Although the Ruth Stout gardening method is over a century old, there are still a lot of questions out there regarding its performance and success. Most people doubt that food can grow from just hay, while others feel like they will be restricted, in terms of what crops they can grow.
I’ve already gone over the basics of the Ruth Stout gardening technique in my previous post. So today, I want to go over some of the vegetables that are best suited to grow following Miss Stout’s gardening style.
Potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, kale, cabbage, pumpkins, squash, peas and beans are all great crops for your Ruth Stout garden. But the list can be a bit more generous, depending on how old your garden is and your growing zone.
As a rule of thumb, plants that do well in moist soil will perform best in a Ruth Stout garden bed. The thick mulch layer works like a tiny water reservoir for these plants.
You should also aim to plant crops that are taller since the mulch layer should be over 30 cm deep, smaller plants don’t fare well. Needless to say that sowing small seeds is in a Ruth Stout garden is pointless; the seeds will fall through the hay and they will never see the light of day, ever again.
Potatoes are probably one of the most famous and favoured crops to grow in a Ruth Stout garden. Miss Stout herself was famous for just throwing potatoes randomly in her hay-mulched garden and getting amazing crops in return with no additional effort.
Potatoes grow amazing in hay or straw bales, even when stacked vertically. The broken down hay gives them all the nutrients they need, while the top mulch layer keeps the moisture and temperature constant.
Planting potatoes using Ruth Stout’s teaching, simply create long rows of hay or straw (both work equally well) and throw the potatoes on top. Cover the rows with another, smaller layer of hay and wait for the potatoes to sprout.
After the potatoes bushes get over 15-20cm big, cover them again more hay and repeat whenever the bush growth gets out of hand or when the rain packs the mulch layer too much.
Over-wintered garlic is one of the best vegetables for this gardening style. The hay is a great insulator and will keep the garlic cloves from freezing during winter.
When we first started our Ruth Stout garden, garlic was the first thing that went in. During that winter we had temperatures dropping as low as -17 C / 1 F and all our garlic cloves survived.
In fact, I ended up adding too much hay over it (about 50 cm) and some of the garlic plants were not strong enough to poke all the way through. In retrospect, 30 cm of unpacked hay should suffice.
Tomatoes can be planted sideways under the hay and they will do amazing. Kale and cabbage can also benefit from the hay’s insulating properties and work great as late-season crops.
Squash, pumpkins, zucchini will do well, but not great. Adding some decomposing vegetables under the hay layer will improve their growing conditions though.
Beans will also adore the high humidity of your Ruth Stout garden bed and will thrive if planted in 5 cm in the mulch. We like to also throw a hand of compost in the hole we dig to give it a head start.
Have you tried the Ruth Stout gardening method yourself? Did you have success with any of your crops? If so, let us know in the comments below what else should I add to the list?