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First timer with Back to Eden garden method

 
Trent Cowgill
Posts: 4
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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
Posts: 7
Location: Macleay Island , Queensland AUSTRALIA
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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
Posts: 783
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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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
Posts: 7
Location: Macleay Island , Queensland AUSTRALIA
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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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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
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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
Posts: 4
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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
Posts: 439
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
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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
pollinator
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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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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Location: Oklahoma
chicken food preservation forest garden
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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
Posts: 163
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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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!
 
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