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Looking for an easy way to start a vegetable garden? The Back to Eden gardening method is the easiest way to get started gardening and perfect for beginner gardeners! With almost no watering, weeding and no tilling it perfect for anyone wanting to start an organic garden the easy way.
What Is The Back To Eden Gardening Method?
Are you wondering just what is the Back to Eden gardening method? Honestly, it’s the easiest, simplest gardening method to get started with if you want to start a backyard garden!
Back to Eden gardening is all about recreating the natural balance the God uses in nature all around us.
Have you ever gone out to a bush to pick wild fruit or berries? No one weeds or waters these plants yet they grow and produce very well.
Have you seen the Back to Eden film yet?
You can watch the film online for free or get a DVD copy.
Every fall leaves naturally fall from the trees and collect on the ground. They provide a natural mulch for the winter months that helps to protect the plants. Then they start to break down and compost.
Branches and even whole trees that have died and fallen slowly rot and turn into compost on the forest floor.
These simple, natural processes build up a thick, rich compost layer on the forest floor. It holds in moisture to help plants grow through droughts and provides them with an abundance of natural fertilizer.
This is simply what the Back to Eden gardening method is trying to recreate in our backyard gardens by using wood chip mulch in our gardens.
Starting A Back To Eden Garden Step By Step
Step 1: Decide Where To Put Your Garden Bed
The first step to starting your Back to Eden garden is deciding where you want to have your garden.
You can simply cover an existing garden or start a new one.
When picking out the area for the garden remember that most plants grow the best in full sun. Look for an area of your yard that gets at least 6–8 hours of direct sunlight. But if your yard doesn’t get much sunlight then you can still have a garden as many vegetables will grow in the shade.
Step 2: Cover The Garden Area With Newspaper
Once you have picked out the location for your garden you need to cover the ground with newspaper or cardboard.
This helps to smother the grass and weeds that are growing where you want your garden to be.
Try contacting local newspapers or recycling centers to find newsprint and cardboard for free!
Step 3: Cover The Newspaper Compost
The next step to starting a Back to Eden garden is to cover the newspaper with 3–4 inches of compost.
This is very important if you are going to plant your garden right away because you need to plant seeds and transplants into the soil, not the wood chips.
If you are building your garden beds in the fall or are covering an existing garden with bare soil and already have good soil in that location you can skip this step. We have done it both ways with good results.
Step 4: Cover The Compost With Wood Chips Or Other Mulch
Now you are ready to cover the garden with wood chip mulch. Cover the entire area with 4–8 inches of wood chips.
It’s better to use a deeper mulch of at least 6–8 inches if you can get enough mulch. This really helps to suppress weeds but it does make it harder to plant. To try to find the right balance go with 4 inches if you have a nice weed-free area and go deeper if you are turning a very weedy area into a new garden.
Be very selective with what type of wood chips you are putting on your garden. You don’t want the large bark mulch that is sold at most garden centers.
What you need to find are wood chips made from whole tree branches. These chips are a mixture of sizes and have the leaves included.
Having this natural mixture of browns and greens (carbon and nitrogen) helps the wood chips to start composting quickly.
This will build a beautiful layer of compost on top of your garden and fertilize the plants with compost tea when it rains.
When we first started we got a lot of our wood chip mulch from a local dump for free.
Later we found a local arborist who will dump off truckloads of wood chips here when he has them for us. That has been a huge help and time saver.
Step 5: Plant Your Garden
Your gardens are all built and now it’s time to plant! Rake back the wood chips from your planting row or bed.
Then plant your seeds or transplants right into the compost layer.
Then we push back the wood chips so they are covering the planting rows lightly.
As the plants grow taller you can push back the remains wood chip mulch around them.
Review Of The Back To Eden Gardening Method
The Back to Eden gardening method has truly transformed how we grow our gardens.
I’ve been an avid gardener most of my life and have always loved trying out new ideas. From square foot gardening, French intensive beds, to lasagna style gardening.
If I thought it could improve my garden soil and make caring for it easier I wanted to try it.
But when we moved to our current homestead we suddenly faced a new challenge.
Lack of water for our gardens.
Not long after moving here the weather patterns changed. We started getting long droughts and when it would rain the storms would break up and go around us.
Our well couldn’t keep up with both our household need and the garden and so the gardens suffered.
The weeds thrived and the plants struggled.
Discovering Back to Eden Gardening
Then one day I was sharing a garden update on our YouTube channel about my frustrations with keeping up with weeding our large garden. A friend recommended the Back to Eden film to me and that started changing our gardens.
We decided to test it out first with two of our smaller garden plots. One was in the far end of our garden. We covered it with newspaper and mulch, then pulled back the mulch and planted corn.
That corn patch was the best we had grown in years and without any watering during a drought.
After seeing the results we started converting our gardens to the Back to Eden style a little each year. We have now turned our 1/4 acre market garden into a full no-dig garden.
Back To Eden Gardening Benefits And Results
Using a no-dig and sheet mulching gardening method like Back to Eden has many benefits.
Annual weeds have been eliminated from our garden. We still have some perennial weeds that we deal with. This is largely because we didn’t mulch deeply enough when we started our gardens.
Our first few gardens that we converted we mulched 8 inches deep. This was deep enough to get rid of most of the crabgrass and bindweed.
But when we started mulching our larger gardens we had a harder time getting enough wood chips.
Instead of keeping some of our gardens in the old tilling method and slowly converting over, we covered most of the garden only 3–4 inches deep in wood chips.
This was good enough to get rid of the annual weeds but the perennial weeds came back easily. With diligent weeding, they are getting less and less each year.
Did I mention we also have a watering problem?
Our well can’t keep up with watering our large gardens. Switching to using deep wood chip mulches in our gardens has drastically reduced the amount of watering we need to do.
We still water when we first transplant sets into our gardens and when planting seeds. After that, unless we are in an extreme drought the gardens need little water.
Fewer Weather Problems With Back to Eden Gardening
Weather changes don’t affect us as much as they used to either. 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.
So many people were frustrated that they couldn’t get their gardens in. Why? Because you can’t till the wet soil and working in a garden that has turned to muck after all the rain is nearly impossible.
But this isn’t a problem for us anymore.
It can rain heavy for hours or even days and when it stops we can go out and start planting in our garden. The wood chip mulch provides a nice surface to walk on even when it’s wet.
The soil under the mulch doesn’t turn into muck either. It’s very easy to plant and goodness we’ve even planted some of our gardens in the rain without any problems.
The mulch also keeps your plants much cleaner.
Normally when it rains dirt gets splashed up onto your plants. This makes salad greens look awful and need extra washing. It can also spread diseases on the plants.
Since we put down a thick layer of mulch the dirt doesn’t get splashed up on our plants any more.
Our gardens have started producing more than they ever had before.
Just a few examples:
Off 6 hills of butternut squash, we harvested over 40 squashes! Before switching to the Back to Eden garden method I struggled to get just a few butternut squashes each year off many more plants.
Zucchini and other summer squashes also started producing more than they ever had for us.
I had struggled to grow rhubarb here for years while I had luck with it on our old farm without trying.
After applying a heavy layer of wood chips around the rhubarb it started growing better than ever and spreading in the garden bed too.
Green peppers were another crop that we tried to grow every year without luck. Our plants were always small and produced little to no peppers.
After we switched to the Back to Eden method of gardening our pepper plants started growing and producing very well.
Back To Eden Gardening Tips
Tip 1: Use Fine Mulch For Small Seeds
After all, many of these seeds are tiny and delicate and they just will not grow up through a thick layer of wood chips.
There are 2 solutions to this problem that we have found helpful.
The first is to rake back the wood chip mulch from your planting area.
Then plant your finer seeds, push back the mulch to the edge of the planting row. Once the plants have grown up a few inches you can push the mulch back around the plants.
The second method is our favorite we simply use a much finer mulch on our garden beds that grow crops with smaller seeds.
Another reason we like to use finer mulch on our garden beds is that we plant using square foot gardening and intensive planting methods.
It is much easier to plant into a bed that is topped with a fine mulch or compost with these methods then if they are covered in coarse wood chips.
Tip 2: How Deep To Mulch Your Back To Eden Garden
There is sometimes confusion on how deep the layer of wood chips or other mulch on a Back to Eden garden should be.
In the Back to Eden film, Paul recommends using 4 inches of wood chips when you start your Back to Eden garden. 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 are starting your garden in an area that isn’t weedy or only has annual weeds like pigweed then a 4-inch layer of mulch works great.
On the other hand, if you are like us and have a yard that is infested with invasive perennial weeds like bindweed, crabgrass, creeping buttercup, etc. then I strongly recommend using a much thicker mulch layer.
One of the first garden beds that we converted to the Back to Eden method is an area behind our barn. This garden although very fertile was always infested with crabgrass and bindweed.
I started by covering it with a layer of newspaper and then put down 8–10 inches of wood chip mulch over that.
Planting our corn in that garden the first year was so hard! Raking back wood chips that deep to expose the soil for planting was a lot of work.
BUT guess what? There were almost NO WEEDS in that garden.
As the corn grew taller I raked the wood chips back up to the plants. It grew better than it ever had for us before, needed almost no watering and was so easy to care for.
We’ve since come up with a very easy way to plant corn in a Back to Eden Garden.
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. Compared to before it would take hours to weed by hand or with a hoe because of the perennial weeds.
It stayed this way for years with the weed getting less and less each year.
Tip 3: Does It Matter If You Use Newspaper or Cardboard?
The Back to Eden film and many of the other videos Paul has been interviewed in recommends using newspaper instead of cardboard to cover your garden with.
The idea is that newspaper forms to the ground and doesn’t leave air pockets for the weeds to continue to grow in.
We have used both newspaper and cardboard in our Back to Eden no dig gardens and found very little difference.
For us, it’s much harder to get newspapers to use in the garden.
Years ago we could easily go to the local newspaper and get the leftover rolls of newsprint that were too small for them to use on the printing press.
Now the papers are printed elsewhere and shipped to them so they no longer have rolls of leftover newsprint available.
On the other hand, our local recycling area is more than happy for us to come and take all the cardboard we want.
When we go we try to pick out the largest boxes because once they are laid flat they cover a larger area without leaving any seams that weeds could sneak through.
It’s also much easier to hold down a large sheet of cardboard to cover it with mulch then many smaller sheets of newspaper.
Yeah, we’ve done many garden beds trying to hold down newspaper in the wind. It’s not very easy.
Tip 4: Watering Your Back To Eden Garden
One of the big misunderstandings with Back to Eden gardening is that you don’t ever need to water your garden.
This simply isn’t true, however, using a deep mulch will drastically lower the amount of watering you need to do.
If you are getting at least 1 inch of rainfall each week then you probably won’t need to water your garden at all.
Although watering your seeds when you first plant them is a good idea and will help them get started growing faster.
If you are getting less then 1 inch of rainfall a week or in a drought condition and your plans look like they need water, then water them!
How much water your garden needs will partly depend on how established the garden bed is.
You can stick your finger down into the soil near your plants 2 to 3 inches deep. If the ground feels dry it needs to be watered.
We have some amazing examples of Back to Eden garden beds in our garden that are only water when they are first planted and then never again during that season.
They already have deep, deep layers of compost built up that are very fertile and holds a lot of moisture. The wood mulch helps also to hold that in and protect it from the drying sun and wind.
These areas have been in the Back to Eden gardening method for 7 years and were covered very deeply with mulch when we first changed them to this method of gardening.
Other areas of our garden were not covered as deeply.
They were covered in 3 to 4 inches of wood chip mulch and have not seen as fast maturity as the other beds. These ones need more watering and weeding then the others do.
We are constantly working on making these beds have a deeper mulch layer and improving the soil.
Tip 5: Don’t Mix Or Till In The Wood Chips
This has to be one of the most important things about Back to Eden gardening. So many people that we have talked to want to till the wood chip mulch into their garden. That is a very bad idea.
Using mulch like wood chips on the top of your soil is great for your garden but if you mix them into the soil they will tie up the nitrogen as they start to break down.
This would mean your plants wouldn’t have access to that nitrogen when they are grown and become very sickly.
Besides tilling is more work, just leave the mulch on top of your garden and let nature do the work for you.
Tip 6: Mulch With What You Have
Most of the time when you start gardening with the Back to Eden method you want to use wood chips.
This is because in the Back to Eden film Paul shows wood chips being used in his garden.
They are his favorite mulch to use and have become ours as well but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use other mulches in your garden.
I love using wood chip mulch in our vegetable gardens because it looks really nice.
Wood chip mulch is also unique in that it seems to adapt to the growing conditions. Wood chips act like a sponge in the garden.
When the soil is very wet they will absorb the extra moisture away from the soil helping it to dry out.
Likewise, if the growing season is very dry they will help to hold moisture in the soil. This reduces the amount of watering you need to do or sometimes eliminates it all together!
Sometimes it isn’t easy to find wood chips for your garden so use what you have available!
Straw, old hay, and grass clipping all make excellent mulch for your garden.
Look around your yard and community to see what is easily available to you and make use of that as your garden mulch.
Switching to a no-dig, deep mulch, Back to Eden style garden has saved us so much work. Our gardens are producing better than they ever had before with much less weeding, watering and stress.
Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.