The back-to-Eden gardening method was developed by Paul Gautschi, a gardener and master arborist who specializes in the cultivation and management of trees. Having grown up on a homestead in California where his family grew all their own food, he moved from LA to Washington with his own family in 1979. That’s where he discovered how regenerative organic gardening principles can build healthy soil and remove more carbon from the atmosphere than any conventional farming method.
Back to Eden Gardening is a gardening method that mimics nature. It is totally organic and eliminates the need for tilling. It utilizes natural mulches and relies on practices that have been used for millennia. These effectively regenerate the soil and restore biodiversity, ultimately needing less input but producing higher yields of fruits, vegetables, and anything else you choose to grow.
What is the Back to Eden Gardening Method?
When Paul Gautschi moved to a homestead on the northern peninsula of Washington with his family in 1979, his intention was to be self-sufficient. He wanted to grow his own food just the way his family had done while he was growing up.
The first step was to dig a well, which was when he realized there wasn’t enough water to maintain a garden. But Paul Gautschi is a man of deep faith, and he turned to God for a solution.
There were lots of trees on his property and he thought that if they had enough water to thrive, what was stopping him? He began scraping away at the natural mulch under the trees and found he had the basis of fabulous compost.
Back to Eden Gardening Documentary Film
Gautschi shares his story in the Back to Eden Gardening documentary film that was released in 2011. Essentially, it is a description of his “lifelong journey walking with God and learning how to get back to the simple, productive organic gardening methods of sustainable provision that were given to man in the garden of Eden.”
He says that for 17 years he did things the way he’d been taught, rototilling and hauling compost. But it was enormously labor-intensive and difficult to keep going.
Then, copying a God-given gardening method, he began to cover the soil in his garden with wood chips. “I went back to Genesis, in the beginning, when Adam and Eve were in the garden together.”
He gave up “till gardening” and began doing it the way nature intended. It was so easy and simple.
The ground is a living organism, he says. God has designed and made it so that it will always be covered. And when you take the cover off, it becomes vulnerable.
In the gardening documentary, he confesses, “When I try to help nature I mess it up – so I don’t do it anymore. Rather, I try to copy it because it does it the best.”
Visuals of his Eden garden are proof of his success. Acres of thriving fruit and vegetables that he, his wife Carol, and seven children have developed.
Amazingly, he now has an incredible orchard that is decades old, and that he has never watered or fertilized once. It goes through droughts and keeps getting better, he says.
The wood chips in the orchard act like a sponge, holding water and maintaining the moisture that the trees need.
Ultimately, his aim was to raise food for his family and friends. It was never his intention to sell his produce. Rather, he pruned trees for a living, working on God’s principle that you prune a tree so that it will bear more fruit.
Paul Gautschi’s Eden Way Garden
He describes an experiment he undertook with two gardens using the Eden method. One was 80% rock and the other was a combination of clay and rock. And he was able to create two beautiful gardens.
“All I did was put the cover down and God did it all. What you have at your disposal, it will work.”
The options include typical mulch materials: straw, grass clippings, leaves, animal manure, and rocks. But he prefers wood chips from the branches of tree stems and leaves.
He never buys bags of mulch. Instead, he gets it for nothing because people clearing need to get rid of it. And he discovered a long time ago that most municipalities have chipped throwaway material that they give away.
Even though he doesn’t water his orchards, he emphasizes the importance of irrigation. He’s lucky enough to have a lake on his property and finds that potatoes grow particularly well near the water.
This, he says, is because he’s discovered the ideal way to water is to have sub-irrigation water coming up underneath.
How Does the Back to Eden Method Work?
It’s all about cover, Paul says. “You only ever see exposed dirt when a man has been in the garden.”
If you keep the ground covered, everything will grow beautifully with no work. “But, we work hard to fail.”
That is, of course, what he learned by tilling and toiling in his garden before he adopted the regenerative organic gardening method. His no-till gardening method helps the soil to retain more water and organic matter, and potentially store more carbon.
The Eden method also embodies the principles of permaculture and sustainability. As we have discussed, it is modeled after nature.
Concepts it incorporates include cover cropping and composting to increase organic matter and help trap carbon in the soil. It also reduces soil erosion, building healthy soil over time.
Above all else, the back-to-Eden gardening method is entrenched in organic gardening principles. There is no place for synthetic herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMO) in a back-to-Eden garden.
It uses only organic, non-GMO, heirloom seeds.
Eden Gardening Method – Pros and Cons
There is nothing instant about Paul Gautschi’s back to Eden method of organic gardening. It’s a long-term commitment and takes a lot of work to set it up.
While that doesn’t necessarily qualify as a con, you can expect to take 1-3 years to establish an Eden garden. But once you’ve done the initial work, you’re good to go and the ongoing manual labor will be minimal. That’s a pro!
First the Eden method cons
You need to maintain a constant cover over your ground, so will also need a lot of wood chips even if you have a small garden. Gautschi has long-term contacts who deliver wood chips by the truck-load on a big scale.
It’s not a cost factor here, but rather a logistical one. As the mulch breaks down, you’ll need a new top layer, though this will only be necessary every couple of years.
A lot depends on the quality of your existing soil and the wood chips or other mulch you decide to use. If you watch the Back to Eden Gardening Documentary, you will see that some people let their wood chip mulch sit in a heap for about six months before spreading it on the garden floor.
Also, not all wood chips are suitable. For example, even Gautschi warns that eucalyptus oil from the wood chips of those trees can have a negative effect on plants. There are other types of wood chips that might do the same.
It can also be difficult to sow directly into the ground under wood chips. Once the mulch decomposes, it becomes easier to move the mulch aside and plant your seeds. But that increases manual labor.
Remember that while wood chips are Paul Gautschi’s mulch choice, he does say in his Eden garden documentary that you can use whatever you have at your disposal. His other mulch suggestions include straw, grass clippings, and leaves.
Now the Eden method pros
On the positive side, because the Eden method is no-till gardening, labor is reduced and the long-term negative effects of tilling are eradicated. While tilling breaks up the soil and aids planting, it disrupts the soil surface and destroys bacteria and beneficial microorganisms.
It also increases the good bacteria and fungi content of the soil. Moisture retention is improved and there is a minimal, if any, need for fertilizer. If you do use fertilizers, they must be organic.
Using wood chips or another effective mulch means little or no weeding. The mulch stops the weed seeds from germinating and the mulch makes it easier to pull them out if they do germinate.
Because they absorb water, they decrease the need to water. But over time, as the wood chips and other mulch materials break down, the quality of the soil improves. This generally negates the need to rotate your crops.
Provided you are able to source wood chips, the costs of setup will be negligible.
Back to Eden gardening is a well-established organic method that has been popularized by Paul Gautschi. Essentially, it copies nature, minimizing high-intensity labor and negating the need for fertilizers.
A gardening documentary, available free on the internet, shows exactly what back to Eden gardening means. Suitable for all environments, from large farms to backyard vegetable gardens, the back to Eden method is a fascinating organic option worth trying.