Sheet Mulching

sheet mulch finished

Have you heard of sheet composting? There it is in the picture. It doesn’t look like much you say?? Well . . . it won’t look like much until next spring. Even then, even after all the work it took to accomplish, it will not be obvious to the casual observer.

This 1000 square foot bed has not been growing healthy plants for a few years. This spring, instead of planting it again, I decided to allow it to rest. I knew that the soil was depleted so I decided to cover the entire area with an enriching sheet mulch.

First: Greg mowed the bed. I didn’t worry about what was growing – annual weeds or perennial weeds, it didn’t matter.  I simply wanted everything cut as close to the ground as possible.

Second: I spread 6 pounds of rock phosphate  (phosphorus and trace elements) and 50 pounds of green sand (potassium and micronutrients) over the 1000 sq. ft bed.  Both of these soil additives will feed the organisms in the soil.  I probably could have added blood meal and other additives but I did not have them on hand – I used what I had.

Third:  I covered the entire bed with cardboard. We had been collecting cardboard for several months and managed to collect a huge pile of broken down boxes. Bigger is better when it comes to covering a large area. We  made friends with the man that stocked the egg department at our local grocery store. He broke down and stacked the big boxes that eggs were delivered in and we would pick them up about once a week.  Greg also spent several weeks  back at  the office at Murray Ridge and was able to bring home a pickup truck load of boxes from the workshop.  WooHoo!!

sheet mulch cardboard 1 400

As you can see, the cardboard edges will curl up. Don’t worry, when you pile on the rest of the  “ingredients” it will not matter.  In the bottom right corner you can see one of the stakes and the string Greg put up so I would keep the edges of the bed straight. I do not have the gift of making straight lines, Ha! that is an understatement, so Greg usually lays out the bed lines for me before I begin! I took the time to remove staples and plastic tape before I laid the card board down.  I overlapped the edges of the boxes by 4-6 inches and stuffed layers of newspapers into any holes.  When the entire bed was covered I hosed everything down. One more thing about laying cardboard . . . don’t try to do it on a windy day!

Fourth: Twenty seven bags of rotted leaves were spread over the bed. I have to say that this part of the process was hard work. The bags of leaves had been sitting in the garden for two years and the plastic on the top layer  had deteriorated. I had to gather the crumbling edges of each bag together as best I could and quickly haul them to the garden cart.  The bags on the bottom had absorbed moisture and were HEAVY!! It took every bit of strength to lift them into the cart. But . . . when I ripped open those wet bags! They were heavy with beautiful black, rotting leaves and full of worms. Gorgeous! I was able to add about a 4 inch layer of rotted leaves over the entire bed.

sheet mulch leaves straw 400

Fifth: I broke open and spread 4 bales of old straw. I didn’t worry too much about doing this perfectly. I simply shook out the chunks of straw and tried to cover the leaves. The picture shows the layers of cardboard, leaves and, finally, straw. I hosed the entire bed down to help the layers begin to mesh together.  It rained hard the following night and now the bed is squashed down and the worms are beginning their work. Done for the summer.

sheet mulch finished 400

2015 Spring forecast:  Black, crumbly, lovely soil for growing healthy plants.

This wonderful mixture will “percolate” in place until next spring. I can add more straw if  bare spots open up. If I had lots of grass clippings I could add those as the summer progresses.   I usually use all my grass clippings for mulch in my growing beds so that probably will not happen. Summer heat and moisture will decompose the mulch and next spring we can till the bed for planting. If the bed is well decomposed this fall we may till it then and add lime. Now . . . .  onto planting the rest of the beds.

Hey from the rainy farm,
Fran    The Country Cousin

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1 comment to Sheet Mulching

  • Debbie Venus-Fenrich

    Hi Fran!
    What a lovely idea! Lots of hard work will accomplish so much! You will have great soil next spring! I’d like to try that in parts of my garden! Thanks for this info as I will keep it for future use!
    Thanks again!

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