How to Use the Back to Eden Gardening Method

Growing and working in a garden can be a rewarding experience. Especially when you enjoy the bounty of your own harvests. But with a productive vegetable garden will come the chores: weeding and watering. But using the Back to Eden method can reduce how much you have to manually water your plants as well as prevent weeds from sprouting.

Back to Eden was first coined by Paul Gautschi, who developed the Back to Eden gardening method according to a natural growing environment.

What is Back to Eden Gardening?

Back to Eden gardening is a method for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs that is based on the way nature intended plants to grow. If you observe fruits, vegetables and herbs that grow in the wild, you will see that in their natural environment they don’t need to be watered or weeded by us. These wild plants still grow and produce every year – even with no help from humans.

Back to Eden gardening encompasses this concept by using natural and raw materials to build up your garden in layers. These layers then form a mound, which is your garden bed. Your fruit plants (like blueberries, apples and citrus)  and veggies are planted in the mounds. The formed mounds will retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.

The Back to Eden gardening method also provides a weeds-free garden.

How does the Back to Eden method work?

Back to Eden gardening works by mimicking the natural environment of wild fruits, vegetables and herbs. This method utilizes a few different growing mediums that are placed in layers in your garden bed. These layered materials then support your planted seeds or sprouts by eliminating the need to water frequently — if at all.

Because of the layered design of Back to Eden, the Back to Eden gardening method helps prevent weeds from sprouting, too. Starting with your very first layer, any developing weeds are covered and smothered, inhibiting their growth up into your garden layer. The layers of medium also break down slowly over time, giving nutrients to your plants, so you can consider the Back to Eden method a form of self-sustaining soil.

What materials are needed to design a Back to Eden garden?

There are three main materials you will need to begin your Back to Eden garden. Newspaper or light cardboard will be your first layered material and acts as a barrier between the ground and the rest of your layers. This is where the weed prevention starts. You will need enough of this material to create a layer two to three inches thick.

Save yours or opt to visit your local recycling center for newspapers for your Back to Eden garden. 

Your second layer material is compost. Rich mushroom compost, homemade compost or store-bought compost are all great options. You will need enough compost to spread a layer that is three to four inches thick.

Organic compost works well for the second layer of the Back to Eden garden.

Wood chips will make up the final layer material. You will need at least six inches for this layer. You can use less, but I have found that by using at least six inches of wood chips, weeds are completely blocked, and I really don’t need to water, even during the hottest months.

When sourcing these chips make sure they are not chipped from woods that have been treated with chemicals or sealers. Tree services use wood chippers to finish off the job when they cut and trim trees, and you can sometimes get these for free or at least pretty cheap. Tree services are usually happy to give away their job waste.

Wood chips that are no bigger than 3″ chunks will work perfectly for your Back to Eden garden.

How to Design Your Back to Eden Garden

Designing your garden for the Back to Eden method is a simple four-step process that you can likely complete in two to three hours, depending on how big you want your garden to be. It’s important to finish your set up the same day you start so any materials you put down do not get blown or washed away from the weather. You can plant your seeds or sprouts as soon as your garden bed is finished, or you can wait two or three days to let it settle. Simply follow these steps to create your Back to Eden garden.

1. Start with your Back to Eden garden design.

Get your area ready and prepared by designing your garden shape. Make sure your garden area gets plenty of sunlight. The ground on which you start your Back to Eden garden does not have to be cleared or tilled. You can start right on top of grass or rocky ground. Since Back to Eden gardening uses layers to build the garden bed, the ground you start on is not a factor.

2. Place your first layer of newspaper.

Once you’ve designed and shaped your garden area, you’re going to put down the newspaper for your first layer. Newspaper is a preferable material for your starting layer, but you can use light cardboard pieces here, too. Lay down the medium so it creates a layer that is about one to two inches thick. Overlap your pieces so there are no gaps for weeds to poke through. Lightly wet this layer.

Seeds and seedlings can be planted in your Back to Eden garden as soon as you finish your final layer. 

3. Spread compost over the newspaper.

Top your newspaper layer — or cardboard if you used that — with your compost. Spread the compost so the layer is about three to four inches thick. If the compost is dried out, wet it lightly before putting down your final layer.

4. Top your compost with wood chips.

Cover your compost layer with the wood chips. Spread them so that they cover the previous two layers thickly. This will take about 5”-6” of wood chips. Wet everything down with your garden hose, so that the new garden mound is damp.

At this point you can go ahead and plant your seeds or juvenile plants right into your top-most layer, or you can let it sit for a few days. Whichever you decide to do you should see the benefits of this gardening method as you work with it over time. After watering in new plants or seeds, you shouldn’t have to water again — if at all — for a very long time.

When used for growing food, Back to Eden gardening is a successful method. Keeping weeds out of the garden while keeping optimum moisture means less work doing chores and more work enjoying your harvests with the Back to Eden gardening method.