Friday, July 12, 2013

Back To Eden (BTE) Garden

So what is a Back To Eden (BTE) Garden, you say?

Here are some pictures of ours 3 days after planting:

 I think that is lettuce:
 This is my "experimental" bed:

Let me explain.

The Back To Eden garden is a no till, simple and productive way that anyone can start a garden. Notice the "no till" which means no expensive gardening till to buy and no breaking your back trying to till the earth. Two very big pluses in my book. Also, all you need to start the garden is a small stack of newspapers, top soil (plus some compost if you've got it), wood chips, seeds and, of course, a little sweat equity.

Do not be fooled. This will take a whole weekend, maybe even two and you will be dirty, tired, and covered in mosquito bites but at least you won't be lining the fat cat pockets of crooked CEO's of these major food corporations that are paying American and oversea's farmers pennies for their produce and selling them to the US for a HUGE profit! 'Nuf said.

There is a 1 hour and 43 minute movie about BTE that you can watch here or you can read about how I did mine to include expenses.

The Back To Eden method is similar to the lasagne style of gardening in that it is built in layers. There are key differences. To learn about lasagne style gardening, read here. It might be better if you live in a suburb or town home and have only a small amount of land to work with.

Basically the BTE method involves placing newspapers on top of grass. You can wet the newspapers down or not, personal preference. Next you put top soil on the newspapers. You do not, I repeat, you do not have to use "raised beds". We did it because we are in the country and we have lots of rabbits. And deer. And everything else that likes to destroy gardens. But I digress. So there are a couple of different methods for the next step but you can either put the seed in the top soil and then cover with wood chips or you can cover the top soil with wood chips and then plant the seed. I tried it the first way in my bed and Country Bloke tried it the second way. I'll keep you posted on what seems to work better. Then you let it grow. That's it. That is how you build a BTE garden. Simple, right? 


Just kidding. It is simple but planting the seeds actually requires a little planning and so does positioning the garden. Have you ever heard of "Companion Planting"? Well, I hadn't until I started researching this stuff but I'll get to that later.

So we start our gardening adventure on June 30, 2013. 

As of the time of this post, we have two beds (well, actually 4 and I'll explain later) that Country Bloke built from untreated lumber he bought from Lowes. 

Common Sense Alert: DO NOT BUY TREATED LUMBER FOR A GARDEN!! For reasons that are pretty obvious, I think.

He bought four boards, measuring 2" x 10" x 12'. The lumber altogether cost about $60. He used a miter saw to cut two of the boards in half. Using a drill, some screws and patience, he created two raised beds  measuring 6' x 12' as you can see here.

First of all, let me start by saying that I am constantly trying to find ways to do things for little to no money. I guess some people would call me cheap but I like to think of myself as a bargain hunter! I actually asked Country Bloke why he had to go to Lowes to buy wood.

Conversation went something like this:
CG: Why did you go to Lowes to get wood? How much did you spend?
CB: Because you said you wanted a garden with raised beds...
CG: My dream garden (Country Bloke just LOVES the dream I live in) does not use wood from Lowes! She used cedar and locust from around her property! Do we have any of that? (Saying this while I'm looking a trees all around me in 90 plus degree weather and having no idea what types they are.)
CB: Honey, I am not cutting trees down today.
CG: Why didn't you take me with you? I can get a military discount.
CB: Honey, I'm not going back to Lowes to get $6 back.

What a buzz killer!

But seriously. I was trying to find enough newspaper, top soil, and wood chips to fill not one but TWO six foot by twelve foot, 10 inch deep, raised beds because my goal in this is not to buy the best of the best and consume more consumables. I'm trying to figure out the most cost-efficient way of doing this so later on down the road, I can help others start their own BTE gardens for little to no money. It pains me to know that some kids have no idea what getting a meal every day, 3 times a day is like much less a healthy one despite their parents working their tails off trying to get ahead.

So I posted a "Newspapers Wanted" posting on Craigslist, expecting someone to immediately respond with "I have stacks of hundreds of newspapers, please come get them immediately" only to have my dreams crushed with no responses. (Side note: since I posted it about 2 weeks ago, I have received a couple of responses so all is not lost and I will begin my collection.)

Also, while surfing through the "Free" section of Craigslist, I see a posting for "Free Topsoil just come get it asap". Score!! So Country Bloke takes off on Sunday (6/30) morning to get the soil. While he was out, he also went to CVS to pick up some stacks of newspapers after I broke down and told him to spend the money. Cost = $10. )-: I will start building my newspaper collection so we will never have to buy them again! Plus, hopefully I can make this work and show others how to do it also, using my free newspapers!

So we got the raised beds ($60) built (and you do not need to have raised beds, that is only a luxury), we bought enough newspaper ($10) for one bed, I bought a lot of seeds (probably $50 worth) a few months back, and we got enough top soil (free! except gas $4) to fill half of one of the beds. So far the cost for our garden is $120. Garden progress = 35%.

So we put the newspapers down on my bed and we needed about 3 Sunday editions to cover the whole bottom. Then we shoveled the free dirt out of the bed of the truck and on top of the newspapers.

Here's a picture from another website but they used straw: 

Cost is extremely important when factoring in everything. It makes no sense to spend tons of money on a vegetable garden. We all have our illusions of grandeur but reality will come crashing in to ruin the party. So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don't go all out and get crazy with if your first year. If everything goes pear-shaped and life steps in to screw things up, at least you won't have a ton of money tied up in a vegetable garden. We all want the dream but it takes time, patience, and luck to get there. Anybody tells ya different, wave the BS flag.

The first year should be enough to supplement your regular groceries but might not provide you much relief at the cash register. The second year should probably be enough to start making a noticeable difference on your bill. Hopefully the third year, you should be doing the happy dance because you are hardly buying anything at all. Every year after that, your garden is producing so much that you can give to others in need. That's my plan anyway.

So what I described above took one weekend. Yes, ONE WHOLE WEEKEND and it's not even done. Country Bloke and I both have Monday - Friday, leave the house by 6 am and return about 6 pm jobs so we usually can't do much during the week. I have a second job as well but it's only once a month and two weeks a year but it is still a time killer.

So we started getting prepared for the next weekend on Friday, July 5th. Thursday was 4th of July (National American holiday) so no one was open despite it being one of the few days Country Bloke and I have off together. So Friday night, we scoped out where we could buy some top soil and wood chips for the best price. I work too many hours for too little money to be giving it away to the first place I call. Prices ranged from $15 to $27. That's a big price difference!

And don't be swayed by FREE or the cheapest offer all the time either. There was a truck load of free mulch about 50 miles away. Our used 2002 Dodge Ram pick up only gets about 16 mpg per gallon on a good day going down hill so when you factored in how much gas it took to drive to the FREE truck full of mulch, it was more money than going local and paying. Same sort of deal with the $15 soil and mulch that was 15 miles away. YOU HAVE TO FACTOR IN EVERYTHING!

So we found a place that had the best price and bought a cubic yard of top soil for $29.68 at a place that was 4 miles from the house. So an 8 mile round trip ($3.29 a gallon) factored in, the total soil cost was about $31.33. After shoveling (=back breaking) the soil out of the truck and into the raised beds about 4" deep, Country Bloke went back to get two cubic yards of double shredded, non-dyed wood chip mulch which was $53. Another 8 mile round trip factored in brings cost to $54.65.

So as I stated before, we planted my seeds in my raised bed into the soil and then covered with the wood chip/mulch mix about 2 inches. We planted the seeds straight into the wood chip/mulch mix in Country Blokes bed and finally finished everything about 7 pm on Sunday night, July 7. We watered, cleaned up, planted a few more herbs in some planters to try to use up all the soil and wood chip/mulch mix and called it quits to feed our children around 8 pm. Yeah. Parents of the year, right here. I think they got to bed around 10 pm that night. Oh well, they will live!

So here we are 5 days later and we've spent a total of about 65 man hours and total cost thus far is $205.98. We should recoup that cost within the first 2 months of a productive garden because we seriously eat about $100 to $150 worth of vegetables during a month. And NO, we are NOT vegetarians! We just eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and salads.

So this is the garden today:

I think these are beans growing:

We planted the beans next to the corn so they can use the corn stalks for trellising. That's part of the whole "companion planting" idea.

More beans?

 I think this is lettuce:

Dunno but it's growing so yippy ky yay!

This blog entry is long enough but I will tell you in another one how to keep a 2 year old and a 4 year old entertained while "gardening" that involves only a minor amount of "well if you don't like it then you can just go inside" but a whole lot of frustration! I'll also cover what I learned about companion planting, what I planted in my rows and how I came to get an entire dump truck full of wood chips FOR FREE!!

Feel free to email me any questions you may have. Just use the I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU on the right!

Ya'll come back now, ya hear!

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