Origins of the Back To Eden Gardening Method
Paul Gautschi is a Christian who developed the Back to Eden gardening method. Throughout the documentary film about his method, the narrator frequently mentions his beliefs. He believes strongly in the value of hard work, self-reliance and using what you have to get by The beliefs that inspire him to garden are those involving hard work, self-reliance, and using what is available to get by.
The Garden of Eden method focuses on how nature works. This means that man did not have to work in order to make things grow. There were plenty of plants to sustain life.
And yet, nobody was out fertilizing the soil. How could these things grow?
He looked for answers on the ground in the forest near his property. A rich layer of decomposing leaves, twigs, and other plant matter had formed over the years. He had a plan to get mulch like that to develop with help from humans.
Since the soil has a thick layer of decomposing matter, it is less prone to erosion. This type of clay does not harden when baked in the sun, and it keeps significantly more moisture. He discovered that his method worked well by experimenting with different trees in his orchard. Would the same trick work for other plants, like vegetables?
The answer, in short, is yes. The garden becomes more productive as time goes on. The natural mulch forms new soil over time which protects the older soil. He almost never has to water his plants in the Pacific Northwest. The mulch helps retain rainfall, rather than allowing it to evaporate.
The film explores his spirituality and how it is connected to his garden. He has a great deal of faith. The truth is plain for both believers and nonbelievers alike. Replenishing the natural mulch that coats the soil gives us a chance at having our own personal Eden at home. And that’s worth striving for!
If you would like to watch the documentary, go ahead! The film is very aesthetically pleasing and does a great job of explaining the history of Back to Eden gardening.
How To Do Your Own Back To Eden Garden
To start the process, you will need to invest some time and effort upfront, and get a lot of mulch. It’ll take some planning, too. The hardest work in maintaining a garden ends once it is established. It’s easy to take care of your plot of land and, with time, it will become more fertile!
Select Your Supplies
This method’s goal is to use what’s available in your area. Paul uses wood chips as fuel, while other people may use dry leaves or wheat/rice/oat straw. Grass clippings are a popular mulch as well.
Although it may seem easy to simply put out these materials in the fall and then not worry about them until spring, that is not the case. You can speed up the process by doing X. using traditional methods of composting will help get your Back to Eden garden started. In the spring you will be able to have rich, fertile black soil!
You are using a “brown” material such as wood chips or dry leaves to protect the soil’s surface. These brown materials will decompose slowly over time. Paul has been slowly layering in wood chips over the course of several years to create compost.
If you want your materials to decompose quickly, you’ll need to find some “green” or nitrogen-rich materials. If you use a batch of arborist wood chips, you will get a healthy mix of fresh green material and browns. New shoots and fresh green leaves are rich in nitrogen, making them ideal sources of material. This makes it an ideal material to use for the Back to Eden gardening method!
What if you only have access to a small amount of wood chips?
The main idea of Back to Eden gardening is to use what is naturally available in your area. This doesn’t need to cost anything. Let nature provide for you.
Look around your neighborhood in the fall. Are trees dropping leaves everywhere? If so, you’re set. You could ask the neighbors if you can help them with their leaves by raking them up and hauling them away. Most of the time, they’ll be thrilled. Feel like mowing lawns? You can haul the clippings away.
Green waste will be necessary in order to decompose brown waste. I like to use coffee grounds. Nitrogen-rich food scraps are often thrown in the trash by local restaurants. If you go to a local coffee shop, they might be able to fill up a bucket of coffee grounds for you. Failing that, fresh grass clippings work well. Contact local golf courses or community parks and inquire about removing their lawn trimmings. You may also be able to haul away droppings from local chicken farms.
You should not have to spend a lot of money on this stuff. You can get what you want if you’re willing to put in some effort. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Your garden will love it, and you will too.
Putting It All In Place
This gardening method doesn’t require tilling. You can start a Back to Eden bed right on top of an existing lawn if you want. It’s best to begin preparing your garden in the fall so it will be ready in the spring.
Begin by putting down layers of newspaper or cardboard. You should aim to have a deep layer of mulch that will stop weeds or grass from growing. Use around 5-6 sheets of newspaper to create a barrier if you’re using it. You should lightly moisten the newspaper or cardboard before you start working with it to keep it in place.
If you have high-quality aged compost or another source of nitrogen, apply it to the soil next. Normally, 2-3 inches of compost is all that is needed as a base in the spring. I prefer to use manure that has been well composted as a base, as it makes for soil that is very rich. A mix of screened soil and compost is also an option.
Finally, cover the area with a thick layer of wood chips, 5-6 inches deep. You can use dry leaves or pine needles, too. The goal is to have your mulch completely cover the soil layer. The purpose of this is to stop the soil from being carried away during rains.
And that’s it. You’ve got the basic plot ready. If you want, you can speed up decomposition by covering the pile with black plastic, which will trap heat. You don’t have to do that much if you don’t want to! Now it’s time for nature to do its job.
Planting & Reaping The Rewards
Your mulch layer should be significantly thinner in the spring. Choose whichever mulch you think will work best for your needs and then follow the guidelines for how deep to lay it. For example, if you’re using pine straw, you should lay it down two to three inches deep. Instead of having quickly-decreasing particulate matter and fresh mulch materials, you’ll have slowly-reducing particulate matter and aged mulch materials. This is perfect.
Getting your seeds down into the soil layer is important when planting. Remember that aged compost you put down below your wood chips? It’s time to turn it over. Remove a few chips from the top of the soil so that you can see the ground below and plant your seeds there. The roots will develop in that and will be able to penetrate your cardboard or newspaper layer.
The mulch should be pulled back from the soil so the sun can reach it as the seeds germinate. As your plants grow, begin moving the mulch back around them. The tarp protects the soil at the base of the plants from the elements and helps preserve moisture in the soil.
In the Back to Eden gardening method, watering is easy. All that mulch will hold moisture. The amount of watering your garden will need will decrease once the mulch is back in place.
Soil that has a lot of organic material will hold more water. If you think the mulch needs extra water, you can place a soaker hose under it during particularly hot weather. You might find it’s not needed!
Weeding In The Back To Eden Gardening Method
Weeding is very simple in this gardening method. The weed seeds won’t be able to grow because they will be landing in the mulch and not in the soil. So long as you have around 3 inches of mulch for your plants, their roots will be close to the surface and easy to remove.
To remove weeds, grip the weed at the bottom and pull it up. It should come out of the mulch easily. In cases where the weeds have a deep taproot, it is still easy to remove them. To weed the garden, the soil beneath the mulch should be moist so the weeds come out easily.
Even though we would all love it, there is no gardening method that is one-hundred percent weed-free. Despite this, Back to Eden gardens will still need to do some weeding. Since there is less weed growth, it will be easier to remove them.
Back To Eden Gardening Benefits And Results
The Back to Eden gardening method has many benefits, including not having to dig up the ground and using sheet mulching.
Annual weeds have been eliminated from our garden. We continue to have some weeds that come back every year that we need to deal with. We started our gardens without mulching deeply enough, which is why they are not doing well.
In our first few gardens that we converted, we spread a layer of mulch 8 inches deep. I dug a trench that was deep enough to get rid of most of the crabgrass and bindweed.
When we started mulching our gardens, we had a more difficult time getting enough wood chips.
We covered most of the garden in wood chips instead of keeping some of the garden in the old tilling method and slowly converting over.
This technology was effective in eliminating annual weeds, but it was not as effective in preventing perennial weeds from growing back. The number of weeds is decreasing each year because they are being removed diligently.
Did I mention we also have a watering problem?
Our well isn’t able to provide enough water to our large gardens. Replacing shallow wood chip mulches with deep ones has significantly decreased the amount of watering required.
We water newly transplanted sets and newly planted seeds. After that, unless we experience an extreme drought, the gardens will need little water.
Fewer Weather Problems With Back to Eden Gardening
The impacts that weather changes have on us are not as strong as they used to be. Last year is a great example of this. 2017 was a very wet growing season in our area—it seemed like it was always raining.
People were frustrated because they couldn’t get their gardens in. Why? The ground is too wet to till and working in a garden that has turned to mud after all the rain is nearly impossible.
But this isn’t a problem for us anymore.
We can plant in our garden after it rains heavily for hours or even days. The wood chips obstruct the growth of weeds and make for a pleasant walking surface, even when wet.
The soil under the mulch will not turn into muck. Planting is very easy and we have had no issues planting our garden in the rain.
The mulch also keeps your plants much cleaner.
When it rains, the dirt on the ground gets splashed up onto your plants. This makes salad greens look bad and extra washing is needed. It can also spread diseases to plants.
Since we put down a thick layer of mulch, the dirt stays in place and doesn’t splash onto our plants.
Our gardens are yielding more than ever before.
Back To Eden Gardening Tips
Tip 1: Use Fine Mulch For Small Seeds
There are two ways to plant small seeds like carrots, lettuce, radishes, and so on in a Back to Eden garden.
The first step is to rake the wood chip mulch away from your planting area.
After that, plant your smaller seeds and move the mulch away from the edge of the planting row. It is beneficial to wait until the plants have grown a few inches before pushing the mulch back around them.
We prefer the second method, which is to use a finer mulch on our garden beds that grow crops with smaller seeds.
We put the wood chips through a wire sieve to make them smaller, and then spread them on top of the garden beds where we are growing carrots, radishes, beets, etc.
Thicker wood chips may make it difficult for larger seeds to grow.
Back To Eden suggest that you mulch to a depth of 3 to 4 inches The Back To Eden method suggests mulching to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
When starting a Back to Eden garden, as recommended in the film of the same name, use four inches of wood chips. This is because it is hard work to rake back the wood chips for the first year or two when you are planting your garden.
If you have an area that is clear of weeds or only has annual weeds like pigweed, a 4-inch layer of mulch will work well.
If you have an infestation of invasive perennial weeds, it is best to use a thicker mulch layer.
There were a few bindweed plants that managed to pop up through the deep mulch but it took us less than 10 minutes a week to weed that patch. It now takes hours to weed by hand or with a hoe because of the perennial weeds, compared to before.
The problem stayed the same for years, with the weed gradually disappearing.