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How to Make a Sheet Mulch

Laying down cardboard for sheet mulchSheet mulching, lasagna gardening, and no-till farming are all related by the effort to grow crops without disturbing the soil.  They're trying to prevent the damage done by tilling, a common practice which mixes soil profiles, kills important soil organisms, and often causes erosion.  Instead, thick layers of organic matter are applied right on top of untouched soil, mimicking the leaf litter layer in a forest which prevents weed seeds from sprouting, holds in water, and provides a home for many soil organisms.

I would love to lasagna garden, but I just don't have the excess organic matter it requires.  I do intend to include some sheet mulching in my new forest garden, though, especially where the Japanese honeysuckle is so bad.  Monday afternoon, I tore up some old cardboard boxes I had in the barn to start the big golf cart path which will run through the north end of the forest garden.  For those of you without access to my new favorite book, here are the basic steps of a sheet mulch:

  • Diagram of sheet mulch layersMow the existing vegetation close to the ground.  (Chicken tractors do a great job!)
  • Wet the ground thoroughly, or just start after a heavy rain.
  • If possible, lay down seedy organic matter (mulch and/or manure.)  Not mandatory, especially in a path --- I'm skipping this phase for my golf cart path.
  • Lay cardboard or newspaper thoroughly over the area, overlapping 4-6 horizontal inches at all seams.  Newspaper should be at least six sheets thick.  Don't worry, this layer will decompose in a year or less.
  • If you're going to be planting on top of the sheet mulch, add compost --- this turns it into a lasagna garden.  Not necessary for paths or for areas where you won't be planting until next year.
  • Top it off with at least an inch of seed-free mulch of any kind.  I'll be using old wood chips in my paths --- they might leach nitrogen if used on beds, though.

I've only done steps one through 4, and only over a small area, but I'll keep poking at it until I run out of cardboard and mulch.  This is a good task for cold winter days when you really want to garden but the ground is frozen!



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Deciding whether better to, or not

Lately stumbled upon an interesting, even controversial page with a wider viewpoint on sheet mulching

www.mdvaden.com/lasagna_gardening.shtml

The page in entirety leaves the door open for two responsible approaches, as long as gardeners consider all the options, benefits and consequences. What criteria do you think would be the most practical for a checklist? For example, supposing the writer is correct, when does it become the better option to sheet mulch? Thanks, Phil. Will check back in a few weeks.

Comment by Phil in B.C. Sat Nov 7 13:46:02 2009
comment 2

Very interesting article! Thanks for pointing that out!

I'm all for overthinking the garden --- it's what I do best. :-) I can totally see your point that the newspaper and cardboard would be better recycled (although in practice I've noticed that lots of places trash their "recycling" rather than paying to have it recycled. In that case, sheet mulching would definitely be a better option.)

I always think that it's better to use resources at hand than transport them from a distance, no matter what they are. So, cardboard and paper that shows up on my doorstep goes into the garden, but I don't actively hunt it down. Instead, I'm leaning toward more mulches from grass clippings and leaves, all from on site.

Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

Comment by anna Sat Nov 7 15:41:02 2009

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime