Have you all caught on to how much I love dirt? This has not always been my condition. There was a point at which I thought dirt was, well…dirty. But in the last couple of years I have fallen right in love.
One of the things that has made me love dirt is all the sheet mulching I’ve done. This is basically making your own gourmet dirt, and I get the same feeling of satisfaction from it as I do from making less earthy stuff, like bread or crafts. It makes you feel creative and it’s fun to see your work afterward and say, “I MADE THAT!”
If you want the pleasure of doing some sheet mulching yourself, here’s how.
HOW (AND WHY) TO USE THE SHEET MULCHING TECHNIQUE FOR MAKING GARDEN BEDS:
Sheet mulching is a technique to put rich soil exactly where you want it. Instead of tilling or digging the soil, you just leave what’s there right where it is, and add the ingredients for fertile soil to the top. You can make round beds, keyhole beds, swales or any other shape of bed you want. You can even use it to make a grass patch or self-made lawn.
- Advantages to sheet mulching: On our homestead we did a side by side comparison of a tilled bed and a sheet mulched bed, and the latter was quite a bit more productive. The sheet mulch will generally require less water, less fertilizer and allow fewer weeds. It’s also rock free, unless you add the rocks yourself, and it can take whatever shape you want.
- Disadvantages to sheet mulching: You need A LOT of organic material to make this work really well. And laying it out, especially over a large area, can be a lot of work. (Bring a friend!)
- WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Wheelbarrow, shovel(s), garden fork and rake
- Plenty of water. It’s best if your hose can reach every corner of the area to be mulched.
- Soil amendments, if desired
- A couple of kinds of organic matter, in quantity. Preferably some cream materials (high carbon) and some brown materials (manure or compost, high nitrogen)
- top soil
- plants or seeds
TEN STEPS TO EFFECTIVE SHEET MULCHING:
1. Mark out the space to receive the sheet mulch. Use your imagination and make each garden bed exactly where you want it. Design paths if they aren’t already in existence, and feel free to use curves, keyhole shapes or whatever suits your fancy.
2. Cut weeds down to the ground. You can let them lie right where they fall.
3. Use a garden fork to slightly aerate the soil by puncturing once every foot or so and wiggling the fork in the ground.
3. Get the whole area very wet. Or do this right after a heavy rain. (In my part of the world May and October are my sheet mulch months.)
4. Add soil amendments, if desired. To be honest, I usually skip this step. But if you’ve tested your soil and want to hit a particular deficiency, this is your moment. If you have acidic soil, sprinkle lime over the area to be mulched. For a nitrogen boost, sprinkle blood meal. And for a phosphorus boost, use bone meal.
5. Make your weed barrier. I have used something as thick as old carpet, when I wanted to block a vibrant and very-much living root system (alder brush) from taking over the new mulch. But usually I just use one or two thicknesses of newspaper. Cardboard is an in-between option. Whatever you use, now is the time to lay it out flat, each piece slightly overlapping the others, and get it wet.
6. Layer your organic materials on top of the weed barrier. Every two inches or so of organic material, stop and water the whole mulch. Almost any order of any materials will do, as long as they are organic, but for best results alternate high nitrogen with high carbon. I like to alternate layers of cold (not chicken) manure with layers of straw, but thick layers of our own homemade compost is even better.
7. Add 1 – 1 1/2 inches of topsoil. When your mulch is anywhere from 6-12 inches deep, and you feel done, you’re ready to make your topsoil layer. A deeper mulch is ideal for more mature plants, with longer roots, but otherwise it’s up to you! The topsoil layer is what your seeds will go in, but don’t plant them yet.
8. Add your finish layer. This is an inch of seed-free organic material. I usually use straw. This helps keep the top soil in place, holds moisture and makes your mulch look nice. (#BeautyMatters!)
9. Now put in your plants or seeds. Right away is good. You don’t have to wait. Just move the finish layer aside in each place where you put a seed or plant, and water it as you would normally.
10. Sit back and enjoy your beautiful, homemade dirt!
For more information (and more images) of our sheet mulching, check out the Fouch-o-matic Off Grid video “Soil Fertility and No-Till Solutions.”
Thanks for reading here today. And happy mulching!