Thursday, February 2, 2012

My "Back To Eden" Experiment

Yesterday I posted about the Back To Eden movie and give-away hosted by Pantry Paratus. I hope you've had a chance to watch it before reading this post, because it will certainly make more sense if you have. But I realize life doesn't pause whenever you want, so I'll try to give a little background where I can so those who haven't seen it will understand what I'm trying to achieve.

Over the last few years, Paul Gautschi has replicated something similar to the "lasagna method" for his vegetable garden, with much success! Of course, he lives where it would seem hard NOT to succeed, but that aside, I think his ideas have merit. And although he was an experienced gardener prior to moving to his current location, his vegetable garden was not as successful as he would have liked.

His orchard was.

This prompted him to inquire of the Lord as to why the vegetable garden struggled and the orchard thrived despite being on the same property. The Lord reminded him of a forest floor, which was similar to the ground around his fruit trees, and he then sought to replicate the soil conditions in his vegetable garden.

Here is where you might think, oh, yes, this is the lasagna method; didn't work for me (or perhaps it did). But the difference is Paul uses mostly one layer... wood chips of varying sizes all over his garden (not wood shavings, bark, or saw dust). He chose this medium for several reasons (and I'm sure I'll forget something!)...

• The wood chips naturally decompose over time; the smaller pieces decompose faster, the larger pieces slower.

• The decomposing chips, made from tree branches that contain leaves, wood, and bark, provide both green and brown material, thus supplying the three major items found in fertilizers (NPK - nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus) and thus negates the need for crop rotation.

• The chips must be in varying sizes to create air space and to prevent compaction of soil.

• You can walk on the wood chips and it distributes your weight and prevents soil compaction.

• The wood chips keep the area underneath moist and attract earthworm activity, which also keeps the soil from becoming compacted while adding natural fertilizer in the form of worm castings.

• You can easily part the soil and plant in the chips that have decomposed more.

• Although you must water initially while seedlings are sprouting, afterwards the soil maintains enough water for the plants since the wood chips cover the bare earth. (I'm thinking in really arid locations like the Southwest might have to water, just less frequently - still a nice plus!)

• At first, you will need to maybe add some fertilizer until things start breaking down. Also you will need to add more layers of wood chips; more in the beginning and less each year. Over time, you will build the right kind of soil; thus each year you should see more improvement than the year before.

• Weeding is not a big issue because they easily pull out from soil that isn't compacted.  Also, there just tends to be less weeds overall.

• For some reason, his plants really soak up water and are flavorful and full of water. So much so that the pests which are looking for cellulose seem not to be interested in eating as much of the plant. Paul says it's just too much water for them.

That's all this brain can remember right now. I'm sure if you watch the movie, you'll pick up on more. But it's the basics.

The big no-no that is so difficult for us all is the concept of NO TILLING. It just seems so counter to what we know and think about soil. But isn't this like God; to work counter to what we think? His wisdom is not our wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-10).

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, 
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
So are My ways higher than your ways 
And My thoughts than your thoughts. 
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, 
And do not return there without watering the earth 
And making it bear and sprout, 
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 

So this year, I'm going to conduct my own experiment with the no-till wood chip method. I'm going to give it a try and report back to you what worked and didn't work. It may take me more than one year since I suspect that I'll struggle a bit at first as I build up my soil with wood chips, but if it works here in the arid Southwest, in the mountains where we have more than our fair share of wind, and plenty of cool weather and very little light, then I'm sure it will work just about anywhere!

This weekend I started covering my garden with newspaper to eliminate the weeds (which nearly consumed my garden last year - oh the hours of weeding!). I need to get LOTS more paper, but this is a start.

TIP: Be sure your newspaper is wet when you lay it down, especially if there is wind!

When I laid this paper down, there was a nice breeze blowing, but the weight of the water in it kept it from blowing around. If you're a perfectionist, like me, you really need to get over it for this project. Don't worry about how straight or how thick (within reason), or what's under it; just get it down there. It's all going to compost together and become soil over time.

I laid down newspaper and hay a couple of years ago and it worked great for keeping the weeds at bay (see Preparing the Garden Path). My mistake was letting the chickens on it before it had finished composting in. There was bits of paper everywhere after awhile. But despite that, it kept the weeds down everywhere I had laid newspaper. So don't let the girls rummage through it too soon.

Next I put straw and manure from the chicken coop and goat shed down on top. Since it's my first year, I think I need a little something for nutrients. I may sprinkle some more compost on top of the wood chips, but for now, I just needed to get this down so it could break down a bit before I start planting in the spring. In fact, I'm keeping it wet with a garden hose until the wood chips are on top. This will prevent the straw from blowing away (and the newspaper) and will speed up the composting a bit since we've had warmer than usual weather and very little rain.

You can see one section completed (minus the wood chips) in the photo below, but I've got a long way to go since our garden area is really large. I plan to do the entire space, including the pathways (I just won't put manure in those areas).

If you think you might want to try this method, start hunting wood chips now! It's not that easy to locate them. At least not for me, but I have found a couple of leads and I have one definite source if I'm willing to use my own chipper and make my own. My husbands says I'll be chipping til the cows come home!

Earth911.com has a locater where you can plug in what you're looking for and your zip code to find a recycling center that might take green waste and sell or give away wood chips. Just remember, you need to find them in varying sizes and with green leaves from branches; not saw dust or wood shavings or wood bark.

I can't wait to get some wood chips; I feel like a kid waiting to go to Disneyland or something. The next post, I hope to show how the hunt concluded and what it looks like on the ground.

Have you had any experience with this method? What were some of your thoughts after seeing the movie Back To Eden?


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