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Starting a Back to Eden Garden

We frequently get asked how to make a Back to Eden garden. Our typical response is to refer people to the video however sometimes people just want the basic steps without watching the whole video. I highly encourage everyone interested in gardening to watch it but if you just want the basic steps and our suggestions we’ve outlined it below.

1. Gather the supplies

gather material for your Back to Eden Garden

You’ll need find a source for chipped tree branches. Contact your local tree trimming companies and your local power utility provider, often times they outsource crews to remove tree branches from power lines. We’ve had the best luck with our local utility company but everywhere is different. In addition to chipped tree branches you’ll need newspaper, a pitch fork, wheelbarrow and a rake.

2. Select your location

selecting the area back to eden garden

It’s important to select a location that gets plenty of sun. Mark out the area and remove any tenacious weeds. Don’t get crazy about removing everything, you’ll be surprised what a few layers of newspaper and mulch can do for weed problems.

3. Lay down newspaper

Laying down newspaper back to eden garden

Put down about 3 to 5 layers thick of newspaper over the entire area. If their is a slight breeze we highly recommend having a hose handy so you can spray down the sheets of newspaper. You don’t want to be halfway though laying down newspaper just to find them blown away by a gust of wind.

4. Planting soil and compost

putting down planting soil back to eden garden

If you’re wanting to plant right away you’ll need to put down about 2″ of planting soil or compost. The wood chips will take over a year to break down so we’ve had the best success planting into the compost until the wood chips have decomposed into rich top soil.

5. Mulch with chipped tree branches

mulching with wood chips back to eden garden

Put the chipped tree branches on thick, 5″ to 6″ thick. It will compact down after a few months so error on more than less. You’ll want to repeat this process every other year or so keeping your rich top soil covered.

6. Cover with nitrogen source

Adding fertilizer to your back to eden garden

Do not, we repeat do not skip this step. Your mostly likely attempting this gardening method because you want a great garden. Put at least 1″ to 2″ of nitrogen rich material such as composted horse or chicken manure. Skipping this step will have your garden growing in slow motion and greatly increasing the amount of time it takes for the wood chips to break down.


  1. Melody May 14, 2013 Reply

    I haven’t had a garden for about 20 years. I have done steps 1-4 and emptied my compost bins. Still calling around looking for wood chips. Was surprised to see step 6. I hope I have enough compost ready in my third and last compost bin for this last step. I was going to try using hay instead of wood chips. I have lots of hay bails for a construction project on our house, that was used to create a boundary. I was told that if I put the hay on top of my compost, I will get a lot of weeds in my garden. Our soil is wonderful, dark, moist, rich, great for growing, so do I need to do the last step 6? If my soil is good? I mostly interested in no tiling and not weeding.

  2. Author
    James Wellington May 14, 2013 Reply

    Hay will work as a covering but straw would work better. Hay usually contains seeds with it and hence weeds in a few months. I would avoid if possible. We give left over hay from our goats, to our chickens and allow them to process it down to nitrogen rich compost which goes on top of the covering.

    Be organized about calling around. Make a list of names, phone number and last action. I had “called left voicemail” on several and retried after a month or so. Finding a reliable source of wood chips can take some time but persistence will pay off. Did you try your local utility company? Are you in an area with lots of tree of few trees. We are fortunate to live in the pacific northwest so we have no shortage of trees. Other areas may have to resort to other organic materials as covering such as straw, leaves, etc.

  3. Anni May 16, 2013 Reply

    We have two garden plots this year, but we don’t own the land, and we’ll only be here for this year’s growing season, and then hopefully we’ll finally settle somewhere and have land of our own. Somehow. Even still, we’ve done the newspaper and mulch thing. And our gardens are doing all right. Maybe not quite as well as they could be, but they’re growing well enough. I can hardly wait to have our own land and really make the land productive, following the Back to Eden design, top to bottom!

  4. Keith T May 26, 2013 Reply

    Your local city or county dps (or dpw) yard is a great place to try for branches (think storm damage ) and many may already have them chipped.

  5. Kathy June 8, 2013 Reply

    Step 6, the nitrogen source, if I apply that on the top…..will I have to use blood meal when I plant? Thank you!

    • Author
      James Wellington June 11, 2013 Reply

      We do not use blood meal when we plant, we feel we’ve added enough nitrogen (1″ to 2″) in step 6. We make our own compost and its pretty high in nitrogen as well.

      If you like using blood meal, by all means go ahead but I would say it’s not needed if your using good compost and heavily fertilizing on top and allowing water to slowly work the nitrogen down to the roots.

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