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Back to Eden Gardening: A Plant-Killer’s Dream?

I come from a family with a long history of farming experience. My grandfather owned a stretch of land on both sides of the street where I grew up, as far as the eye could see, in Alexandria, Virginia. As a boy, my dad helped on the farm and, throughout my entire youth, I remember my dad planting some sort of garden to grow veggies (especially tomatoes!).

Unfortunately, I did not inherit the farming gene. Or if I did, it’s been dormant up till now. So you can imagine my excitement (and hope) when I learned about “Back to Eden Gardening”!

The Back to Eden Gardening Method was developed by Paul Gautschi, who basically observed how plants grew in nature to develop the strategy for growing his own garden. “Back to Eden Gardening is a regenerative organic gardening method that practices no-till and organic growing principles. The permaculture technique is simple — cover the soil. Growing food and plants with industrial techniques has devastated our climate and planet.”(Quote from

The documentary is fascinating, and the yield he gets is tremendously huge! He describes his garden as mostly pest-free; minimal weeds & easy weeding; rarely having to water (because the covering of wood chips holds in the moisture); and soil rich in nutrients due to the development of natural compost (from the wood chips). All these things contribute to more nutrient-dense vegetables because the soil is rich in everything the plant needs.

So what are the pros? No-till, basically no watering, easy weeding, no pests, & nutrient-rich veggies. The cons? Well, for one, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I have picked up some tips here and there and, from watching his documentaries and other related videos, have a general idea of what to do. Two, with a history of killing plants rather than helping them thrive, I don’t want to put a lot of money into it, and free supplies don’t come speedily. Three, I don’t know the best way to keep critters from eating the plants. We have deer, rabbits, tons of birds, and a mole that’s torn up our backyard (plus an occasional owl and bobcat). So if I’m going to put the work into a Back to Eden garden, I really don’t want to be defeated by the backyard wildlife I love! All that aside, if I can get the supplies basically free, I have nothing to lose and lots to gain!

If you’re interested in giving it a try, here are the basic steps to creating a garden:


Newspaper or flat cardboard (I’ve heard the newspaper works better because it conforms to the contour of the ground better; cardboard can leave air gaps)

A lot of wood chips (the arborist kind, that have been chipped with leaves & green wood)

Organic compost or composted manure

Fertilizer (at least for the first few years)


  1. In the fall, choose the area for your garden & lay down layers of newspaper (5-6 sheets thick) or the cardboard. Wet the newspaper/cardboard to help keep it in place. This layer helps prevent the weeds underneath from surviving and invading your garden. If you lay it over grass, the grass will contribute a “green” ingredient to your mulch.
  2. Lay down about 2-4 inches of compost.
  3. Top off with a layer of wood chips, 5-6 inches deep
  4. Add your fertilizer
  5. In the spring, the 5-6 inches of wood chips should have composted some and reduced to 2-3 inches, creating a very rich soil. To plant, pull back the wood chips and plant your seeds at their recommended depth in the soil underneath. Water them well and leave them uncovered (so the sun can reach them) until the plants start to grow. Continue to daily check that the ground is moist, and water if necessary. As the plants grow, push the mulch back around their base to help keep the soil moist.
  6. Periodically check the compost layer under the chips to see if it’s moist. If the compost is dry to the touch, water. A soaker hose can be set up under the mulch layer for easy watering.

If you give it a try, good luck! As for me, I’m still waiting on those free wood chips to be delivered!

For the “official” step-by-step Back to Eden Gardening Method, start here:

A couple of other good sources and reviews of their Back to Eden Gardening experiences:,down%20into%20the%20soil%20layer

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