• Mike

Best Practices for Back to Eden Gardening

Updated: Feb 13

In my research, I’ve found a ton of stuff about what Back to Eden gardening is, and what it is not. I’ve found lots of useful tips tucked away in articles and videos. There’s tons of great stuff out there on using it to establish a food forest or other perennial garden bed. What I haven’t found is crop-specific information on best practices for annuals. So, this article is a place where we’ll share our lessons-learned for annual food crops in this style of growing. We will update it year over year, with a view to creating a comprehensive guide for our core crops.


So far, we’ve found that we use three main techniques: planting seedlings through thick mulch; direct seeding or transplanting through a thin mulch, and pulling back the mulch to direct seed or plan (and sometimes re-mulching later). First I’ll explain how we work our garden, describe each technique, then list which technique we’ve found works best for each crop.


First, a word on our annual maintenance. Our garden beds are lightly terraced down a slope. The paths are dug as swales – or shallow ditches on contour – which we fill with 8-10” of mulch. We also toss the bigger pieces of wood or branches we find in the beds onto the paths to break down a little more. We find that the smaller pieces tend to wash down to the bottom over the course of the summer, and the top layer is the bigger/dryer/less composted stuff.


In the fall we re-shape our beds. We chop and drop woody stems (like tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc.) above ground level and leave the roots in the ground to decompose. We use a flat rake to scrape the coarse/dry material off the top of the beds and paths and expose the partially composted stuff below. We pile the composted chips from the paths onto the beds (often burying last year’s crop to compost in place), put the coarse material into the hole, then top it up with fresh chips. Over the late fall, winter, and early spring, the composted material will work its way down to the planting beds to feed the next year’s crop.


Before we plant in the spring, we rake off the coarse stuff into the paths again, usually right before planting a bed.


Methods


Thin Mulch


We scrape pretty much all of the mulch off of the bed and into the pathway, then plant our seedlings or direct seed into the cleared area. After everything is planted, sometimes we’ll add a bit of the mulch back to the bed to help retain moisture.


Seedlings through Deep Mulch




We mark out the spacing of our plants with rocks, then dig the mulch out in about an 8 inch radius around where the plant will go. Then we dig the hole and plant as we would for any other seedling, including a generous pile of compost which partially fills up the hole. Once the seedling is planted, we’ll push the mulch back around the seedling, making a well that slopes down towards the stem.


Pulling Back Mulch


Kind of a hybrid of the other two, we’ll pull the mulch back to make almost bare rows or patches for planting on the recommended spacing, then direct seed or plant in the rows. Deep mulch remains between the rows. For wider spacing, we’ll then add mulch back between the plants. For some crops we’ll scatter a thin layer of mulch on top of the seed to preserve moisture.


Crop

Method

Planting

Notes

Arugula

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Mulch between rows once established

Basil

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Beans

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Keep bare patch wide when young to protect from slugs

Beets

Pull Back

Seedling

Keep mulch thin until established

Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cauliflower

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Carrots

Thin Mulch

Direct Seed

Almost bare until thinning, then re-mulch between the rows.

Corn

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Can mulch right up to the stem once established.

Cucumbers

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Dill

Thin Mulch

Direct Seed

Re-mulch once established.

Eggplant

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Keep wood chips off of stem - ie, bare soil around - until established.

Endive

Pull Back

Seedling

Kale

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Lettuce

Thin Mulch

Seedling

Keep almost bare due to slugs.

Mustard

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Onions

Pull Back

Seedling

Re-mulch once established.

Parsley

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Peas

Pull Back

Direct Seed or Seedling

Re-mulch once sprouts emerge.

Peppers

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Keep wood chips off of stem - ie, bare soil around - until established.

Potatoes

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Use straw to hill up, rather than wood chips.

Radicchio

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Radish

Thin Mulch

Direct Seed

Re-mulch between rows once established for storage varieties.

Salad Mixes

Thin Mulch

Direct Seed

Squash

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Re-mulch once established

Sunflowers

Pull Back

Direct Seed

Re-mulch once established

Swiss Chard

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Tomatoes

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Not fussy about woodchips around stem once established.

Zucchini

Deep Mulch

Seedling

Not fussy about woodchips around stem once established.


104 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All