Compost, Mulch, Etc

How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back

What are the three things that consume most of your time and effort in gardening? It’s weeding, watering, and working the soil, isn’t it? How many hours do you spend just doing those three things? You hardly have time to enjoy your garden! But what if you could have a beautiful, lush garden – full of fragrant flowers and delicious fruits and vegetables – without all that work? Sounds way to good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s certainly what I thought… until today.

Today I read Ruth Stout’s book, “How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back”. Although it was written in 1955 by a lady born in 1884, it was full of practical gardening advice that is going to change the way I do gardening.

The first half of her book describes the struggles she had when she first started gardening – she started a garden that was an unbelievable 240 by 100 feet (24,000 square feet). One of her first tasks was to dig by hand a trench two feet deep and twenty-two inches wide the full length of her garden (240 feet), twice, to make a 480 foot long asparagus patch! Absolutely incredible!

Eventually, after years of backbreaking toil resulting in less than satisfactory results, Ruth Stout discovered the marvels of mulching. By laying 8 inches of spoiled hay, leaves, and fruit & vegetabls scraps throughout her garden…

  • She reduced the need for watering, as the mulch helped the soil to retain the moisture it had.
  • She eliminated the need to till the soil, as sun no longer baked the dirt and the worms happily infested the ground beneath the mulch – keeping the soil soft.
  • She virtually eliminated weeding, as the weeds were unable to get sunlight through the mulch.
  • She improved her soil quality, as the mulch would decompose into rich, nutrient-filled soil.

If mulching can do even half as much for me as it did for Ruth Stout, my gardening experience will improve dramatically. However, since this is something quite new to me, I think an experiment is in order. This fall, I dug up a new patch of lawn and gave it a dose of Round-Up. In the next week or so, I intend to bring in a layer of topsoil and then cover that up with 8 inches of old hay from a local farmer. Then, we’ll give this mulching method a try and see if I can “have a green thumb without an aching back” too.

To read this excellent little book for your self, get How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back by Ruth Stout.

5 replies on “How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back”

Scary to think you are going to grow food in soil you’ve doused with RoundUp. Contrary to the original advertisements, it is neither inert when it hits the soil nor is it non toxic to people. One University study found that although either of the two main ingredients in themselves are only mildly toxic, together they are incrementally more so, and in the study found that people who used it in their work growing tomatoes for processing in Ontario had a much higher incidence of a number of health issues, including miscarriages and prostate cancer.

Much better to have simply flipped over the sod so the grass was under and the soil on top, and sprinkled a little dolomite lime on top to encourage the earthworms to come eat the grass and fertilize your soil for you.

Anyway, you sound as though you’re on track now. You may find that you need to pull the mulch back a little in the spring to let the soil warm, if you are in a place with cold winters, as most vegetable seeds are unhappy in cold soil and just as the mulch keeps the soil cool in summer it tends to prevent the soil from warming as early in the spring. Once things underway then you can tuck the mulch back around your plants.

Wondering if you could discuss results. Is ruth stout method appropriate for some grow zones, and less so for others?

Charlene: I guess I can’t speak to the different grow zones – but I know this method has worked really well for me. I don’t think I could ever go back to ‘regular gardening’. Weed suppression, moisture retention, and the organic material added to the soil makes it all very worth while!

Do you end up having to pull back much at all for the soil to warm? I’m also in Alberta and curious about this. I mulch my garlic beds and it just grows right through the mulch, but not sure about other crops.

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