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Sheet Mulch

You can grow a garden under any circumstances: poor soil, no soil, little ready compost, or a very weedy area. Really!

sheet mulch
On Lotan, we have managed to create a flourising garden in the desert.

The basic principle of a sheet mulch garden is the same as that of a compost pile. Layers of carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials are placed together to form the base of the garden bed. Over time these layers decompose just as they would within a compost pile. You don't have to move the compost once it's ready, instead a bank of nutritious soil is left once the sheet mulch components decompose.

Getting Started

First Layer

bottom layer
Cardboard is being laid down to build a sheet mulch garden on Lotan's EcoCampus.

Start with a thick layer of carbon-rich material. A standard first layer for sheet mulching is several sheets of cardboard. Water the carbon rich layer until it is thouroughly soaked through. Cardboard has several advantages including:

  • it's ability to absorbs any excess water from rain or irrigation
  • it's breathable, allows air flow up from the bottom of the pile
  • it keeps any weeds underneath the sheet mulch bed in darkness thus inhibiting their re-growth
  • it eventually decomposes to become part of the soil of the new garden bed.

Other possible choices for the first layer are old cotton or wool clothes, blankets, newspapers, old natural-fiber carpets, hay, straw, or garden debris. 

Next Layers

food scraps
Use your unwanted food in the garden.

On top of the first layer place anything with high nitrogen content. This will be food scraps, fresh grass clippings, animal manure, or anything else you have on hand. After the high nitrogen layer, lay about 4 inches or 10 centimeters thick of dry carbon rich materials such as straw, dry leaves, shredded newspaper. This layer should be thick enough so that you can't see the layer underneath. Then water the carbon rich layer until it is thouroughly soaked through.

Continue this process of layering - each layer being about 4 inches or 10 centimeters, thick enough so that you can't see the layer underneath.

Top Layer

top layer
The top layer of the garden is given water so that it will decompose.

The top layer of the garden should be an extra thick layer of carbon-rich material. This will help insulate the decomposing ingredients underneath.

sheet mulch

If you want to plant into your sheet mulch garden right away you will need to add a layer of mature compost on top of the top layer so that the plant roots have somewhere to grow while the layers underneath are decomposing (at least 6 inches or 15 centimeters). Otherwise, wait about 3 months and your sheet mulch garden will be ready to be tended like any other garden bed!

marcus
After you finish assembling the garden, you can relax and let nature run its course.

Resources:

  • Book: Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
  • Book: Designing And Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik and Rosalind Creasy
  • Video: http://youtu.be/ohoA_R4jU40 (Synergistic Garden)

 


Contact Lotan Center for Creative Ecology
kibbutzlotan@gmail.com
Tel: +972 8 6356935; +972 54 9799030
Toll free (while in Israel): 1800 2000 75


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Creative Commons License
This work by Center for Creative Ecology, Kibbutz Lotan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.kibbutzlotan.com.