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First timer with Back to Eden garden method  RSS feed

 
Trent Cowgill
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I have been gardening for a while and decided to try the back to Eden garden method. I tilled my soil as usual and then layered on about 8 inches of fresh wood chips and I mean 24 hour old chips.

My question is that im worried I put to much on and Im not sure if I should thin them out or how to move forward. My garden it 50x60 so getting rid of this many wood chips would be a pain.

Any help/info on moving forward is greatly appreciated.
 
Gary Donaldson
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Hi,

The Garden of Eden bloke glosses over the fact that he used chicken manure to provide the nitrogen to kick the decomposition of the tree mulch.  Without that, you'll be waiting much longer for the decomposition to occur.  Human urine would be one convenient, portable and inexpensive (and highly underrated) source of nitrogen...and it can be applied with the wood chips in place.

Gary
 
Todd Parr
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The wood chips don't need chicken manure as long as they are freshly chipped smaller branches with the leaves and all chopped in.

Leave them.  The more chips you use the better.  To move forward, spread the chips until you get to soil, plant your seeds or transplants into the underlying soil, and when the plants get taller, pull the wood chips back in around them.
 
Trent Cowgill
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So you dont think 8 inches is too deep?

Im going to do some hay bales around the outside this year also.

Im way outside my comfort zone this year lol
 
Gary Donaldson
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8" will be fine.  Do as Todd suggests and scrape the woodchips clear of the plants that you'll be putting directly into soil...and then pull the chips back around the plants.  Do not dig any of the tree mulch into the soil as it will create a nitrogen deficiency in the soil.

As this link demonstrates, Paul Gautschi uses chicken manure to provide nutrition for the plants (pending the breakdown of the chips) and it will assist the decomposition of the chips, too.  Softwood chips break down very quickly; hardwood chips much less so.  Video link:  http://northernhomestead.com/is-the-back-to-eden-garden-method-really-just-about-mulching/

 
Marco Banks
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You'll need to be patient.  For wood chips to be effective in your garden, they'll need to naturally decompose and that takes a year.  In the meantime, pull the chips back in those areas where you'll be planting, dig a hole and plop your plant into the hole.  Vining veggies and fruits just need a small hole, and then they'll run over the top of the chip mulch (stuff like watermelons or cucumbers).  Tomatoes, peppers, pole beans . . . all do fantastic with this kind of planting system.  Smaller growing row crops like lettuces, carrots, beets, etc. may require you to rake the mulch back further.

I love how making a new "bed" is so easy.  Basically, you have a chunk of your garden that is covered with 5 inches of decomposed chips.  I get out a heavy rake and just pull those chips back into the shape of a bed and the soil thereunder is absolutely beautiful and full of worms.  I'll broadcast my lettuce or dill or whatever, and viola, it's a bed.  Every year, a new batch of chips goes down.  It's helpful if you can give the land a rest and move your garden beds around, thus giving fresh chips a year to break down.  I move my various "beds" around throughout the orchard --- no two years are ever the same.

You mention that you tilled the soil first.  You won't want to do that going forward, and in fact, you'll do well to not do it, as that would incorporate the chips down into the soil profile (where you don't want them) rather than keep them on the soil surface.  People worry that wood chips tie up nitrogen.  No they don't, as long as you keep them on the soil surface where they belong.  I haven't used my tiller in over a decade now.  I don't need to.  We have a HEAVY clay soil here, but you'd never know it because all that carbon from the chips and all the worms keep the soil loose and friable.  You'll park your tiller and never have to worry about tilling again ---- patience.  Give it 2 years.

The Back to Eden method mimics nature.  Trees lose leaves and have branches that fall to the ground, which then lay on the soil surface and slowly decompose.  Nobody tills a forest, other than the occasional wild hog or badger that roots around and turns the soil a bit.  Its that carbon layer that sits on top that brings so many benefits.

This year, you may need to add a bit of nitrogen directly near the root zone of your plants.  I do that by peeing in the watering can, and then putting that nitrogen boost right where its needed.  Side-dressing with a couple of healthy scoops of compost will also be a pick-me-up for your plants as the season moves along.  But in the years to come, you'll find that fertility increases due to increased fungal activity in the soil (another reason to not till any longer) and an explosion in your earthworm population.  As the soil food web gets stronger (fed, as it will be, by the carbon layer on top of the soil), your soil fertility will follow.

Take some pictures, including some pictures of how deep the wood chips are (stick a ruler down into the soil to measure depth).  You'll be amazed how quickly those chips will break down and gas off in the next 12 months.

Best of luck.
 
Trent Cowgill
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Thanks for all the replies everyone.

Hopefully things turnout well.

I appreciate the help and I cant wait to try this out.
 
Marco Banks
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Trent Cowgill wrote:So you dont think 8 inches is too deep?

Im going to do some hay bales around the outside this year also.

Im way outside my comfort zone this year lol



I sometimes spread them 15 inches deep if I know I'm not going to be planting in that area for a year.  One year later, they will be considerably less deep, and the worms within are abundant.

8 inches will turn to 5 inches very quickly, and 2 inches by next year.  Everything rots.  All that carbon on the soil surface will gas off eventually, except that which turns into humus and the worms incorporate down into the soil.
 
Trent Cowgill
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I layed these chips down in November. We have had a very warm winter and I pushed some of the chips aside to get to the dirt the other day and the soil was very loose and full of bugs. I did till about 12 inches deep as I usually do for my garden bed. I figured it couldn't hurt my goal is to not have to turn over this bed ever again and to significantly reduce my amount of weeds in the picture youll see when the garden looked good last year then all of a sudden it was overgrown with weeds and out of control. with kid #5 on the way I wont have as much time out there as I usually would. I'm a old school farm hand willing to learn some new things.

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Casie Becker
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I don't think a one time tilling before the chips went down is likely to have done much harm. I use a lot of wood chips in my garden also. One of the things that makes the wood chips so useful is that they're mostly broken down by fungi, which build extensive networks of mycelium through the soil. If you till in the future not only will you risk nitrogen tie down by incorporating decomposing wood into the soil, you'll tear up those delicate mycelium and the earthworms you've attracted. One of the best things about gardening with dense mulches is that you won't miss the tilling at all. The soil life itself will keep your soil light and friable without needing to loosen it with a plow or tiller. The wood chips will eliminate most weed germination and the soil tilth will be so improved that the few plants that do sprout will be easy to pull. 

Just make sure you pull the chips back enough to reach actual soil when you plant and, just like with trees, don't pile the wood chips directly against the crowns of the growing plants. In my most heavily mulched beds right now it looks like I have a series of pits everywhere I've planted squash because I had to pull it back that far to reach soil. This actually provides extra benefit of sheltering freshly planted ground from drying winds as I try to germinate surface sown seeds.
 
Roger Rhodes
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This is our third Spring with the Back to Eden method.  Since starting we have placed at least a total of 3 feet deep of wood chips on our garden.  We also added a layer one year of decomposing hay that was an archery backstop.  We occasionally add chicken litter and also use the garden as the winter chicken yard

What started as lawn with about one inch of poor topsoil on top of clay now looks like this:


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Good soil....
 
Ben Zumeta
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Most people who complain of failure with the "Back to Eden" method do so because the failed to appreciate the importance of the chickens in the system. I would bet after a few years the soil is so well inoculated it may become less necessary to feed your newly added wood chips, but it will be nothing but beneficial to get yours started breaking down. Ducks are even easier than chickens to use for this, as you just put out a kiddie pool for them to bathe and then drain it onto your woodchips. They will have mycelium before you know it!
 
Trent Cowgill
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Ok so my chips are a bit deeper than I thought they were they are 10 to 12 inches deep minimum. Im having a hard time making rows to lay in my seeds. Should I remove some of the chips? or am I working to hard to get to the Soil, could I plant the seeds in the chips?

Im glad I tilled up 2 other garden spaces to work the old way just in case this bed fails I will still have some food coming in. Not going to lie this back to eden bed is a little nerve racking. We do depend on our garden for most of our food in the summer and fall. 4 soon to be 5 kids and 2 adults we need a large amount of food lol

Thanks for any help.
 
Ben Zumeta
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As I remember he suggest 4-6" deep the first season to allow for planting, then building it up from there to 18" a year. It is also paramount to appreciate the difference between wood chips that were used as chicken bedding and just straight wood. The former is perfect mulch but without a kickstart of nitrogen and microbes the wood will take at least a season to begin breaking down and giving its dynamic benefits. You could always toss bird seed out for a week or two and let the wild birds work it a little.
 
Casie Becker
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If you wood chips have decomposed till they look like fine potting soil then you have a decent chance of seeds germinating. Less decomposed than that I find it works better as a mulch and it is very important to get the seeds in contact with soil.
 
Trent Cowgill
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My chips are forsure still chips. I put this layer of fresh wood chips on last spring so they could sit till now.

I think once our growing season is up in the fall I will fence it in and throw in a chicken house and raise some meat birds in that area until winter really sets in then ill harvest the birds,
 
K Putnam
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In heavily mulched areas, I will lightly hoe rows and lay down a strip of leftover seed starting mix to get seeds going.
 
Marco Banks
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Trent Cowgill wrote:Ok so my chips are a bit deeper than I thought they were they are 10 to 12 inches deep minimum. Im having a hard time making rows to lay in my seeds. Should I remove some of the chips? or am I working to hard to get to the Soil, could I plant the seeds in the chips?

Im glad I tilled up 2 other garden spaces to work the old way just in case this bed fails I will still have some food coming in. Not going to lie this back to eden bed is a little nerve racking. We do depend on our garden for most of our food in the summer and fall. 4 soon to be 5 kids and 2 adults we need a large amount of food lol

Thanks for any help.



Yes -- rake the chips back until you reach the soil below.  If the chips are still too deep, you may want to take some off and pile them up somewhere else.  ALWAYS plant into the soil, not into the wood chips.  Seeds will germinate in the chips and will initially look OK (as they start life with an ample nutrient store from the seed), but will quickly yellow and look spindly. 

I just created a large new veggie bed over regular lawn grass last weekend using the Back to Eden method.  I took my wood chips from an area I'd mulched heavily last fall, so the chips were significantly aged and beginning to break down—beautiful stuff full of fat dancing worms.  I laid a layer of cardboard directly over the grass, and then put about 6 to 8 inches of chips over that.  Once down, I watered it heavily to soak the cardboard below and smother the grass.

Today I planted into it.  I raked the chips back until I hit the cardboard.  I make two long trenches/furrows for okra and 10 smaller pot-holes for sweet corn.  I then shoveled 3 wheelbarrow loads of mostly finished compost (with the occasional chunk of mushy shmutz still in it) into those furrows and pot holes.  I gently packed the compost down, and then planted my seed directly on top of the compost.  To finish it, I covered it with about a half-inch of good garden soil.  The seed will germinate, send roots down through that compost (about 6 inches deep or so) and hit the cardboard.  My assumption is that by the time the corn and okra roots reach the cardboard, it'll be so soft that they'll punch directly through and down into the former lawn below.  With all that compost, I don't imagine that I'll need to add any additional nitrogen, but if I do, I'll just pee my way down the row and give the growing corn a shot of liquid gold. 

Give this method time to work!  Trust me -- once you see how lovely the soil gets below all those wood chips, you'll never garden any other way again.  No weeds, great moisture retention, and light fluffy soil . . . in time.  It takes a year for them to break down, but they are garden magic once they do.  Patience.

 
m c nestor
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My husband in his helpfulness put about a foot or more of hardwood wood chip mulch around my fig trees last fall when I wasn't looking. When I started moving some of it out of the way, the figs had put out roots trying to get closer to the surface. Many trees have shallow roots that feed on nutrients closer to the surface and need oxygen as well. A tree can be smothered if too much is piled on. I've shared in an earlier post that my problem with the wood chip approach is it's appeal to carpenter ants. Between firewood and wood chips we have been inundated with the little buggers.
 
Michelle Heath
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I'm planning to incorporate chicken litter in with my wood chips, but would it hurt to add some blood meal too to speed up decomposition?  Also in the event that someone doesn't have access to chicken manure, would blood meal be a good alternative?
 
Daron Williams
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I was planning on using this method later on once I know where I want my main beds. Would adding coffee grounds first and then the wood chips help? I don't have chickens but I can get a lot of free coffee grounds.
 
John Alabarr
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Mary Christine Nestor wrote:My husband in his helpfulness put about a foot or more of hardwood wood chip mulch around my fig trees last fall when I wasn't looking. When I started moving some of it out of the way, the figs had put out roots trying to get closer to the surface. Many trees have shallow roots that feed on nutrients closer to the surface and need oxygen as well. A tree can be smothered if too much is piled on. I've shared in an earlier post that my problem with the wood chip approach is it's appeal to carpenter ants. Between firewood and wood chips we have been inundated with the little buggers.


Termites eat wood, but Carpenter ants don't.  Carpenter ants tunnel through wood to make a nest.  Carpenter ants will eat honeydew produced by aphids and other homopterans in the tops of trees.  They tend to take advantage of wood that's already water damaged.  Termites are everywhere so you should make sure that your home termite treatments are up to date anyhow.
 
Danielle Robinson
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I am trying this method as well. I used wood chips and grass clippings and fresh woodchip and green leaf chipped. but I prob only have about an inch or 2 so I am thinking of covering the top of that layer with straw to add more inches. I have lots of straw and being in the praries  not many trees for wood chips. does anyone know if layering on top with straw would be okay??
 
Ben Zumeta
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Coffee grounds would provide N to balance out the Carbon of the woodchips, but it would not add microbial life the same way as chicken manure. Fungus are probably still present in the wood if it is from a natural source. However, I would kickstart bacterial diversity and feed those fungus that naturally succeed bacteria by adding a spray or soak of compost tea based around good compost, worm castings, organic manure, or weeds (dandelion, yarrow, dock, horsetail are all good in a tea). You could also take an ethically small amount of native forest duff, river or wetland water (if its not polluted) and kickstart your tea. I have also used bokashi to get my microbes started and that gets a nice white net of mycelia going within a month or two.
 
Todd Parr
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Danielle Robinson wrote:I am trying this method as well. I used wood chips and grass clippings and fresh woodchip and green leaf chipped. but I prob only have about an inch or 2 so I am thinking of covering the top of that layer with straw to add more inches. I have lots of straw and being in the praries  not many trees for wood chips. does anyone know if layering on top with straw would be okay??


Straw will work great too.  Any organic cover is awesome.  I like wood chips the best, but I also use cardboard with straw or hay, manure, grass clippings, comfrey leaves, anything that will keep the ground covered.  Wood chips have some advantages the other don't, and you have to be careful not to put enough green stuff down that it goes anaerobic, but yes, cover with whatever you have available.
 
Trent Cowgill
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So heres an update on my garden

So far it has completely killed everything ive planted except potatoes, beans, and carrots.

All my peppers cucumbers tomatoes etc have all withered, shrank, wilted or just plain shriveled and died into nothingness.

My PH is a solid 7.0 but I haven't tested my soil beyond that. Im torn on what to do....

Leave it and try again next year? or get out my tractor and push it all together for a massive bonfire

I built a few raised beds just to have some kind of garden and I Think ill have to build at least 2 more just so we can have some to can.

Suggestions or any help regarding these issues will be much appreciated.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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I would look at moving the wood chips aside and filling that void with compost or a planting mix and then run your seeds and starts into that.  Here's a pretty good video of what I'm talking about....should solve your problems!
 
Ben Zumeta
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Trent, sorry to hear about your struggles. Where are you again? I would certainly not turn all that carbon into smoke instead of soil. It seems you made the classic back to eden mistake of thinking its all just about wood chips. That is barely half of it, as the fact the chips go through a few months or years as chicken bedding makes a huge difference. In fact, you could use pretty much any natural chicken bedding/flooring with similar benefits to the b2e methods. River sand, after being chicken flooring can make great mulch or potting soil. But you can't expect anything to grow as well without the nutrients and biological activity of bird manure. Also, what kind of wood was chipped? Cedar or anything else allelopathic? Was it potentially contaminated with persistent herbicides from a lawn nearby? If I were you I'd get some birds out there (sprouted birdseed will attract wild ones like crazy if you can't have fowl), that or plant more of those nitrogen fixators that are doing well.
 
Trent Cowgill
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when I added the chips they sat all winter and then right before spring I limed them. Ive also fertilized with chicken manure and the seaweed fertilizer that I typically use on the garden.

It was more work (weeding wise) with my traditional garden but ive never had issues like this.

I have since built 3 raised beds 12x5 and 2 smaller beds. I think I may just build 6 more raised beds and move the chips out of the way and lay new soil over top of my existing soil. and come back to the chips in a year or two. This has turned very costly on a lot of levels and I wish I wouldn't have done it at all.
 
Cheryl Brociek
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Trent Cowgill wrote:Ok so my chips are a bit deeper than I thought they were they are 10 to 12 inches deep minimum. Im having a hard time making rows to lay in my seeds. Should I remove some of the chips? or am I working to hard to get to the Soil, could I plant the seeds in the chips?

Im glad I tilled up 2 other garden spaces to work the old way just in case this bed fails I will still have some food coming in. Not going to lie this back to eden bed is a little nerve racking. We do depend on our garden for most of our food in the summer and fall. 4 soon to be 5 kids and 2 adults we need a large amount of food lol

Thanks for any help.


In an orchard Paul recommends 8"-12" of mulch. In a garden about 4" is the right starting depth. As much as I hate to say it, you will need to remove some of the mulch. However, the good news is that you have your mulch ready for next year!
 
Cheryl Brociek
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Trent Cowgill wrote:So heres an update on my garden

So far it has completely killed everything ive planted except potatoes, beans, and carrots.

All my peppers cucumbers tomatoes etc have all withered, shrank, wilted or just plain shriveled and died into nothingness.

My PH is a solid 7.0 but I haven't tested my soil beyond that. Im torn on what to do....

Leave it and try again next year? or get out my tractor and push it all together for a massive bonfire

I built a few raised beds just to have some kind of garden and I Think ill have to build at least 2 more just so we can have some to can.

Suggestions or any help regarding these issues will be much appreciated.


I'm sorry to hear that. Did you bury the seeds in the soil or mulch? You are still supposed to put it in the soil. Did you remove any of the mulch? I'd definitely keep the mulch even if you don't do the back to eden method, it will help keep your soil moist. The second year and on is tyipacally the best years for the back to eden method. Don't lose hope!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I figured it couldn't hurt my goal is to not have to turn over this bed ever again and to significantly reduce my amount of weeds in the picture youll see when the garden looked good last year then all of a sudden it was overgrown with weeds and out of control. 
  This is typically what happens when we don't mulch.  So, if you wanted to, you could plant your garden as normal (without the chips), and let it get near this point that is shown in your photo (before the weeds exploded), and then mulch the plants heavily with your chips and whatever nitrogen sources you can find, thus suppressing the weeds and getting all the rest of the benefits of the wood chips into the system.

Again, it is super important that the practitioner of the BTE garden is not simply putting wood chips on soil and expecting miraculous results.  It is super important that the wood chips that are breaking down have had plenty of nitrogenous materials to make soil and create a balanced mulch system, and to make the system work faster.  Eventually, even a deep bedding of wood chips will break down and create soils, but these soils will be much faster in the making if the chips have nitrogen rich materials added to them at the beginning.  The other important thing is to always remember that wood chips are not the medium for growing in, they are the medium for mulching your growing medium that is partly made up of the lower layer of decomposing wood chips, but is mostly soil and compost.  Potatoes, of course, will root and produce potatoes in the mulch, but they love acidic fungal rich ground .
 
Marco Banks
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Marco Banks wrote:

I just created a large new veggie bed over regular lawn grass last weekend using the Back to Eden method.  I took my wood chips from an area I'd mulched heavily last fall, so the chips were significantly aged and beginning to break down—beautiful stuff full of fat dancing worms.  I laid a layer of cardboard directly over the grass, and then put about 6 to 8 inches of chips over that.  Once down, I watered it heavily to soak the cardboard below and smother the grass.


Here we are, back again after 5 months.

That new bed did fairly well this past summer.  I got a heavy crop of tomatillos, okra, and various peppers.  Sweet corn did horribly. 

All the cardboard is completely rotted away.  Most of the wood chips have broken down and are almost gone.  These were not fresh chips initially --- I took them from another spot in the garden where they had been on the ground for a year.  That makes a huge difference for a new garden bed.

I cut down everything this fall, leaving the roots in place.  I spread a decent layer of semi-finished compost over the top of the decomposing wood chips and remains of the veggies that were planted there, and I broadcast a heavy cover crop about 3 weeks ago: buckwheat, cowpeas, blackeyed peas, purple vetch and oats.  That cover crop is already 6 inches tall.  I'll let it go till Feb. or March, and then I'll chop it down and plant my summer beds.

I'm a huge BTE garden proponent.  The soil just gets richer and richer with each passing year.  Being able to get a yield off that bed in the first year was fantastic.  It'll only get better from here.  Next spring (after a winter of cover-cropping) that soil will be amazing.
 
Scott Foster
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I started chipping some raised beds two years ago and planted some tomatoes this year.  The tomato plants are huge and abundant.  I also planted some plants in pots with miracle grow potting soil and they are half the size 

I'm getting mushrooms popping up, fungus and microcylium.  My earthworms are off the charts.  For soil amendment, I bought a cheap bird feeder and a metal post I can just pull up.  I put it right on the bed and move it everytime I refill.  I got 5 volunteer sunflowers doing this.

The back to eden method is 4" for garden beds and 8" + to suppress grass or weeds you have cut down.   He suggests using paper under the 4".

You didn't do it wrong but the wood chips require patience when you are starting out.   My garden area is almost totally wood chipped and I have volunteer plants popping up everywhere.  I didn't plant squash this year and I have enough growing around the compost pile to feed an army.  I don't try to keep a neat garden and I don't dispose of anything.  If I cut weeds down I throw them on the compost pile or leave them depending on where in the garden they are located.  

I noticed this year that allowing areas of volunteer weeds to come up and get established was huge for pollinators and birds.  I have wildflowers, fruit trees etc and there were certain flowering weeds that he pollinators and the birds preferred.

  I have a pretty big fence line and many different types of birds are nesting as I let the grass and any volunteers grow up...I pulled a weed that had gone to seed and threw it on the patio, went in for a drink of water and when I came back out there were thirty finches eating the seeds off of it and I have no idea what kind of weed it is.

I planted some seedless comfrey near as many trees as I had comfrey for.   I keep splitting it and planting it near new trees so I can just chop in place.  Just scoot some wood chips out of the way, chop and drop and cover with wood chips.   As the wood deteriorates and enhances your soil you will see an explosion of life in your garden.  The wood chips retain water, keep the soil at a constant temperature and once the chips start breaking down you have compost tea on autopilot.  I'm just starting to get that it's all about the living soil.  

  Birds, bees, bugs are all up.   It's interesting about the bugs though there is more variety.  I don't see too many of one kind of bug.  I think this is also because the biodiversity is up and I'm trying to let nature do the heavy lifting.    I have never had praying mantis before or dragon flys and I have both now.  I've actually seen 6 praying mantis this year....love the predator bugs.  I'm seeing birds I have never seen and birds aren't just stopping by, they are hanging out.  It's like healthy soil is the base for "all" of the creatures.

This is more information than you are really asking for and I'm pretty new to this but I can tell you from personal observation that being patient and using the chips you will get results that will amaze you.
 
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