In this post:
- Why I dreamed of having our own Back to Eden garden and how we made it happen
- How we installed our Back to Eden garden step-by-step
- Before and after photos of our Back to Eden garden
I’ve been dreaming about this garden since 2012.
Back then, I was a partner in an indoor gardening/hydroponics shop in Washington State. I used all of the products I sold, including the synthetic fertilizers, plant boosters and pesticides. Fertilizers and pesticides were our bread and butter, and the bulk of our revenue. It was in our best interest for me to use our products and recommend them to our customers.
But after I watched the Back to Eden Film, I started to become my worst salesperson. Instead of trying to make a sale, I was trying to sell my customers on the idea that they could have a garden that they didn’t need to till, water or fertilize. Talk about a bad business move.
“His fruits and veggies tasted completely different than anything I had ever bought at the grocery store. A whole new world opened up to me.”
The Back to Eden way of gardening made sense to me and my scientific brain. The first time I watched the documentary, I thought about how much unnecessary, expensive, back breaking work I had been doing in my garden. As geeky as it sounds, microbes and the soil food web started dominating my thoughts. I was fascinated, curious and in awe of nature’s perfect design and how most of us gardeners were working so hard to undermine it, naively thinking we were doing the best things for our gardens.
My first visit to Paul Gautschi’s garden (only a 3 hour drive from my house) sealed the deal. Once I tasted his apples, I knew I wanted a Back to Eden garden of my own. The apples were so juicy they dripped, and they were so so sweet. Everything I tasted from his garden was sweet and juicy and tender. His fruits and veggies tasted completely different than anything I had ever bought at the grocery store. A whole new world opened up to me. I wanted to grow every single fruit and vegetable so I could taste what they were really supposed to taste like, instead of the flavorless cardboard imitations I had been eating most of my life. My garden has spoiled me, because now most of the produce I buy from the grocery store tastes like disappointment.
After my visit to Paul’s, I returned home and immediately set out to build my garden. It was small–about 8 ft. x 10 ft.–but it was mighty. The amount of food I harvested from that small space was out of this world.
This was the beginning of the end of my shop. I couldn’t in good conscience keep selling what I now considered a lie, especially as Monsanto and Bayer started buying up the fertilizer companies that lined my shelves. In 2016, we sold our shop and moved to our new homestead. And last year, in 2018, six years after the seed had been planted in my heart and mind, my husband and I made this garden of my dreams a reality.
The Beginning of our Back to Eden Garden
The first thing I did when we moved into our new home was try to track down woodchips but I had the hardest time finding them, so I mulched with compost and straw in the existing raised beds. But it wasn’t the same. It was dirty and ugly and didn’t do much for creating the loose, black dirt I knew woodchips would have created.
I visited Paul Gautschi’s garden again that year to learn how to prune my new fruit trees, and told him how difficult it had been to find woodchips.
“My garden has spoiled me, because now most of the produce I buy from the grocery store tastes like disappointment.”
“Did you ask God for woodchips?” he asked me. No, I hadn’t. So I did. And I kid you not, I found two sources of woodchips over the next couple of weeks and had more than enough to install our new garden.
I found a good source of compost locally and ordered some up. My husband, how I love him, went recycle bin diving at the nearest strip malls and collected all of the cardboard we needed.
The garden we inherited was in two separate fenced areas. One area had two huge raised beds and a strawberry patch. The other had three rows of raspberries. We decided to move the fencing so that we could connect the two garden spaces and expand them. The resulting space is about the size of my 2500 square foot house. We also added on a separate area that we originally intended as a space for a greenhouse, but changed our mind and decided to make it a separate herb garden instead.
Once we had our plan and our materials, the work began, slowly but surely, one wheelbarrow load at a time.
The chickens free ranging by the woodchip pile.
These are the two garden spaces we started with, soon to be connected and expanded.
Our Back to Eden Herb Garden
Our first phase of the project was to make a Back to Eden garden that we originally planned on having as the floor to our greenhouse. We changed our mind later, though, and decided to make this space into an herb garden for all of our kitchen and medicinal herbs.
“The soil is epic–loose, black and moist.”
We laid down the cardboard, the compost and then the woodchips. It was pretty quick compared to the rest of the garden. This year, I plan on re-edging and fencing the space, adding pathways, and then planting herbs. This plot has been sitting empty for a couple of years now, growing nothing but weeds and getting scratched and pooped on by chickens. The soil is epic–loose, black and moist. This plot will grow the world’s finest herbs…look for a blog post to come on this design project!
Laying down the cardboard…
…then the compost….
…and finally the woodchips. Lola is proud of our hard work!
Covering the Ground for Our Back to Eden Garden
Installing the rest of the garden was a little trickier. We didn’t want to move the fencing right away and have our yard look a mess while we worked on this project for the next few months. So I worked on it piece by piece. First, I tackled the raspberry patch. I laid cardboard down between the rows (so much easier to do in the winter when there aren’t any leaves!), and then added woodchips on top. I skipped the compost for this area because I had already added compost the year before and really just wanted to suppress the weeds.
Laying down cardboard and woodchips in the raspberry patch.
I love how neat and clean it looks when it’s done!
Next, I started working on the space between the two gardens and the chicken run. At this point, I had been doing most of this work myself. I’m not going to lie, it took months. Pushing a wheelbarrow back and forth across an acre, filled to the brim with compost and chips, is one hell of a workout. It’s something that requires rest inbetween work days when you are as out of shape as I was at the time. What is it they say? Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it. Ain’t that the truth! My back and core are stronger than they’ve been in years thanks to all of this wheelbarrow-pushin’!
Covering the space between with cardboard….
…and more cardboard…
…until it’s all covered…
…and then layer compost and woodchips…
…until it’s all covered. We connected the garden to the chicken coop so we would have easy access to the compost the chickens make for the garden.
Next, I started working on Strawberry Hill. When we moved in, there was a hill full of stumps and overgrown weeds. The previous owners had cut down the trees and burned the remnants, so the hill was also covered in wood ash. The gardener in me got super excited about this because what I saw was a hugelkultur hill covered in one of the best fertilizers money can’t buy. I knew with all the dead wood under that hill, that it would keep the soil well-fed and moist for years to come, and that the wood ash would add so many minerals to the soil and create a delicious flavor in anything that grew there.
So I set out to start covering the hill with cardboard, compost and woodchips. It was tricky with it being on a hill. I had to lay one piece of cardboard down at a time and cover it without messing it up. It was tedious. But the results are so worth it. This year, the strawberries on that hill have taken off and are delicious! Plus, the hill is such a whimsical addition to the garden, complete with a winding path that lets you walk to the top to pick berries. I even planted nasturtiums in the stumps, which are really starting to take off. Not only will the nasturtiums look lovely trailing down the hill, but they add a layer of protection against aphids!
Pre-Strawberry Hill, still covered in grass and weeds
Managed to cover the hill with cardboard, compost and woodchips…a very tedious job.
I used rocks I found around my property to create a path on the hill, and transplanted strawberries in the beds from my other strawberry patch.
By the time I finished covering the raspberry area, the space between the existing gardens and Strawberry Hill, gardening season was starting to get close and I knew I was going to need help to finish the project. Thankfully, our wonderful neighbors own a tractor and offered their help. In fact, them helping us with this project was the first time we spent a solid amount of time together and it helped us get to know one another. I can say they are now some of our closest friends. Gardening can really bring people together!
Laying down more cardboard.
After we covered the ground with cardboard, our neighbors used the tractor to bring in compost and woodchips and my husband and I would use a rake to spread it out.
As we covered more ground (pun intended), my husband Owen started working on moving the fence panels.
The existing garden area with the raised bed was the final phase of the garden expansion. At first I thought I might spread the soil from the raised beds out since I had been building it up the last couple of years, but we quickly realized that would take a lot more work and make that side of the garden significantly higher than the rest of the space. Since we were in a time crunch, we decided to use the tractor to move the soil out of the garden to other parts of the property that needed filling in.
This area took more prep work. We had to remove the wood from the raised beds and all the stones from the pathways. I stacked up quite a pile of river rocks as I worked, which actually came in handy for creating the garden path later. There were also some persistant ferns that had crept in and needed removing. But once we prepped the area, it was business as usual.
The existing raised beds, after the wood was removed. I hadn’t tilled those beds and it was interesting to see how much the earthworms had aerated the soil as we broke them apart.
The pile of river rocks that I removed from the garden one by one, which would soon become the garden path.
Ready for compost and woodchips after the raised garden beds were removed.
Our awesome neighbor and her tractor!
My husband, Owen, spreading out the compost and woodchips with a rake.
It’s almost done….
The Final Product
I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I had when we finally completed installing our new garden. This garden started as just an idea in my mind, and for the next 5 years I daydreamed about it, drew out so many possible designs of it, and imagined what it would feel like to spend my days in it planting and pruning and eating delicious, fresh food I grew myself. To have this garden finally be a real, tangible thing and not just an idea in my mind was mindblowingly incredible. It was a high unlike any high I’ve had before.
“This was not instant gratification. It took patience, faith and discipline to get here.”
It was more than just an adrenaline rush–it was fulfilling to know that we worked really, really hard for this. We planned, prepared and sacrificed so that we could buy our own home with enough land to grow our food. And then we planned, prepared and worked our tails off to actually put it in the ground. To look over your shoulder at a job well done gives such a sense of pride and accomplishment. This was not instant gratification. It took patience, faith and discipline to get here. And that’s the kind of thing that gives deep down confidence and pride in oneself because it didn’t come easy and it took a lot of hard work.
It also makes me feel so grateful to have a dream come true like this. So many obstacles came up along the way and any one of them could have stopped us. Many of them delayed us. But in the end, it happened with such perfect timing, in ways we never could have planned ourselves, that it’s undeniable that someone upstairs had our backs and helped us get here.
Once we opened up the garden, I used all the river rocks I collected along the way to create paths from one side of the garden to the other that would be wide enough for our John Deere.
A view of Strawberry Hill as the sun starts to set.
View from the back far corner of the garden.
Planting the First Garden
Because it took us longer than anticipated to finish installing the garden, we planted everything about a month later than we should have. Even so, we had a great yield and harvest the first year.
Normally, with a Back to Eden garden, it’s best to prepare the garden in the fall, let it decompose over the winter and then plant in the spring. We planted right away, so we had to be very aware of nitrogen deficiencies in our plants since nitrogen gets locked up during the decomposition process. We made a homemade fish emulsion and fed it to our garden regularly to avoid any issues, and are doing the same this year too. It can take a few years for the soil and compost to break down enough to have sufficient available nutrients for your plants, but after those first few years, you shouldn’t have to use any kind of fertilizer on a Back to Eden garden.
Last year was a drought year in Washington. It was VERY hot, the water table was low, and wildfires surrounded us. With any other kind of garden, I would have had to water daily in those conditions. I watered this garden only FOUR TIMES the entire summer, and that was just to be on the safe side. I’m not even sure that it needed it.
A lot of crazy looking mushroom popped up the first year, including the kind that looks like slime. So we had slime patches all around the garden. This is totally normal. It is the decomposition process. If I had installed this in the fall, then all of that decomposition would have happened under a layer of snow, out of sight and out of mind. All I did was rake more woodchips over the slime patches and didn’t worry about it.
“This type of garden really will overwhelm you with too much food to eat.”
Paul Gautschi said the only problem with a garden like this is the abundance. I thought he was joking, but I now see what he was saying. This type of garden really will overwhelm you with too much food to eat. The zucchini alone were out of control. Thank God we have friends, neighbors and chickens who didn’t mind taking our extras. By the end of summer, and after all the fall canning, I was definitely ready for a nice relaxing winter. It was a marathon–and one that I look forward to running every year.
Stay tuned because next week I’ll take you on a spring tour of our garden and what it looks like right now at the beginning of the season. I’ll be doing regular tours this summer so you can see how it progresses.
Until next time, happy gardening! xo
Our raspberries looked healthier than they ever have since we added the chips. Raspberries don’t do well if their moisture levels fluctuate too much, and woodchips keep them nice and moist at all times.
This is where we planted a border of romaine lettuce, cucumbers and watermelons. Soon they will overtake that space!
I like planting sunflowers along the fence of the chicken run to give the chickens some shade.
Over here, we have more tomatoes and lots of zucchini…too much zucchini…I think I’m still traumatized!
Sunset in the garden is my favorite time of day.
As summer went on, the garden started looking very lush!
Our apple tree, pruned how Paul taught me to prune fruit trees.
Sunflowers are my absolute favorite.
People always ask if seedlings have a hard time getting through the woodchips. I’ve never had a problem with that.
The healthiest cucumbers I’ve ever grown. They also love the woodchips because they are sensitive to the soil drying out.
Beautiful Red Acre Cabbage
Moon & Stars Watermelon
Dark Star Zucchini. Also, this is the first time I’ve ever grown zucchini without getting powdery mildew, so I was pretty excited about that. Powdery mildew on zucchini is pretty much the norm in the PNW.
Our cats love patrolling the garden and Jinxycat just had to stop and smell the blackberry flowers.
Ageratum is one of my new favorite flowers!
Thanks for visiting our new garden!
To learn more about Back to Eden gardening, visit the Back to Eden website!
To download the Back to Eden cheat sheet, become a member of The Nature Life Project community by entering your email below. You can also find this freebie in the NLP Free Resource Library.
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