Occasionally one of the GPs will blog about a book that’s particulary good – or not. I was given a copy of Ruth Stout’s No-Work Garden Book a few years ago and frankly hadn’t given much more than a passing glance. But last week I thumbed through it and was immediately struck by the quality of science this self-taught gardener brought to her writing.
Much of Ruth’s gardening practices included the use of organic mulch on vegetable gardens, and she regularly wrote to scientists to ask for their interpretation of “expert” advice. Here’s an excerpt from a letter written 50 years ago by Dr. Arthur Pratt from Cornell:
“Yes, leaves, hay, straw, etc. that are not decayed or that are only partially decayed will rob the soil of nitrogen if they are mixed into the soil. But when used on top the way you use them, I have never seen a nitrogen shortage as a result of the mulch.”
So, we’ve known for at least 50 years that organic mulches don’t cause nitrogen deficiencies. Why does this misconception persist, especially for woody mulches?
Ruth also challenged the use of plastic mulches, then relatively new to the garden product market. She understood the benefits of a no-till approach to maintaining healthy soils. She has a whole chapter entitled “Make Mine More Mulch.”
So here’s to Ruth Stout, the original “Mulch Queen.”