This backyard garden idea, the back to eden gardening method, is the perfect garden for first time gardeners! No weeding, no watering, just a high yield organic garden!
The Back to Eden gardening method is a way to garden that recreates natures intended growing environment. It also meant that with just 2 hours of bed prep and planting time, we yielded over 1500 pounds of food in the fall! All without any watering or weeding!
In 2016 we lost our jobs, started making real money blogging, and moved to the country. It was a dream come true and we were thrilled to finally be working towards a real homestead!
Of course a big part of that dream was the ability to grow our own food. So we started researching just what kind of garden we wanted to have. I'll admit when I first heard about the Back to Eden gardening method I had two thoughts...
1. This sounds perfect! No weeding, no tilling the soil, and no watering?? I'm in!
2. Wait, I live in Texas. It's hot here. This will never work.
And oh friends let me tell you, only one of those thoughts turned out to be true.
What is the Back to Eden Gardening Method?
I would just say "it's magic" and leave it at that... because that's totally true... but you probably need more information than that ;-)
Basically the Back to Eden gardening method is all about recreating the environment in which plants already thrive in nature.
For example: if you have some wild berry bushes that you harvest every year, you probably aren't going out and watering every day and weeding around the plants right? And yet the plants grow and produce berries every year.
Likewise, our huge fig tree produces 100s of pounds of figs every year without a single inch of water or help from us at all? How?
Well, they are growing as God intended them to grow, by using the resources that they should have as provided by Him; ground covering to protect the soil quality and water from rain. That's all they need.
But, since we are not 100% foragers at this stage of the game, we need a way to recreate those resources when and where we need them for the plants that we want to grow.
And that's what the Back to Eden method is all about.
Setting Up a Back to Eden Garden
When I tell you about how simple this is, you'll likely think me insane. I'm not, I promise! Just wait till you see our results at the end of the post!
Steps for Putting in a Back to Eden Garden Bed
Decide where to put your bed. You can do it where you have an existing bed, or you can do it where there is grass, dirt, rocks, or whatever. You don't have to till up the soil for this method.
(optional, but recommended) Cover the ground with newspaper. Make sure there are no gaps as weeds/grass will make their way up through any gaps. Cover with at least 3 sheets over the whole space.
We did this the first time but have since found that if we cover the ground with at least 6 inches of wood chips in step 4 then we don't have anything coming up through.
We contacted our local newspaper and were able to get about 100 old papers for free which covered the whole space!
Cover the spot with 3-4 inches of compost (we bought organic mushroom compost that also had composted chicken poop in there too. It was $3 a ton and we used 1 ton). Make sure whatever you get contains nothing you would object to your food growing in...
Note: We get our mushroom compost from a local mushroom farm with locations nationwide (Monterey Mushroom). However, if you don't have access to a supplier in your area, you can make your own real mushroom compost OR make your own mock mushroom compost!
Cover the compost with 4-6 inches (6 inches is best) of wood chips. Be very careful about what you get for this step!
You don't want lumber chips from treated lumber, and you don't want wood chips that have been composted and are very small. You need the results of entire trees with their branches, bark, and leaves included being put through a chipper.
We found ours through the city dump. They take care of all the trees in our area that are cut down during construction or road work.
It was dark brown, had large chips 2-3 inches long throughout, and only cost $8 a ton! We used 2 tons for our 15x20 garden spot.
Start planting! We scraped back the top layer of wood chips and planted about 1-2 inches deep. If you want to prep the beds early and let them rest for a full season, then the soil will be amazingly rich when you go to plant!
We didn't want to wait so we planted the same day we finished the beds!
This is the automated tool we use for seed starting. That way we know exactly when to plant by variety and how long we're going to have to wait for germination!
It's completely customizable for your area, just enter the last frost date and the tool will do the rest! And, it's free if you want to grab it!
Review of The Back to Eden Gardening Method
So, like I said at the beginning, I had two thoughts when I first heard about this concept...
First, that it was awesome and I wanted to start as soon as possible! And then second, that there was no way it would work for us in Texas where the temperatures reach 113 in the shade and rainfall is few and far between during certain times of the year.
But one I realized that Texas provides enough rain for all our native food producing plants I decided to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did! This one 15x20 garden gave us over
300 1500 pounds of food without a single drop of water from us, and when temperatures were well into the 100s!
>> We are also building this greenhouse for some year-round strawberries!
I'd say the proof is in the produce with this one... check out all this food! And this was just the tip of what was harvested!
When all was said and done, we had 1500 pounds of food that we brought into our home and either canned, froze, or ate fresh. About 25 pounds went to the chickens every 3 days above and beyond that!
Tips for Success with Back to Eden Gardening
Since we have a few seasons under our belts now there are a few things we've learned that make prepping the beds and planting even easier.
Don't take more than a few days to finish the beds. So start small and make sure you can finish the area in no more than a day or two. You don't want the paper to fly away, or the compost to dry out.
Finish your beds about 2 days before a good rain. This will help solidify the bed and will get everything prepped for planting.
Don't agonize over perfection. Likely you will not have the perfect 4-6 inches of coverage over the whole bed. That's ok! If it's 3 inches here and 7 inches there, it really is fine! Just get it done and move on.
Be careful as you mow around the beds. Make sure that you aren't throwing grass seeds into the beds when you mow by mowing with the side that throws the grass positioned away from the garden.
While this method keeps weeds and grass from growing up through the compost and mulch it's great for planting in, so those seeds will take root and you will have to weed! Avoid that!
This is a learning process. Take it easy on yourself and keep at it. This method is the most amazing gardening method I have ever seen, it's worth it to keep trying. Even in Texas :-)
Make sure you have good seeds to begin with; we like to use seeds that are heirloom, non-GMO. This is because we want to be sure we can harvest seeds from our crops and use them again the next year, without worrying whether or not they will produce food (and not just plants without produce!).
Prepping Your Back To Eden Garden for Next Year
At the end of the first year, you may be wondering what exactly you need to do in order to keep this beautiful system ready for the next planting season.
After five years working this system I thought I would update you with exactly what we do each year to prep our back to eden gardens! It's actually pretty simple...
Cover the ground
We have insane and invasive grasses here in our part of Texas (I'm looking at you Bermuda grass!), so we have discovered that covering our garden with a sun-proof tarp keeps the grasses from taking over.
It also helps the weeds to feel cozy enough to germinate, but then they quickly die out because there is not sun for them above the ground.
This means that when you pull the tarp off at the beginning of the season, any weeds that were waiting for you are now dead!
*Depending on your area you may not need to do this step, especially if you don't have weed or grasses that try to take over everything.
We generally leave the tarp on for about 4 to 6 weeks, depending on how hot it is while the tarp is down. If you aren't sure, then just leave it on for 6 weeks!
Be careful when you remove the tarp - ants love it under there. We have had terrible fire any beds under ours before. However, the ants generally leave quickly.
Add Additional Mulch
Depending on your weather, you may need to add a few more inches of mulch to your garden. We tend to add about 1-2 inches per year.
Paul (the creator of this gardening method) adds 3-5 inches every other year instead. That didn't work well for us though, and we chose a yearly updated.
If the mulch is broken down and not providing protection for the topsoil, then you need more. If it's not broken down, then you can wait a while!
The general idea of the back to eden gardening method is that it's self sustaining. And it would be in a perfect world... but we have found that sometimes the soil needs a little help.
We do two things each year before the next gardening season starts (only once per year):
1. Add a thin layer (about a 1/2 inch) of chicken fertilizer and compost. This is the same stuff we use when setting up the garden, and adding it on top of the garden helps to create a lovely "compost tea" as it rains.
2. Add a dusting (ground shows mulch through the white) of diatomaceous earth for calcium and natural pest control. We get 50 pound bags of diatomaceous earth from Azure Standard once a year.
That's all we do to prep our back to eden garden each year! All in all, it takes about 2-4 hours to prep everything for the whole year!