Book review

How to Have a Green Thumb Without
an Aching Back

My all-time favorite gardening book is Ruth Stout’s “How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back.” Do yourself a favor. Run, don’t walk, to Amazon or to your nearest used book store to get yourself a copy. You’ll learn how to eliminate back-ache gardening.

Gardener Shirley Raynor first loaned me this book. Then our Garden Manager, Arthur Leon, gave me an aging copy, joyful-used and disfigured with check marks and bent down pages. Being a preacher’s kid, I’ve been thinking of adding a few amen’s and halleluiahs, too.

Ruth Stout should be called the “Mother of Mulch.” She escaped from the concrete of Manhattan with her husband and fled to a fifty-five acre farm in Connecticut and through trial and error began proving the experts wrong about how to make things grow. Not a “how-to” manual, her book is her own story of successes and failures -- useful, practical, easy-to-follow, sensible, fun, and often funny. It’s pure joy to read. Put it this way -- reading this book is like having a delightful, over-the-garden fence conversation with our own Jon Thomas.

Writing of her battle with marauding woodchucks, she says, “The next morning I found that woodchucks and rabbits were like postmen: ‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds.’ ”

Or, “after several years of staking and pruning tomato plants I discarded that method and bought salt hay, which I spread on the ground, letting the plants roam at will and do their work lying down.” The head of one chapter says “Throw Away Your Spade and Hoe” and tells how she discovered that deep mulching eliminated the need for chemical fertilizers, poison sprays, expensive manure, and laboriously-built compost piles.

Planting, thinning, mulching, harvesting, sharing your bounty with happy neighbors - here, you’ll find it all.

I’m a convert. After reading this book, I took to mulching my Crows Woods garden with straw. I have never turned back.

Written by Mary Previte, Plot 21