Back in March of 2013 I watched Paul Gautschi's "Back To Eden" documentary http://vimeo.com/28055108 and I decided to build my own "Eden" garden.
The theory behind the "Back to Eden" (BTE) style garden is simple. When you one looks at a mature forest one notices that there is nobody maintaining it. No one irrigating, amending the soil or weeding it. Despite this apparent neglect most forests thrive without any human intervention. The fertility of the soil is achieved through natural mulching and composting from leaves, needles, branches and various other organic litter. The BOE garden tries to mimic this natural process by using mulch in the form of wood chips.
The concept is simple lay down a thick layer of mulch on top of your garden soil. Do NOT till in the wood chips. The wood chips provide all the normal benefits of mulching. Over time the wood chips will decompose and provide nutrients for your garden.
Where I live the soil is very rocky with a lot of clay, not very good garden soil. so I laid down a layer of cardboard measuring 20' x 25', making sure to overlap the ends to keep the underlying grass from peeping through. I then soaked it until it was sopping wet. note, it is very important make sure that the cardboard is completely soaked, if not it will not rot and it will become a barrier for you plants roots.
This is the most critical part of making a BTE garden.
Paul Gautschi in his video doesn't talk much about the condition of his soil before he began but I would guess that it was of fairly high quality. To get my soil I went to a local gravel company and asked them for garden soil. They sold me about 8 yards of what they called 3-way mix of topsoil, sand, and compost. The man told me that it was good garden soil. The soil was not high quality (more on this later). I spread 4 to 6" of soil atop the cardboard, as evenly as I could.
The Wood Chips
The type of wood chips that you get is also very important, you don't want beauty bark or cedar chips. Puyallup Bark Supply sold me about 5 yards of wood chips that came from roadside trimmings, for around $13 per yard. This is ideal because the chips have a lot of biodiversity among them. The only downside is that it's impossible to know if they had any herbicides or pesticides on them, but that is true for pretty much anything that you bring in from outside your property. I spread the word chips as evenly as possible to a depth of about 6".
The way I planted the garden was to pull back the layer of wood chips using a hoe, planting into the soil and replacing the wood chips.
That's what I did the first year of my garden.
In my next post I'll write about what I observed and the problems I had.