The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Cover crops in a Back to Eden garden

Back to Eden"If you are fielding cover crop questions, could you please speak to the compatibility of that concept with no-till gardening (Back to Eden concept with wood chips). I live in the north with great availability of wood chips. I'm not certain how to combine the two methods. Thank you!"
--- merryann

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Back to Eden system is similar to the the instant no-till techniques I outline in Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics (which is available in print as part of The Ultimate Guide to Soil). Basically, you lay down a cardboard kill layer in new ground, top it off with three to four inches of compost, then add wood chips on top as mulch.

Okay, back to merryann's question. It is tricky to choose cover crops that suit no-till gardening, but luckily there are several that work well once you weed out the problematic species. The tricky part is making sure you select cover crops that are easy to kill, either with winter cold (probably a good choice for you), mowing at bloom time, or hand weeding out. My top choices given those constraints are buckwheat for summer, oats and oilseed radishes for late summer planting with optimal fall growth, and rye for full winter and spring coverage.

Raking back soilThe only major difference between the Back to Eden garden and my version of no-till from a cover-crop point of view is using wood chips instead of straw for mulch. You'll want to rake back the wood chips to expose bare ground before planting your cover crops, and since wood chips will likely smother your seedlings in a way straw won't I'd also rake back a bit of the compost/topsoil as well. After sprinkling your cover crop seeds, just pull the excess soil back over top (leaving the wood chips along the edge of the bed) and you're good to go!

I'd love to see your Back to Eden garden full of cover crops. I hope you'll drop back by next year once you have photos to share!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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How do you keep the crab grass/johnson grass and weeds that are around the plot from creeping into the no till plot without 1) backbreaking work of eradicating them by hand, or 2) spraying them with herbicides?
Comment by Nayan Fri Oct 7 12:50:32 2016
Thank you so very much for the response, and for all of the information. We are already planting white clover to prevent erosion, so will add the items on your list. So far, I have developed a berry garden with raised beds since we receive loads of run off from up the mountain. I will try to send you a photo via Facebook as we are off grid and my old phone won't do much else.
Comment by merryann Sat Oct 8 01:46:51 2016

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