The Ruth Stout Method Update

For three summers all the hay and grass path clippings from our 2/3rd acre meadow have been brought up into the garden and composted or used as a surface mulch. It must have been several tonnes of organic material, but there is not much sign of it now – odd bits of grassy mulch are hanging around from last year. But it has entered the growing system and having started my veg plot with thin layer of poorish topsoil on a rock base, there is real evidence that the fertility is building up. I can see it in the fact that the soil is darker now and moist, we are seeing plenty of worms and the crops are simply huge – massive spinach leaves, big lettuces, wide broccoli plants – in fact these are the most vigorous vegetable plants I have ever grown! They positively ooze fecundity and abundance. Everything I am growing is prolific. All this shouts at me that there is a natural fertility boom here .

Indeed new gardens like mine, which began from scratch in 2012, take a certain amount of time to settle in and for the natural balance of organic systems to develop. The soil life here was trashed by our digger excavations, but now it should be recovering. I expect to see this evolution continue.

And I have been trying the Ruth Stout method. She bought in hay and used it as a deep mulch on un-dug veg beds. Likewise I have done that with the hay from our field. I am absolutely committed to no dig and to surface mulching, but I find that grass clippings are easier to use than the hay. The problem with hay here is that in our warm damp climate, the seeds of grasses which it bears tend to germinate and become a troublesome nuisance.

Meadow late May 14

The meadow in May

I have been told that if we soak the hay in water for 2 weeks before using it, then that will suppress the weed germination, so we are going to try that.

In fact we have plenty of grass mowings from the paths we cut in the field and these are very easy to use, and relatively grass seed free.

The piles of hay are best used here as mulches on fruit trees, fruit bushes, ornamental trees and shrubs, hedging plants and new trees.

So really the ‘Ruth Stout method’ of hay mulching is not necessary here. I feel that with grass clippings as mulch, comfrey, green manures and composting our kitchen waste I will able to maintain fertility. Like any organic garden mine should be self sustaining. The Ruth Stout model is very useful, but the flaw is that she was ‘buying in’ fertility, by purchasing her hay. Her practises of using surface mulches and no dig gardening are the ones I embrace, and will continue to use here. Taking the heavy labour out of food growing and making it fast and fun are essential for me, and Ruth inspires me to forge ahead undaunted by my physical limitations. She was hopping about growing food well into her eighties!

I certainly will never need to buy in any fertilizers or manures for vegetable growing, as we can collect enough natural fertility from the plants growing around us. Currently cleavers (the sticky bur plant) are an easy catch – they are romping away now, and I pull them up, roll them into big footballs and stuff them into the compost bins.

In addition, I have a notion about my introduction of Yellow Rattle to the hay meadow. It is already species rich, but this parasitic plant suppresses the vigour of grasses and will give the wild flowers an even better run. I have been told that when I get Yellow Rattle well established here, it will really cut down the yield of grass/ hay with the meadow becoming, much ‘thinner’ and more flowery. If this is true, then in time the hay output here will diminish. This is the first year I have established Yellow Rattle – it is growing in scattered patches.

Yellow rattle

My first Yellow Rattle plants

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