Back to Eden Gardening

Garden Pictures, March 18, 2017, a view of the garden from the balcony

Garden Pictures, March 18, 2017

Back to Eden Philosophy – What is it?

One of the first things I always tell people who ask me about gardening here in hot, dry central Texas is to check out the Back to Eden Gardening film. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it! This is probably the most inspiring gardening video you will ever watch. If you are not familiar with the Back to Eden gardening philosophy, it is basically to return to gardening as God intended. Instead of relying on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, you rely on nature to nurture your plants. Instead of tilling the soil, your garden beds are built up by laying down newspaper, cardboard, compost, manure and significant amounts of mulch or woodchips.

Trees are an amazing resource for the gardener. Thanks to their deep roots, they are able to take in many nutrients from deep down in the soil that we would not otherwise have access to. That is why leaves make such fabulous compost. Mulch or wood chips have the added benefit of holding water, thus keeping your soil moist deep down even when the top few inches appear dry. A thick layer of mulch also deters weed growth and as the mulch breaks down over time, it actually feeds your plants like slow release compost.

Our Experience

When we first created our garden, we built raised beds and filled them with the New Square Food Gardening soil blend known as Mel’s Mix (1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost). While this soil is absolutely amazing, it’s also pricey when used on a large scale. To keep the grass from growing between our beds, we used the mulch from our county recycling center (priced at a very reasonable $5 a trailer load). Each year we would replenish the newspaper and mulch layer to keep the weeds down. A few years into the garden, we noticed how incredible the soil in our walkways was. By digging down just a few inches, we had beautiful, rich, moist soil filled with worms and life, even though we regularly tread all over it and never watered it (thanks to our carefully placed drip irrigation system).

When we expanded our garden in 2013, we used the Back to Eden method on the entire area. The walkways and the beds – the entire area – were built up in the same way. This gives us quite a bit of flexibility in how we lay out beds in that portion of the garden. This is where we put our “garden gorillas,” the big things like plants in the squash family, the melon family, potatoes, or corn. We are not constricted by the frames of our raised beds so I tend to make my walkways too narrow in that area, as I’m always trying to squeeze more growing space out of every available inch. It’s also easier to push the wheelbarrow around, as I don’t have to contend with wooden obstacles.

No Turning Back

We have continuously expanded our mulch and compost operation to keep up with the demand of adding fresh layers to the garden every year. There’s no better feeling than standing back when the garden is all freshly topped off with that nutrient dense covering that you know will give life to your garden in a way that a chemical never could. It’s cheaper, greener, and my opinion easier than any other method we’ve tried. Give it a try yourself, you won’t be disappointed.


  1. avatar
    Dianne Singeltary

    Hello, Brianne!
    Bobby is helping the jr. master gardener class with their fall garden and we were wondering:
    How soon after laying down the paper, cardboard, soil, mulch, and compost are you able to plant?

    • Hey Dianne, it depends on what he ended up using. If he ended up going with bagged soil and compost (that was the last I heard he was going to try), then he can plant right away. Just be sure and pull the mulch back from the planting hole. As the mulch breaks down, it could steal nitrogen from the plants, but you’re fine as long as you pull it back. The soil should be safe to plant in and compost is safe to plant in as long as it’s fully decomposed. I hope that answers your question.

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