Ruth Stout was all about mulch
. Layers, piles, heaps, mounds, and more. She captured Organic Gardening
readers' attention with her passion for no-work gardening. In this vintage entry from How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method
, Stout addressed readers' FAQs about her approach to gardening.
People are always asking Ruth Stout a great many questions about the year-round mulch method: what kind of mulch to use; how much; when to apply it. Here are some of her answers.
What kind of mulch do you use?
Hay, leaves, straw, seaweed, pine needles, sawdust, weeds, garbage—any vegetable matter which rots. Some people write me and complain the bales of "hay" they bought were all coarse stalks, weeds
, etc. That is all good mulch.
All kinds of leaves?
Aren't oak leaves too sour?
People say so. Put on a little more lime if your soil is acid.
Don't some leaves decay too slowly?
Then they remain mulch just that much longer.
Don't leaves mat down?
Somewhat but that makes no difference, since they are between the rows of growing things, not on top of them.
Can you use leaves without hay?
Yes, but I prefer a combination of the two, if you can get it.
How much mulch do you need?
The answer to that is: more than you would think. You should start with a good 8 inches of it.
How can tiny plants survive between 8-inch walls?
And the answer to that is: the mulch is trampled on, rained on, and packed down by the time you are ready to plant; it doesn't stay 8 inches high.
How often do you put it on?
Whenever you see a spot that needs it. If weeds begin to peep through, don't bother to pull them; just toss an armful of hay on them.
What time of year do you start to mulch?
NOW, whatever the date may be.
Would it be better to wait until the crop is up?
No, for by that time the sun will have had a chance to bake the soil, and the weeds will be making progress.
Now, the million-dollar question:
Where do you get your mulch?
That is difficult to answer but I can say this: if enough people in any community demand it, I believe that someone will be eager to supply it.
Also, use all your leaves
. Clip your cornstalks into foot-length pieces and use them. Utilize your garbage, tops of perennials, everything. In many localities the utility companies chop up branches which they cut when they clear their wires; you can probably get these for nothing if you can haul them away.
Now for the drawbacks. People have complained to me that mulching does not kill everything. I just got a letter from someone saying that it won't kill cockleburs, morning glories, Johnson grass, nut grass. She left out witch grass. I know it won't kill that and neither will it pick your peas or plant your seeds. I am just saying (in a friendly, sarcastic way) that just because it does 100 things for you, should it be expected to do 101?
Excerpted from How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method, edited by J.I. Rodale and Staff. Copyright 1961 by J.I. Rodale. Renewed 1999, Rodale Inc.
Check out this YouTube video of Ruth Stout. What an inspiration!