Ruth Stout is often credited with beginning the no-till gardening movement. In 1955 she released her first book How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening. She was frequently featured in gardening magazines in the 1950’s and 60’s for her revolutionary gardening methods. more than 60 years after the release of that first book people are still seeking her methods. Intuitively we seem to know there’s a better way to garden.
Traditional gardening with plowing and tilling damages the microbes that convert organic material into plant nutrients. Add to this that traditional gardens tend to not add enough organic matter and use chemical fertilizers as a replacement and you have a weed patch with almost no life.
The basics of Ruth Stout’s methods involve simply keeping the garden covered in a thick layer of mulch such as straw. Thick mulching has several advantages over other methods of tilling and plowing.
- Mulch conserves water – by slowing down evaporation moisture stays near plant roots.
- Mulch blocks light weeds would need to be able to thrive. Almost no kneeling and weeding.
- Thick mulch helps prevent pest insects from laying eggs in the soil – larvae are restricted access to roots.
- Blocked light and trapped moisture provide excellent habitat for microbes and earthworms – you get a healthy soil food web.
- No-till is believed to release less CO2 into the atmosphere – environmentally a better choice.
When first beginning a no-till garden laying a thick layer of cardboard over your garden area followed by a deep layer of compost, manure (horse or rabbit is a good choice). Top this all with several inches of straw or wood chips and water thoroughly to start.
Simply pull back a small area of the mulch, dig a little hole in the compost layer and plant transplants. To plant seeds pull back the mulch, plant in the compost as usual and only begin back filling the mulch as the seeds begin growing. Straw and/or wood chips are regularly added to the top to replace mulch that’s been decomposed at the bottom.
You’ll discover this method just gets better after year one, have patience and you’ll be rewarded for doing less work and following what nature intended.
If you give these methods a try send me an email or comment to let me know how it worked for you.