We are big fans of the Back to Eden gardening method. Mulching is just the best thing one can do for a garden. There is no tilling or digging needed any longer. Our whole garden is covered with wood chips and we love it. It is our third summer of growing a Back to Eden garden, it’s time for an honest review.
Even though we love the mulching method, we do see that there are 3 main challenges that come with it. Personally, we have not had to deal with the second one so much since most of our garden had great soil to begin with. Despite the challenges though, we would always do it again. In fact we just added another bed this spring. So let’s get started.
Not all wood chips are good for the garden
I do not want to counter the founder of the Back to Eden garden method, he is right in saying that any covering is better than no covering. However, wrong wood chips might not be the best “any covering”. Maybe you are better off with grass clippings or straw, instead of bark mulch or wood shavings.
We have used 3 sources for getting wood chips. It is not as easy as it sounds, mainly because people do not understand what we mean by saying we want wood chips for the garden. Since most customers are using mulch for the nice look, suppliers try to offer wood chips that look good, like bark or woody mulch. And I agree, those do look good in a flower bed, but aren’t really suitable for the garden.
Great wood chips for the Back to Eden garden method should be from thin tree branches, preferably with leaves, shredded and composted. It will look like wood chips with compost in between.
Fresh wood chips that are just shredded can also be used. Again, make sure it comes from branches with leaves. This kind will decompose in the garden. It does take time though. We have used fresh wood chips under trees and shrubs. To plant a vegetable garden into the freshly cut wood chips is not a good idea, but over time they will make great composted wood chips.
If all you see are chunks of wood or shredded wood, those are wood chips that are not good for the garden. Also, bark mulch that looks so nice in ornamental gardens is not suitable for a vegetable garden.
Ask your local tree care service. Explain to him what you want. Most likely the kind of wood chips you are looking for is the kind that is of no value for him. We get all the great wood chips for our garden for free.
Good soil does not happen overnight
Covering the soil with mulch is a great idea in any situation. However, if you cover good soil, you will have even better soil under the mulch. If you cover poor soil, you will be on the way to improve your soil, but it will not happen overnight. Plus, if you do have poor soil, please note that adding compost will improve it greatly. Read more at Is the Back to Eden Garden Method Really Just About Mulching?
A good start for a Back to Eden garden is to cover the soil with cardboard or newspapers to prevent weeds from growing. Add good compost, cover the compost with good wood chips (Note: in the picture we used wood shavings at first. We have learned since and covered them with good composted wood chips). Over the years the wood chips will decompose, the added moisture and protection will encourage worms and beneficial bacteria to move into your soil. Your soil will build up and become a great soil – but it does take time.
For the first few years make sure that there is a good layer of mulch on top of your soil. If you just add it once you might find out in 3 years not much has happened. Especially with poor soil you have to add mulch and additional compost regularly. Over time you will need less and less and your effort will be rewarded.
Germination and planting is more challenging
In a Back to Eden garden, weeds do not grow as much as they do in a normal garden. This is partially because seeds that land on wood chips will not germinate. We love it. Weeding has become so easy. However, the same is true for our seeds that we plant.
It is important to move the layer of wood chips away and to plant the seeds into the soil, not into the wood chips. Just to clarify, you can cover the seeds with wood chips, but seeds should be planted in soil. Sometimes it still happens through wind, rain and other circumstances that the seeds land in the wood chips resulting in poor germination.
To avoid the problem you can start planting earlier and deeper. The seeds will need longer to come up, but they will be sturdy and healthy plants. Also for small seeds you can use good planting soil to cover the seeds with and keep them watered and moist. Once the seeds are up, you will not regret the effort it took to get them started. Even if you do have gaps, your yield should still be great.
The wood chips also do get in the way of planting new plants or moving and dividing plants. At takes a bit of practice to deal with that.
These 3 main challenges with the Back to Eden Gardening method are really small comparing to all the benefits. We hope this will help you to a good start with the Back to Eden gardening method.