Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back to Eden, Did it work?

There was much anticipation this past spring as the blogging world shared an online film called Back to Eden, a documentary on natural gardening that tries to imitate the conditions in the garden of Eden. Plans were being made to follow the instructions of Paul Gautschi’s that would lead to the gardens with little weeding, disease, and beautiful fruits and vegetables for the picking. He made it look easy and gave inspiration to many newbie and seasoned gardeners alike. I myself, who has been gardening for the past 15 years even was entranced by the ease of his garden.

I've been wondering over the last few months if many of the people in the blogging world who set out to recreate the Back to Eden project in their own backyard followed through, and if they did follow through was it successful? Does Paul Gautschi's gardening theory work in all parts of America? Those are answers that I don't know, and I'm hoping that if you yourself tried a Back to Eden garden that you will share your thoughts with me. I do know how it worked for our family and that is what I want to share with you below. What worked, what didn't work, things we would change, all to help you as we put our summer beds to rest and prepare for the fall garden ahead.

The Back to Eden project recommends that you start in the fall by laying newspaper on your garden beds followed by 4 to 6 inches of wood chips (not the kind from the local gardening store, but the kind from a tree trimmer) and then to let the winter temperatures and snow create your garden bed. We were not able to do this because for starters I didn't see the video till spring... and because even if I had seen the video in the fall we had one of the warmest winters on record! So instead we did start out by tilling to prepare the ground.

Our soil is breathtaking here. It is like a sea flowing of black gold. I learned that the gentleman who built this house in the early 60's was a wonderful gardener. Before he retired in this little house with his wife, he farmed the land around here, raising tobacco for other people. Once he was done farming for other people, he turned all his attention to his gardens and spent countless amount of hours tending the soil in his garden. The results of his hard work and wealth of knowledge are still able to be found in the garden beds 26 years after he has passed away. The garden area is divided into 4 sections. Each section was done a bit differently for various reasons, but each section taught us a tremendous amount about what does and doesn't work for our gardening area.

After the beds were prepared the plants and seeds were planted in the first section. Then we panicked. If we mulched, would the sprouts be able to push their way up through the mulch or would it kill them off before they ever got to see the sunlight? We weren't sure so we decided to wait and mulch after they were up and visible. We also didn't have any tree mulch yet so once the sprouts were up, I used the huge piles of leaves I had sitting next to the fence composting from the fall to mulch with.

At first the leaves were working great. The soil was moist, the weeds were there but not to hard to get rid of, and the vegetables were thriving.  Then we had a weeks work of rain followed by warm weather. You would pull a weed and 3 more would pop up in its place . It didn't take long for the entire first section to be over taken by weeds. The leaves did little to nothing to stop them from coming up, but it did keep the soil moist and the plants healthy.

When it came time to plant the 2nd section, we again tilled and planted. This time most of the plants were started from seed in cell packs so we felt comfortable mulching right away. By now my knight in shining armor (aka my husbands friend Robbie who owns a tree trimming and removal service) came rolling in my backyard with an entire dump truck full of mulched up oak and pine trees. When I told him where I wanted him to dump it he gave me a funny look and warned me that fresh mulch would kill my entire garden. Trusting Paul, I went ahead and mulched anyway. This time the garden did better. We found that we still didn't put enough mulch out so we had weeds that popped up again, but this time, there were fewer weeds and they were very easy to pull up. We did apply a second layer of mulch and the weeding is now down to a few hands full once a week. We knew for sure now that mulching with the tree mulch was going to work the best for us.

When we got to the 3rd section, we tilled again and planted right away. This time we were back to seeds, but we took a chance and mulched right over them. It didn't take long for the sprouts to come right up through the mulch and make a grand appearance. I will say that the seeds we planted were of hearty plants, so I still don't know how well small seeds would do coming up through the mulch. However, this time we did mulch nice and thick and we have had very few weeds come up at all! It has by far been the best section of garden this year.

So, what did we see from mulching?

The plants did not need watered as much. Even with days in a row reaching 105, all we did was water first thing in the morning. Nothing wilted! While other people in our area lost everything, we were still picking tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini.

Disease was far less! We only lost one set of plants, our yellow squash, and we later found out that our area had a terrible time with it this year. Almost everyone lost their squash.

We have to mulch thick! It needs at least 4 to 6 inches of mulch for it to work.

You will not be weed free no matter how much mulch you put down. However, the weeds that do come up are very easy to pull up.

We had less bug problems this year. I'm not sure if it's just the mulch they don't like going over or if the chickens cleaned them out, but we only had to spray our plants 2 or 3 times in the last 4 months with a soap mixture and that was only on a few plants.

Mulching will not keep the peacocks and rabbits out of your garden ;-) Not that I thought it would, so it looks like more fencing needs to be put up. And the peacocks? I have not a clue yet. Fencing won't stop them.

Remember how I said I had 4 sections of garden? Well, because of my husband having to go out of town for 12 weeks we never got it planted. So this fall we are going to do it like Paul said and see how the weeds are next spring.

Over all, the Back to Eden plan worked for us! We need to tweak it a bit more for our house, but mulching with thick mulched up trees makes gardening more enjoyable this year for all of us. We are looking forward to our fall garden going in soon and I will update on how it did later this winter.

Linking up to:
The Barn Hop
The Morristribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival


Sadie said...

We didn't see this film until after planting. But the weeds were taking over, so we put down paper and chips around the plants. So far so good. Things are staying healthy and weeds are slim. We hope to get more beds set up over the fall/winter for next year.

Bama Girl said...

We, like you, only saw the film this past spring! We tilled, put down newspaper, mulch and the plants. The weeds have pretty much taken over; or should I say grass! I think this process will work, but we will have to use much more mulch. Bermuda grass knows no boundaries! Blessings from Bama!

Quinn said...

Thanks for posting your experiences! We're planning on implementing the system, just more slowly but putting down a few layers of hay mulching first to really jumpstart the soil since hay breaks down more quickly. We have our first batch of wood chips ready to go, so I'm excited to see it worked so well for you!

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to come across this post. My husband and I watched Back To Eden a few months ago - we loved the film and we loved the concept. I just don't know how it will work for us and am debating what to do (I have my thoughts lined up for a blog post actually). We live in a very hot climate, have numerous pests, and heavy clay soil. We did buy a tiller that we plan to use and are going to go with raised beds for our kitchen garden. (This is Jenny from Black Fox Homestead btw; for some reason I'm not able to post using my I.D. :) )

Becky said...

I've always been told that fresh tree mulch would kill a garden. It's very interesting that you seemed to have the opposite happen to you.
I love that the original instructions say to let the winter temps. and snow create your garden. In North Carolina, we rarely get much snow, and last year we had none - at least in my part, so I hope the snow isn't essential.

Jill @ The Prairie Homestead said...

I LOVED this post and it answered a ton of my questions about the Back to Eden method. And, I chose as my pick in this week's Barn Hop! It'll be featured in tomorrow's post. Great job! ;)

Tyson Faulkner said...

Thanks for posting your results with Paul's farming method. We started our first garden 2 weeks ago so we're excited to see what happens =)

Gabe Miller said...

Noticing a few posts saying you tilled the soil first. Wasn't there an emphasis in the film about NOT tilling the soil?

Petticoats and Pinafores said...

Hi Gabe, Yes it did say not to till, however I did se the film till the spring and I had no choice if I wanted to grow this year. The only other option I had was to give up an entire years worth of planting and I just couldn't do that. Now that the mulch is down, I won't have to till again. The last section of gardn that I nevr got to plant this year, will not be tilled, but coverd with paper and mulch and lt sit through the winter. I'm excited to see if that alone will reduce the weeds or if they will pop up regardless. Thanks for stopping by.

Kirsten McCulloch said...

I haven't seen the film yet, just popped across from the Barn Hop, but I have a question - what did you do, if anything, to offset all the nitrogen that would be taken out of the soil to break down the wood chip mulch?

Petticoats and Pinafores said...

Hi Kristen, thanks for stopping by. You asked a really great question about wood chips and nitrogen levels. I didn't have to do anything to help my levels because unless you mix the wood chips IN the soil, no nitrogen would be lost. Knowing that I can't mix the chips in or I would lose nitrogen made me make real sure the level of mulch was correct. There will be no more tilling where I have the current layer of mulch. We have had the mulch down for almost 6 months and we just checked the levels of our soil about 2 weeks ago and everything was doing great! I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I'm back with a question. We're planning a fall garden and wanting to use a heavy layer of mulch from the city's green waste site as suggested in the BTE film. I have concerns though about insecticides or herbicides that may be present in the mulch. Do you know if those break down over time or could they potentially leach into the soil?

sandhya bizconn said...
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Charlotte Tree Service said...

You guys have some great grass and land to work with! I almost prefer a much smaller area when it comes to gardening, otherwise I'm known to get carried away and forget about one thing moving onto the next.

-Tony Salmeron
Tree Service Asheville

DawsonDee said...

Thank you for this article! I saw the documentary months ago and am eager to try it, but would like to read more first-hand experiences about it first. There are LOTS of articles and videos about people who want to try it or who have just set up their garden, but not too many yet describing people's experiences a year or two (or several!) down the line.

Please keep us posted! :)

ErstwhileOrganicGardner said...

I'm really wanting success from the Back To Eden method, but I need to know that it works where I live. I live in NC; in which state do you live? I'll hazard a guess that you, too, live in the Piedmont region.

Thanks much!

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