There are several methods used in Permaculture to develop and improve soil. Compost, Mulching and Worm Farms are a few of the more common methods and used by most if not all Gardeners. Other little know methods include Hugelkultur and Back to Eden methods. In this Article we will look at Back to Eden.
The Back to Eden Garden method has been used for many years. In fact it could be argued that this method has been in use since the beginning of time. In nature, deep in Forests and Jungles and in Prairies and Open Paddocks the life cycle of plants and animals begins and it ends. Grass grows and falls to the ground, trees grow and lose bark, limbs and leaves then eventually the entire tree will fall. Animals and Insects also have a life cycle where they eventually return to the earth.
Back to Eden replicates these natural soil building methods and utilises modern day practices to enhance and speed up the breakdown of biomass that would usually take years if not decades. To do this Wood Chips (sometimes hay, straw and other biomass) are used. Wood chips breakdown relatively quickly and provide the added benefits of an ideal environment for fungal growth; a home for beneficial insects, worms and bacteria; and eventually a growing media that provides aeration, water retention and aeration to developing plants.
There are 2 common methods Back to Eden Gardeners will use to breakdown a load of Wood chips into a rich fertile growing media.
The Heap Method:
As the name suggests wood chips are just left in the heaps they were delivered in to breakdown. The time it takes to breakdown will depend on the amount of leaf and green matter among the chips, the type of tree (hardwood, softwood) and weather conditions among other factors.
The Carpet Method:
Again the name is fairly self explanatory. Wood chips are laid out thickly – potentially 60cm (24 inches) or more and left to breakdown. There are variations to this method but the one I like to use will include cardboard and newspaper plus a large quantity of fresh green lawn clippings.
Start by laying out fresh lawn clippings thickly over the area to be carpeted. This will help prevent Nitrogen loss from the soil as the chips breakdown. Lay cardboard and newspaper thickly over these lawn clippings – wet this paper and cardboard to the point of saturation. Now apply chips to the desired thickness over this. You may be asking why the cardboard goes over the lawn clippings and not directly on the ground. There are a few reasons I choose to do this. Firstly, The Carbon in the Cardboard could still rob Nitrogen from the soil, depending how thickly you laid it. Secondly, there could be seeds and shoots of grass in the clippings that could grow through the chips so the Cardboard and Newspaper between the clippings helps suppress weed growth.
Regardless of the method you use the chips will require some time to break down. But once they have broken down, the fun begins…