Sheet Mulching 3

The start of the Medicine Wheel Garden.

The start of the Medicine Wheel Garden.

Sheet Mulching is a very basic and important Permaculture skill.

Sometimes called “blanket composting”, “no-work” or “no-dig” gardening, it is very representative of Permaculture in terms of modeling Nature.

This is the start of the Medicine Wheel Garden. As you see, we are layering the Sheet Mulching right on top of the lawn. No need to dig or pull weeds. They become part of the nutrient base for the new garden. See full guidelines below.

The Medicine Wheel in full bloom.

The Medicine Wheel in full bloom.

It is a great way to build healthy soil fast, and is an effective means of carbon sequestration.

Swaling and tacking Mulching Trio Yes SheetBarrowShoveZ

Sheet mulching is estimated to sequester 2.2 pounds of carbon per square foot – in a big garden, say, 0.4 acres, that’s 17,424 square feet. — that makes over 38,000 pounds of carbon removed from the atmosphere — 19 tons!
This estimate is by Donella H. Meadows (1941-2001) who was an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College and director of the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vt.

SHEET MULCHING is a fast, labor saving technique for building beds and suppressing weeds. For immediate planting, use perennials, large seeds, or make soil pockets for annual starts or small seeds. It is ideal to prepare new beds by Fall for Spring planting!

QUICK METHOD: Choose the area where you want to establish your new bed. If the ground is compacted, use a garden fork to aerate it a bit. Not turning it, but send the tines of the fork down vertically, and lift or rotate a bit without disturbing the soil or exposing soil to the air. Keep in mind that the sheet mulching will help aerate the soil. If you get the layers right, it will attract worms that will do the tilling and aeration for you!
Put down some manure, 1-2″ thick.
Cover with cardboard or 3-4 layers of newspaper. (Do not use shiny color pages, or colored cardboard. )

Soak each layer. Place another light layer of manure on top of the cardboard. The cardboard will rot, but first it will kill the plants under it, providing nutrients to the bed, as well as aeration through the root system.
Next, add 6″ straw, leaves or sawdust. (Manure from Camelids, such as llamas or sheep is already fully digested and ready to use.) Add a light soil layer.
Repeat these three layers: manure 2″, leaves/straw 6″, soil 1/2-1″ until the sheet mulch layers are ideally 18″ deep.

Add in any kitchen waste you have to the early layers. This will help attract worms.
Worms. You may inoculate your sheet-mulch beds with worms, but if you do the layers right, the worms will come.
If you are setting up your sheet-mulch bed in the Fall to winter-over, this is best.

Finish with 8-12″ layer of leaves, and cover with pine-needles if you have them. The pine needles will balance our Boulder valley alkaline clay soil. The needles interlock and will not blow away. Or, carpet will do. The carpet will stabilize the beds and help keep moisture in, for the right environment for worms.
For immediate planting, make soil pockets to plant transplants or large seeds. If you want to plant small seeds, put down a 2″ layer of compost/soil mix as your top layer.

ANOTHER APPROACH (from Permaculture Activist)

Wet area to be mulched the day before you plan to mulch.
You will want to soak each layer as you put it down – moisture speeds up the decomposition process.

Slash existing vegetation. Don’t pull up the weeds – it would disturb the soil and is not necessary.
Add soil amendments depending on soil type. Gypsum or lime and rock dust.
Put down a layer of high nitrogen material: chicken manure, fresh greens, whatever is on hand that is high in nitrogen.

Poke with pitchfork and rock back and forth to aerate heavy clay.
Spread several layers of newspaper or one layer of cardboard.
Spread a thin layer of food waste, decayed leaves or garden scraps.
Put down 6″ of straw, leaves or grass.
Add 4″ to 6″ of finished compost, seaweed or well rotted (3-month old) manure.
Finish with a layer of high carbon material: pine needles, straw, seagrass, leaves, wood chips, bark, sawdust or rice hulls.

First, plant any large trees or shrubs.
Sprinkle soil with dolomite (and gypsum for clay soil). Sprinkle chicken manure, blood and bone (for nitrogen). Optional – spread compost scraps for the worms.
Add weedy or seedy material. Do not dig, level or weed.
Sheet mulch with newspaper or cardboard – cover completely.
Apply 7.5cm of horse or poultry manure in sawdust or straw, leaf mold or seaweed.
Follow with 15cm dry, weed/seed free material: pine needles, rice husks, leaf mold, straw, bark, chips, sawdust or any combination.
Water well.


About Zia Parker

Willow Way Wellness transition skills for earth~body healing We provide workshops, training, and private sessions in applied knowledge for healing the land and healing our bodies, and understanding the connection between them. The common thread in all of these offerings is that they help us shift our way of being in the world so that we sense and are sensitive to the living world around us. Thus, enabling us to integrate the information coming to us-both from our bodies and the earth-and respond with contributions toward a healthy, harmonious balance with all beings.

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3 thoughts on “Sheet Mulching

  • Stele Ely Post author

    Here is a question from Stele Ely:

    What’s the fun’nest thing I can be doing now to get my sheet mulching ready for 2010. Thanx, Stele

  • ziaparker Post author

    Hi Stele,
    Hey, lookin’ good!
    And thanks for asking about FUN and sheet mulching.
    I think the fun’nest thing about sheet mulching is making sure the worms are happy. Worms are so fun!
    They do great stuff for the soil. And it takes so little to make them happy.

    For breaking down leaves on a sheet-mulched, or just heavily mulched bed, sprinkle in some soil, water it well and cover. Watering it makes all the difference. Or, catch it after a rain or snow and cover. A cover of carpet (wool, with jute backing is ideal) works well because it will let moisture in. Also, as Barbara mentions, just the bags of leaves on top of your heavily mulched bed makes for a great worm-bed. They have all they need–it is dark, and moist, and they have a little soil for their little gullets. Munch away, wormies!

    For over-wintering your lettuce, winter greens (Siberian dwarf kale is the supreme that I’ve found) and root crop bed, Reemay row cover, which offers some insulation value is great. Also, you can water through it. When the really cold winter hits, a double layer of Reemay plus plastic sheeting will be the trick. Last year, we loved our “leaf-wall” cold frame–structural support was 2 x 2s screwed to the wood planks of the raised beds.

    This year, we are psyched to see how our “straw-clay” cold frame will perform. Kale, chard and parsley are looking very happy in there.

  • Stele Ely

    Sounds good Z,
    The Siberian dwarf kale sounds like a hearty little plant. I have seen some of the bigger kale do well… even after the freezes. I will have to look for the Siberian dwarf kale seeds.
    Mahalo, Stele (just another optimistic eco geek)