When I first saw a video about the Back to Eden gardening method, I knew I had to try it out.
I started with a patch of hard ground filled with gravel. I put down a layer of cardboard or three or four sheets of paper. (You can use newspaper roll ends, but I had large sheets of paper that were used for packing material from our recent international move.)
Then I covered the cardboard and paper with three to four inches of composted horse manure. (Since we were just starting out on that property I found my composted manure on Craigslist. All from horses fed organic feed.)
After that, I covered the manure with about three inches of wood chips. Then I left sprinklers running on the new garden area for hours. The wood chips are so absorbent it felt like the water would never actually soak into the ground. But that is also the key to why this gardening method is so incredible.
The wood chips provide a covering that retains water and protects microbial life in the soil beneath.
For this gardening method it’s ideal to prepare the garden plot the fall before the first spring planting, but even with planting immediately I had decent success growing peas and onion sets. (Despite the fact that my kids or a goat managed to run down the rows on a near daily basis.)
With this approach, it is critical to ensure that you don’t mix the wood chips into the soil. You want to make sure the wood chips are only acting as a mulch on the surface of the ground.
Wood is an excellent source of nutrients for the soil. However, it takes a long time to break down. If wood chips are mixed into the soil, they will bind the nitrogen in the soil for a period. This results in sickly looking yellow plants.
When planting in this type of garden, you simply scrape back the wood chips and drop the seeds into the compost. Once the young plants grow a bit, you can push the wood chips around their stems. That way they get the benefit of the mulch covering and moisture slowly released from the wood chips.
(In my case the kids, goats, and wind pushed the wood chips over the pea plants sooner than intended, but they still made it. Somehow.)
Overall, I love this gardening method.
Here are a few things I learned in the process:
- We have ridiculous amounts of wind in the early spring– so keeping the paper down while I got a shovel full of manure to weigh it down was a trick. (Mostly solved by finding a small child with enough focus to stand on the pieces of paper until I got a scoop of compost to weigh it down.
- I found that it was easier to work with the areas covered by sheets of paper rather than cardboard. The compost seemed to slip around on the cardboard more when I tromped back and forth across it.
- It was more tedious to plant in this garden that one with tilled soil, but that drawback was compensated for by barely having to weed at all.
- The wood chips harbored some bugs that liked to eat some plants. (So I let the chickens enjoy working over the garden patch in the fall.)
Do you use mulch or no-till garden methods? I’d love to hear about it. Just comment below!