How to grow Ruth Stout potatoesOn August 25, 2021 by Vlad6 min read
We already discussed the main ideas of gardening using Ruth Stout’s method, a permaculture gardening technique that uses hay. Today I want to share more details and focus on how to grow potatoes using the Ruth Stout method. Potatoes are by far one of the easiest crops to grow using Ruth Stout’s method and that’s why it’s also one of the most popular.
What is the Ruth Stout method?
Before we get into the nit and gritty on how to grow potatoes in a Ruth Stout garden, let’s quickly go over what this gardening technique is all about and why we chose to use it in our garden.
Ruth Stout was an American gardener who lived between 1884 and 1980. Although she was not the first to use hay as mulch, she is responsible for popularizing this gardening method. By the time she wrote her now-popular “No-Work Garden” book, she already had a few decades of gardening experience. During this time she noticed that keeping her gardens heavily and constantly mulched with hay was a lot less work than tilling, but just as effective in keeping the weeds out. Over the years, the old layers of hay start to decompose in place adding more fertility to the garden.
This was one of the main factors that determined us to mulch our gardens with hay. The soil on our property is mostly clay and it’s quite eroded. We’re missing the topsoil layer entirely on most of our property and that is due to high wind erosion and periodic drought periods. Right from the get-go, we knew that one of our most important tasks was to raise the amount of organic matter in our soil.
We also have a lot of pasture, but no grazing stock, therefore we’re left with crazy amounts of hay each year. So we took the decision to apply Ruth Stout’s ideas in our own gardens to make use of the extra hay while slowly building up our own layer of topsoil. We’ve been using this method for over 5 years now and the results just keep getting better and better.
Growing Ruth Stout potatoes
What’s the best place for your potato patch?
You can use the Ruth Stout method to grow potatoes either in your already-established garden or on an undeveloped piece of land. But there are a few factors you need to keep in mind for a Ruth Stout potato patch.
Potatoes need warm temperatures to sprout, and hay (especially light-colored hay) can stop the Sun from warming up the soil in early Spring. So pick a sunny spot for your patch if you live in colder climates (zone 6 and below).
On the other hand, if you live in a warmer or dryer region, it’s worth knowing that while mulching with hay will preserve a lot of the moisture in the ground, Ruth Stout gardens will need occasional watering during severe droughts.
Finally, keep in mind that a Ruth Stout garden won’t have sharp, well-defined edges, and won’t be as beautiful to look at as a neat garden bed. You can tell from the pictures that it looks messier and wilder, so you might not want this on your front lawn.
You can also read more about:
When to plant potatoes in a Ruth Stout garden?
In general, potatoes should be planted after your last frost date. However, the heavy mulch layer required for the Ruth Stout method will shield your seed potatoes from light frosts. If you get a cold night after the potatoes sprout and shoot their first leaves up, those leaves will die, but the potato seeds will still be viable and they will shoot out new sprouts when they feel the temperature is right.
If the temperatures drop too low or if your mulch layer is too thin, the seed potatoes can get frostbitten and rot. If you live further north and your spring sun is still weak, you might add another week after the last frost day just to be sure.
Another good rule of thumb for judging when to plant your potatoes is to wait a week or two after you see the last hoarfrost on the ground early in the morning.
How to plant Ruth Stout potatoes?
Well, technically, you’re not planting the seed potatoes, you’re just laying them on the ground, or grass or previous hay mulch, and you cover them with about 20cm – 30 cm of hay. There’s no digging involved, no tilling or previous soil work, no fertilization.
The potato patch you see here was just a grass field when we started. We mowed the grass down, leaving all the clippings in place. We threw a bunch of seed potatoes right on the ground, I added one handful of dirt from a nearby mole borrow and covered them with hay. That’s all that’s required to plant Ruth Stout potatoes.
How to care for and maintain a Ruth Stout potato patch?
A few weeks later the potato leaves were shooting through. Once they got just a little bigger (about 10-15cm above the mulch), I added another layer of hay on top of everything. After that, I just kept the paths around it mowed down and dumped the grass clippings on top, every time.
We didn’t have to water our potato patch this year, but I made to check from time to time if the soil under the hay got dry. Simply dig a hole in the mulch in the middle of the bed and stick your fingers there. If there’s no moisture whatsoever, you should consider giving them a good soak.
As long as you didn’t plant your potatoes in a swampy area or a puddle, you should never run the risk of too much water, since they are raised above the ground.
Every week or so, you check the undersides of the leaves for potato beetle eggs, larva or adults. If you can keep on top of them and dispose of them all in the early stages, you’ll have delicious organic grown potatoes in no time.
How to harvest potatoes from a Ruth Stout garden?
You should leave your potatoes under the broken down day for a few more weeks after the plants above whiter and dye out. This will help them cure and store better. But you can start harvesting at any point during this time.
Remember that the tubercules need time to grow, if you harvest them too soon, they will be smaller and you will get a smaller harvest. The small potatoes have a much stronger flavor so we always harvest a few before they are fully mature.
To harvest the potatoes plants, grab the potato bush and carefully pull it up. Some of the potatoes in that nest will come up with the plants, but there are usually a few more hiding just under that. Luckily the hay mulch is easily removed by hand, so you won’t need any tools other than maybe a pair of gloves.
Why grow Ruth Stout potatoes?
Ruth Stout potatoes are much easier to grow on a small scale. They don’t require a lot of labor or tools, just some free time and space. However, when it comes to taste, they are no better than any other potatoes out there.
Here at the Valhalla Homestead, we’re still expanding our garden growing space. We developed a crop rotation system that helps us prepare a new patch of land and turn it from sod to garden soil over a few years. The Ruth Stout potato patch is the first crop in this system. We can plant it directly on the ground and use the hay much to kill perennial plants in that spot and to add an initial dose of organic material to that patch.
You can also read more about:
Hello and welcome!
We (Vlad & Greti) are building a home on a homestead in a rural area of Romania in Western Europe and sharing our story as two passionate gardeners who ditched the city for a simpler, better life.