At the end of June 2012, we got pumped full of inspiration watching the film Back to Eden.
After which we trekked to Sequim, WA, to visit Paul Gautschi for ourselves and learn more about this gardening with wood chips stuff. If you’d like to catch up on that visit, you can read about it here.
This last Sunday, though, the 4th of November, we went back.
To see Paul Gautschi again.
And to remember why we were so inspired in the first place.
This is Paul Gautschi.
And unless you catch Paul when he’s finished a sentence, it’s likely every picture will have his mouth moving.
And his hands instructing.
There’s so much to say.
And so much to give God credit for.
These are Paul’s apple trees.
Trees which have literally inverted their branches over the years from the weight of their fruit.
Maybe it’s more noticeable here.
That’s an apple tree.
Whose branches bend to the ground.
The trickiest thing about picking an apple here is making sure four don’t fall with it.
Little boys like this accessibility.
But why the apple trees hang laden with fruit and why Paul’s garden still produces like this in November is because of his years of gardening with wood chips.
What the wood chips do is feed the soil.
When placed on top of the ground, they decompose and put minerals back into the dirt. And they do this continuously. As the chips break down, the soil is replenished. The earth–even the rockiest ground– is softened and becomes porous like a forest floor.
Placing wood chips on top of the soil goes against this ingrained idea of tilling the soil or turning it over. We’ve thought for generations that tilling the ground is the best thing for our crops. Or is the only thing.
But when we recognize that the ground is the earth’s covering, much like our own skin for our bodies, tilling or tearing the ground isn’t the way to keep it healthy. Rather exposing the ground by tilling, now makes it vulnerable. Any wayward seed can blow in and grow.
And weeds know this the best.
So as that protective covering, wood chips don’t allow weeds in. Because nothing grows in, or rather, nothing grows on top of wood chips.
When Paul plants his seeds, he scrapes the ground back with a rake until the dirt is exposed. He puts his seeds in the soil and covers them lightly with dirt. When the tiny plants have erupted through the soil, he pushes the wood chips back around his plants to protect them.
What wood chips also do is hold water. And they regulate it. The chips absorb water whether through rain fall or moisture in the air, and they retain it. So, say the lettuce plant needs water; water is available to its roots. But say, sage doesn’t. Well, then the roots of the sage need not pull water from the ground.
If you’ve ever scuffed the top layer of the forest floor away with your shoe, or brushed away the pine needles below a tree, maybe you’ve noticed–even in August– the ground is damp.
That’s what’s happening here. The wood chips, like those pine needles or fallen leaves, are protecting the ground and keeping it moist.
And whether we believe this or not, it has been true for Paul. He’s not watered his garden for 34 years.
What we’re looking at here is Paul’s fall garden.
All these rows of produce started as teensy seeds placed in the ground on August 1st.
Something remarkable in the gardening world, as most fall gardens are planted as late as June.
But even though the size of the stuff coming out of the ground is impressive…
Like these beets…
And that cabbage…
What’s most impressive is the pure and distinct taste of everything.
Such incomparability to anything we’ve ever bought in a store. Or even a farmer’s market.
Anywhere else I’d pass on the raw kale leaf.
But not here.
Food tastes like it’s supposed to. Full of minerals. Full of life.
Completely satisfying. Even kale.
The sudden problem becomes ‘what to eat first.’
To eat first?
Will it be a piece of Swiss chard?
A stalk of celery?
A fourth apple?
Or maybe it’s chard now and celery stashed for later.
It doesn’t matter what it is.
You just don’t get tired of food that feeds your body.
Our kids love it here.
There is an unspoken sense of freedom on Paul’s property.
Here, they learn from corporate conversation.
They wrestle their own food from the ground.
They follow the growl of their stomach.
And they secretly sneak in the direction of the fennel leaves.
When we leave, it is with the sense of being abundantly blessed.
Thank you, Paul.