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First timer with Back to Eden garden method  RSS feed

 
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We have had good luck using cover crops to out-compete thistle.  I think it was buckwheat and annual rye.
Thistle is a bully that doesn't like something that fights back.
 
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Chiming in from central Florida!  I think deciding to use wood chips takes different considerations like the weather/humidity where you live, how much time you are willing to wait for planting, your soil content, and the species of trees that get the chop-up, among others that I probably haven't thought about.   The wood chips we've gotten have been made up of live oaks, palms, pines, cedar, cherry laurel, and citrus. Depending on the mixture we get, our yard smells awesome for the first week we put the chips down.....and they all decompose pretty nicely.

I decided to use wood chips 3-4 years ago when establishing my food forest and another garden. I sheet mulched with cardboard and then laid 10"-12" of mulch.  Because of the humidity and rain here, it didn't take but a couple of weeks for things to start to break down.  The worms and other subterranean critters seemed happy and abundant after a few months.   For general knowledge, I apply the wood chips once a year-ish as that is all they last before I have bare ground again.  I really should be applying them about every 9 months, but I don't think I could get THAT many loads.  We have a fairly large and growing permaculture contingency in my area and EVERYONE wants wood chips.

A few things I noticed and/or to maybe keep in mind....

1. I found out dollar weed LOVES wood chips.   Yes, it has reduced in quantity (as the other "weeds"), but it will NEVER GO AWAY, which is something that I just have to learn to live with.  I've tried several non-toxic solutions to try to rid us of the crap, but none have worked.  It just comes up again from the soil underneath.  I do have to admit though, it is fun to pull the clumps of dollar weed out of the mulch.  (What can I say, I'm easily amused.) It pulls right up and I can physically remove a lot in a short amount of time.  The lesson - Keep in mind that there may be plants you don't want in your garden space that think that wood chips are the bees knees and there's not much you can do about it except physically remove them.

2. Even though the worms and whatnot seemed very happy, I didn't notice a lot of happiness in my trees and plants for a couple/three years.  The plants that would grow on the moon if you let them grew just fine.  Other plants just kind of maintained themselves.  Any annual crops I seeded in or transplanted really didn't thrive. This past spring though, things went bonkers!  We have a lot of sand in our natural soil in this part of Florida, so it just took a while to get the volume of decomposing material needed for the worms and whatnot to get their mojo really going and the general fertility of the soil to increase.  If you have fairly nice soil to begin with, the fertility may not take as long as the soil in my yard did, but I would say try to mentally prepare yourself for not-so-stunning results the first couple of years, just in case.  If I remember correctly, in the Back to Eden Gardening videos, Paul said that his property was the result of years and years of dumping wood chips.  

3.  If you live in an area where things will start to decompose within a day or so, or your pile of wood chips has sat awhile and has started to decompose, WEAR A BREATHING MASK.  When we get loads of wood chips they are less than 24 hours old and depending on what day of the week we get them, we will have them distributed in one to three days.  The very first load of chips we received was in January when the weather was cool (which is another good tip for you if you live in hot areas) and we mistook the steam coming from the pile as only steam.  NOPE!   The abundant fungus particles that wafted into our faces gave us what I call "fungus lung".  While we didn't get horribly ill, we did have a week or so of major coughing and taking of meds to keep the mucus flowing so we wouldn't get horribly ill.

4.  When I direct seed plants in my gardens/food forest now, i just move the chips away and plant the seeds, leaving a crater of chips around where I seeded.  Once the seedlings get big enough I'll cover over the soil a bit more with the chips for moisture.  After that, I let nature take its course.  The chips will fill in the crater naturally with the rain and the sprinklers and critters walking over them.

Bottom line, what I've seen in our yard is enough proof to me that the practice is beneficial and I will continue to put wood chips down.

 
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Hi all, I'm several years into deep mulching some gardens - 12 inches deep.  Here is what I wished I knew years ago, since I failed at many things to learn this:
First year - don't even try smaller annuals.  Go with
1.) potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Using a pitchfork, plunge it into the woodchips - pry it back and slip a potato in between the ground and the woodchips.  The sweet potatoes did especially well.
2.) Bush beans.  Just plant them an inch deep into the woodchips.  For me, they grew right down through all the wood chips and we had a great harvest.
3.) Big vigorous plants like squash and watermelon.  Instead of making a row, just dig out a small circle.  In some cases, I put a paper cup with the bottom torn out around the seed so when a dog/cat/kid kicked the woodchips back in the hole the little seedling was protected.
4.) Add some nitrogen fertilizer.  Some people say there is no problem with the woodchips stealing the nitrogen, but I'm not so sure - at least in the very top layer of soil.  After the first year, this wasn't necessary though.
5.) Areas where I added Garden Giant mushroom spawn, the woodchips decomposed literally twice as fast - and I got mushrooms!

Second year - it's easier so basically the same as above but mixing in some smaller annuals.
Third year - I was raking back the top layer of woodchips and planing lettuce, kale, cilantro and anything else I wanted.
Fourth year - I'll be adding a 2 inch layer of winter woodchips this year.  Now I don't want them to break down - because I want them to suppress weeds and weeds are growing in the compost that was once woodchips.  I'm guessing a top layer of very little leaves - just the wood part of the chips will take care of this.

As far as the thistle - it keeps coming back because of it's strong root system, often with horizontal runners connecting multiple plants.  From what I can see, if it's already in the ground it loves the woodchips.  We let ours grow to 2-3 inches high and pulled it.  After about 3-4 pulls, it quit and hasn't come back since.
 
pollinator
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--> Here are my thoughts you may take them or leave them, I expect some to not like them, that is okay.

--> 1.  There is no such thing as a "Back to Eden" method.  Someone putting a name on something doesn't change what it is.  All this is amounts to compost and wood mulch.  As long as there have
--> been wood chippers, gardeners have been putting wood chips on gardens.  I was doing it as a child for my grandfather in the late 70s.  One reason people are worried about what to do here is we
--> stopped calling it what it is and made it a "specialized method".  If you just said use compost, organic fertilizers and heavily mulch with wood chips, it may not sizzle as well, but no one would be
--> confused.  So just stop trying to make it complex and mulch an move along.

--------------

Here is that method that you don't agree with so others may know there is a way of doing this that Paul has found effective.
https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/organicgardening.html

I do believe Paul has a right to his method just as Ruth Stout named her method of using hay, she has a right to her method and her books.    

I do run a web page on MeWe that talks about this non existing method of deep mulch as well as Ruth Sout's methods.
https://mewe.com/join/deep_mulch_-_back_to_eden__gardening




Mart






 
Mart Hale
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Peter Daub wrote:Hi all, I'm several years into deep mulching some gardens - 12 inches deep. .....


As far as the thistle - it keeps coming back because of it's strong root system, often with horizontal runners connecting multiple plants.  From what I can see, if it's already in the ground it loves the woodchips.  We let ours grow to 2-3 inches high and pulled it.  After about 3-4 pulls, it quit and hasn't come back since.




I also found this to be true with some of my grasses that if you got to a certain depth of wood chips the grasses would not come back.     However,  those with deep roots and bulbs under the ground do manage to make it back to the top sad to say.
 
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Will Bonsall has written a great book that shows wood chips and compost in a whole-farm system that has been providing virtually all the food for his family for decades in Maine. He buys virtually no inputs, but uses lots of compost, and urine/humanure as appropriate. Leaves, grass, and wood chips supplemented with garden waste are the backbone of his system, which is more labor-intensive than just mulching, but also very very productive, and doable for one guy at farm scale. will bonsallHe is veganic, but I'm not and I have found his book very useful, especially as it shows different strategies for specific crops instead of a one-size-fits-all "method". I am amazed that at this late date someone has made a big-deal method out of wood chips. They've been part of gardening since chippers were invented. Always someone ready to trademark something and make a buck on it, I guess.....
 
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Mart Hale wrote:-->

Here is that method that you don't agree with so others may know there is a way of doing this that Paul has found effective.
https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/organicgardening.html

I do believe Paul has a right to his method just as Ruth Stout named here method of using hay, she has a right to her method and her books.    

I do run a web page on Me We that talks about this non existing method of deep mulch as well as Ruth Sout's methods.
https://mewe.com/join/deep_mulch_-_back_to_eden__gardening

Mart



I didn't say I didn't agree with it, I said it isn't a method it isn't a thing.  It is just deep mulching with wood chips, of course it works that why I said gardeners have been doing it as long as wood chippers have been around.  Of course it works, but calling it "Back to Eden Method" is like say well imagine this.  

Lots of people mulch with straw, straw was in the manger, what if we start a new method called, "Back to Bethlehem Method", we mulch with straw that has animal poop on it.  Now we take this simple thing that people have done forever and we call it something and in the minds of people it becomes complicated.  

Call it anything you want it is just organic gardening and mulching.  Which absolutely does work very well.
 
gardener
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I would recommend looking to the work of soil scientists that have researched the use of ramial wood chips in gardening.  This work was carried out in the 70s and is quite well worked out.  Ramial wood chips are just woodchips that come from relatively thin branches (from mostly deciduous trees), because they have a high ratio of cambium to wood.  The cambium holds the nutrients that can make wood chips act as a fertilizer.  Michael Phillips wrote this primer on ramial wood chips that's a quick and good read.  I like the way Michael uses a patchwork method with his chip additions.  

While it doesn't look as "pretty" (actually, it does once you appreciate what it is) good ramial wood chips will have lots of nice little twigs mixed in because of their source....small diameter branches.  The more twigs the better!  Heck, I really like it when there are lots of shredded leaves in there too...makes a great blend :)
 
Jamie Chevalier
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Yes, Will Bonsall refers to the research done at a university in Quebec on ramial. It's pretty exciting; the very parts of the tree that have been burnt in the past as useless turn out the be the important ones for soil-building. Makes sense. A tree falls only once in a long time, but twigs, branches, and leaves fall constantly, so the soil biome is best adapted to them.

Another exciting bit of research involves lichens and "old man's beard" on trees. It has been supposed by most people that they are sapping the tree. A bunch of researchers finally followed specific tree growth and mapped lichen density long enough to notice that the trees with usnea and lace lichen actually grew faster than those in the same neighborhood without lichens. So, they put buckets out under the trees and found out that the lichens act as a nutrient net, to capture dust and mineral particles, bits of shed cells, etc etc out of the wind. When it rains, those nutrients drip into the root zone of the tree. The rainwater they captured from trees with a lot of lichen on them was nutrient soup.....and the trees were getting a natural "fertigation."    (fertilizer irrigation)  The lichens are nutrient-dense in their own right as well, and deer seem to prefer them as food. Since the majority of lichens occur on twigs rather than trunk wood, it is probably a part of the mix in ramial chips, along with the cambium, the surface-dwelling fungi and bacteria, the leaves, etc.  Altogether a richer mix than the cellulose/lignin makeup of the trunk.
 
Jamie Chevalier
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1.)First year - don't even try smaller annuals.  Go with  potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Using a pitchfork, plunge it into the woodchips - pry it back and slip a potato in between the ground and the woodchips.  The sweet potatoes did especially well.
2.) Bush beans.  Just plant them an inch deep into the woodchips.  For me, they grew right down through all the wood chips and we had a great harvest.
3.) Big vigorous plants like squash and watermelon.




This brings up another thing in Will Bonsall's book that I never see elsewhere--the difference between old-world and new-world crops. Or actually, between crops from places with the plow and those fromplaces with the digging stick and hoe.

The agriculture of the new world and parts of Africa was swidden cultivation,  (used to be called slash and burn). It took place in newly-cleared forest clearings (And even in the places that were not forested, it was on small patches barely cultivated with a digging stick or hoe.) Fire or girdling the trees was used to provide a growing space, and the crops were growing on fungal-dominated forest soils with plenty of duff and twigs and/or wood ash. Soils tended twoard a more acidic ph. After a few years, it was allowed to go back to forest and a new patch was cleared, so there was always a forest soil with tree roots, or a perennial prairie soil with grass roots--not a cropland soil with primarily annuals.

The agriculture of the old world took place in permanent croplands clear-cultivated to a fine tilth with the plow. These received yearly applications of compost/animal manure/ lime and other amendments. Soils tended toward more neutral ph. Crops such as peas and cabbage were the staples. They evolved from maritime beach and riparian plants, which even in nature grow in disturbed soil are then replaced by more aggressive perennials.

So, Bonsall makes the point that on a new homestead, new world crops have an advantage: they have evolved for those fungally-dominated, barely-cultivated, wood-rich soils and will feel right at home.  As indeed I experienced on my homestead in Alaska, where I started out new patches of garden by clearing as best I could and planting potatoes, sometimes under nothing but a pile of seaweed.  

Mulching with wood chips recreates the swidden garden--fungally-dominated, rich in the breakdown products from wood, and with lots of surface litter.

I wish this distinction had been widely articulated years ago, because it is the rock that many garden methods crash on. They want to have a single method, when plants--in Nature and under our nurture as well--are adapted to different niches.

So the practical application is that tomatoes, squash, beans, and potatoes are happy to live in a bit of soil and a lot of duff, chips, tree roots, half-digested compost, etc. Cabbage, peas, spinach, carrots, lettuce maybe not.  They might be happier in later seasons  when more decomposition has taken place. Or with the ground cleared of woodchips around them.
 
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I use the method as outlined by Paul, and I find that it works great. I didn't think anything was misrepresented in the film.  He also didn't make any money from the film, or from the produce from his garden and gives it to people quite freely, so I'm not sure why people think naming it is somehow for profit.  

Paul goes into some detail with regards to adding organic matter the first years until the chips breakdown, or you will get some nitrogen tie-up.  People say you don't, but that hasn't been my experience.  Paul adds soil that has been composted by his chickens to his gardens, but as he says, you don't need to, it will just take longer if you don't.  That has been my experience as well.  Paul used 18 inches of wood chips alone in his orchard area.  The results seem to speak for themselves.  I personally had never heard of gardening with wood chip mulch before the film was made about Paul, so I'm grateful.  If I had an unending supply of wood chips as some people do, I would use them on many acres of my land.  I don't, so I use wood chips where I can, and cover crops, compost, other mulches when I run out.
 
Mart Hale
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Trace Oswald wrote:I use the method as outlined by Paul, and I find that it works great. I didn't think anything was misrepresented in the film.  He also didn't make any money from the film, or from the produce from his garden and gives it to people quite freely, so I'm not sure why people think naming it is somehow for profit.  

Paul goes into some detail with regards to adding organic matter the first years until the chips breakdown, or you will get some nitrogen tie-up.  People say you don't, but that hasn't been my experience.  Paul adds soil that has been composted by his chickens to his gardens, but as he says, you don't need to, it will just take longer if you don't.  That has been my experience as well.  Paul used 18 inches of wood chips alone in his orchard area.  The results seem to speak for themselves.  I personally had never heard of gardening with wood chip mulch before the film was made about Paul, so I'm grateful.  If I had an unending supply of wood chips as some people do, I would use them on many acres of my land.  I don't, so I use wood chips where I can, and cover crops, compost, other mulches when I run out.



Yep, I put down 12 inches of wood chips like Paul did at first with no compost.       It took about 3 years but it did break down and make good rich black compost for me here in Florida, it seems with all of the humidity here it breaks down faster.

I can't always get wood chips, so I have been testing making my own mulch with chop and drop with the Bolivian sunflower, with good success, it is useful for frost protection.

Since I don't have a contiunal supply of wood chips I also have to use other methods of killing the weeds, I use plastic covers / tarps to kill them, then I plant beans after that.
 
Greg Martin
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Trace Oswald wrote:I use the method as outlined by Paul, and I find that it works great. I didn't think anything was misrepresented in the film.



My apologies Trace.  I pulled my comment out about that.  I went back to look and realized it was his garden tour that I partially watched.  He was referring to how the experts say you can't do this because of nitrogen loss, but all the experts I know have only warned against rototilling woodchips into the soil to avoid stunting the  growth that year.  I can't imagine anyone saying that laying woodchips on the soil surface is a problem since it is very common practice and has been for a very long time.  I've been doing it for 30 years and thought it was common practice back when I started.
 
Trace Oswald
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Greg Martin wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote:I use the method as outlined by Paul, and I find that it works great. I didn't think anything was misrepresented in the film.



My apologies Trace.  I pulled my comment out about that.  I went back to look and realized it was his garden tour that I partially watched.  He was referring to how the experts say you can't do this because of nitrogen loss, but all the experts I know have only warned against rototilling woodchips into the soil to avoid stunting the  growth that year.  I can't imagine anyone saying that laying woodchips on the soil surface is a problem since it is very common practice and has been for a very long time.  I've been doing it for 30 years and thought it was common practice back when I started.



Greg,  no need to apologize, I just didn't understand what you meant.
 
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jack spirko wrote:Here are my thoughts you may take them or leave them, I expect some to not like them, that is okay.



I love the pragmatism.  The enemy of good is perfection, and the downfall of a lot of purists is their lack of nuance or willingness to be flexible on little things without screaming "That's compromise!".  Some people are so virginal about "no inputs", yet they import water and distribute it around their space via a rubber hose made of oil shipped from the north slope of Alaska, to water seed that is trucked in from who knows where . . . at what point do you draw the line and say, "That's an input, and that isn't?"  If getting a local tree-trimmer to stop by your place and dump his load of chips on the ground so you can use them in your garden and orchard is considered an "outside input", then count me among the input whores.

I couldn't agree with you more strongly about the issue of N rob.  Chips left on the soil surface do not tie up nitrogen.  Thanks for the passionate strength of your advocacy.
 
master pollinator
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jack spirko wrote:

Mart Hale wrote:-->

Here is that method that you don't agree with so others may know there is a way of doing this that Paul has found effective.
https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/organicgardening.html

I do believe Paul has a right to his method just as Ruth Stout named here method of using hay, she has a right to her method and her books.    

I do run a web page on Me We that talks about this non existing method of deep mulch as well as Ruth Sout's methods.
https://mewe.com/join/deep_mulch_-_back_to_eden__gardening

Mart



I didn't say I didn't agree with it, I said it isn't a method it isn't a thing.  It is just deep mulching with wood chips, of course it works that why I said gardeners have been doing it as long as wood chippers have been around.  Of course it works, but calling it "Back to Eden Method" is like say well imagine this.  

Lots of people mulch with straw, straw was in the manger, what if we start a new method called, "Back to Bethlehem Method", we mulch with straw that has animal poop on it.  Now we take this simple thing that people have done forever and we call it something and in the minds of people it becomes complicated.  

Call it anything you want it is just organic gardening and mulching.  Which absolutely does work very well.



Yepo, I have been slightly annoyed at the term Back to Eden for wood chip mulching due to knowing this is a popular technique in the PNW going back to 1979 when I moved to WA state and the hippies next door were using this for their garden. I knew all sorts of people using it all through the 80's in the PNW. No one ever used the term Back to Eden. It was just wood chip mulching.

Is it a highly successful way to garden? Yes it is. Is Paul the inventor of it? Nope not even close. Wood chip mulching in gardens had been done a long time before him. He did popularize it by offering lots and lots of tours thus the naming came from all the people he taught using his name for it. But he does not own the idea, nor is the name really representative of the true history of the idea. Is he and others profiting off people thinking it is his idea, definitely.
 
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My only complaint with Paul's disclosure is that he doesn't stress enough for those just getting started about the importance of the chickens manufacturing the soil.

Also someone asked if the method could be used in containers and his answer was something like absolutely.  Yes it works and I have some wonderful soil in my  self watering containers, but I found in containers it requires a lot of liquid gold to offset the nitrogen robbing.
 
Mart Hale
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Ralph Kettell wrote:My only complaint with Paul's disclosure is that he doesn't stress enough for those just getting started about the importance of the chickens manufacturing the soil.

Also someone asked if the method could be used in containers and his answer was something like absolutely.  Yes it works and I have some wonderful soil in my  self watering containers, but I found in containers it requires a lot of liquid gold to offset the nitrogen robbing.



I have found that fresh chips work great as a mulch in the containers, not so much when mixed with the soil as you point out.

Chips that have broken down after 2 years, then run thru a 1/4 inch screen worked awesome for my fig tree, it seemed that it was just what the fungi needed to grow.

I do think that nitrogren + wood chips = awesome fungal growth, as you pointed out.
 
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I first discovered Paul G and the "Back to Eden" method about a year and a half ago when Justin Rhodes stopped by his farm and made a video as part of his great American farm tour.  I was immediately inspired and soon began bringing woodchips onto the property.  The more wood chips I get the more I study the concept of sheet mulching and no till.  I've come to learn there is plenty of science behind the "method".  I've come to think of Paul as a great cheerleader for sheet mulching and permaculture in general who has inspired all kinds of people like me.  But he has a tendency to oversimplify and embellish where he sees fit; everything you could want in a good PR person ;)

As I continued to study I found real scientists like Dr Elaine Ingham, Jeff Lowenfels, Dr Red Hawk, Tad Hussey and plenty of others who are all studying the mechanics of the soil food web.  

If you're recently inspired by Paul and the BTE method I highly recommend looking up the folks above.  And you may want to start with Jeff Lowenfels book Teaming with Microbes which is the first of a three part series of books on the soil food web.
Teaming with Microbes

A couple of months ago I discovered Charles Dowding and his youtube channel.  Charles has his own methods which aren't all that different than Paul's but he promotes his method as no dig. Anyway I highly recommend checking out his high quality how-to videos.

Charles Dowding on Youtube

Happy Planting Ya'll
 
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Devin Lavign wrote:Is he and others profiting off people thinking it is his idea, definitely.



Could you explain how Paul is profiting from this? The movie is free,  and my understanding is that he doesn't sell anything he grows,  only gives it away.  He also sends seeds to people for free if you give him some money or a few stamps to cover postage.

I've also never seen Paul claim he invented anything.  In fact he goes into great detail explaining that he just copied what he saw in nature and that,  in his opinion, God has always done it that way.
 
Mart Hale
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Devin Lavign wrote:Is he and others profiting off people thinking it is his idea, definitely.



Could you explain how Paul is profiting from this? The movie is free,  and my understanding is that he doesn't sell anything he grows,  only gives it away.  He also sends seeds to people for free if you give him some money or a few stamps to cover postage.

I've also never seen Paul claim he invented anything.  In fact he goes into great detail explaining that he just copied what he saw in nature and that,  in his opinion, God has always done it that way.






https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/watchfreeorganicgardeningmovie.html



Yep it has been free.    You can buy the DVD from them but the main film is free.


 
Trace Oswald
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I don't even think Paul ever called it the "Back to Eden garden method".  The name of the movie is Back to Eden, so my assumption is that people just started calling it the Back to Eden method because it's less cumbersome than saying "the method of gardening that was shown in the Back to Eden movie".  The movie became synonymous with mulching with wood chips because Paul uses wood chips most often and says they are his favorite mulch, but he is quite clear that you can, and should, use whatever organic material you have for mulch.
 
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I started this method last year for the first time. Unlike original post I don’t have too much gardening experience.

I only went about 4” deep with chips on top of cardboard. I was fortunate to be gifted numerous plants after I mulched, and so found myself pulling back chips, cutting holes in cardboard, and digging out yet to be killed grass and filling in with dirt from the woods and chicken poop.

I would love to go 8” deep, but as you will read I am gardening as if my failures will be my best teacher (mostly due to time contraints).

Everything did relatively well. My soil, one year later, is improving and many of the perennials i transplanted in are coming up!

I should note that my process began around 5 established fruit trees (2-4 yrs old) that use to stand alone in an overgrown weedy lawn with a ring of mulch around them.

I’ll mulch more this week and do the same as I did last year.

I’m not well planned, I don’t always know if what I am doing will succeed, I’m designing my trails this year instead of last year. I’m having far fewer failures than I anticipated, and the things that won’t make it back this spring we’re free and easily replaceable.

There was some talk about chickens and ducks a few pages back. I can attest to the success in this advice. I used mostly murky duck water from a kiddy-pool last year. I thought it would burn most of my plants, but also enjoy the journey of (what I’m calling) “f around and find out” gardening. The kiddy pool happened to be closer to my project than the hose... so that happened and it was a great success!

I hope this gives people considering food forest/ garden of eden style soil work a confidence boost! If Someone like me can enjoy some successes- you’ll do great!
 
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