The Grovestead

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Category: Gardening (page 1 of 11)

Wonder Woman

My wonder woman

Have you ever known someone that continually surprises you with newfound abilities? Who is always blowing past the boundaries of what you thought they could handle? And when you think about them, you are often left in a state of pure wonder?

That’s how I feel about my wife.

As I watched her expertly milk our Nanny goat this morning, after starting from scratch only a few days ago (both for her AND the goat), I was simply amazed. How did this suburban girl, elementary educator, and seminary graduate with no farm experience figure out how to do this? And she’s been doing it faithfully every day since we started, often giddy with enthusiasm.

Ready to milk

It’s not only the goats. She’s also the reason we have pigs this year (sometimes a point of contention), having researched and found a breeder, driving to another town to pick them up and bringing them home to their new stall in the barn. And then moving them two months later and 150 pounds heavier into their permanent home in another shed.


She has been relentless against the weeds in our oversized garden. It simply would not be possible for me to keep up this year without her dedication. (The beauty of Back to Eden gardening is that after the early spring weed-explosion, you don’t have much to contend with the rest of the summer. But you still have to weed or they can take over.)

She’s helped me chase broiler chickens into the coop at night and made sure the laying hens had enough water on steamy days. She fumbles with the electro-netting fence with me every few days as we try to move a herd of sheep into new pasture. When we had to shear the sheep early due to hot weather, she was right there with me in the stall, holding the ewes down or snipping off wool with the shears.

Shearing the sheep

She woke up nightly at 2am to feed our orphaned lamb. Something even I was unwilling to do.

Bottle feeding runs to the barn

After I dug the holes, she planted 25 pine trees with the kids (future Christmas trees).

Planting future christmas trees

She introduced beekeeping to our farm a few years ago.

Becca's bees

She was my only partner as we installed a 210-foot wooden-rail fence in only 2 days this spring.

Most recently she helped empty bedding from the animal stalls this week. Actually, she is the reason we got started at all. This is the worst chore on the farm folks, and she was knee deep in there with me pitching a winter’s worth of HEAVY manure.

Animal stalls

And let’s not forget, on top of all this, she also has an indoor farm to keep up with every day!

Indoor farm

She is one amazing woman. She is my Wonder Woman.



Where to find wood chips for your Back to Eden Garden

wood chips

The most common question I get when it comes to Back to Eden gardening is where to find wood chips. I thought I would put together a short post explaining what I’ve done over the past several years working with this style of gardening. If you have never heard of Back to Eden gardening, it comes from a documentary produced by Dana Richardson and Sara Zentz about the gardening methods of Paul Gautschi. I’ve written about it before here and here.

Where to Find Wood Chips?

1. Pray

If you ask Paul Gautschi this question, he will tell you to pray. Everything about Back to Eden gardening points back to God. And that starts with knowing God and seeking him for your provision. I always pray, like Paul suggests, and the Lord always provides more than I need. We can’t disconnect God from the process. In nature, we see God providing an abundance of food all the time. But when we disconnect from God and try to do things our own way, we end up “working hard to fail” as Paul puts it. This would be the same with the Back to Eden methods. If we’re just focused on the techniques and not reconnecting with God, we’re missing the whole point.

2. County Landfill

All those road crews and linemen have to put their tree trimmings somewhere and chances are if you live in a rural location, your county landfill will have an inexhaustible supply of woodchips free for the taking.

The main benefit of finding a huge mountain of woodchips (like the one pictured above), is that you can obtain partially-composted wood chips because they have been sitting in one place for a long time. This means the chips will be much finer, in the process of turning in to pure compost, and loaded with nutrients for your garden. It’s as the wood chips break down into soil that nitrogen and other nutrients are released into your garden. So the further along in the process the wood chips are when you get them, the faster you’ll see results in your own garden.

If you live in an urban locale, and your county does not provide free wood chips at the landfill, try calling around some of the neighboring counties, particularly rural ones. You might find a goldmine of free wood chips just one county away.

3. City Compost Site

Many cities now host compost sites for yard debris. City-dwellers can pick up free compost for their gardens during Spring and Summer months. Sometimes these sites will supply wood chips, also free. However, I’ve found that the wood chips usually do not last long so check frequently. I’ve left my contact info with the supervisor before and asked them to call me when wood chips arrive. And they did.

The drawback to compost sites is that the wood chips are almost always fresh-cut which means it will take longer to compost and start providing nutrients to your garden.

4. Tree-Care/Tree-Removal Companies

Tree-care companies will often maintain their own stash of wood chips. But unless you have an in with the owners, they will not be free. But they will probably be very cheap. In the past I’ve paid $20 per cubic yard, which will cover about 80 sq ft of garden.

Again, like the compost site, the wood chips may not be composted or might not be the best size. When I’ve purchased from tree-care companies in the past I’ve noticed the chips tend to be a lot bigger than ideal.

5. Chip your own

Something I’ve never done but always considered is chipping my own. We have a few acres of woods and there is plenty to chip. I also like the idea of having more control over how much and when.  But its a time-consuming process and it takes an incredible volume of wood to create a cover mulch, not to mention the expense of purchasing and maintaining equipment. Up to this point I’ve been able to find what I needed through the above options.

A Caution about Store-Bought Wood Chips

One thing I do not recommend is buying mulch at the store. It may be treated with anti-fungal chemicals to prevent decomposition and colored with dyes. Remember, most store-bought mulch is for aesthetics not gardening. It’s also way too expensive.


Minnesota May

Waterlogged garden

How does your garden grow?  Minnesota doesn’t seem to appreciate all the effort we put into Spring planting. Our Zone 4 official planting day is around May 15th each year. Last year saw a hard frost descend a few days following setting out my tender starts. This past week gave us daily 40-degree temps and nearly 8 inches of rain. This, after a hot, dry, 90-degree weekend.

Everything in our garden is waterlogged and stunted. My tomatoes and peppers barely survived and will take weeks to regain their composure.

Waterlogged tomatoes

Sweet corn appears to be rotting in the soil, and carrots, lettuce, and beets are mostly washed away. They never stood a chance. The biggest drawback to Back to Eden Gardening I’ve found is that under heavy rains the woodchips will fall down over rows you have just seeded, preventing sprouting. With average rainfalls of <1″ per week and temps in the mid-70’s this time of year, that is rarely a problem. But the last two years have seen abundant rains (8″ last week!) and 30-degree below normal temps. That combo just isn’t conducive to growing annuals.

Strawberries flowering

The crops that don’t seem to mind much are the perennials: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and asparagus. Except for the blueberries which lost most of their fruiting flowers during the strong winds, these have all fared well. Perennials are deep-rooted enough to withstand the harshest surface conditions (like Minnesota Winters).

I am researching hoop houses now to cover the entire garden. It may be too late this year, but with May being such an important–and unpredictable–month weather-wise, it would make a significant difference to create some shelter from the storm.

Gautschi’s Gardens

Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenI’ve written on a few occasions of Back to Eden style gardening. Back in October my Dad and I made a pilgrimage to the Sequim, Washington in the Olympic Peninsula to meet the man who started it all and see his own gardens: Paul Gautschi.


b2e_paulgautschiI edited together a short highlight reel that captures the essence of our visit, complete with amazing edibles and Paul’s unique wit and wisdom:

The trip was unforgettable. From the moment we arrived Paul welcomed us into his gardens, offering perfectly ripened fresh fruits and vegetables for the tasting. All the while Paul described his gardening journey, declaring God’s handiwork in every step. I would call it bragging on God. “Taste and see!” Paul would tell us, referring to the Bible passage “Taste and see the Lord is good.” -Psalm 34:8


Every Sunday from April through September strangers from all over the world show up at Paul’s 1/2-acre garden to see with their own eyes and taste with their own mouths the incredible bounty of his gardens. And Paul is not ashamed to share the secret of his success. For two hours or more on his garden tours, Paul preaches about the goodness of God.

Giant pears at Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenDespite the hordes that descend on his property weekly to sample his fare, he still has more food than his family can eat. “My biggest problem is abundance!” Paul would often say.

The pear I’m holding above was literally a meal. I felt full after eating it, which kind of bummed me out because I wanted to keep eating! Paul explained I felt full because I was eating live food. Fruit starts losing nutritive value the moment its plucked from the tree. When you eat live food, you’re body is absorbing the maximum quantity of nutrients, minerals, and water-soluble fiber.


Because of the deep-mulch wood-chip gardening Paul uses, his orchards are so healthy and loaded with fruit the branches bow down to the ground. “You can’t prune a tree to do that,” Paul said.

The soil is so healthy he can grow many vegetables in full shade under the tree canopies. Turns out most vegetables do not need full sun — they need good soil!

Back to Eden Gardens

Besides abundant fruit trees, what’s the big deal about Back to Eden gardening? Tasting is believing. It’s hard to explain flavors I’ve never tasted before. The best I can do here is show you some pictures.


Cilantro - Back to Eden Gardening

Winter Squash - Back to Eden Gardening

In this next picture you’ll see lavender growing next to a blueberry shrub. As anyone who has grown blueberries knows, they require highly acidic soil. They will absolutely not survive in high pH environments. Yet in Paul’s garden they thrive high-pH plants next to low-pH plants.

Lavender grows next to Blueberry in Back to Eden Garden

Same thing with Sage and Wasabi. This shouldn’t be possible, but there it is!


While Paul started with woodchips, he now grows all his own chicken food (they eat mostly kale and other garden scraps). His chickens turn garden and lawn waste into nitrogen-rich compost which Paul uses for a Fall fertilizing each year.

Paul Gautschi's Chicken Composting Factory

When I say visiting Paul’s garden was a spiritual experience, I’m not exaggerating. Paul does not separate the things of God from the things God made. Within a few minutes of arriving, tears welled up in our eyes as Paul talked about Heaven. During the tour you come to realize that Paul’s relationship with his heavenly Father is the real miracle and it leaves you hungering for a deeper spiritual walk yourself. Upon returning, my dad wrote this about our experience:

My mind and soul continue to reverberate in the aftermath of our time with Paul last Sunday. He is the epitome of God’s working in the lives of a person. Here is a man whose body has been ravaged by agent orange during the Vietnam war and yet exudes the loving grace of God beyond anything I have seen. The real benefit to people who come in contact with him is the potential of another changed life coming into alignment with the God of the Universe. The garden is only a byproduct used as a tool to bring people to Him. Maybe not intentionally but that is what’s happening. Wow! Thanks for introducing me to him! That time will forever be a pearl in my life!

Here is just one of many conversations we had about the goodness of God:

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