MY GARDENING JOURNEY: Where I Have Been and Where I am Going

Square-Foot, Back-to-Eden, and No-Dig methods

(Be sure to check out my resources at the end of this post.)

In my 20’s and 30’s I had grown the occasional tomato plant, but I didn’t really begin gardening until 2009. At that time, I was borrowing gardening books from the library and stumbled across Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening. This was the book that launched me towards being a gardener and it was the first method I followed along my food growing journey.

What is “square foot gardening?” – a method of intensely gardening, using organic methods, in raised beds. The beds are organized in square foot grids so the gardener can provide the right amount of space for each plant, thus maximizing potential yield.

For the beginning gardener, Mel’s book tells you all you need to know. He provides suggestions for making your raised beds. Next, he guides you on mixing the soil for those beds using compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. He shows you how to grow more with vertical trellising and provides you with charts of what to plant and when to plant it. For many years this was my main resource, and his book gave me the knowledge and confidence necessary to develop my green thumb.

I had good success using this method. It was easy to plan my garden and decide how much I could grow with the space I had. The first year was always a success with my brand new “Mel’s Mix” rich in nutrients; however, I did find that my production decreased with successive years. Each season I needed to add more Mel’s Mix to the raised beds, and I learned that additional amendments were required for a successful growing season.

If you are a first-time gardener and don’t know where to start, this method is for you. Mel’s book would be a good investment. I still find myself going back to his square-foot methods when I want to squeeze the most food out of limited space.

After a few military moves and several years of square-foot gardening under my belt, I finally had a little bit of land to work with. We purchased a home on 1/3 of an acre and my green thumb was eager to get started. I was comfortable with the square-foot method and was ready for something new. And with a larger space I needed to find a more economical way of starting my garden. Fortunately, my research led me to the Back-to-Eden method, and it resonated.

What is “Back-to-Eden?” – a regenerative and organic method that looks to nature for guidance. Just like the leaves cover the soil at the end of each year, we too should cover the soil in our gardens.

Paul Gautschi is the founder and inspiration behind this specific method. His journey and the principles of the method can be found in the original Back to Eden Gardening Documentary. It is available for free online and is worth your time whether you use the method or not. This video helped me to pay more attention to the natural order and God’s plan. And I mean


in our lives as well as our gardens. I became more aware of eating for nutrition and that all we need is provided by our Creator. It was life changing.

To start a Back-to-Eden Garden you layer cardboard directly on grass or dirt, then compost, and finally woodchips. This creates an amazing habit for the worms and all sorts of microscopic life in the soil. My mantra after learning this technique was “build it and they will come.” Create a healthy habitat and the worms will come from all over to live in YOUR garden.

I decided to use this method on an area of my yard that was covered with rocks and had been used to store recreational vehicles by the previous owners. This area was devoid of life. It was just dry dirt and even the weeds were struggling to survive. First, I removed as many rocks as possible. Then in the fall I layered the area with the materials I had on hand our acquired through different sources. I left the area alone over the winter and when I went to plant in the spring there were worms. Lots of worms.

I literally turned dirt into soil.

Well the worms did; but I facilitated the process by covering the soil and giving them something to work with. I am a big fan of this method and its principles have been applied in some way or another in all my successive gardens.

And it is affordable. Much of these materials can be acquired for free or little cost. I used my moving boxes to start and collected cardboard as I went along. I either generated my own compost, found a source of manure, or collected free mushroom compost from a nearby mushroom farm. For woodchips I use an online service called Chip Drop or I flag down an arborist working in my neighborhood and ask them to dump their truck in my driveway. (Note: Chip Drop is a free service, but I get a pretty quick response when I offer to pay a $20 service fee to the arborist.)

My main challenge with this method is keeping the wood chips on top of the soil. When the woodchips mix with the soil it uses up nitrogen and takes away nutrients your plants need. I find that the woodchips also make a habitat for the insects that like to nibble on my new seedlings in the spring, much to my frustration. I will definitely use this method in my new orchard and in areas where I plan to have perennials, but I want to try something different in my new vegetable garden.

The Back-to-Eden method is a no-till approach that recognizes the value of not disturbing the microscopic life in the soil. Most conventional farmers till their land to loosen the dirt and then add amendments as needed. A regenerative farmer leaves the soil undisturbed and adds compost to the top mimicking God’s creation. A few years ago, I found another gardener who uses this regenerative approach in his successful market garden – Charles Dowding in the UK. He is known worldwide for his no dig approach to gardening.

My plan for the garden at Fiat Farm is to lean heavily on Charles Dowding’s methods. I will still cover the grass and dirt with cardboard suppressing the weeds. I will use compost for the beds, and woodchips to cover the walkways. I just need to generate enough compost to cover the garden beds at least once a year with an inch or two of compost. Nature will do the rest. At least that is the plan…I will let you know how things turn out.

I have a challenge…

My blank canvas. Conventional till to no dig garden. Stay tuned…

One of my main vegetable garden spaces has been conventionally tilled prior to our owning the homestead. It has furrows and weeds and overgrowth. And it is huge. At least for me. I don’t have enough cardboard and compost to cover the entire space, but I have a plan. This plan will involve using livestock to help prepare the space for the spring. I look forward to writing about this in future posts.

If you are new to gardening, I encourage you to just start. It is a grand experiment with benefits that go far beyond fresh vegetables.

If you have been gardening for several years, I encourage you to look to nature. God has a plan, we just need to cooperate with it.


My Resources:

Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd ed.

Back to Eden Film –

Charles Dowding’s YouTube Channel –

Charles Dowding’s website –

Chip Drop –

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