To grow your own food, reduce waste, build soil and reduce watering needs, all seem like very important acts at this time. Here’s a simple way to achieve it all in the building of your own sheet mulch.
These raised beds can be made anywhere and as large or small as you like.
We are mimicking how soil is naturally built. If you abandoned any outdoor space long enough, leaf litter and other organic waste would naturally accumulate. Small plants would grow and die off, leaving more organic matter and making way for larger plants to grow. Natural succession would then follow until trees grew there over the years, leaving even more organic matter.
Have you every looked at that rich woodland soil? Smelt that earth goodness?
You don’t need to go and fertilize that woodland, because it’s better at recycling it’s resources then we ever will be.
But we can take lessons from how it is building its soils and although it may take hundreds of years for that abandoned land to build just a few inches of soil, we can do it in less than a year if we apply the same strategies.
Cut all vegetation down to ground level and leave the plant matter where it falls.
Loosen the soil with a fork.
What if you don’t have any soil?
Not a problem a sheet mulch can be built on concrete or even a table top.
Lay down the weed exclusion layer.
This can be cardboard, newspaper, or any biodegradable fabric. The purpose of this layer is to exclude the sun’s light from the ground, making it impossible for the weeds to photosynthesise and regrow. All that they can do is decay back in the soil.
If you have doubts about this, have a go. I’ve seen it work as some of the most invasive of weeds, literally “bite the dust” this way. But make sure it is two layers thick to make be certain and be sure to cover all the soil of the bed space.
Make sure to water this layer in well.
Now we come to the nitrogen rich “green” layer and water again.
This is where all the soil life of the party happens.
Its the kitchen and the larder! Its where all the minuscule beasties, breed, give birth, gorge and die! And it all goes into feeding the soil and feeding your plants.
This can be vegetarian and kitchen waste as we have used here, or you can use animal manure.
Ideally from a herbivore mammal.
Horse or donkey is best, any from rabbit to cow will also do.
Be warned that if you use any form of bird manure be sure to have a lot of carbon rich bedding materials mixed in, as bird manure is very rich and can easily become too nitrogen rich.
Lay the Carbon rich “brown layer”.
This is ideally straw or dry leaves, but if like me you are lacking these materials than you can use dried grass, hay, old weeding matter and has been left long enough that most of the seed has either fallen off or rotted.
This layer acts as both a source of carbon as well as closing the bed in so that moisture loss is reduced and the decaying process can begin.
Be sure to water this layer well too.
Now for the planting!
For this you will need either prepared seedlings or large seeds to plant, eg beans, pumpkin, sunflower, melon etc.
You need ready prepared compost or reasonably good topsoil.
First make a hole in the mulch with a gloved hand or trowel, make it about the size of a two fists, fill the hole with the compost or soil and plant your seed or seedling into the middle.
If it is a seedling that you have planted you can bring the carbon rich mulch layer back in around it, otherwise wait till the seed has grown up above the mulch before bringing the mulching back in around it.
More updates soon to come, So watch this space…