So I've watched the Back to Eden gardening video. Last year, I added a 4-6 in layer of mushroom compost across my entire garden. Then this winter, I covered it all with wood chips from a local tree trimmer. Now I'm stumped as to how to start. I have two basic questions:
1. Do I need to add manure or can I just leave the compost layer at the bottom as enough for this year? If I do need more can I just get more of the mushroom compost and put that on top of the wood chips and let the rain wash it down to the lower layers or does it truly need to be manure on top?
2. Not all of these wood chips are broken down yet. I'd say I still have at least 2 inches on top of solid wood. Below that it gets dark and more soil looking. Where do I plant the seeds? Do I dig down into the soil and plant, leaving the mulch pulled back until they sprout and then put the mulch back around the plant base? Or do I plant into the top layer of wood chips and just let the seeds find the soil on their own.
So sorry if these questions seem silly, but I'm truly a beginner!!
I've studied Paul Gautschi's method very carefully.
To address your questions, here's my advice.
1. Shouldn't need to add more compost to top of wood chip covering.
Remember from the video that the wood chips are a covering that protects the soil from erosion, evaporation, temperature extremes etc.
The wood chips actually fertilize the soil with it's "compost tea" (as Paul says) every time it rains.
Just remember: Never till or mix the chips into the soil! A covering ONLY! Many people get this wrong.
2. Wood chips may take several years to properly break down. It's a bit of a sacrifice in the beggining.
When seeding, pull away the wood chips and plant the seeds into the soil/finished compost. No seeds should ever be planted in 'hot' compost.
As plants sprout up, you can carefully add some wood chips around them. When plants are big, add full thickness of wood chips around them.
When you are ready to plant, rake the chips back and drop the seeds into the soil. Just that easy. A hard-tine rake is all the equipment you'll ever need from now on. Once the seeds have germinated and the plants have grown to 6 inches or so, you then push the mulch back under them.
For potted plants, you'll need a hand trowel. Again, pull the wood-chips back, dig a small hole, transplant your tomato (or whatever you're growing) and gently push the wood chips back under the newly planted plant.
You will find that once your soil gets healthier and the fungal network below the soil gets going, your wood chips will decompose tremendously fast. A six-inch layer of chips will decompose easily in a year.
Enjoy your garden --- it's going to get better and better as those chips continue to break down.
Post Tenebras Lux
Until further notice, we will celebrate everything.
posted 8 months ago
Thank you both! I thought he said that we needed to layer wood chips and also manure. But I'm glad to know that you think that the wood chips alone are enough. I'm excited to get going this spring!
If your starting soil was in really bad shape, you could start with a mix of wood chips and manure to help speed up the initial breakdown, and then cover all that with another layer of chips to act as the mulch to protect your newly developing soil. But since you started with compost, you don't really need to worry about the manure.
You will find that as you continue to spread wood chips every year, the level of your soil will continue to rise. Basically, you'll start to see a layer of decomposed wood-chip humus accumulating below the top-layer of still-chunky wood chips. Below it all is your original garden soil.
So, from the soil surface downward, the layers would be:
The distinction between layers 2 and 3 will be erased over time. Worms and other biota that are moving up and down through the soil profile will blur that distinction. Whatever minimal tillage that takes place as you garden (as you dig holes and pull out spent plants) will further mix the native soil with your wood-chip generated humus. This will happen over the next few years (as long as you continue to add a fresh layer of chips to the soil surface every year. If you should stop adding chips, the microbial and fungal life in your soil will continue to "eat" that carbon, and in time, the soil will slowly revert back to the original level.
I use keystone landscaping blocks to mark the transition between the lawn and my garden beds: two course high -- about 8 inches above grade. Over time, those garden beds have gotten higher and higher in contrast to the original level of the land (as marked by the lawn). The heavy clay lawn soil is still pretty much what it was 18 years ago when we moved into our place. But where there have been wood chips added, you can see the difference both in the soil profile that is now 4 to 6 inches above the old level/grade, as well as deep into the subsoil.
There is a need to temper our expectations to come into alignment with reality. B2E is a wonderful method. I've gardened this way for many years and my soil is living proof of the wonderful strategy of adding biomass to the soil surface yearly. But it's not the one-time miracle cure of all that ails poor soil. You have to continue to build soil using other means as well. Composting, cover-cropping, chop-and-drop mulching, grazing animals over the land (even chickens), adding bio-char . . . all these things contribute to soil health and feed the soil food web. All are based around the central principle of adding carbon to your soil, as well as capturing energy (sunlight) and water.
Best of luck with your ongoing soil building process. Best of luck with your garden this year. Please bookmark this thread and then come back to give us updates as you continue to observe and interact with your soil.
Post Tenebras Lux
Until further notice, we will celebrate everything.
I have tried back to eden strategies. They work for some plantings but not others. For example, when I tried to plant potatoes the soil disturbance ended up turning the woodchips under. The following year this suppressed growth.
What many people miss about Paul's methods is that he also has chickens. Much of his woodchip spends time in his chicken run area being scratched, pooped on, and generally broken down before he spreads it on the growing areas. By the time he spreads it, it is finer and more composted than the raw wood chips I get delivered and am working with. That is not to say that working with fresh chips is impossible, but the videos we see of his system are of a mature established setup, which he maintains with this chicken run mulch. Don't expect the same results in the first few years. It takes time to get there.
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