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By now, you’ve probably heard about the Back to Eden gardening method. This method of starting a new garden has been a hot topic in homesteading circles for years. You may also hear it called the layering method, no dig, or lasagna gardening. Although there are some variations from method to method, the idea is basically the same.

These techniques all promise to improve the quality and fertility of your soil over time. Not only that, but you’ll have fewer weeds, and you won’t have to water as often. There’s no tilling involved. And, over time, these methods will reduce the amount of labor required to have a productive, organic garden that doesn’t require intervention with chemical fertilizers. Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

So, How Exactly Do These Methods Work?

First, let’s get a basic understanding of how these methods work. The layering technique involves layering organic matter directly on top of your soil and allowing it to decompose. The thick layer of decomposing organic matter smothers out existing sod and weeds while creating rich, fertile soil for your growing plants. The beauty of these methods is that they will improve any soil over time, no matter how poor it is. It’s an excellent solution for compacted clay soils and infertile sandy soils.

What is a Back to Eden Garden?

The Back to Eden Garden method was created by Paul Gautschi. Paul’s approach comes from observing the forest floor near his home. He realized that years of decomposing plant matter, twigs, and leaves had produced a thick, nutrient-rich mulch where plants thrived without any need for human intervention.

He noticed that the mulched soil was protected from erosion, but it also remained moist, even during long periods without rain. He began to experiment by adding a thick mulch of wood chips and leaves around the fruit trees in his orchard. The results were amazing! But, he wondered if it would work in the vegetable garden, too.

In the end, he discovered that the method worked very well for all types of plants. He found that he rarely needed to water his garden, his plants were much more productive, and he almost never had to pull weeds. And, the weeds that did grow were super easy to pull out of the loose mulch.

How is a Lasagna Garden Different from a Back to Eden Garden?

Lasagna gardening is another no-till gardening method that involves layering organic matter directly on top of the soil. The benefits are the same… better soil, fewer weeds, and less watering. However, when you create a lasagna garden, you add more layers, and it often leads to faster results because you’re using a combination of nitrogen-rich green materials topped with a brown layer.

It usually starts with a layer of newspapers or cardboard, then a layer of straw or hay, followed by a layer of compost or manure. The straw layer and the compost layer are repeated a few times until you reach the desired thickness. A layer of shredded leaves, wood chips, or some other mulching material, is applied last.

What Layering Materials Can Be Used?

The process of starting a layered garden requires a lot of hard work in the beginning, but the payoff will only be greater over time. Over time, you’ll have the most fertile, lowest maintenance garden possible.

You’ll need to start by collecting your layering materials. Look for organic materials that are plentiful and free (or nearly free) in your area. You can stick to using only brown organic matter, like wood chips, which will break down more slowly over time. Or, you can add in green matter, like grass clippings, manure, or compost to achieve faster results. You might have to think outside the box to come up with enough materials to cover your entire garden.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Look for free sources of wood chips in your area. Some towns and cities offer free or cheap wood chips if you’re willing to load them yourself. Tree trimming companies may also be willing to dump truck loads of wood chips at your home when they’re working in your area to save time. Sign up for Chip Drop if it’s available in your area.
  • Collect leaves in the fall. If you have lots of deciduous trees in your yard, you’re probably all set. If not, ask your friends and neighbors to save theirs for you. You can even offer to rake them up and haul them away.
  • Used coffee grounds make a great green material to add to your layers. They’re rich in nitrogen, and you can get them for free in large quantities if you ask at local restaurants and coffee shops.
  • There are tons of other things you can get for free, too, if you know where to look. Ask local farmers if you can haul away some of their manure. Save your grass clippings and get some from your neighbors. Although you’ll have to get your hands dirty accumulating the materials, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money doing it.

Building the Layers

There’s no need to till! You can just start making your layers right on top of your existing lawn. If possible, begin the process in the fall to allow your materials time to decompose. You can still plant in a layered garden started in the spring, but you’ll definitely notice better results over time.

Start by putting down a layer of newspaper or cardboard to smother the grass and weeds and attract earthworms and other beneficial critters that will help work the soil. Next, put down a layer of compost, decomposed manure, grass clippings, or some other nitrogen source. Repeat the green and brown layers until it’s as thick as you want it. On top of that, put down a thick layer of mulch. It doesn’t have to be wood chips. Leaves, straw, and pine needles work great, too!

That’s it! Just sit back and let it decompose until you’re ready to start planting. If you’re in a hurry to get going, you could cover your new garden with black plastic. The warming effect will speed up the decomposition process.

In Conclusion

Your layers will break down over time, and that’s what you want. To keep the process going, you’ll want to add a nitrogen and mulch layer to your garden every fall. Over time, you’ll build rich soil that doesn’t need added fertilizer. No matter what you call it, the layering technique is a great way to build fertile garden soil and have a more productive, easier to maintain garden.

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The Big Decision To Raise Cattle On Your Small Farm

The need to know where your food comes from is one of the most common reasons many people decide to farm. Most folks get started with a garden and maybe a flock of laying hens and a few goats. But, eventually, you may want to consider raising some larger livestock to improve your self-sufficiency, such as cows for meat or milk.

Obviously, adding large livestock gives you more control over where your food comes from and how it’s raised and processed. There are also other reasons to raise cattle on the homestead that are less common, such as using them as a work animal or for producing your own leather. They also provide large amounts of fantastic garden fertilizer in the form of manure.

Choosing to add a cow, or cattle, to your homestead is a big decision. Plan on doing a lot of research before you make a decision. You want to be sure that you have the proper education, infrastructure, and finances to take the best possible care of your new investment. Here are some of the basic things you’ll need to consider before adding cattle to your homestead.

Dairy Cow Basics:

Just one dairy cow can keep a family in milk and dairy products for most of the year. To produce milk, your cow will need to be bred either by a bull or through artificial insemination. Breeding is usually required once a year, but some cows will produce milk longer without being bred. Dairy cows can often get by on pasture for most of the year. Hay and grain are used to supplement during winter, if the grass is scarce, or if the cow is having a hard time maintaining her weight.

Many dairy cows can be milked for as much as ten to fifteen years, but their production will decrease over time, with the first five years being the most productive. Dairy cows require a serious commitment because they generally have to be milked twice a day. There are some tricks to get around this though, such as having the calf do the milking for you some of the time.

Some of the more common dairy cow breeds are:

1. Holstein: Holsteins are quite common and are easily recognized due to their black and white spots. They are known to produce large amounts of milk.

2. Jersey: The Jersey cow is a small cow that comes in all shades of brown. This breed makes an excellent family cow because they produce lots of high-quality milk, and they are sweet and docile in temperament.

3. Brown Swiss: The Brown Swiss is thought to be the oldest breed of dairy cow. Colors can vary from dark brown to silver. Their milk has a high protein to fat ratio that makes it perfect for cheese making.

4. Guernsey: The milk of the Guernsey cow has a golden tone because it contains large amounts of beta-carotene. Guernsey cows come in most shades of fawn and gold, and they often have white legs and markings on their bodies.

Beef Cattle Basics:

Beef cattle are often raised on pasture whenever possible. Grain and hay are also added to the diet when needed to maintain or gain weight, or according to personal preference. They can eat as much as 3% of their body weight in feed each day, so be prepared for a massive feed bill if you plan to overwinter them. Beef cattle are hardy, tough critters that can handle both heat and cold better than most other livestock species.

Just a couple of beef cows will keep a family in beef year-round. Many folks purchase a steer or two when they are young and raise them until they’re ready to be butchered, rather than maintaining their own herd year-round.
Here are some common breeds of beef cattle to consider:

1. Angus: Angus cattle were brought to the U.S. from Scotland in 1873. Most commercial beef growers choose to raise this popular beef breed.

2. Hereford: Originally from Herefordshire, England, the Hereford cow is a prevalent beef breed throughout the United States. It is known to be an efficient, early maturing breed.

3. Limousin: Limousin cattle originated in France and are known for their deep chests and strong hindquarters. They are incredibly hardy, adaptable, and efficient which makes them perfect for meat production.

Pros of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

In summary, the main benefit of keeping dairy or beef cattle is having the ability to produce your own milk and meat. You will be more self-sufficient because you can provide all the milk, dairy products, and meat your family needs. Dairy cattle become part of the family and often bond with their family making them much like a pet.

Your family will be healthier because they are consuming the best quality dairy and meat possible. Grazing cattle on your pasture will improve the quality of your pasture over time. And, you will also have a better garden, thanks to all the fabulous fertilizer your cows provide.

Cons of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

Raising cattle isn’t cheap. Both dairy and beef cattle can be expensive to purchase, and they require a lot of food. High-quality pasture can cut down on the feed bill, but you still need to plan on providing large amounts of hay all winter. If summers are dry, your pasture may not do well, which will mean you must provide a lot of hay all summer, too.

Cattle need a lot of space and high-quality fencing. You should plan on having about 1.5 to 2 acres of decent pasture for each cow and calf. On the other hand, they can usually get by with a basic three-sided shelter in most climates. A proper barn usually isn’t required.

Cattle aren’t suited to every farm and situation, but if you educate yourself properly, you will be able to make the best decision for your homestead. There’s nothing better than farm fresh milk and grass-fed beef raised by your own hands.

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