Ruth Stout's method

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

I'm reading through Ruth Stout's No Work Gardening book, and I'm wondering if anyone has tried this? It's an intriguing concept, that's for sure.

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)


I have experimented with a few of her ideas. The first time I grew potatoes, I did just as she said: laid them on the ground and covered with mulch. I used about 12" of ground leaves rather than straw, and boy did it work well! The leaves didn't pull off quite as easily as flakes of straw would have, but no digging, and no weeds. And with ground leaves, no weeds grew from the straw! And never had to water them.

I did use straw flakes to mulch between my fruit shrubs, because I got so tired of weeding. I kept about 6" of straw in entire bed, and it eliminated all weeds. Those are my only attempts, but would do it for other crops if I had ready access to more straw!

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

Thanks Kathy! I'm thinking of trying this next year. I think there's enough farmers and ranchers around here with some unfeedable hay to make this work for me. I like the idea of less weeding and watering lots, especially since I've discovered flower gardening and would rather spend my time there and let the veggies take care of themselves.

This book is definitely a good garden read. Plus, she's in Colorado where the climate is similar to mine.

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

I especially loved the parts of her writing about her "competition" with her brother, author Rex Stout!

Newnan, GA(Zone 8a)

I just finished this book last week. She sprinkles her plants with salt to take care of bugs??

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

I haven't gotten to the part about her brother yet, but I'm reading it a little part here and a little part there for now. I will read it from cover to cover next winter, because I think I'm gonna try this on the veggie garden.

I read the part about sprinkling the plants with salt. Wasn't that for cabbage worms?

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

I hadn't read the part about sprinkling plants with salt. Wouldn't that kill them? I use salt to kill weeds growing in the driveway and sidewalks. I use salt to sprinkle on slugs to kill them, but only when they are not on a plant.

Does Ms. Stout explain her method?

The things with her brother might not be in that book. She gave a lot of interviews and wrote articles for magazines. I read some of her reprints in an old edition of OG (Organic Gardening) that talked about her garden competition with Rex. And of course Rex was famous for his Nero Wolfe series who was a serious plant grower (orchids?)

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

Howdy folks. I started a thread on this topic back in January, explaining my "demonstration garden" and Ruth Stout's no work garden. People brought up some interesting questions and comments. You may want to view it at

At some point it became a 'highjacked' thread but was still very entertaining. I've been taking pics and keeping notes as the garden progresses and so far, I LOVE IT! I highly recommend this technique.

If you have any questions or comments to make we should probably make them here, that thread ended up with 65 replies and is now rather long.

Newnan, GA(Zone 8a)

okay, have a question. provided I can find some spoiled hay, and if not, will use all my leaves this fall, how do you deal with a bed in progress?
I have no new beds, all are works in progress (we're talking flowers, not veggies) How do I build the bed up without leaving my already growing things too low? do I have to lift and replant as the bed builds up? I know we're only talking a couple of inches after things break down, but how do you use this idea in existing beds?

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

Tig, I tried to do this with an existing perennial border, and failed miserably. As you said, the plants' crowns got buried under so much stuff they couldn't emerge well. I gave in and re-did the border. Now that it is started, I put about 3" of ground leaves on the whole bed in the fall, and during the winter they get pushed down to about 1". Then I put about 3" of fresh compost on in the spring. Almost no weeds! I don't know if spreading hay or straw would be pleasing to me, aesthetically, plus, it really provides too many places for slugs to hide in my hard. I do the spoiled straw mulch in my fruit bush bed every year though. Just put down new flakes every spring. NO weeds that way!

Spicewood, TX(Zone 8b)

I've heard many good things about her method. A similar if not almost identical method is called sheet composting. If you'd like more info, you could do a search on either and come up with gobs of info!

BTW, if you use hay, make sure it's NOT johnson grass, coastal or any other type of invasive grass. Also, make sure it came from relatively weed-less hay fields. A newbie gardening neighbor used some old spoiled hay for mulch on her veggie garden a couple years ago and now has the nices, greenest, thickest hay plot I've ever seen! LOL!

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

I did that once (gulp). Make that twice? Would you believe 3 times? LOL But mine wasn't spoiled hay, it was shredded leaves raked out of my neighbor's crabgrass-infested lawn. Best patches of crabgrass I have ever seen in my life! Have I learned my lesson? We'll see this fall!

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

This is what I'm most worried about. Importing something into my garden that I will fight for eternity. I've been fighting bindweed for years because of some manure we hauled in, and I almost have that whipped, so I don't want to introduce something else evil. According to Ruth Stout though, if it's thick enough, nothing is going to get through it. I don't know, I like the concept a lot, but I still have many reservations about it.

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

Joan, that is true: if it is thick enough you won't have any trouble. My problem is with the leaves, I don't have enough to spread them thick enough. After the rain pushes them down, the 3" turns into 1". If I had enough to use them 10" or more... :) Where I have used the hay (in my fruit bushes), I use whole flakes. I criss-cross the flakes (each about 6") and have absolutely no problems with weeds from any seeds surviving! A few sprout in the hay, but the roots are unable to reach the soil through the flakes, so they die within a couple days. If not, I just kind of shake them, and that dislodges the weed roots from the flake.

My crabgrass problems are in my veggie garden, which is much too small for the straw mulch idea.

Can you start with a small patch of your veggie garden and give it a try?

When weeds overwhelmed part of my veggie garden, I used a different method to clean them out. Took the patch out of production for a year, and grew the weeds to death!

I used buckwheat, planted it, when it flowered (about 20 days), plowed the patch under, planted more seed, 20 days later plowed it under, etc. All the perennial weeds were gone, and all the annual weed seeds were spent from the top 12" (the plowing depth) of the bed. Since then I have hardly had any weeds in that bed, just a few from blown seeds. You can use a lot of different kinds of manure crops for this, but buckwheat was the kind in the article I read; it has one of the shortest lifespans, and that literally forces the weeds to grow to death. All the pesky perennial weeds that grow back from root pieces die because the leaves are destroyed almost as soon as they emerge. That is how I got bindweed and thistle and bermuda grass and several other nasties out.

Belfield, ND(Zone 4a)

Now that's interesting Kathy! I do have part of my veggie garden that's not being used this year. Partly because it got so late to plant some things, and partly because with the house building, I won't have time this fall to put up all the veggies. I think I'll try this with the part that's not being used. Now, to find buckwheat seeds might be the most difficult part. I've never seen them around here.

Opps, thought of something after I hit send. How tall does this stuff get? I don't have a plow, but I have a tiller, will that work?

This message was edited Saturday, Jun 15th 5:10 PM

Grove City, OH(Zone 6a)

Yeah, a tiller would be fine. I don't have either one; I "hand-plow" with a trowel (I am crippled; unable to use my right foot for anything).

Buckwheat grows to about 1 foot high and around; I am sure that if you posted a request in the farming section, someone could spare you a couple of ounces of seed. You can let one or two plants go to seed, and have some for the next area. I don't have any this year; I let some go to seed last year and it has sprouted and flowered, but no seed yet for a few weeks :( I plant mine at about the rate of 1/2 oz seed per 100 sq ft of garden. BTW, the flowers are pretty! White, fluffy, and bees adore them!

When I turn it under, I just chop it into kind of small pieces with my trowel, and plant the new seeds in among the dead plants. Works great!

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