Back to Eden gardening is a method of gardening from Paul Gautschi it is quite simple and makes complete sense in theory so we are giving it a try with two areas in our winter garden. It is gardening with thick layers of compost and wood chip mulch.
Since we have an abundance of eucalyptus and mimosa trees which we are slowly removing for building and to create fire breaks (as they are flammable), and we own a wood chipper we are making beds incorporating the back to Eden gardening method.
With his method he suggests covering your area for garden with a think wood chip mulch over a thick layer of compost and then plant straight away into the compost. We have taken this one step further, weather the extra effort is worth it or not we don’t know, but I have certainly enjoyed the process over this summer.
The process we followed to build our soil in our winter bed:
- We planted a mixed cover crop of nitrogen fixers over the winter garden (this is an area of our farm with good drainage, good fertility and near the house). This included beans, alfafa, clovers, chickpeas and mustard. These cover crops were cut back and left as green mulch and covered with some hay.
- We started a compost piles with a mix of biochar, sheep manure, food scraps, weeds and hay. these were done where the winter beds were going to be
- We then moved a chicken tractor (a movable chicken house with no bottom) over the area so the chickens would eat weeds, seeds, mix the soil and shit everywhere. We also added weeds from nearby beds into the chicken tractor for them to eat and break down.
- Every few days we moved the tractor and in its place we added a layer of compost from the compost pile and then covered with a thin layer of hay.
- Once the chicken tractor and moved over the winter garden, we were left with a clean area with some of the cover crops and weeds growing back where the chicken tractor had started. We then moved the chicken tractor over the area a second time so they would eat the weeds, cover crops and break up the compost and hay into smaller pieces.
- Once again we added more compost and hay after we moved the chicken tractor.
- We then moved the chicken tractor through a third time.
- After the third round of composting and chicken tractor we already had a nice layer of find compost. We then followed the back to eden method with a slight change. We noticed that when we use cardboard and compost on top and then wood chips we still get weeds, so we thought we would try adding compost (yes another layer of compost) and then cardboard and then wood chips on the cardboard
- Hay presto we are ready for planting our winter crops. We have been working on this all summer and ot our chicken tractor is on its final leg and we have started the final layer of compost, cardboard and wood chips.
The main difference with this compared to what we did last year is that there are no paths, ditches or mounds. In our area the locals use ditches around the their beds to water deep into the roots.. I also like to have clear paths so we don’t walk on beds. But Paul Gautschi says with this method there is so much organic material in the beds it will stay moist and wont compact from walking. So we are trying it in this winter garden and will see how it goes. I will commit to who seasons on it and see how it goes as my mum says, ‘always try everything twice’.We only managed to cover half the planned area with wood chips as the time to make wood chips is slow slow with our chipper, anyhow in the wood chips we have planted three types of cabbages, brocoli, cauliflower, celery, onions and garlic
Apart from the wood chip beds we have some other notable areas to support the garden:
Back of winter garden (North side): Here we planted a hedge row to act as a windbreak, this include all edible plants that also play a part in the winter garden, including attracting beneficial insects, birds and fixing nitrogen into the ground. The hedge row includes: Strawberry tree, Hazel, Loquat, Juniper berry, Elderberry (x 2 types), Common Myrtle and Sea Buckthorn, all with an understory of perennial flowers and herbs.
Middle row in winter garden: Here we planted a row of plants to separate the winter garden in two, this row also is to include perennial insect attractors, repellers and nitrogen fixers. This included Hyssop, anise hyssop, Siberian Pea Shrub, Many herbs and Common Myrtle, this bed had over 80 onions planted in the spaces as the plans established.
Border plants: We planted clumping strawberries, various flowers such as pansy and different calendulas along the border of the woop chip bed and path to prevent people walking into the bed and as a weed barrier.