When Ruth Stout wrote the book, the primary unit of hay available was the standard square bale (at least here in the USA).  These days square bales are much less common, and are usually only made for higher quality hay that is being grown for sale, probably mostly for the horse feeding market I assume.  Lower quality hay that is intended for cattle feeding and on farm uses etc is almost always baled using round bales these days.  At least it is in my area.  So there is less "spoiled" hay available on average, and the spoiled hay that is available is most often in the form of round bales.  Most home gardeners are not going to have the ability to use round bales.  They are a significant materials handling problem, you pretty much need a tractor with a bale spear unless you have a great set up where you can roll the bale around by hand safely.  

For this trial, I did end up doing lots of hauling of loose greenchop/overmature pasture, and a lot of time was spend raking, forking, hauling and spreading the mulch.  I'm not actually an advocate of this system per se, but I am interested in experimenting with it for potatoes.  
 
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