Organic Gardening

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See ‘Back to Eden’ Film to Learn About Using Wood Chip Mulch

6/24/2013 5:36:00 PM

Tags: mulch, soil fertility, Barbara Pleasant

As a big fan of wood chip mulch, I watched with great interest the popular documentary film Back to Eden, the first-ever feature-length movie on mulch. The Back to Eden film profiles the wood-chip-mulched garden of Paul Gautschi, a devout Christian who grows vegetables and fruits on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The film’s producer, evangelist Michael Barrett, wisely enlisted the help of Dana Richardson and Sarah Zentz of ProVisions Productions to make the film, which can be viewed free at

Back to Eden Film CoverThe result is an interesting 103-minute film that balances Gautschi’s religious interpretation of wood chip mulch with comments by soil experts, organic farmers, and the stable owner where Gautschi gets his horse manure.

Mentioning horse manure up front gives away part of the plot, but experienced organic gardeners may find Gautschi’s opening claims that his garden needs no fertilizer too off-putting to continue. A Bible whiz, Gautschi considers wood chip mulch a gift from God that is being released at the perfect time in history, no fertilizer required. Relax. Thirty minutes into the film we meet the chickens — perhaps 30 of them — and watch our hero composting their manure. Pardon the correction, but for several thousand years people have called this substance fertilizer. Ditto for the horse manure previously mentioned.

Back to Eden is worth staying with because of the astute observations made by the many people involved in Gautschi’s circle of mulch. Speaking from a mountain of wood chips, organic farmer Justin Riddle uses the phrase “passive tillage” to explain how the combination of root crops and deep wood chip mulch is opening up his compacted soil. In an area that receives less than 20 inches of rain each year, Riddle notes that wood chip mulch radically reduces the need to water many crops. Nurseryman Ji Douglas appears several times in the film, eloquently explaining how wood chip mulch increases the oxygen supply in the soil, which in turn attracts microbes and earthworms, and other fundamental aspects of wood chip mulch ecology. 

The film moves on to the next logical question — How will this work in other places? — when a family from Pennsylvania starts a wood mulch garden with similar missionary zeal. Here things get gritty as we learn there is more involved in going “back to Eden” than spreading wood chips. 

To read my feature-length article on using wood chip mulch in your garden, see Use Wood Chip Mulch to Build Better Garden Soil.

Film Cover Courtesy

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6/30/2013 2:13:06 PM

Very glad that Mother Earth News is catching on to this wonderful gardening method. I am employing these principles in my home garden and will be starting a community garden of this sort at my church in the very near future!

6/28/2013 8:19:52 PM

Maybe you folks at Mother earth news can due an interview with Paul Gatushi. Id like to here as much as i can about this garden method called back to  eden

6/28/2013 6:44:16 PM

Just a thought on his use of the word "fertilizer" . . . could that just be a matter of symantics?  Might he be saying that his garden doesn't require SYNTHETIC fertilizers?  To me manure falls into the relm of compost and not fertilizer since it must be COMPOSTED MANURE to be used in a garden. I am getting ready to try this method as part of a three-phase garden program for a homeless shelter in my area and I'm very excited to try it out.  Thanks for the article.

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