The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Back to Eden No-Till Garden, Revisited

2015 Garden

Last year I experimented with a no-till garden plot based on Paul Gautschi’s “Back to Eden” gardening method. This year I decided to go back to the conventional method of tilling, largely because I didn’t have enough wood mulch to cover my entire garden space, nor did I have the energy to put in the work up front. I promised myself I would stay on top of the weeds this year as opposed to letting them get out of control like I did last year.

And I did keep on top of them for awhile. Hoeing pretty much every day in May and June. But a 4-day hiatus in mid-July is all it took for the weeds to become unmanageable. July is probably the worst month for weeds because you’re at your least motivated place to do anything about it. It’s hot. You’ve been carrying on for months. Nothing is ripe yet. I’ll get to it tomorrow! Tomorrow eventually comes and the weeds are taller than you, so you throw in the towel. Weeds: 2, Me: 0.

It was about this time that I started thinking about no-till approach again. Avoiding weeds isn’t the main point of a Back to Eden/No-Till garden—building healthy soils is. Still, it was hard to ignore that the old plot had fewer weeds than any of my fresh garden beds, even a year later after no tending.

I felt like God was trying to teach me something. I had tried the traditional gardening for another year and really gave it my best effort, as much as one could without quitting their day job. But the results were no better. The soil was getting depleted and crop yields were way down. On the other hand, the no-till plot, while it requires more up-front work, requires less work throughout the season and builds my soil over time.

Watch the full documentary here: Back to Eden Film.

So I’m back at it, getting my garden set up for next Spring’s planting already. I’ve done a lot more research to correct things I missed the first time around. Becca has joined my enthusiasm and we’ve spent several days watching Paul Gautschi videos on YouTube and making our plans for next year. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Back to Eden gardening is about building healthy soils. Many people (me included) give it a shot for one season and list off the pros and cons. But it takes years, decades even, for the garden to really shine. Paul has been doing this method for 35 years.
  2. Weeds are reduced, but not eliminated. As long as the mulch is deep enough (at least 4 inches), they should be easy to pull. One great tip to deal with patches of weeds is to throw newspaper on top and shovel another scoop of mulch. Anything that doesn’t get oxygen and light will eventually die off.
  3. Layer compost and new mulch in the Fall. Paul follows the cycles of nature. The Creator fertilizes the earth in the Fall, when trees lose their leaves, so the nutrients have all winter to decompose into the soil. That’s when he adds compost from the chicken pen to the top of his beds. Rains and snow wash the compost below the mulch. No mixing, just layering like in nature.
  4. Nutrient dense soil doesn’t need crop rotation. Paul has been planting his potatoes in the same spot for 26 years. There are no diseases because his soils are healthy and have an abundance of minerals and nutrients.
  5. Wood chips do not need to be brought in every year. After the first year or two, the chips will settle and provide a covering for the next decade or so. Paul has mulched his garden twice in 35 years.

Paul encourages everyone to use what they have. In my case, I didn’t have enough mulch to cover the whole garden. But I felt that I could grow more in a smaller space than I could in a larger, conventional garden. So I built a box, mainly as a border for lawn mowing, and filled it with compost and wood chips.

Small Back to Eden garden plot

Next year I’ll plant and if I come into any more mulch I’ll expand the box. Someday I might cover the whole garden with wood chips, but then again, I may not need to.

 

6 Comments

  1. Weeds = No Fun.
    Due to back issues from a car accident in February, I didn’t weed AT ALL this year in my Back-to-Eden No-Till Garden. Yes, there were some weeds (mostly along the edges), but we had the most abundant year yet in our garden overall (half eaten by the squirrels, but No-Till doesn’t solve that, does it?)

  2. I have had the BEST year ever with all the wood chips and mulch! Don’t stop now you’ve done good making it thru the first year and best of all you went back to what you’ve been taught and alas you’ve proven to yourself the benefit of wood chips.
    How I obtained mine was when I heard a neighbor’s tree being chipped I went and asked the tree guy if I could get a few. He said, “Sure! I’ll bring my truck over, empty it and then I’ll have room for my next tree chipping job without going back to the dumping place.” He did just that. He dumped an entire truck load on my driveway. It was the Friday before Mother’s day! Boy was I a happy camper!
    It took me almost a month to get the chips placed around the house but out gardens are happy and best of all there’s so much moisture underneath the chips and Oregon’s had a drought this summer.

    You can do it too!

  3. I noticed that Paul maintains an area for tree services to dump wood chips. These are aged and when he needs compost he goes to this source, hitting the oldest pile first. I had a load dropped in my yard in late spring and have just started spreading the chip. This is all cedar so it’s just going into established beds of Blueberry-rose-strawberry & garlic, flower beds and walkways. The area at the top of the pile shows the most decomposing while the protected lower center and bottom where rain water could not reach show no composting activity. I have 5 years into my backyard garden now and the original 125 yards of wood chips I hauled in is now beautiful soil. Weeds will always be a bit of a battle because of their ability to spread but the areas that are the most work are my walkways towards late summer & fall when neighbors weeds go to seed and the wind picks-up. The tip of my garden clogs get a real work out.

  4. Do you have an update for your garden this year? Thanks!

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