[Infographic] How to Improve Your Soil with Sheet Composting
Put your garden to work making great soil for you over the winter with sheet composting!
You may think there’s not much going on in your garden during the winter months, but you’d be surprised how much is actually happening “behind the scenes.” While you may not see plants actively growing (at least if you live in the Northern hemisphere), there are lots of things happening underground. Roots may be growing even if leaves aren’t, microbes are still working albeit perhaps a bit more slowly, and a myriad of organisms are helping to break down organic matter and turn it into soil. You can help this process along by practicing a concept called sheet composting:
Sheet composting or sheet mulching is a simple, no-dig way to create garden soil. It mimics the natural way soil forms in a forest: leaves fall in autumn, decay over the winter, and nourish plant life in the spring.
You can use sheet composting (also known as sheet mulching) to put your garden to work making great soil during the winter months, when you may not be actively planting anything. Rather than spending lots of time tilling and breaking up sod, or trucking in soil to build new garden beds in the spring, you can save time and money by sheet mulching now, and letting your garden build soil for you over the winter.
Many gardeners prefer this method over the conventional practice of tilling, which can disrupt soil structure and damage the complex soil web. It’s also an easier process, as you’re letting nature do most of the work for you!
All you need to do is put down layers of organic materials in the autumn or winter months, and leave them to break down into rich fertile soil in time for spring planting.
Sheet Composting Materials
Sheet composting is a version of lasagna gardening, it is an ideal way to prepare a new garden area for planting, without all the work! Here is what you’ll need to get started:
1.) Barrier Materials
These can consist of layers of newspaper (no glossy materials), or flattened cardboard boxes (with tape and staples removed). If using newspapers, you’ll want to cover the area about 1/2″ thick if you’re covering sod or grassy/weedy areas.
2.) Mixed Mulch Materials
These can consist of whatever high-carbon materials you have access to, or a mixture of several. Some suggestions include:
- Pine needles
- Shredded leaves
- Finely ground bark (don’t use wood chips or hardwood mulch for this)
- Wood shavings
- Coop or stable sweepings
- Chopped-up yard waste, such as plant trimmings and dead garden plants (the remains of vegetable plants after they die off at the end of the season – just be sure to avoid any plants that were diseased or may have weed seeds in them)
Either homemade, or purchased, if you don’t have access to your own.
4.) High-Nitrogen Materials
These can include any of these or a mixture of:
- Grass clippings
- Blood or cottonseed meal
- Kitchen food scraps
5.) Soil Amendments
Any soil amendments that may be needed based on a soil test may be added as necessary. (See this post for more on testing your soil.)
Don’t worry if you don’t have everything listed – sheet composting is actually very forgiving, and even if all you have are cardboard, shredded leaves, and grass clippings, you’ll be off to a decent start!
The next step is simply to layer everything and give it a good watering. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the process, from Fix.com:
- Mow weeds or grass, leaving the clippings in place.
- Thoroughly wet the area, and let the water soak in overnight.
- If a soil test deemed an amendment necessary, spread the advised amount on the area.
- Spread half of the high-nitrogen material.
- Lay down the barrier material, which kills weeds and grass and prevents new weeds from growing. Cover the entire area with the barrier, overlapping the edges of the material.
- Water the barrier material.
- Pile one foot of mulch on top of the cardboard.
- Water the mulch until it’s damp.
- Spread the remaining high-nitrogen material.
- Spread the compost.
- Spread the remaining mulch, which should be free of weed seeds.
- Water regularly, wait several months, and plant the garden!
Here’s a visual guide to the entire process:
Source: Fix.com Blog