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Back to Eden Method - refinements  RSS feed

 
pioneer
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Hi folks,

Like many here I have watched the original Back to Eden video, which describes Paul Gautchi's method of mulching using deep layers of woodchips. I recently stumbled on what I consider to be the missing factor, which is hinted at by Paul by not explicitly discussed in the original film. Here is the original film for those who have not already seen it. It is well worth spending an hour or two watching.



After a few year of using this technique on my annual beds, and around my berry bushes, I found that I wasn't getting results like him. Many plants were clearly nitrogen starved, and my soil didn't reach the dark fine tilth you can see in the videos. Here in the next video you can see Paul planting into a fine seed bed:



The key difference, which he doesn't really discuss head on, is that he uses SIFTED, COMPOSTED chips in the annual areas. All the coarse material is removed before it is spread on the beds. Paul still casually describes it as chips, but it is better described as "compost from wood chips". He does this by dumping huge amounts of chips in his chicken run, and feeding them lost of other garden waste, kitchen scraps etc... This enriches the chips with chicken manure and speeds the break down of chips to compost by physical actions.

This next video shows a BTE garden where they use a sifter to prepare a fine tilth seedbed before planting.



I hope this helps someone reproduce Paul's success! I'll be adapting it to my own needs.


 
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There’s a huge difference if what you’re saying is correct: it makes the woodchip aspect irrelevant because it’s the NON-woodchip part of the mixture which makes the garden bed successful.

A national park near me once had an enormous pile of woodchips out for weeks in the rain. One day I went to grab a garden bag’s worth for my first wicking system and as soon as I got beneath the woodchips on durface the rest was already black compost full of insects inside.

I’m this case I’d use use Lisa Woodrow’s easier permaculture system of putting all your organic ‘waste’ on an empty garden bed, putting your chickens on it for a few weeks, then rotating the cage to a new area to plant in the now chicken-enriched, weed-free garden bed.
 
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You have to be really cautious when listening to Paul Gautchi. He is sharing how he did it, but as we try to memorize to we erase the most important part, details. His way of telling is so pastoral and spiritual, it was very hard for me to understand his thinking.

A basic example can be seen is Justin Rhodes video that put online today. Here is the link:Vlog: "Blood in the Milk" His problem is that he did put 8 inches of woodchips around his fruit trees and he thinks this should have stopped weeds from emerging. It should have stopped and killed all grass underneath. He seems puzzled. I am just going to go ahead and presume he learned the 8-inch trick from Paul Gautchi during his family's Great American Farm Tour, or maybe he already knew it but seeing it works made him implement it in his farm. The detail is "8 inches of wood chips in the fall". From what I understood from videos available Paul puts all new material in the fall (same as God does as he puts it). The grass is dormant, waiting for the winter to pass. Winter drains its stored energy and so it wont be able to push through in the spring. Some might, but most will perish. Justin, on the other hand, put woodchips just recently. Weeds being benefited with limited winter sun were already ready to go with full energy. Another important detail is that, you have to mow the grass very low before you put woodchips over it.

In his tour he summarizes his method as "put wood chips over grass". His method is actually simple, nevertheless this sentence is "simpler". It lacks details. If your soil is hungry (as Paul puts it), it will take years for it to work as good as Paul's. He actually says it numerous times. Here is an anecdote from Justins's visits:

Justin: Last year we planted into it. The stuff came up slow and yellow. What we end up having to do, based on local gardener suggestion, put bone meal around it and what else did we put Rebecca?
Rebecca: Lime and bone meal
Paul Gautchi: Soil was weak. You see prior to you coming had been depleted. So it had to be fed. At starting at it was hungry and so it is very common. But you will find next year (the results by) adding bone meal and the thing. To me, it is so simple. The ground was Hungry. It was deprived. When I planted these trees it took seven years before I had fruit because the ground was so deficient." Then he shows two year old fruit tree that is covered with fruits  "It happened (so quickly) because the ground is no longer hungry"


So from what I understand, you need to bring in much needed nutrients initially, unless you accept to wait for almost a decade. Make a soil test, see what are depleted. Feed your plants with those for the first 4-5 years as they show deficiencies. As your soil gets healthier you won't need to supplements. You are already bringing in a massive amount of woodchips. Bringing in matials is equal to bringing in nutrients and covering soil is essential for a healthy soil.

About chicken composting system, I don't think he sees it as a composting process as I understand what is composting. I believe he sees them as shredders and top soil producers. Not compost. The nutrient impact of chickens is low compared to the browns entering the chicken-run. Here is how he puts his chicken run system:


Vegetable scraps and etc go into chicken run. Those broccoli plants, for me to have to chop that all up and break it up to compost that, there is a lot of work. What is awesome about chickens, you take everything there, they shred up to pieces homogonize into the soil and make amazing top soil for me. ..... I take it out to my garden. Soil inside the coop why it doesn't smell? The ratio is probably one part manure to 10000 parts organic material.



Obviously not all organic material is brown, but yeah.

He also tells that there is over 2 ft of top soil in the chicken run. He has so much that he is giving it for free. From that I understand is; this is not a deep bedding system. In deep bedding you clean it every year, there is no accumulation. The end material is usually a pre-/quasi compost. His chicken run is full with couple of year's material. It is more of a storage place for almost- top soil. Chickens keep it healthy and shred new materials. The nitrogen to turn wood chips into compost, and top soil mainly comes from decomposed woodchips not from chickens, because of the limited number of chickens compared to input. You can certainly use chickens as primary, but from what I see they are secondary components. He calls his chicken run as "soil manufacture plant". It is not a primarily composting process but an active reserve for soil that will be needed in the future.

He is certainly one of many that imports huge amounts of materilas for healthy, fertile soil. Charles Dowling does similar with compost (you can check his composting process) and Ruth Stout with hay.

He perfected it clearly and thanks Justin for bringing us to the journey.

These might be helpful:







 
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As far as i know, Paul has never put wood chips in with his chickens.  He puts his garden and lawn waste in with them,  along with his ashes from his wood stove.  After the chickens work through everything,  he sifts soil from the chicken pen and puts it in his gardens.  He talks about whether or not to use plain wood chips or if you need manure and other things.  You can use plain chipped branches.  They work great,  they just take longer to break down.  Most of my gardens were made that way.  Lots of people think Back To Eden is about wood chips.  It isn't.  It's about cover.  Paul talks about wood chips the most because they are his favorite cover material.  Now that he can't really walk,  he only uses material from the chicken pen because it's easier for him.  Paul is a really great guy and happy to answer questions if you call him.
 
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I've been watching Paul's and Justin's videos and I can, and I just finished Roth Stout's Gardening Without Work earlier this week. Of all the videos I've seen I find it interesting the number of people that assume putting down a cover, beit wood chips, hay, clippings, etc, means things will not grow through. In Paul's video and in Gardening Without Work there are comments, very brief ones, made about weeds still coming though. There will not be as many, but they are easier to pull or as Ruth states, throw more hay on them.

Trace Oswald wrote:...Lots of people think Back To Eden is about wood chips.  It isn't.  It's about cover.  Paul talks about wood chips the most because they are his favorite cover material.



Ruth writes the same thing about hay. It's one sentence in the book, but it's there. When I was in High School I mowed yards and we put the clippings on the garden. By the end of the year it would be 8"-12" thick in places and come spring it wasn't more than an inch or so. Our failure was we didn't know any better and we tilled it all in. The ground was good and fertile, but the weeds came up year after year and I'd lay on the grass clippings because it's what we had. At times weeds would push up in spots. Solution? Next bag of clippings went right on top and they were cooked.

Last year was a no till year except one spot where we tilled in what I cleaned out of the chicken coop in the spring. This year will be no till on my garden and I will be using whatever I have on hand. Grass clippings, hay from scything, wood chips when I can get them.

One thing that Paul does speak to that I think deserves more consideration is to remember this is a long game. It will take some work up front, but it's going to pay off in the long run.

Great discussion!
 
Michael Cox
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Another video discussing “raw chips” vrs “composted chips”, from someone who has visited Paul.

https://youtu.be/m3-XY63YAgA
 
Trace Oswald
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A quick glance at the back to Eden video will show you Paul's annual gardens with actual wood chips in them.  He talks about using compost from his chicken run, horse manure composted with straw,  and raw wood chips.  He uses all these things.  In his orchard,  he used 18 inches of raw wood chips.  In his gardens he used raw wood chips,  as well as dressing with compost. I think people make this too complicated.  All Paul is saying is that you should keep the ground covered with some organic material all the time.  As it breaks down,  add more.  Over time,  you will need to use less and less.  He likes using fresh chipped tree branches that have lots of green in them the best because they have enough nitrogen to compost well by themselves over time. I use his methods myself,  have for several years,  and they work.  The best soil I have is where I piled fresh wood chips to store them until I could use them. I kept removing chips from the pile until I got down to the last 8 inches or so.  Then i made a guild in that area.  My formerly heavy solid clay soil is incredible there. I didn't use compost or anything else,  just wood chips. I took me 2 years to use the pile down to that last 8 inches and by then the soil was amazing.
 
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