Sheet Mulch: Spring Edition

Not sure if you noticed yet, but we have a propensity to add perennial beds at a pace that is almost concerning. Last year that meant I spent alot of time, effort, and profanity cutting and hauling sod. The kicker with removing all that sod is not only the effort expended, but also the fact that it includes about 50% of my topsoil. That I paid for. True I am composting the sod, but it seemed wasteful-and in terms of time and energy it certainly was.
So if you have followed some of my earlier posts about this years plans, we intend to get into orcharding. Not huge, but 4-8 trees. Alot of this is in pursuit of my goal of growing 1 ton of food on our suburban lot in Zone 5, another goal is to finally plant some real permaculture guilds from the ground up. The picture at left is my first real foray down those paths.
The first picture is my laying out of about 15 cardboard slip sheets that I got from our local organic feed store (yes, we have an organic feed store-have I mentioned I love WI?). The slips protect bags of grain from damage and typically are recycled, but they are also the perfect size for sheet mulching. Any local business that deals in palletized freight should have plenty for you-just make sure they weren’t shipping pallets of Diazinon…
I also collect about 20 gallons of organic waste from a local coffee shop each week. That raw material has been building up all winter in a compost bin-to the tune of almost 2 cu yards. I opened up that bin and trucked it to the front yard to spread it about 8″ thick across the cardboard-I know it was damp because 2/3 of the pile was still frozen!
Once that was rough leveled with a rake, I top dressed it with a 3-4″ layer of chips from our local village yard as seen in the final picture. By mid May when I want to get my trees and guilds in, the raw organic material will be 75% composted and teeming with microbial life with all its goodness. So instead of removing 50% of the topsoil I built it 6″ deeper!
Here is the best part-doing this the traditional way would have taken at least a weekend of toil. Instead this took less than 2 hours-and that includes going to get the chips from the village lot. The benefits of letting Gaia do the work for you are legion: better soil, less effort, and more time to devote to other tasks. Plus the chance to lay out fetid masses of “garbage” in your front lawn and then take pictures of it while my neighbor’s watched was priceless!

Want to sheet mulch yourself? It is crazy easy:

  • Sprinkle a high nitrogen fertilizer over the area to be converted to garden to jump start the process. Raw manure is great, I used pelletized chicken manure due to lack of livestock. Seeds in this layer are fine. Sprinkle lightly with water if needed to get it moist.
  • Lay out your weed barrier, ensuring at least 6″ overlap at the seems so the sod doesn’t try to creep through. I prefer cardboard as it doesn’t blow away as easily and is readily availible, but 3+ layers of newspaper work well too. Even jeans or natural carpet would work! Keep this layer damp.
  • Cover this with compost materials at least 4″ thick, but 8″ is better. Remember that this will be you soil material and it will break down to 50% of its original volume. Anything that would go into your pile is fine, but avoid noxious invasive weed material like Quack Grass rhizomes. Ensure entire layer is moist.
  • Top dress with at least 4″ of weed free mulch. Wood chips, marsh or spoiled hay, straw, etc are all fine. This is the layer that keeps the weeds seeds below from ever germinating and can be as aesthetic as you need.

That’s it! You can sheet mulch around existing plants by cutting holes in the weed barrier, or pull the mulch back when you want to add plants. remember to give air space between the mulch and the stems to avoid vole and fungal damage.

Congrats! You have just created a haven for microbial life, built literally tons of life sustaining humus and you proved to the world that you don’t need a rototiller to make a garden!

Be the Change!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: