This fall, just a few weeks before the cold weather started, we planted a small garden bed with garlic using the Ruth Stout method. After doing quite a bit of research and comparing notes between different styles of gardening, I think Ruth Stout will work perfectly for planting our garlic.
I’ll get through what the Ruth Stout method is and how we used it to plant our garlic this year, in a minute. Before that, I want to provide some context and explain my decision.
Most of our homestead is covered in clay-heavy soil. So wherever we looked when we choose the location for our vegetable garden, the soil was bad. But this was also a good thing! It gave us the liberty to choose the best spot considering ease-of-access, sunlight and esthetics.
We decided to start our garden behind our house, where it’s easy to get to from the kitchen, it’s close to our hose bib and it gets full sunlight most of the day.
Planting vegetables in our clay soil is pointless. As soon as summer hits and the clay dries out it becomes rock solid. At that point, only the tall grass and the weeds are able to survive.
Tilling the clay is a really hard job. When the clay is wet, it becomes very heavy, when it dries out you can’t get your shovel in it. If we were to invest money in this project we could add in lots of sand, gypsum and wood chips and mix everything in really good to fix the clay soil faster.
But I am in no rush so I am willing to take a few years to build up fertile soil on top of our clay soil and use that to grow our food.
Heavy mulching and cover-crops are the best ways to build up new soil. Fertile soil is basically broke down organic matter. There are loads of critters that break down matter from worms and insects to fungi and bacteria, they all play an important role in creating healthy soil.
This spring, I added thick layers of hay, compost and leaves over the area that we plan to plant next spring. By autumn the hay was mostly broken down and buried in the clay below. This layer of broken down hay is perfect for plants to grow in. So naturally, some cover crops took over and covered the ground.
Ruth Stout was a passionate gardener who lived in the US around the early 1900’s. She was also one of the first who started writing about her methods, and through this coined an old gardening method to her name.
The Ruth Stout gardening style revolves around constant heavy mulching with hay or straw. Just like the Back to Eden gardening styles recommends mulching with wood chips.
In my opinion, mulching is good no matter what you use to do it. I think this is what makes both the Ruth Stout and the Back to Eden gardening successful.
I chose the same path as Ruth Stout because I have hay readily available and in abundance, but I do not have cheap access to wood chips.
With one good layer of broken down hay on the ground, it was time to start planting our garlic. We bought about 15 heads of garlic and we set down over a cup of coffee and broke them down into cloves, making sure we’re not damaging the outside husk.
We used a stick to poke holes through the mulch layer and placed one clove in each hole. Pointy end up. When we finished planting all our garlic cloves we added another generous layer of hay on top of it. About 30 cm think.
To be honest, it might not have been enough, but hopefully, it did its job and protected the garlic cloves from freezing during the cold winter nights.
Right now everything is covered in snow, but underneath all that, the hay is rotting away and transforming into dark, nutrient-rich soil.
I can’t wait to see if our garlic cloves sprout in spring. I’ll keep you updated!