Tag Archives: bte

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ™‚


Garden Prep — Weeding and Mulching

November 14, 2014

I spent most of this week spreading horse manure and mulch, preparing the garden for next season. A friend brought over some horse manure. Each planting section got a layer of horse manure and a layer of mulch.

Sweet Potato Patch #1:

DSC_6086Sweet Potato Patch #2 (with kids’ garden at the end): DSC_6085Boxes: DSC_6087Here is the tomato patch as an example of what everything looked like before being covered with mulch. It is amazing what a thin layer of mulch does for the smell as well! The tomato patch was covered with mulch after I took pictures πŸ™‚ DSC_6089She is going to bring me more manure as she is able. In the meantime, I am systematically going through the garden, pulling weeds and layering on more mulch. The NC heat breaks down the mulch pretty quickly. Great for the plants and soil but it means you have to add more mulch each year to make sure the weeds don’t take over.

I had already weeded and mulched around the apple tree when the friend came with the horse manure.DSC_6048(dark mulch is the new mulch)

So I just put the manure on top. DSC_6088Even though it will be stinky while it decomposes, it is worth it. The compost/manure tea the soil will be getting all winter will show in our beautiful broccoli this spring (what I am planning on planting there). πŸ™‚

That is the main chore for the rest of the year. At least, I hope I can get it done by the end of December! It certainly is a tall order!

Do you prepare your garden in the fall for next spring? It makes the spring a lot more enjoyable — no fertilizing and very little weeding as well! Love BTE gardening! πŸ™‚

Garden in October, Eastern NC, Zone 7b

October 2, 2014

How on earth is it the beginning of October?

Here is what my garden (Eastern NC, Zone 7b) looks like at the beginning of October and how it has changed in a month.

First, for a point of reference, here is the garden at the beginning of September:Untitled_Panorama1And the beginning of October:DSC_5590-Edit-2Doesn’t look like much has changed from afar but up close is a different story. I thought maybe some side by sides would be helpful… [walking from east to west (bottom to top of photo) in the garden]

collagePotato Patch (future Three Sisters Patch?): Kale and Cabbage seedlings have been transplanted. All that is left is some celery and a lone lettuce plant. The rest will rest over the winter. (The area was scratched up a bit after the cows let out the chickens last week. Don’t ask.)DSC_5572Celery DSC_5573Lettuce. We just keep harvesting as we are able from this plant πŸ™‚

The future potato patch, scratched up as it is.DSC_5570

Tomato/Pepper Patch (September/October)collage1Some of the tomato plants have gotten over the blight and are coming back strong. DSC_5575 DSC_5576The main sweet potato patch (September/October). I notice more insect holes this month. I have been waiting for first frost to harvest but I wonder if I should go ahead so there is no more damage. We are still in the mid/high-70s most days. What say you?collage4I also noticed there are A LOT of sweet potatoes popping up above the ground (still under the canopy of leaves). Is this bad? Should I go ahead and harvest them since they are doing this? DSC_5589The peas in the pea/roots patch are doing really well. Some of my roots were scratched up and others never germinated. I replanted carrots and onions and they are just starting to sprout. Hopefully they will ‘take’. Maybe if I cover them, they will continue to grow this fall so we can harvest them throughout the winter. (Sept/Oct)collage2We are getting plenty of flowers and pods and some are fat enough to harvest πŸ™‚DSC_5580My children’s little garden is doing pretty well (at the base of sweet potato patch #2)DSC_5583 In the raised beds, spinach was planted, along with more root crops that are refusing to sprout and some more brassicas. (Sept/Oct)collage3

The over flow garden is looking a little scraggly and needs to be cleaned out.collage5but the brassicas that were transplanted from the potato patch are doing well…for the most part. I am having a hard time keeping them covered. Some of my largest cabbage plants have been eaten down to the nub. 😦 One day I’ll figure out how to properly cover crops…one day…DSC_5585This is one of the cabbages I planted from seed directly into the chicken tractor/hoop house. DSC_5586The larger of the kale were those that were transplanted from the potato patch.

The raspberries are still producing well. We need to stake them and move stragglers back into their row. That will be a winter chore.DSC_5588Below are all of the raspberry shoots that have popped outside of the row. Anyone ever had success transplanting them in the winter? I assume it will be fine but I haven’t looked into it yet. DSC_5587I am not getting any fall strawberries. I thought everbearing bore in the spring and fall. Hmmm. A little disappointing.

That’s it – our garden at the beginning of October. Harvesting a little, willing little plants to become big plants before it gets too cold, and dreaming of next year πŸ™‚

What does your garden look like in October?

I am linking up to Green Thumb ThursdaysΒ  and Simple Lives Thursday to see what is going on in other people’s gardens.

Mid-February Update

February 24, 2014

All of you bloggers who diligently post each week, come lovely or not so lovely weather, one day I will join you. Until then, when it snows and I cannot do anything in the garden, I am less likely to post, hence my silence last week.

Nieto Family - February 13 14 - 0422 Nieto Family - February 13 14 - 0426(up close of the milk jug greenhouses)

This past week, however, we were in the 60s many days! Such is life in North Carolina, snow one week, spring weather the next.

Some things accomplished this week:

  • We were able to cover the rest of the garden and blueberry patch with mulch (where chickens had made holes or rain had washed it away).
  • Planted the rest of my warm-weather seeds in greenhouses.
  • Planted some carrots, lettuce, and kale in the ground (I read they sprout in weather as low as 32 degrees (our lows this week) so we will see)
  • Put out some tunnels and the tractor so the chickens could graze on some grass, since it is starting to grow again.
  • Picked up a load of horse manure and spread it (a dusting) around the garden.

Katys Blog(1)Potato patch and tomato/pepper patch on far left, not in the picture. Blueberry bushes lined in back.

*All sections that are lighter are those with horse manure. It also helps distinguish planting areas from pathways.

Back row (L to R): sweet potato patch, raised beds will have a variety of crops (broccoli, cabbage, snaps, celery, onions, beets, sunflowers, and melons, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, beans), strawberry patch

Front (L to R): 3 sister’s garden (corn, cucs/spaghetti squash, beans), next long bed will have peas and then snaps & celery, final section around 2 apple trees will have a variety of crops

Section around apple trees: We put cardboard down last summer and LOTS of mulch to suppress the weeds. I noticed this winter as I was digging out some weeds around the tree base that the soil under the mulch is fluffy so I decided to attempt to make this new garden area this year.

The plan is to plant crops that like partial shade on the North side of the apple tree and heat loving crops on the South and West side of the tree. I am planning on planting things such as melons, cucumbers (lots of room to ‘roam’), onions on the border, lettuce, kale, carrots, broccoli, and carrots.

You can see a row has already been made and we planted lettuce, carrots and kale. The issue right away with this spot is how much mulch needs to be moved out of the way before we plant. We added MANY inches in order to suppress weeds. I am cautiously excited about being able to grow crops in that area πŸ™‚

Nieto Family - February 19 14 - 0333I would have preferred to spread the manure in the fall so it had all winter to break down but it just did not work out that way. Now, all of the garden patches/boxes/areas are covered in mulch and manure!

The next dilemma was: what to do with the poop and wood shavings when I clean out the coop? I watched the Back to Eden Film again this week (I like to do that every once in a while for fun and because I tend to learn something new each time) and got the idea to put the coop cleanings in the chicken run so it could break down some more. The goal is — the next time I put manure on the garden (next fall), I will just use what is in the run and it will be fine, beautiful compost, as Paul’s is (shown in the film).

Even though I have plenty of greenhouses, people keep giving me milk jugs (I am NOT complaining!) so I think I will go ahead and plant some spring seeds in the last batch of greenhouses so they will get a little jump start and we will get to eat greens SOONER! Lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, mmmmm πŸ™‚

We finally finished all of our winter chores by mid-February! Not to shabby πŸ™‚ Now, the only thing that needs to be done in the garden is planting seeds! And, of course harvesting πŸ™‚ That will come soon enough. Right now, we are still getting 3-6 eggs/day. I am hoping the chickens will start ramping up production soon!

The only other thing we want to work on the next time we have energy (this week wore us out!) is expanding the mulched area out to our other fruit trees. The bermuda grass is relentless so even a large circle around each tree with mulch does basically nothing. The only thing that even pretends to keep the bermuda grass away is to cover EVERYTHING with newspaper, cardboard, or plastic tarps and then mulch (and even then some bermuda grass finds its way in — craziness!)

We are collecting a lot of cardboard right now so whenever the mood hits, we can work on expanding. Pictures to come!

Are you harvesting anything or are you still under a couple feet of snow? Check out what everyone else is doing at Daphne’s Dandelions πŸ™‚

Harvest Monday and a Sweet Potato Question

February 10, 2014

I harvested the last of the carrots this week. I have started some more but it will be awhile, that’s for sure. They were all pretty pitiful; one was eaten up pretty badly and some were pulled up completely.

Nieto Family - January 27 14 - 0136-2 Nieto Family - January 27 14 - 0135-2One day this week, my daughter forgot to lock the gate of the run and the chickens got out and ate most of my kale 😦 I am hoping, as long as we can keep the chickens away, the kale will bounce back when it warms up.

Our only harvest these days are our eggs. As the days grew longer in January, we were getting about 16 eggs/day from 19 chickens! And then it got really cold for a couple of weeks, snowed, etc. This, apparently, put the chickens in shock and we are down to three a day again 😦 The weather has warmed up slightly (staying above freezing at night) but we still are not getting very many eggs.

(frozen egg — gave it to the kitty) (trying to get the chickens out of the coop. putting down hay later really helped) Nieto Family - January 22 14 - 0371(only harvest for the next couple of months)

Working on the February TO DO LIST:

  • Picked up some horse manure from the stables and spread it in a couple of places (hopefully one more load will be enough to cover the rest of the garden)
  • Made our last Square Foot Garden bed into a BTE bed (cut out 4 layers of tarp & weed cloth). whew!
  • Continuing to make greenhouses. Planted some warm-weather seeds in half of them one day when it got into the 50s but still have some more planting to do!
  • Any day the wind dies down and it is at least in the 40s, I spread some more mulch around the blueberry plants & garden. Because the mulch in the walkways and between the blueberry plants is on top of tarps (to keep the bermuda grass at bay), the rain tends to wash some away every year.


I was going to go ahead and start some sweet potato slips indoors but as I did more research, I am now thinking I may wait and start the slips outside. The only way I had ever heard about starting slips was in a glass jar, in a window. I have never had success growing things in our windows because ours are energy efficient windows but I was going to try anyway this year.

While researching, to make sure I had all of my information together, I ran across a blog post in which this lady grows her slips right in the ground. Then, I was looking in Rodale’s All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening for information on when to transplant the slips (how long they need to be) and I saw they recommended starting sweet potato slips in the ground as well.

Has anyone ever heard of this? Has anyone every tried it? What do you think? I definitely love the simplicity of it and the fact that everything stays outside (we don’t have a lot of extra room in the house). The ‘scary’ part is, you put the roots in the ground later (warmer weather), which means if it doesn’t work, it’s too late to grow the slips the other way — so I am putting a lot of faith in a method I have essentially never heard of.

Any insight is more than welcome! And check out what others are harvesting this winter over at Daphne’s Dandelions πŸ™‚