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Help With My Back to Eden Garden

 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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Hello fellow Permies,

Last year I became inspired by Paul Gautschi's "Back To Eden" documentary http://vimeo.com/28055108 and I decided to build my own "Eden" garden.

I started out with cardboard then about 6" to 8" of "garden soil", then about 4" of shredded wood trimmings.

The problem is that I went to the nearest place that sold dirt and told them of my plans for a garden. I purchased several truck loads of what the guy behind the counter suggested. I don't remember the name of the soil I bought, I think he called it 3 way or 4 way. Had I been smart I would've tested a sample of the soil before I bought it.

That year I planted lots of stuff into it. Direct seeded lettuces, carrots, onions, sunflowers, peas, green beans, spaghetti squash, zucchini, pumpkin, corn, and broccoli.

My lettuces never got above 3" tall, carrots never got more than a couple of inches long, everything else died with the exception of one sunflower.

I did a soil test last week and the results are, pH of 7 and there are no measurable amounts of N, P or K. No wonder everything died.

So How do I fix it? I have access to horse, chicken and rabbit manures.

I'd prefer a solution with the least amount of labor as possible. It was already a lot of work putting this thing in.

Any ideas?

Thank you


Laying the dirt on top of the cardboard



The garden completed



The garden as it looks today. I'm in the middle of building a wattle fence to keep my ducks out of the garden.

 
mark andrews
Posts: 54
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It is hard to say from your picture, so i must ask...did your top soil they sold you seem more like soil or more like a shredded wood product?
It seems like lately most of what I see sold as "topsoil" or "potting mix" is just somebody's way of getting rid of wood chips.
They just shred it finely and add something to make it look dark and rich.

If so, I imagine you will need to give it lots of manure (and maybe some diluted urine) and it will start getting better year by year.
 
Kevin Mace
Posts: 32
Location: West Virginia
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I believe the problem is the wood chips. The wood chips will suck all the nitrogen (among other things) right out of the soil, leaving your plants lacking. When using wood chips, it is best to let them sit for a year or two breaking down. Running some chickens through them will speed up the process. This is why most people use straw or leaves.

The good news ... it will fix itself gradually. Those wood chips that sucked everything out of the soil will gradually release them back into the soil. You can speed the process up by planting various plants such as comfrey, yarrow, chicory, etc. that will put nutrients into the ground.

For now ... add compost. Lots of it. Then cover with straw this year.

My only problem with the "Back to Eden" video is that he doesn't talk much about time. That soil that he is planting into has been developed over many years and is very rich. It is so rich that it can handle using fresh wood chips as mulch. The average soil, even from a garden center, cannot.

In the future, collect wood chips and let them sit a year or two before using them. Even better, pile them up in a future garden space that you plan to use two years down the road.
 
Ce Rice
Posts: 100
Location: Zone 8-9
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Wow,
Now I know where Jack is coming from.
Permaculture Answer: "It depends"
Climate? Ag zone? Rainfall?

Soil tests are sketchy. Many are aimed at you needing to buy chemical supplements.

But the advice given so far are the best. Give this spot time.
Look up Garrett Juice. You will need a good source of healthy living compost, but then you'll make a tea of this (have to keep the water oxygenated), molasses(or sugar source...can be left over flat soda) and the rest is just icing.

Spray or pour this over your garden site. It will help get the soil life going, which will help to bring much of it around to a healthy medium.

Also, if you have made it, or can find some, adding an inch or two of healthy living compost will be great, just be sure and pull back all your woodchips first. Try to never work in or mix in woodchips with your soil, as mentioned... it robs Nitrogen, and it can cause soil compaction(sp?).

Hopefully you can let the soil rest for a month or so after following one of these suggestions. Then go ahead and try planting all the things you tried last year again. One year of maturity may do wanders, or you may still need more time.
 
Ce Rice
Posts: 100
Location: Zone 8-9
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When we move next time I am going to 'attempt' to prepare my future garden sites ( I plan to garden an acre or more total) by piling up 5-12 inches of mulch and leaving it for 6 months to 3 years. Probably 20 x 40 foot plots. Later, when ready to start, I'll divide the plots up into 3 foot wide strips with cobler stones or some other foot path, maybe just leave the mulch and walk on it.

For the beds I plan to use sooner(6 months or so) i'll try to hit with diluted Nitrogen (urine) or liquified chicken manure, very regularly for the first 5 to 6 weeks, then Garret Juice after that for 3-5 weeks, then let them rest until ready to start planting.

We may bring in very good mature compost and make some small garden spots to start growing our 'kitchen garden' in immediately.
But these bigger plots will be for expanding into additional food, surplus and hopefully farmer's market product.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3306
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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One of the little critical details glossed over in the film is the TYPE of woodchips. He gets chipped prunings mainly from powerline trimming--they have a LOT of green in them, both leaves and growing branches, and very little "wood." NOT what you get when you go buy wood mulch.

Plant legumes. Pee on it. Let it set.

Get a hose end sprayer to hold the pee, or one of those siphon deals:

http://www.amazon.com/Hozon-Injector-Brass-Siphon-Mixer/dp/B00081I7K6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1394547288&sr=8-3&keywords=fertilizer+injector
 
R Scott
Posts: 3306
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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BTW, I LOVE your fence.
 
Justin Deri
Posts: 79
Location: North Yarmouth, ME
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First of all, I would like to point out the idea of wood chips sucking up nitrogen is erroneous. The C:N ratio depends entirely on the type of chip. If it's on the smaller branches, the C:N ratio can be closer to 40. Also, the bacteria that are consuming the nitrogen to breakdown the woodchips will not migrate up in to the woodchips. If your woodships are placed on top of the soil, at worst the boundary of the wood and soil may see some nutrient issues.

I think you're correct on the soil analysis idea. Take a look at what you're underlying soil is. The woodchips are acting as a mulch and have very little impact on the nutrients available to plants for the first few seasons. Are your soil tests of the underlying soil? Or the soil + woodchips? Out of curiosity, what is your base soil like (i.e. the soil below the cardboard)?

So, what do you do...that's actually a bit tough. Compost/manure are a good start; however, it will be a lot of work to pull back the mulch to put it down. I agree with others that in time the woodchips will breakdown and your soil chemistry will normalize. I think the compost tea suggestion by Ce Rice is a good one. And the notion that this year will be better than last is probably spot on. It may just be a matter of time.
 
Kevin Mace
Posts: 32
Location: West Virginia
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Another idea is to use fresh wood chips for walking paths between garden rows (and anywhere else around the property). I dig a trench/ditch for my 2' paths (about 8" deep) and fill them with wood chips. This creates micro-swales which harvests water. It also suppresses weeds. The next year I dig this wood mulch up and place it on top of my garden. I then put new mulch in the paths. I'm on year two of this and it worked well.
 
Justin Deri
Posts: 79
Location: North Yarmouth, ME
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Kevin Mace wrote:Another idea is to use fresh wood chips for walking paths between garden rows (and anywhere else around the property). I dig a trench/ditch for my 2' paths (about 8" deep) and fill them with wood chips. This creates micro-swales which harvests water. It also suppresses weeds. The next year I dig this wood mulch up and place it on top of my garden. I then put new mulch in the paths. I'm on year two of this and it worked well.


Are you suggesting to move the wood chip to the paths and then then Kolomona would have less areas to remediate? I think that's a great suggestion. In one of my hoophouses, I used to have terribly muddy and frustrating paths. Last fall I put down cardboard and woodchips in the paths. Not only was it much more pleasant to walk on, but I found it became a massive worm factory...even in the middle of winter. I took this photo on Feb 27, the outside temp was 25 F and I'd guess it was maybe 55 F inside the hoophouse.

IMG_20140227_123318.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20140227_123318.jpg]
Worms under cardboard/compost in hoophouse in February
 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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Thank you all for your responses.


Mark wrote: It is hard to say from your picture, so i must ask...did your top soil they sold you seem more like soil or more like a shredded wood product?

Mark, When I received the soil there was a lot of shredded woody matter, as well as sand and fine gravel. I suspect you are right that it's just a way for them to get rid of wood chips.



Kevin wrote:My only problem with the "Back to Eden" video is that he doesn't talk much about time. That soil that he is planting into has been developed over many years and is very rich. It is so rich that it can handle using fresh wood chips as mulch. The average soil, even from a garden center, cannot.

Kevin, I rewatched the video yesterday and I believe you are correct that in order for this method of gardening to work properly one should start out with high quality soil. Not the stuff that I purchased.



Ce wrote:Climate? Ag zone? Rainfall?

Climate: Pacific Northwest, Just south of Tacoma WA.
Zone = 8b : 15 to 20 (F)
Avg. Annual Precipitation (Total Inches) = 37.00"
Ce, I agree that the soil test probably wasn't very accurate but it was redily available and some measure is better than no measure at all. I looked into Garrett juice. I will definitely consider it.



R wrote:One of the little critical details glossed over in the film is the TYPE of woodchips. He gets chipped prunings mainly from powerline trimming--they have a LOT of green in them, both leaves and growing branches, and very little "wood." NOT what you get when you go buy wood mulch.

R, The wood chips that I got were just as prescribed, powerline trimmings, at least that part I got right



Justin wrote:I think you're correct on the soil analysis idea. Take a look at what you're underlying soil is. The woodchips are acting as a mulch and have very little impact on the nutrients available to plants for the first few seasons. Are your soil tests of the underlying soil? Or the soil + woodchips? Out of curiosity, what is your base soil like (i.e. the soil below the cardboard)?

Justin, I haven't tested the underlying soil, I'll get back to you on that



Kevin wrote:The next year I dig this wood mulch up and place it on top of my garden.

Kevin, this is sound advice, I also use these woodchips for keeping walking paths from getting muddy. I will begin harvesting last years path material for the garden before spreading new chips.


As far as what to do.
I was thinking of making a huge amount of compost tea using chicken, horse and rabbit manures. I have a little compost I can throw in as well along with some molasses. I will aerate the mixture using an aquarium air stone. Then pull back my wood chips and spray this mixture on the soil and replace the chips.

Does this seem like a good idea? Any suggestions regarding the amount of tea I should make and how much to apply? do I apply all at once or should I apply over some time?
My garden measures 24 feet by 20 feet




 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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I have seen the "Back to Eden" videos and have a few comments...

Like was mentioned above there is very little "robbing" of nitrogen with a BTE style garden. The layer of soil with contact to the mulch may be reduced but you are planting below that. Now if you were to get frustrated and rototiller or turned the mulch into the soil that could cause a problem, but only for a season or so. eventually you will have great soil (he says.. speaking from experience!)

I am in the same location as you, Belfair, about 25 miles west as the crow flies. The Back to Eden garden is located on the Olympic peninsula. They get considerably less rain and are typically warmer than our area. Add to the fact that last year sucked weather wise (too cold, too wet, late season) that provided some challenges.

I am assuming that you planted through the chips and cardboard and into the soil. Is there are reason you did not just plant into the existing soil?

When I did my BTE beds, I tried with both wood chips and chopped straw as a test. Both are giving me great soil with lots of fungi and earthworms with in the first year. I typically use newspaper over the garden area and cardboard on the paths. I find the chopped straw, while a having a little more problem with unwanted seed, does a better job. There is better water penetration when it rains and I like the way it breaks down better. The biggest problem with the wood chip in our area is that there is most likely cedar in it. Great for paths not so good for the garden due to the allopathic tendencies.

When I plant I usually move the mulch aside 3-6 inches, depending on the plant or seed, add some compost to the soil or as a top dress and water. I will wait till the plant gets established before I move the mulch back over. This give some protection from the slugs.

In thing I like is that I did not do any watering after the initial establishing of the plants and I got adequate to good growth. This year I plan on doing selective watering to get better results.

I think that you will see better results this year, especially if you add some compost as you plant or seed.
 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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John wrote:I am assuming that you planted through the chips and cardboard and into the soil. Is there are reason you did not just plant into the existing soil?


Hi John, I have a layer of soil between the cardboard and wood chips. I planted into the soil above the cardboard and below the wood chips. The reason I didn't plant into the existing soil is that my ground here is very hard and rocky. It's nearly impossible to put a shovel into it without hitting grapefruit sized rocks. I was hoping the BTE garden would be like planting a raised bed garden without building the frames.
 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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I understand about the rocks... Seems like we grow those better than anything else. You and I both live on old river beds.

Another option to speed the process up would be to mix some grass clippings onto the bark. this will speed the decomposition process some. Just take a small section the is between rows and mix it in. Next year plant in this area and add grass clippings to the area you planted this year. This kind of goes against the BTE concept but it will get you some good soil quickly.

One of the things I do not like about the BTE style is that you can not use cover crop. In our area that see so much rain during the winter I wonder if cover crop would more effective. It would provide impact protection from the rain, would help dry out the soil in spring due to transpiration, add lots of green manure to the ground and you can chop and drop it for mulch. I often plant directly into the cover crop after chopping it, without turning it in. Just move it aside from where you want to plant
 
mark andrews
Posts: 54
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I am sorry to hear about your problem.
It sounds like you did everything right.
It just turned out that the topsoil they sold you wasn't really topsoil.

You mentioned pulling back the wood chips and adding compost tea.
If that is all you are going to add...I would leave the chips in place, add the tea and water it in real well.

It will wash through the chips.
Apply it heavily because you are not just trying to change the biological balance, but you are trying to add a lot of nitrogen as well.

However, if you are going to add manure, then you'll need to pull the chips back.

Of course then, your compost tea will be designed to provide the proper bacteria a good start.
You will not be relying on it for your only source of nitrogen and you can apply it more lightly.
For your annual garden, you are looking for a more bacteria based tea.
If it were perennials, then you would be looking for one that was more weighted toward the fungi.

It will work out great in the end.
Ps....i would plant a lot of nitrogen fixing plants as well.

 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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Mark wrote:However, if you are going to add manure, then you'll need to pull the chips back.


I have some manure tea brewing right now. It's a mixture of chicken and horse.

I plan on pulling the chips back and spreading rabbit manure then replacing the chips. Then liberally spreading the manure tea atop the chips. I think this will help speed the decomposition of the woody materials. Then instead of more wood chips I think I should use straw for mulch (as long as I can source some straw without toxic gick), maybe alternate between straw and wood chips each year.

I will also be planting nitrogen fixing annuals this year.

Hopefully this works, I had a very disappointing gardening year last year and I really don't want a repeat.

Thanks for all the help!

 
Justin Deri
Posts: 79
Location: North Yarmouth, ME
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Kolomona Myer wrote:I plan on pulling the chips back and spreading rabbit manure then replacing the chips. Then liberally spreading the manure tea atop the chips. I think this will help speed the decomposition of the woody materials. Then instead of more wood chips I think I should use straw for mulch (as long as I can source some straw without toxic gick), maybe alternate between straw and wood chips each year.

I will also be planting nitrogen fixing annuals this year.

Hopefully this works, I had a very disappointing gardening year last year and I really don't want a repeat.

Thanks for all the help!



If would use what you can find locally. If wood chips are easy and cheap use those. Straw comes with a host of problems. I use both wood chips and straw on my farm and I like what I've seen from the wood chips much more than straw. Also, from an environmental perspective, I'd think wood chips are better.

Best of luck and don't let a lousy season or two get you down. You find victories each season. Definitely keep us updated on how the garden goes.
 
Justin Deri
Posts: 79
Location: North Yarmouth, ME
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Oh! I thought of this earlier today too. How about potatoes? Potatoes are excellent ways to open new ground. They are vigorous growers and don't really need a lot of nutrients. It seems like Paul or Sepp talk about planting potatoes in hugel beds. Just a thought
 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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UPDATE

Thank you everyone for all your help so far, I really appreciate your input.


So I made a large batch of manure tea using horse and chicken manures. I also put some compost in as well.



I added molasses and allow it to aerate for a day.

I then spread about 5 gallons per row on my garden, I didn't dilute it I just put it on full strength.

I kept the tea brewing and spread another 5 gallons of tea each week in the same fashion.

I tested the soil today and here are the results. I should have taken a picture of the tubes when I took my 1st test.

The 1st time I tested the water in the tubes was basically clear.



This is an improvement. It seems like I am getting more phosphorus then nitrogen and potassium.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be reading the color of the water or the overall color of the mixture. So I shook up the tubes and took another picture



Either way it looks like I'm making progress.

  • Any thoughts?
  • Should I be doing anything differently?
  • Is having an excess of phosphorus going to be a problem?
  • If so how should I mitigate it?


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    Bippy Grace
    Posts: 13
    Location: Elgin, Texas 581 ft elevation/ zone 8b/ 34 inches avg. rainfall (hah)/ Mediterranean climate
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    Looks like things are doing better, the compost tea is a great idea, and if you have access to rabbit manure, that stuff is GREAT for just top-dressing.

    If it was my land, in those conditions, with unlimited resources, I'd toss on about a 3-4 inch layer of manure spread over everything, then get the good stuff- tree trimmings with lots of greens in them- and put on another 2-3 inches on top of that. Since the topsoil you got was low quality stuff, I'd also supplement with rock dust- I like Azomite and EcoMin, personally. You can also add it to your compost teas, which helps get a rolling crazy pile of helpful microbes going. If you have a local source of mushroom compost, I'd add a layer of that right under the wood chips- that stuff is awesome. You didn't mention blood meal, but even Paul uses it when he's first establishing a garden bed with wood chips, just to make sure the baby plants get enough nitrogen that first year.

    It looks really good, I'm sure it's going to be just freaking fantastic once you get it all going.
     
    Jackie Neufeld
    Posts: 13
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    I'm on my 2nd year of Back to Eden. Didn't water enough the first year and had to suppliment with compost tea, blood meal and[size=7] this may be blasphemy on this site but my hubby even added Miracle Grow. I feel bad saying that in public, so it's a confession. Won't do that again OK. Didn't do as good as we hoped but then we didn't add much to our existing soil which was our veggie garden for many years. We were naive in thinking that everything will just work instantly with no watering.

    Last fall we added 3 inches of composted organic goat/chicken manure on top of the chip and then added another layer of chips on top. Lots of worms and fungi this spring.
    I covered our strawberry plants with the wood chips last fall and they are coming up nice so far.

    One thing that I just learned is that with the tree service people you can ask them to chip it fine for you. Ours did that voluntarily for my neighbour. That will help them to decompose faster.

    I am soooo thankful that I don't have to do so much weeding! Now we have time, and see how we are building the soil to the point that we are now wanting to expand our whole 1/4 acre into edible landscaping. Just wish I knew someone who was a good garden designer for edible landscaping so that it looked beautiful and inviting plus provided food.

    Thanks for the suggestion to pull back the chips and add rabbit manure. We have one rabbit and that rabbit produces a fair bit in one year. Hmmm, maybe we can get more.

    I have a dream to help struggling families, especially families with kids start their own garden. Anyone know of anyone doing that? I like the Back to Eden because once it's established it seems you only need to keep adding wood chips and Paul says he adds about 10% chicken manure on top.
     
    Michael Vormwald
    Posts: 154
    Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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    If you watch closely at the BTE video (and/or watch subsequent video's of Paul Gauschi's garden) you will see that although he once did, Paul does not use wood chips in his garden. He puts all his yard and garden waste in the chicken pen then adds the produced 'soil' to the garden in the fall. That being said, he does suggest using a 4" layer of wood chips, but you must pull it back and plant directly into the soil, then move the chip mulch back when the plants are established. This is all about the mulch, but only becomes truly effective in subsequent years when the wood chips begin to break down. In your case, growth was likely stifled by the poor soil you were sold.

    If I was you I'd would seek to enrich the soil after first raking off the wood chips. Compost, manure, grass clippings....etc. Once the soil is in good shape, then you can use the chips as mulch and keep adding mulch as needed.

    Note: Wood chips on the surface do not rob N2. This is only a problem if/when they are tilled into the soil.
     
    Jeff LaPorte
    Posts: 8
    Location: Southern Ohio, Zone 6a
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    Looks like your well on your way to success. We all learn by doing and sometimes trial and error helps us learn what not to do.

    As others have said, use only chips that have been sitting 2-3 years. If you do use them your first year you want you paper or cardboard, then a layer of compost then a layer of topsoil and then your chips. Pull your chips aside when planting and do not move around your plants until they are well established.

    This is my 3rd year using this system and I wont use anything else. Its very easy although labor intensive up front. Last year I didnt water my garden even in the heat of summer. I never needed to. I can just move soil around with my hands when I want to plant. When I harvested my garlic last year I just stuck my hands into the soil and pulled it up. Weeding is a breeze too. Now I have clover all over my beds so my weeding is very minimal. Most of the time I just leave the clover to grow or pull it and lay it back down. In any event I can weed a 4x8 bed in about 5 minutes.

    When I got started I lucked out and they were trimming trees on my road. Now I just add manure to the heaps of woodchips I have and use them as needed. I usually let them sit 6 months at least first. This year I started a new garden area and used my chip/manure mixture from last year on top of topsoil i had purchased. Maybe I lucked out with the topsoil but everything is doing great. We've had a very wet spring and so far early summer and my garden is also not in a great location. I live in a forest on a hillside so I have some sunlight issues. So far this garden has surpassed my expectation. Tomatoes are over 5' tall already and setting fruit very well. I am already pulling peppers but that from plants I had grown last tear and dug up and saved in the house for the winter.
    Anyway, everything is doing great and I havent ever had a soil test done but havent ever had a problem.. Your definitely moving in the right direction and once you get it dialed in you will be happy you did this. Its really nice not having to till every year.
     
    Tina Paxton
    Posts: 283
    Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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    Jackie Neufeld wrote:[size=12]I am soooo thankful that I don't have to do so much weeding! Now we have time, and see how we are building the soil to the point that we are now wanting to expand our whole 1/4 acre into edible landscaping. Just wish I knew someone who was a good garden designer for edible landscaping so that it looked beautiful and inviting plus provided food.

    Thanks for the suggestion to pull back the chips and add rabbit manure. We have one rabbit and that rabbit produces a fair bit in one year. Hmmm, maybe we can get more.

    I have a dream to help struggling families, especially families with kids start their own garden. Anyone know of anyone doing that? I like the Back to Eden because once it's established it seems you only need to keep adding wood chips and Paul says he adds about 10% chicken manure on top.


    Check Craigslist for people regularly selling pet rabbits -- those are your local rabbitries and your source for more rabbit manure. Unless, of course, they are like me and use all their rabbit manure themselves.

    I think that if some PDC's could combine their knowledge of permaculture design with aesthetically pleasing landscaping design, permaculture could become more accepted in the suburbs and "sub-rural" locations such as mine. Not everyone can buy a 30 acre plot and plot world domination from it. Most of us will live in more populated areas with a 1/2 acre more or less and we want max food production while also maintaining good curb appeal. Being able to provide both will go far in world domination by Permies! Like you, I dream of being able to help struggling families learn to be food independent. In other countries, peasants with small plots of land not much bigger than their house are able to grow food because they use every square inch--including their house as a trellis. Too many "American peasants" have the idea that a garden is about tomatoes and cucumbers. Tomatoes and cucumbers are good but will not provide the calories needed to sustain them. They need to learn to grow open-pollinated calorie crops without all the inputs that only make the stores rich in selling it to them. First...I have to get my place to a point where it is a good example of what can be done in the way of self-sufficiency while maintaining the curb appeal.
     
    Tina Paxton
    Posts: 283
    Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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    Michael Vormwald wrote:If you watch closely at the BTE video (and/or watch subsequent video's of Paul Gauschi's garden) you will see that although he once did, Paul does not use wood chips in his garden.


    The video glosses over several things:

    1. He started with grass clippings and straw before he turned to wood chips
    2. His "wood chips" are tree tops, not tree trunks
    3. He now uses "soil" created by his chickens -- not sure if he still uses wood chips?? I think he does but not exclusively.

    Rather than purchase bales of straw or hay -- empty those mower bags of clippings on the garden! If you have neighbors who do not pour chemicals on their lawn--get their clippings!
     
    I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you - Fred Rogers. Tiny ad:
    2017 Permaculture Design Course and Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs
    http://richsoil.com/pdc
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