Back-to-Eden Gardening
(Part 1)

Dateline: 18 March 2017

Paul Gautschi, in his garden.

I assume that everyone reading this has seen the Back To Eden documentary featuring Paul Gautschi (pronounced, "gowt-chee"). I bought the video years ago, shortly after it came out. I loaned it to a couple of local friends. I think one of them still has it.

If you have not yet seen the movie, you simply must watch it, especially if you are a gardener. You don’t have to buy it. You can watch it free, either on the Official Back To Eden Web Site, or on YouTube.

And after you have watched the movie, I heartily recommend that you watch This Back To Eden Full Tour on YouTube. It was filmed last July. Unfortunately the YouTube film is only 3 hours and 20 minutes long.

I say "unfortunately" because I could have watched Paul Gautschi talk about his garden (and other things) for twice that long, and I would have enjoyed it twice as much!

As I watched the 2016 YouTube Tour, the word “raconteur” came to my mind as a description of Paul Gautschi. I looked the word up: “One who tells stories and anecdotes with skill and wit.” 

Yes, I think it fits... Paul Gautschi is surely the most endearing and interesting garden raconteur I have ever heard. 

Though he is prone to moments of exaggeration, and is occasionally incorrect (e.g., Johnny’s Seeds is not a company owned or controlled by Monsanto), Paul’s main message about the wisdom of using wood chips as a garden mulch is powerfully inspiring. And the evidence of his success using the wood chips is clearly evident.

Besides that, the man has an independent, contrarian attitude that I just love (as evidenced in his continual assertion that most of the things we are taught are lies).

The story goes that Paul Gautschi moved his family to the 5-acre homestead where he lives (in Washington state’s Northern Peninsula) back in 1979. Paul makes his living as a skilled arborist and he planted an orchard on his land. But the annual rainfall where he lives is only around 14" a year, and the meagre one-half-gallon flow of his drilled well did not allow any water for irrigation. 

So, Paul asked God what to do and he says God revealed the example of the forest around his home. The trees grew very well without any additional water. The covering of dropped pine needles and forest duff served to preserve moisture and promote plant health. Paul asserts that “The Creator” told him to cover the earth in his orchard with an organic mulch. It was kind of an epiphany.

I should explain here that Paul Gautschi talks to God and God talks to Paul Gautschi. Most people who read that will probably not understand it. So let me explain… Paul asks God questions and, in time, God responds through “spontaneous thoughts.” There is no audible voice of God. Personally, I can relate to this kind of communication. God talks to me in like manner.

First, Paul used sheep manure and hay for mulch in his orchard. Then he discovered that wood chips worked better. But Paul continued to garden by using a rototiller, planting on bare soil, and cultivating with a hoe. Only after 17 years of struggling with such a gardening approach did he come to realize that he could mulch his vegetable garden with wood chips too. And that was when he sold his beloved TroyBilt tiller.

Now, it isn’t like Paul Gautschi is the first person in the world to come up with the idea of using wood chips for a garden mulch. Lee Reich has been promoting wood chips as garden mulch since at least 2000, when his book, Weedless Gardening was published. The concept of using ramial wood chips as a mulch goes back to at least 1986. And gardening in a heavy layer of natural mulch was popularized by Ruth Stout all the way back in 1955 (though her mulch of choice was hay). None of this is anything new.

Nevertheless, when God revealed to Paul Gautschi the wisdom of covering the soil with a mulch of wood chips, Paul ran with it, the results were amazing, and somewhere along the way, someone came up with the compelling name of “Back To Eden” gardening. 

The Back to Eden documentary featuring the remarkable Paul, freely sharing what he has learned with his wood-chip-mulched gardens, has resonated with people all over the world.  And Paul Gautschi gives all the credit to God. It’s a great story.

Though I have titled this essay Back To Eden vs. Minibeds-on-Plastic, I want to make it clear here in Part 1 that I have nothing negative to say about the Back To Eden gardening concept. I think it has a lot of merit. I think every gardener should give it a try.

In Part 2 of this series, I will provide some observations about the Back To Eden way of gardening, as I understand it from an online interview with Paul Gautschi, the above-mentioned 3.5 hour YouTube tour, and the book, Growing Food God's Way (a unique Christian-agrarian book about Paul Gautschi and his approach to gardening).

Then I will comment on the techniques of Back to Eden gardening as compared to my experimental Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening idea.


To go to Part 2 of this series