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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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