We first heard about Back to Eden Gardening a couple years back after watching the documentary on YouTube. We felt like newborns opening our eyes to see our mother for the first time. No joke. Anyhow, we felt silly for not having considered this common sense "method" and needing to watch a documentary for enlightenment as it simply mirrors what is found in nature. Also, I feel silly calling it a "method" because as stated, these principles are on display 24/7 in undisturbed, natural spaces.
When a tree moves into autumn, its leaves fall from its branches and mulch the ground beneath it. In undisturbed forests, these leaves aren't bagged up and taken to a local dump or yard waste center. They're left to decompose and provide nutrients to the tree who dropped them in the first place. Over time, the mulch below becomes thick and helps to ensure the ground below retains water. After all, do you ever see sprinkler systems set up in the forest? Nah, didn't think so. Mother Nature's smarter than that.
Additionally, the mulch provides a habitat for beneficial micro-organisms that help to create healthy, balanced soil; providing abounding nutrients for the tree whose roots lie below it and whose trunk and branches tower above.
These simple principles can be translated to the backyard garden and is providing the framework for our food production plan for this upcoming 2018 growing season. Before I get into the details of how we have been working to prepare our future garden space, I will give you a basic rundown on Back to Eden Gardening.
Step 1: Weed Prevention
Once you know where you'd like your garden to be, you simply lay down at least 3 layers of newspaper (junk mail and bills work great, but forego using the glossy pages) or 1 layer of cardboard on top of the grass, weeds, dirt, etc. I repeat: ON TOP of whatever is currently existing in your garden-to-be. Seriously. No tilling is necessary! Tilling destroys the properties of the soil that aid in water retention, it destroys the vital network of billions of beneficial organisms such as bacteria and fungi, nematodes, arthropods, insects and earthworms and it also brings dormant, undesirable plant seeds to the surface where they will germinate to their heart's content and leave you pulling out your hair along with all the weeds. Just say "no" to tilling. Hey, that should be a shirt!
Step 2: Apply Compost
Once your newspaper, cardboard or biodegradable weed barrier has been spread out, place 3-4 inches of compost on top of that. Don't have a backyard compost pile started yet? Just "Google" soil and mulch companies in your area and both generally have compost in stock. And go ahead and start a compost pile while you're at it! You'll thank yourself next year when you can supply your own compost.
Step 3: Add "Mulch"
Next, you'll add a 2-4 inch layer of wood chips, leaves, etc. to the top of the compost. If they're raw wood chips you've sourced, it is said you should allow them two seasons to break down before applying them to your garden. Thus, if you're able to get your hands on some wood chips in the fall, you can wait to fully prep your garden until spring to ensure that they've had a chance to break down some which will reduce your need for additional compost throughout the growing season as they'll help add more nutrients to the soil over time. If you just want to get started and happen to have only raw wood chips on hand, you can go ahead and apply this layer, but be sure to see the next step for more information.
Step 4: Plant your Seeds and Seedlings
If you have raw wood chips on hand that haven't had a chance to break down over a couple of seasons, simply pull back the mulch around where you're planting your seed and don't cover it back up with mulch until the seedling has broken through the soil as you don't want to stifle its ability to germinate! If you have aged wood chips that have had a chance to break down, you can plant directly into those. They have loads of available nutrients that will help your plants grow and fruit.
Watering is only necessary if your compost is dry to the touch. As it rains, the mulch will help to retain the water that would otherwise be lost to evaporation.
Step 5: Watch and Monitor
In the past, we've neglected gardens we've started as we just had too much going on. As such, our yields weren't as high as they could have been and we were left wanting more. We are vowing to do right by our 2018 Garden-to-be and plan on monitoring closely for signs of nutrient deficiency and pest intrusion. One common problem in the backyard garden is Nitrogen Deficiency whose tell-tale sign is yellowing leaves. Being that wood chips (Carbon) are used in the top several inches of Back to Eden gardens, it isn't uncommon to need to add more Nitrogen the first year in order to ensure prime plant growth. A balance of Nitrogen and Carbon is needed for organic materials to break down and provide sufficient nutrients for thriving plant life. Some sources of nitrogen are chicken manure, blood meal, urine (yeah, I said it) and grass clippings. You simply add a layer on top of the mulch and walk away. Good to go. Right as rain.
Now that we have the basic principles covered, I'll share with you just how (and why) we've started prepping our 2018 food production space and how we've altered the above steps to include our pigs, chickens, and ducks in the hopes of working "smarter, not harder." Our preparations actually began this past spring when we welcomed the first 2 of now 6 pigs to our land. Housed with our pigs are 8 chickens and a duck (who was ousted by our main duck flock due to his limp). We feed all of them via food waste sourced through a local grocery store. This one, small grocery store produces 75 gallons of produce scraps a day! We pick them up most days each week and feed them to our pigs along with any household food waste and boiled chicken offal (organs) from this past year's meat bird slaughtering. Before dumping their food in a new portion of our garden-to-be, however, we lay out a layer of cardboard as the weed-prevention barrier I mentioned above. The pigs gorge on whatever they'd like and the rest gets broken down over time along with their urine and manure; turning into precious, life-giving soil. Flies lay their eggs in the compost- during warmer months- and the larvae provide food for our chickens! Nearly every week, I add a layer of straw, leaves or wood chips over top of the area to aid in the decomposition process. And so, in addition to prepping our garden space for next year, the pigs are creating meat, the chickens are creating eggs and our duck, well, he's just living in the lap of luxury.
We've repeated this process for the past 4 months which has resulted in about 3 inches of organic matter delivered directly to our garden-to-be in a very passive manner. After it has fully broken down, I'd estimate, we'll have raised the soil level about 1 inch in just 4 months (FYI: A conservative estimate is that it takes 100 years to create an inch of topsoil)! That's almost too exciting for me to stand! Just today, we moved our pigs, chickens and duck to a new location behind the garden space to begin prepping another food production site for next fall or perhaps for 2019!
Since we heard about Back to Eden gardening, I've called countless tree service companies to let them know our land is fair-game for dumping any unwanted mulch and have yet to have had luck. That is, until this past week. I'm a proud, card-carrying member of the "compost maffia" and have been known to go to some pretty drastic lengths in the name of soil-building. Every time I see a tree service mulcher on the side of the road working, I stop. Every. Single. Time. And each time, they "okay, sure! We'll drop off to you." I've done this religiously for the past year or so and didn't have luck until this week when I hit the mother lode.
In speaking with them, I found out that they had been looking for a new place to dump their mulch as their old site closed down. With tears in my eyes (not quite, but almost), I told them we would, unconditionally, be that place for them. Forever and always, we would accept any and all organic material till death do us part. So far, the relationship is still in the honeymoon phase and is incredibly fruitful and passion-filled. Already, they've dropped off 5 FULL loads of mulch with more on the way. With the first load or two, we technically had enough for next year's garden, but are taking as much as we can get as we have big plans for our land and seriously, can you really ever get enough organic material? That's a resounding and emphatic "N.O!"
They dropped off the last load right where we need it for our garden next year and so it will sit over this fall and winter until it is needed in the spring. Because some of the compost we've created with the pigs, chickens and duck may be lost through erosion this upcoming winter, we plan on using our tractor to move the rest of the compost we've built up over the past year and depositing it on the site in the spring and turning the pigs out on the pile to spread it for us and feast on any leftover tidbits. Once they've spread it out for us (likely only 1-2 days), we'll move them back to their normal fenced-in space and cover with the aged wood chips. And this is how we'll have very passively created what we hope to be our most fruitful food production space to date.
2018 is looking to be our most exciting year yet! In addition to focusing on food production, we'll also be opening our home up for tours of our Earthship-inspired, self-sustaining home and have LOADS of homesteading workshops (Raising Chickens, Raising Pigs, Raising Goats, Beekeeping, Vermicomposting, Creating a Toxin-Free Household, Earthship Planning & Preparation, etc.) in the planning stages that we'll be offering up as well. Be sure to go to our "Tire Home Tours" and "Workshops" sections on our website to sign up to receive updates on tours and workshops as they come available.
Organic material for days...
Pig house made out of a crate dropped off to us by a friend.
"Oh what a beautiful morning!"
Feasting on food scraps
Fly larvae anyone?!
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The whole Lot enjoying a buffet
I'd sell my soul for this much mulch. Lucky for me, I didn't have to.
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Carbon. Sweet Carbon.
Dirk Piggler, our Boar