Sheet Mulch Revealed

Trees have everything to do with water and soil. More about that in a later post.
Author and spectacular tree. Trees have everything to do with water and soil.

My first post here is about making soil. Permaculture in the suburbs of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley is about replenishing water and soil. For me building soil is easiest, so I’ll start there.

Soil is so much more densely populated than anything casually observable above ground. Communities teaming with life abound and prosper with a little input of organic matter and water, but so many aspects contribute to this abundant life system. As far as I can tell these are living, intelligent beings and many have been around billions of years before humans and so have much to teach us.

So enough talk, let’s make some sheet mulch as described by Tony Hemenway in his book, “Gaia’s Garden. Incidently there are many versions of this mulching technique. Most work as sheet mulch is very forgiving. So I start mapping out an area that won’t make me wish I were 30 years younger or I get a crew to teach that is 30 years younger and let them do a bunch of the work.(Just a thought.) For me this was a small hill in the front yard totally devoid of soil and growing things. I worked the back part of the hill just planting and throwing down some compost and worm casting fertilizer, but experimented with the mulch in a space about 7 feet square, so 49 sq. ft. I guess. Math is not one of my fortes. I’ll give you the blow-by-blow loosely numbered to keep you on track.

To begin,

(1)   I wet the soil down, pulled up the remaining rat encouraging ivy that grows here and won’t be deterred, laid the vegetation down,

(2)   sprinkled some bone meal over that and then some

(3)   cheap manure over that. Then I placed

(4)   overlapping cardboard over it, wet that down and spread a very thin

(5)   additional layer of manure over the cardboard. By then I was rain soaked, but I didn’t have to use the hose for the rest of the layers. For the next and biggest layer, I had scored five bales of hay that we put in our Prius and drove on the highway, coughing and loosing our sense of humor as people pointed and laughed at us with hay coming out all our openings. In case you’re familiar with the SFV, we were on the 118. The hay was great for

(6)   the 8-12 inch layer of organic matter. I just took it out of the bale in clumps and covered the area. I scrapped every bit of

(7)    compost and soil I could get from the summer’s bin and put that on next. Finally I went up to our steeply sloping back yard that is full of trees and gathered enough

(8)   leaves for a couple of final inches on the top. That about did me in. Next time I’ll gather the leaves in a trash can the day before so I can survive the next day without pain killers.


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