We are Dana & Sarah, the Producers and the Directors of BACK TO EDEN. Our documentary, Back to Eden, ignited a gardening movement that quickly earned the name, "Back to Eden Gardening." The film aimed to inspire gardeners to grow food by documenting the incredible gardens and orchards of American gardener and arborist Paul Gautschi. At the time of the production in 2010, Paul had been growing food at his home in Washington for over 30 years -- since 1979! It was challenging for us to get Paul to describe exactly how to "start a Back to Eden garden." In fact, we spent an entire year tirelessly filming and editing this documentary. As novice gardeners, we didn't fully understand how miraculous Paul's vegetable garden and fruit orchard are compared to other gardeners. Our intention was to inspire the viewer to grow food and teach a simple, sustainable gardening method. However, we have noticed that it's easy for information to get lost in translation online and we would like to clear some things up from our first-hand experience.
THE TRUTH ABOUT BACK TO EDEN GARDENING
The truth is Back to Eden Gardening works! Paul Gautschi is a world-renowned gardener because he practices a sustainable permaculture method that eliminates most of the stress and work associated with gardening. He teaches a gardening method that is so profoundly simple that anyone can do it! That said, many gardeners make mistakes and we would like to reduce the number of problems people have with the Back to Eden gardening method!
First, we are going to talk about Paul's two separate growing areas: Paul's Garden and Paul's Orchard. In one of the first opening shots of the film, you see Paul's property, an aerial view from a plane that was filmed in the middle of Winter. You can see in the photo below the separation of the garden and orchard.
From this photo alone, you can clearly see that the ground looks different in Paul's garden and orchard. The garden has a dark, rich, black gold compost that looks similar to topsoil. The orchard has a much lighter shade that resembles arborist wood chips. Why do they look different? They are both wood chips from tree trimming waste. The difference is they have each been processed using two different methods. Confusing? Let's dig a little deeper.
PAUL GAUTSCHI'S BACK TO EDEN GARDEN
Paul's Back to Eden garden is where he grows beautifully straight rows of annuals such as carrots, celery, cilantro, beans, beets, cucumbers, lettuce, chard, spinach, parsley, kale, and so much more at his home in Washington. At the very far end of his garden is where he grows the perennial asparagus. Look at the beautiful ground Paul is standing on in this photo!
WHAT DOES PAUL ADD TO HIS GARDENS? COMPOST!
There are only two times in the documentary when you see Paul add organic matter to his garden. The first time Paul adds compost to his home garden is after he visits a compost facility. Steve Johnson, the owner of Lazy J Tree Farm, invested in a tub grinder to chip up green yard waste. Steven then composts the wood chips for several months and sells the composted wood chips back to the community. In the film, you see Paul receive a truck bed full of composted wood chips that have also been screened.
This is so important to understand and perhaps the biggest point that needs clarity: composted wood chips that have been screened are different than arborist wood chips that have been freshly chipped. In the film we show 3 types of "wood chips" that were all processed differently.
The film never shows Paul Gautschi adding fresh arborist wood chips to his Back to Eden garden. Why? Paul does not add fresh arborist wood chips to his Back to Eden veggie garden at his home. Paul adds composted wood chips that have been screened -- the premium source of wood chips! Why? Wood chip compost is ready to plant directly into and will immediately give your plants the nutrient food they need. In the film, you watch Paul add the composted wood chips that have been screened onto his garden plot, carefully raking them to a thickness of 2 inches. Paul at the time of filming said he reapplies composted wood chips that have been screened every 3 years.
Let's say you just got a FREE delivery of arborist wood chips dropped off at your garden using the Chip Drop App. You can create your own wood chip compost by hot composting your wood chip pile. Learn how to compost wood chips by hot composting your wood chip pile here.
WHAT DOES PAUL USE TO FERTILIZE HIS GARDEN? COMPOSTED CHICKEN MANURE!
The second time Paul adds compost to his home garden in Back to Eden Film is after he sifts compost out of his chicken run. Paul lovingly calls his chicken coop his "soil manufacturing plant." He feeds his chickens any of the green waste that comes out of the garden -- from weeds to expired greens. In the Fall, Paul uses a screen and wheel barrel to sift through the soil in his chicken run. He then applies about 1/2 inch to 1 inch of the composted chicken manure onto his garden. Organic composted chicken manure is one of the best sources of nitrogen for fertilizing your garden. Since Paul has been doing this for so many years, he says he needs to add less fertilizer every year and less often over time. At the time of filming, Paul told us he reapplies composted chicken manure every other year but we recommend doing this every year when you are getting started with your Back to Eden Garden. Again, if you are using Raw Arborist Wood Chips you'll especially benefit from adding organic fertilizer to help break down the wood chips into compost.
Although in the film you see Paul applying composted chicken manure to the garden second, during the Fertilization chapter, Paul actually applied the composted chicken manure first and then covered it with the composted wood chips from the compost facility. The reason he does this is to reduce any weed seeds from sprouting that are in the composted chicken manure.
PAUL GAUTSCHI'S BACK TO EDEN ORCHARD
Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden Orchard is definitely the most beautiful orchard we've ever walked through. Many visitors from around the world have agreed! It is filled with dwarf fruit trees including apple trees and pear trees that are loaded with fruit. Underneath the fruit trees and throughout the orchard, Paul grows vegetable plants including zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, and more. You can see the stunning orchard behind the garden in the photo below.
WHAT DOES PAUL ADD TO HIS ORCHARD? RAW ARBORIST WOOD CHIPS!
In the film, Paul mentions that in 1979, he first added straw and sheep manure to his orchard but then switched to wood chips. Paul told us in person that initially, he added 12 inches of fresh arborist wood chips to his orchard. He allowed the wood chips to compost in place without tilling. He goes on to explain that after 17 years of tilling his garden, he went out to his no-till orchard and began digging with his hands. He says he dug "down to my elbow in this beautiful black compost." He had been laboring in his garden, tilling and bring in organic material to try to build compost. In his orchard, he didn't do any work other than initially covering it with fresh arborist wood chips. At that moment Paul says God told him, "it works in your garden the same way." Paul then threw away his rototiller and began covering his garden with composted wood chips. Paul told us he does not add chicken manure or other fertilizers to his orchard. The raw arborist wood chips built fertile enough soil on their own over time. He also adds the waste from his wood stove to his orchard over the winter, because he has it.
If you do the math, by the time we arrived to film the documentary in 2010, Paul had been growing a no-till wood chip mulched orchard for nearly 30 years and a no-till wood chip mulched vegetable garden for nearly 15 years. Therefore, the documentary shows the results of a no-till wood chip vegetable garden after 15 years and the results of a no-till wood chip mulched orchard after 30 years! This is a really big deal for those of you who are just starting a Back to Eden garden and/or orchard and are hoping to see results like Paul. The good news is that you can see results like Paul, it will simply take time and patience!
BACK TO EDEN DEMONSTRATION GARDENS
As filmmakers, our goal was to reduce the amount of mistakes people would making practicing the Back to Eden gardening method. Therefore, we dedicated 20 minutes of Back to Eden Film to documenting "Back to Eden demonstration gardens." Paul consulted both of our families while they installed a Back to Eden garden for the first time.
1. Demonstration Garden in California
The demonstration garden CA featured Dana Richardson's family. Ron & Sylvia demonstrated adding a layer of premium composted wood chips that had been screened onto their vegetable garden. Since they had access to screened, composted wood chips (just like Paul) this was the easiest solution for their urban garden. They were able to sow seeds directly into the compost and also plant transplants.
2. Demonstration Garden in Pennsylvania
The demonstration garden in PA featured Sarah Zentz's family. Mark & Diane actually installed two gardens. In the first garden, they only added newspaper and 4-6 inches of fresh arborist wood chips in the Fall. When they planted in the Spring, there were a few problems. The first mistake was planting in the wood chips instead of the soil beneath the wood chips. Therefore, many of the plants were lacking nitrogen. To fix this, Mark added a dried blood meal, an organic fertilizer. This mistake could have been avoided by either planting in the soil beneath the wood chips, adding composted wood chips instead of fresh arborist wood chips, or waiting longer to allow the arborist wood chips to compost.
Mark was determined to get it right so we installed a second demonstration garden in the Spring. This garden wash installed with a layer of newspaper, 2-3 inches of mushroom compost, 3-4 inches of composted wood chips, less than 1 inch of composted cow manure. Since this garden had compost added, they were able to immediately sow seeds directly into the compost below the wood chips. This garden grew prolifically without any problems.
Now, 10 years later, Mark has uploaded a YouTube video showing the 10-year results!
BACK TO EDEN GARDEN TIPS FROM THE FILMMAKERS
The take away from Back to Eden Film is to cover your garden with wood chips. The easiest (and free) resource for home gardeners is arborist wood chips. Fresh arborist wood chips need time to decompose before they are ready to plant in. Here are some of our tips:
1. Do not plant seeds directly in fresh arborist wood chips. Arborist wood chips need time to decompose before they are ready. That is why we recommend to mimic nature and add arborist wood chips in the Fall. In the Spring, pull back the coarse wood chips and plant in the soil and/or compost beneath.
2. Add composted wood chips (ideally, that have been screened) instead of fresh arborist wood chips if you have access to this resource! Of course, not everyone has access to this premium organic matter. If you want, you can allow your delivery of arborist wood chips to compost before you add them to your established vegetable garden. Learn how to compost your arborist wood chips here.
3. Do not till the wood chips into your soil! Since wood chips are high in carbon, they can tie up nitrogen when they’re tilled into the soil.
4. Be patient! Every year you are building more and more soil in your vegetable garden by adding organic matter which is creating more nutrient-rich food for your plants.
HOW TO START A BACK TO EDEN GARDEN
We want to close this article by saying, Paul's somewhat mystic, read-between there lines teaching techniques are not accidental. Paul explained to us again and again as we drilled him for a "one size fits all formula" for growing a Back to Eden Garden that one size doesn't fit all. Paul constantly reminded us that he wanted people to get connected to nature in their region and adopt what works best for them. As frustrating as this can be for people who prefer rigid instructions, it was actually a stroke of genius on Paul's part. There isn't just one way to start a successful Back to Eden Garden. But there certainly are some things you shouldn't do. Remember to Avoid the Most Common Back to Eden Gardening Problems!