'Mulch Queen’ Ruth Stout claimed to have smashed saloons with Carry Nation in Prohibition-era Kansas and worked au natural in her roadside Connecticut garden, but her labor-saving, soil-improving, permanent garden mulching technique is what earned her lasting fame. Stout was born in 1884 and lived to be 96; by the1950s, she was writing lively gardening books, including How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back and Gardening Without Work. Both are out of print, but Stout's technique remains consistent with the "no-till" gardening methods soil experts recommend today (see Building Fertile Soil). We thought you might enjoy meeting Stout through this excerpt from Gardening Without Work, which was reprinted most recently by The Lyons Press. — Mother
Lasagna gardening is similar to the process described in the article. Here's a fact sheet from Oregon State University.
The Master Gardeners of Adams County, PA and Frederick, MD profiled Ruth Stout at their blog here.
UPDATE: 6/12/2010 - Recent research shows that sheet mulching and lasagna gardening are not good practices, I've recently learned, because they interfere in the water and air interaction with the soil. (Here's a better way). It turns out that Ruth Stout's methods were way ahead of her time.