3/19/12

Experimenting with Eden

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to a movie that literally turns traditional vegetable gardening on its head. It's called Back to Eden. As soon as you're done reading this, watch the movie. It will blow your mind.

All along, I've been doing gardens like everyone else. Clear the ground, till it, amend it, plant it, water it, weed it, repeat ad nauseum. This movie will put an end to it all.

Last year's garden area was 24' x 32'. Each bed was outlined with weed fabric to delineate growing space from walking space, making the actual surface growing area less than half of the total square footage of the plot. We ran out of room for all the things we wanted to grow, and found ourselves limited in what we could add later in the season, mostly thanks to sprawling pumpkin plants.

This year, we decided to cultivate an additional 15' x 48' strip adjacent to the original garden, to give the space hog veggies their own bed with lots of extra elbow room. As we tilled the ground in the new plot and added compost to amend its soil, all I could think was "how am I going to weed all of this?" You'll perhaps recall my ode to weeding from last year...

Then we saw the movie. TEASER: I won't have to weed the garden by hand any more. (I know. You NEED to watch the movie)

This weekend, we prepared our newly expanded garden area using the process outlined in the movie. I will describe the simplicity of the process.

Step 1: Smooth the plot.

Step 2: Lay down irrigation. Ok, so they don't actually have this step in the movie, but it mostly takes place in Washington state and we live in the high-plains desert, so, to be on the safe side, we added it. We use Netafim driptube with emitters built in. It's the same stuff we used last year, so the process to this point  is identical to what we've done every year. Last year, we would have quit here, but this year, we added another step.

Step 3: Cover the whole plot with 6 inches of wood chips. (!!) Crazy, huh?


According to the movie, God, in His infinite wisdom didn't design the ground to be bare. That's why He sends weeds, or leaves, or grass, or whatever to cover it, the minute we idiot humans disturb it. In fact, the ONLY place you will find bare earth is where people have disturbed it. Stop God from covering it and you toil non-stop with endless weeding, spraying, and watering. Leave it uncovered for too long, and you end up with the Dust Bowl.

In contrast, where the earth is covered with leaves, bark, decomposing matter of all varieties, life is abundant and diverse, and moisture is prevalent and available, requiring virtually no supplemental irrigation. The decomposition of the mulching material amends the soil naturally, compaction virtually disappears, along with the hours of weeding, digging, tilling and toiling.

Here's what our plot looks like now with its beneficial layer of wood chip mulch.

If you're any good at math, you're probably wondering  how we could afford that much mulch. Even with our landscaper discount, it would still be cost prohibitive to buy all that mulch. But that's the beauty of this system. You don't need fancy, colored wood chips. Just plain old, ground up yard waste will do.

As it turns out, our town has a yard waste recycling center, and the have a huge pile of chipped up yard waste. This year, the pile is about 10 times its usual size because we had a massive storm in October that devastated most of the mature trees in the state, ours included. One phone call to the town and they practically begged us to take the beautiful, steaming, partly decomposing pile of ground covering off their hands. We were glad to oblige, and took 8 dump truck loads.

It's still a little too early to plant here, but I'll let you know how that goes once we get to it. Meanwhile, watch the movie...here's the link again so you don't have an excuse not to watch it immediately. Back to Eden. Enjoy.

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