There has been a lot of talk lately of the Back to Eden method of gardening. I, personally, have seen it all over the homesteading blog-o-sphere as well as on multiple YouTube channels. However, I never really knew what set this method of gardening separate from what I was doing—which is the raised bed gardening.
Back to Eden gardening is pretty much like the phrase implies. It is the return to the way nature intended for plants to grow: no watering, no weeding, no ground tilling, and completely organic.
I will warn you, though, many seem to think the only steps involved are the throwing out of seeds onto the ground, sitting back, and waiting for them to produce. However, granted, there is a bit more to the process, but once the preliminary work is done, there is little if any hands-on after that.
It is no wonder that this type of gardening is quickly catching on with gardeners and homesteaders alike due to it offering a more straightforward method of preparing the soil as well as its continued virtual low-maintenance appeal.
As any homesteader or gardener can tell you, the more time that they can save on all of those numerous chores that need to be done on a daily basis, all the better for them.
The question still remains though, precisely what does the Back To Eden method of gardening mean and what does one need to do in order actually to get such a garden started?
Table of Contents
What is Back To Eden Gardening Exactly?
In a nutshell, the Back To Eden method of gardening that involves a minimal amount of work, after the initial step of the soil being properly prepped, that will provide an environment in which your plants will grow and thrive.
If done in the correct manner, the resultant garden recreates the essential growing environment that nature had initially intended. With as little as two hours of bed prepping, which includes the actual planting of your plants, your new garden is good to go–with the added benefit of no need of future watering or weeding on your part—period!
To better understand the method, let’s look at the example of wild blackberry bushes. You probably have your favorite patch, way back up on a hill, that you make it a family-centered event to harvest each year.
However, when not collecting the berries, you are not spending countless hours hauling water to water them, or even weeding around them. Yet they continue to produce beautiful fruit abundantly year after year. The Back to Eden method is based on this very same principle.
Setting Up Your Back To Eden Garden
I know what you are thinking, “there is no way that such a method is going to work for me.” This is the first reaction most individuals express, and yes I will admit it, I was skeptical myself when told of this almost too good to be true simpler method of gardening.
However, once you see the steps that are involved in setting up your very own Back to Eden garden, I am confident that you will see just how advantageous the process is, and as a result, you too will be well on your way to becoming a true believer!
Location, Location, Location
The first step is to determine just exactly where you want the garden to be located. What is great about this method of gardening is that is entirely adjustable and will work for both small backyards or large farms.
It doesn’t matter how much room you have, this method revolves around how you choose to put the room that you do have available to its best use.
There are little to no limitations as to where you can choose to put your garden. You may want to place it in an area that formerly contained a garden, or even in the location of your current garden.
Maybe you prefer using a part of your land that was never a location for a garden but still contains grass, dirt, or rocks. As long as there is soil, you are pretty much good to go!
It really doesn’t require that the area be perfect because one of the main things about this method of gardening is that you do NOT have to till up the soil of the location you have chosen.
That’s right, no tilling or turning of the earth in the long-time traditional manner is needed. So, as you can see, we are already off to making your gardening process that much less tedious.
The Bare Bones
For the next step in this process, which is optional, but I highly suggest you will need to choose some manner of ground cover. It is not recommended that you use traditional landscape type covering, as it will not give you the best protection against weeds in this step of the process.
I, myself, prefer to use old packaging for the ground cover with my gardening and have even found that old newspapers will work just as well. My aunt is a fan of breaking down cardboard boxes and using them in her ground cover for her garden.
Whether you use packaging, newspapers, or cardboard, you have the extra added benefit that they are bio-degradable and will not harm the soil in any manner when they are naturally broken down.
In an effort to achieve the best possible results out of this step, it is crucial to make sure that you leave no gaps between your chosen pieces of ground cover. I always overlap the newspapers that I use from 4-6 inches, just to make sure that every portion of the soil base is adequately covered. If there are any gaps left at all, or if the overlap isn’t made wide enough, you will have weeds and/or grass growing up through those areas and that will pretty much be defeating the whole purpose of the process.
It is best to place the ground cover in layers—at least three layers in all, laid out over the entire area that you are intending to plant your garden. If you prefer to not cover with a ground cover such as newspaper, you can always opt for another material such as wood chips.
However, in order to ensure that you do not develop a future problem with weeds cropping up, make sure that your wood chips are at least six inches in depth.
Now The Important Step
Once you have your ground cover down and have made sure that all the gaps have been taken care of, now is the time to cover the area with at least three to four inches of compost.
You could go the route of store-bought compost however, it is best to make sure that it is as organic, if not totally organic, as is reasonably possible. The thing to remember is that the more natural this layer of compost is, then all that much better your end results will end up being.
Any gardening expert can tell you that It is suggested to be best that you look for such ingredients as cow manure or even chicken poop. Both of these resources are not only prime ingredients for compost, but they both provide necessary nitrogen to the soil, adding the overall benefit of enriching it even more.
Some homesteaders go the route of using a mushroom compost. However, if you do not have access to this type of compost in the area in which you reside, several videos on YouTube will show you how you can mix your own version of a “mock” mushroom compost.
Coming Into The Home Stretch
Once you have your ground cover down, and your even layer of compost on top and evenly spread across the gardening space, you will now cover that with the final layer of six inches of wood chips.
It is here, in this final step, that you need to be very selective about the type of wood chips you will be using. Make sure that this final layer of wood chips do not contain and are not made from treated lumber, as many lumber yards incorporate this type of wood in with their other types of wood chips.
Also, the size of the chips is an essential factor to keep in mind as well. You want to stay away from very small chips that have been composted. The ideal type of chips you need are those that are the product of having been put through a process much like that of a wood chipper.
There will be chips but the mixture will also contain such items as branches, bark, and even leaves in with the wood chips. Try contacting your local tree trimming company, as in some cases, they will be happy to give them to you, so that they won’t have to worry about the process of disposing of them themselves.
Make sure to know how many cubic feet you need beforehand for the size garden you are planting so that you will know how many tons of chips you will be needing.
Now To Begin The Magic
This final step involves the actual planting of your plants into your newly created gardening plot. It is crucial to remember here, that your seeds and/or plants will not germinate and grow if planted in just the upper mulch later.
You will need to make sure they are being appropriately planted into the next layer of soil if they are going to grow and thrive.
For planting your seeds and plants, this is best achieved by way of pulling the upper layer of wood chips back, exposing the soil/compost underneath, and then digging a hole about 1-2 inches deep.
If you want awesomely fertile soil, prep your garden bed in advance, as early as the entire growing season the year before.
If you don’t want to wait a whole season to plant, you have the option that you can plant as soon as you have finished all the necessary steps of prepping the beds.
Challenges Do Exist As Always
As already mentioned, one of the most critical steps of this method is that of the type of wood chips that are used.
Unfortunately, wood chips are not the only challenge that might present itself with this gardening method, as several other problems can arise as well.
The Quality Of The Soil
One such challenge is the quality of the soil. In any situation, even gardening, using mulch as a cover, is a tremendous natural resource. It only goes to mention that if you cover good soil with mulch, you will then find that you have created even better soil.
It goes without saying that when you cover currently poor soil with a mulch covering, you will be well on your way to improving and enriching that very same soil. However, it is essential to keep in mind that good soil is not something that will magically happen overnight.
It is worth mentioning that if you find you do indeed have poor soil, the simple addition of compost will significantly aid in going a long way to improving it as well.
For the first few years after the garden has been established, it is advised by experts that you have a decent layer of mulch spread out on top of the soil. If you choose only to add the mulch one time, you will discover down the road, in three years or so, that you are not getting very much in the way of encouraging results.
If your soil is poor, it is essential that you not only make sure to lay down the mulch, but you will also need to add a good layer of compost on a somewhat regular basis as well. As time goes by, you will begin to find that you need to add less and less of each, and you will, in turn, begin to reap the rewards of your efforts.
Germination And Planting
When using the mulching method, little if any weeds will be able to grow. The simple reason being that when the seeds land on the mulch, they will not take hold, germinate, and subsequently then grow.
That is the entire primary purpose of using the mulch—no resulting weeds. However, there will be a price to be paid for not having to weed, and that is the fact that as the weeds seeds won’t grow, neither will the seeds you are going to plant if you do not plant them under the mulch into the soil layer.
This is simply resolved by one crucial step—moving a layer of the chips of wood back, and then directly planting the seeds and/or plants into the underlying soil—and not into the top wood chip layer itself.
The most important thing to be remembered is that the seeds and/or plants themselves must be planted into the soil, but after planted, they may then be covered back over with the upper layer of wood chips.
There can be instances where through the blowing of the wind, the driving of rain, or other such naturally occurring circumstances, that the seeds will somehow work out of the soil and into the mulch later. In this instance, there will be little if any germination or growth achieved.
To successfully avoid poor germination, it is best to plant your seeds earlier in the season and slightly deeper into the soil layer. Although deeper planted seeds will indeed take a while longer to break ground, in the long run, it will result in both sturdier and much healthier plants that will result in a more productive harvest.
For the planting of smaller seeds, it is best to take advantage of good, fertile soil, or even the suggested use of compost as a cover to nurture and protect the seeds. Make sure that you keep the soil of newly planted seeds watered and moist.
Once the seeds have broken ground an started to sprout, even if you see gaps in the planting, you will not regret your efforts, as your yield will be both bountiful and magnificent.
It is worth noting that many gardeners have stated they have chosen to use compost as a means to mulch areas that contain small seeds, and feel it only added to the quality of their harvest.
Here Come The Slugs
Let’s face it, no matter how good a method sounds, when it comes to gardening, there is always going to be one sticking point—that of pests—bugs or otherwise. In the case of the Back To Eden method, with the using of mulch as the primary foundation, you are invariably going to have a pest problem.
Wood chips, or mulch, by its very nature is known to invite a slug problem to any garden that incorporates the material. And if you live in an area of the country that gets a lot of rain, the challenge of dealing with the ornery critters will most assuredly multiple.
Although the slugs can be a nuisance, for many gardeners, the benefits of using the mulch method significantly outweigh the headache of possibly dealing with the slugs. One method that will help to deter the numbers, if not the slugs completely, is to make sure that your wood chips or mulch are composted.
It should look less like wood chips or mulch and more like compost. Or, you could go another route and use compost for all your layers and leave out any actual wood, therefore eliminating the slugs being attracted to the garden, to begin with. After all, the most essential part of the whole process is to make sure that the soil is significantly and sufficiently covered.
Generally, the use of mulch or wood chips is not only for the ground cover aspects but also for the valuable benefit that they are an excellent means in helping to hold moisture in the soil layer underneath.
Now that we know the process to starting your Back To Eden garden, let’s take a short look at some of the basic pros and cons of the method.
Pros of the Back to Eden Method
- Once the principle work is done, the hard part is over, as from then on out it is just a matter of simply maintaining and caring for the garden.
- Over time, your soil will become more and more fertile, with little to no work on your part.
- You can use whatever is readily available for your ground covering…it doesn’t have to be mulch.
- There is no tilling of the ground needed with this method.
- Your top coat of mulch will help to keep the underlying soil moist, negating the need to watering on your part.
- This method is simple to maintain from year to year.
- Little if no weeding on your part is needed.
- Once established, the garden is ready to go each year with a little soil amending.
Cons of the Back to Eden Method
- The initial creation of your garden will need some upfront time, and yes, even some hard work.
- For the best and most rich soil, you may have to wait until the following gardening season.
- As the mulch begins to break down, and become compost, you will need to make sure to add more to the top coat. This may be needed each subsequent year.
- In the first year, you will most probably find that you will need to add some form of fertilizer to aid as a kickstart to the process.
What it all boils down to is this—when weighing all the pros and cons of the method, the pros inevitably out way the cons. Keeping in mind that, with a little prep work on your chosen area, and the following of a few simple steps, you too will be well on the way to your very own low—if any—maintenance free garden.
Nature is much more efficient of a gardener than man will ever be, so if we learn by her example, then we can only expect to produce a wonderful and bountiful harvest with little to no work on our part. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a plan to me!
Tracy lives with her furry baby, Chigger, in a small, quaint, country town nestled within the Appalachian Mountain range.
A mere four years into her homesteading journey to obtain a simpler, more self-reliant lifestyle, she finds that she always has something to learn, and there is always something to be grateful for.
When not researching or writing, she can usually be found working on one of the many tasks that always seem to be needing done on her homestead, tending to her garden, or laughing at the many antics of her chickens, whom she has affectionately named the “feathery five,” as well as Chigger himself.