What a Covering Has Done to My Soil

April 30, 2015

If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know I cover the garden with woodchips. You may even know about the Back to Eden Film. If not, you should watch it!

Many people are realizing the benefits of covering the soil. There are many. However, in true American fashion, many are wondering why they are not having Paul’s results (from 30 years of gardening) in their first year or two. This post is to give you hope and encourage you to stick with it and trust the process!

We started our BTE (back to eden) garden 3 years ago when I was finally able to get up with some Asplundh folks. Our first year, we layered with aged cow manure. We got chickens 2 years ago and I am able to get horse manure about once a year so many times, our garden is covered with that along with woodchips. Sometimes, when we are expanding the garden, which we try to do as much as possible, all we have is cardboard and woodchips. As Paul would say, ‘use what you have’. So we do ๐Ÿ™‚

For those of you new to Back to Eden or who are interested, I took some pictures of my soil to show you what a blessing a covering is and how it gets better and better each year.

Starting with our first ever BTE garden: Started 3 years ago, covered in newspapers, aged cow manure, then 6″ of woodchips. Each fall, it has been covered in a light layer of chicken manure (when I clean out the coop) and woodchips. You can see the woodchips are breaking down as you get further and further down. There is clay still about 6″ down.

Nieto Photography 2015This section of the garden was prepped by our young pullets 2 years ago in a chicken tractor. We then covered it with newspaper and woodchips. It has since been covered by horse manure and woodchips. Even 6″ down, NO clay. It is transitioning into rich, beautiful black soil. Nieto Photography 2015This patch is under our apple tree. It was covered 2 years ago with cardboard and mulch. It has been layered with horse manure and mulch for the past two winters. Everything seems to grow well under and around the apple tree. No clay to be found (at least 6″ down). Nieto Photography 2015 Here is a section that was covered with newspaper and woodchips 1 year ago. You do not see any clay; but that is because 6″ down, you are just getting to soil. Without manure, it takes longer to get good soil. It will still happen; it will just take longer. All you can see in this picture is woodchips…and not very broken down at that. Nieto Photography 2015The next section was prepped this past August (less than 12mo ago). All we had was cardboard and woodchips so that is what we used. Check out all that clay! I am not discouraged for two reasons. Number 1: I know it will get better in time. Number 2: See the next picture. Nieto Photography 2015This next picture is 15 feet away. It is part of the newly-expanded garden we worked on this past August. However, this part was covered lightly in chicken manure when I cleaned out the coop this winter. What a difference! (There is clay about 4″ down.) Nieto Photography 2015 As you can see:

  1. Covering your garden conditions and improves your soil more and more as time passes.
  2. Animal manure speeds up this process.
  3. If you do not have all the recommended materials, use what you have! It will get better and you can always add more later.

PS. NEVER till/work anything in. Just keep layering!

Sometimes, when I am raking back mulch to plant, I’ll drag the edge of my rake through the mulch to see if I have reached soil yet (PLANT IN THE SOIL!!!). My kids will chastise me for ’tilling’ and possibly killing worms and microbes ๐Ÿ™‚ They are so brainwashed. ha! I love it!

Speaking of, at some point, I’ll do a post on how to plant in a BTE garden. You cannot plant like Paul does when you have 6-8″ of mulch to work through. If you have any questions or anything you would like for me to address regarding BTE gardening, let me know!

Until then, watch the film, watch the YouTube videos, and garden on! ๐Ÿ™‚


11 thoughts on “What a Covering Has Done to My Soil

  1. daphnegould

    If I were using that method I’d probably have a pile to let the wood chips start to rot for six months before spreading. Transplants would be good, but seeds would be really hard with fresh chips. Germination is really inhibited by them which of course is great most of the time. But covering the soil is so important. My issue here is more keeping things looking nice on a small city lot and not encouraging the rampaging slugs.

    1. newbiegardengirl Post author

      When I first laid down the cover, it was fall so I did not plant in the chips until 8mo later, in the spring. Whenever we expand and lay down more chips, we don’t plant until 8mo-1yr later. We have a pile of chips that have been breaking down for the past 1-3yrs so even when we do start a new section, we’re laying down 1-3yo chips. We wait to plant mainly to let the cardboard break down. Your mulch looks great! by the way ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Pingback: What a Covering Has Done to My Soil | Gardening Withoutโ€ฆ | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  3. cpepin31Chris

    I’m glad you talked about two very important factors of the BTE method. Manure is very important if you want a productive garden from the get go. The second is to NEVER mix the wood chips into the soil. Always pull them back! I typically build raised beds that are close to 12″ tall. I fill them up 8″ with inexpensive loam from any yard/landscape supply store. I cover the loam with news paper and then top off with 2-3″ of very good manure compost from a local farm. Planting is done into the loam, the compost feeds the plants as rain travels down through it. This of course is all topped with seasoned wood chips. Mixing wood chips into the soil is actually very bad because it takes a lot of nitrogen out of the soil when it has to break the wood down. I love the BTE method of gardening, but I rarely see people point to these two very important aspects of making it work well quickly.

    1. Tammy

      I was so excited to get to start a BTE garden when a friend mentioned I could get compost for free from his work. Turns out it’s very rocky and weeds love growing in it:( I guess they scrap off the horse fields so u get what you get. My beds I haven’t planted in yet are now full of weeds and rocks of course. I do have the beds covered in mulch or straw just depended on what I had on hand. Any suggestions. Should I ditch it and start all over. It sure isn’t the non compacting soil seen in the film I skimmed through it. Sad and desperate as I want to get potatoes and other things going.

      1. newbiegardengirl Post author

        personally, I would not scrap it. I would try to pull whatever weeds you can and then cover it deep (4-6″) in woodchips. It will improve with time. Two things Paul says regarding your situation: #1 rocks are your friends! they have minerals ๐Ÿ™‚ (you may want to fish them out but then just lay them on top so the minerals seep back into the soil) and #2 you are going to have weeds in any garden (even his!) – a covering minimalizes them and makes them easy to pull.

    2. Tammy

      What is loam? And why do u put the newspaper over it instead of under it? So when planting a tomatoes plant etc… you would but the loam in plant the plant in that then add the paper around it them followed by adding a manure?

      1. newbiegardengirl Post author

        i never mentioned loam but loam is soil. when I prep new area, I put newspaper on top of low-cut grass, then cover in manure and/or woodchips. Not exactly what the video suggests but #1 I just use whatever is on hand and #2 I do not plant in it right away (i normally wait a season or two). i put manure under the woodchips when i am just starting out so that whenever i need to plant, i can plant in the aged manure/compost. every fall, i add manure and/or manure and woodchips – the manure so the garden gets compost tea over the winter — the woodchips because they cover the manure & soil, reducing weeds. NEVER EVER till/mix in! Just add on top!

  4. cpepin31

    Great points newbiegardengirl. I put the newspaper over the loam in my gardens because sometimes its just the loam I pulled out of where I am trying to level a garden bed off or you don’t know whats in the soil you purchased. lots of times it has grass and weeds in it so I like to cover it up. As far as the rocks are concerned, I would discard any boulder sized rocks, but stones are defiantly ok. Some people actually add stone dust to the soil so that it helps replenish the heavy metal and mineral content in the garden. One thing I would do different than newbiegardengirI would be to keep the rocks down inside the soil where roots and moisture will break them down like they do in nature. My manure/compost I buy is a local mix from a petting farm. I can see it is heavy with horse manure. It works great, the chips keep those weeds at bay. I think its sometimes partially green (you never know what your getting). Which is actually a big reason I plant in the soil and let the manure/Compost tea leach to the roots. I don’t want to plant in green manure, and typically I want to use my beds right away. Compost for me is usually available in the spring as well, so i pull back my chips and add compost in the spring. I usually only cover my soil with 2-3 inches of chips and it seems to work perfectly in keeping soil moist and breaking the chips down effectively. Any more than that seems to be kind of a pain to plant anything having to get back down to the soil. I make my own chips. With a small garden it made sense for me to buy a small chipper off Craigslist for 50 dollars. I keep a brush pile on my property, and can usually find a few branches that are nice and dry from sitting to chip up when I need to top off. One thing I do as well… I always celebrate a new garden by liberating the remaining worms I purchased to take my boys fishing. Just a few makes for a whole lot of them in short time. Its really cool how everyone takes this BTE concept and makes it work for them.


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