Sheet Mulching

It’s time to plant… is your garden ready?  Don’t have a garden?  Here’s how you can get one, fast!  It’s called sheet mulching, and it’s the method I’ve been using for the past three years to turn my unsightly lawn into an abundant garden. Everyone has been asking for my secret, so here it is…

My Abundant Garden

My Abundant Garden

There are tons of benefits of this method:

  • It builds a healthy and diverse soil life, the key for having a garden teaming with healthy plants and insects.  The more diverse and abundant the organisms in your soil, the more plants will be supported by the soil.  Organisms in your soil transform matter into plant food, “everything gardens!”
  • It’s easy. No digging involved, now or in the future!  Go right over lawn.
  • It’s fast! Gathering the materials is the most time intensive part, but you only have to do it once.  You can plant your garden the same day you build it or build it in the fall and plant in the spring.
  • It’s convenient. Rather than removing wastes from your garden, composting them, turning the pile, and returning the finished compost to your garden, you can compost them in place.
  • It’s cheap. Most of the materials can be obtained for free.
  • It creates raised beds, which stay warmer and hold more water than a conventional garden, and release nutrients slowly over time.

Sheet Mulching

This is one recipe, out of many.  Feel free to adapt it to make your own feast!  Just be sure to layer it on thick!

  1. Water well the night before.
  2. Slash or mow down any vegetation, but leave it in place.
  3. Add any soil amendments.  Many Alaskan soils are acidic, so you might want to add lime, but it is a good idea to have your soil tested to be sure.  Also consider adding rock phosphate or bonemeal for phosphorus, or greensand, kelp meal, or rock dust to add trace minerals.
  4. If your soil is clayey or compacted (as are most lawns) loosen it up.  Stick in a spading fork, wiggle it around a bit and pull it out.
  5. Add a layer of high nitrogen material.  Manure, food scraps, blood or cottonseed meal, or grass clippings. Water.
  6. A half-inch thick layer of newspaper or cardboard.  Do not skimp!  Overlap layers to make it continuous, going around any perennials.
  7. Water thoroughly.
  8. Another thin layer of nitrogen-rich material, especially if your bulk material is low in nitrogen.  With manured bedding as my bulk, I skip this step.
  9. Add 8 to 12 inches of bulk organic matter.  I like to use manured bedding, but if you plan to plant right away, be sure it is not “hot.”  Chicken and horse manure need to age first.  You can also use straw, spoiled hay, leaves, yard waste, wood shavings, or any mixture of these.  You will want about four parts carbon-rich material to every one part nitrogen rich material, but this doesn’t need to be exact.  This is a LOT of material, so be prepared!  Water as you go.
  10. Add an inch or two of compost or soil.
  11. Add at least two inches of seed-free organic material: straw, leaves, fine bark or wood shavings.
  12. Plant!  Push aside the mulch and plant into the compost/soil layer.  If there is not enough, add a pocket of soil for your starts or seeds.

Garden in the Making: In the foreground you can see the high-nitrogen layer, then the cardboard with the goat manure on top.


4 thoughts on “Sheet Mulching

  1. katmainomad

    your garden is beautiful! I can’t wait until we reach that level of green again this summer. Anyone all hot to sheet mulch: Try craigslist for materials – often people advertise free manures (sometimes with free delivery) or free wood chips (also sometimes with free delivery). I despaired at finding leaves this spring, since I failed to get them last fall, but the big city utility near my house just raked up and bagged 9 bags of leaves that I was able to wheelbarrow to my house – so even without a car you can gather all you need for a bountiful garden!!

  2. Kellie

    We are going to use your method in the spring to create our first garden (hurray)! We just cut down 3 birch trees and was wondering if we rent a chipper and chip all the branches, can we use that as our organic layer? Thanks!

    1. alaskasaskia

      Wood chips are high in carbon, and with so much surface area, they really bind up the nitrogen, so you would need a LOT of nitrogen-rich material to compensate. It’s actually better if you leave the branches whole. The bigger the branch, the more slowly it will break down, similar to a hugelkultur. Put the branches on the bottom, then build up with other organic matter.

      1. Kellie

        Looking forward to spring to begin a garden! We are also going to get some chickens and a friend of mine said she took a class about them from you. I know you have a new little one but will you be offering a chicken class this spring? Thanks!

        Also, my husband was a the Bioneer Conference and your husband spoke about Salmon bacon, any chance he is willing to part with the recipe? If not, no problem.

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