Sheet Composting – Build a Bed Now for Planting Next Spring ~ Part 1

“Compost is a gardener’s most versatile ally and what’s more,
it’s free to make to boot! Its nutrient-rich properties add a bit of
fertilizer to the soil and acts either as a superb soil amendment or
wonderful biodegradable mulch.” ~~The Shoestring Gardener eBook

Did you know that now on-up-to about mid-October is really a great time to begin a sheet compost, aka lasagna compost, garden bed? The method I’m going to be showing you over the next few posts is meant to be started in the early fall so it can “cook”, which means decompose, over the wintertime.

It’s a no fuss, build it once and you’re done technique that I tried out for the first time last fall. I was smart enough to take photos (yup β€” so I could walk you through it πŸ™‚ ) of what it took for me to gather up the necessary “greens” and “browns” to layer up my compost garden bed; how I layered all the plant and compostable matter; and then how I put this sheet compost bed to rest so it could go through the decomposition process over the winter months.

“Greens” and “browns” are how most folks refer to the organic materials that are used to build good quality, microbe-rich humus that is commonly referred to as compost. Compost is a mixture of decayed or decaying organic matter used to improve soil. It is usually made with lots of plant material refuse, such as thin sticks, leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable peels or other organic kitchen fruit or vegetable scraps – even used coffee grounds are OK to use. Newspaper and cardboard are also very acceptable to add into the compost mixture.

Then, you make alternating layers with some greens and then some browns. Some die-hard composters insist on specific ratios of greens to browns; other folks just kind of eye-ball it. I fall into the “go by instinct and eye-ball it approach” when I do any kind of composting β€” in a bin, sheet composting or otherwise. But you do have to have a decent ratio of greens versus browns or else you can wind up with problems, such as too many browns vs. greens and it probably won’t start decomposing; or too many greens vs. browns can cause you to have a mushy mess, again without decomposition really taking place.

So … when you decide to tackle a large size sheet composting project you’ve got to think ahead! You’ve got to have all the compostable stuff β€” greens and browns β€” on hand. In my case, the existing garden bed I was going to amend by layering with compostable matter was about 14 feet long by 3 feet wide. And … I wanted lots of layers, so I had to go out and collect up greens and browns as there was no way my kitchen scraps or the leaves falling from trees on my property would ever provide the quantity I needed.

My solution to get a stockpile of greens and browns was: get my hands on free manure; collect used coffee grounds from a local Star Bucks; and find lots of brown leaves. By chance I totally lucked out and found someone who had over 30 bags of leaves they’d raked up on their property. They sent out an email to a local gardening email list I’m on saying, “Free leaves β€” come and pick them up!” at just the time I was needing lots of leaves. How lucky was that? I honestly felt like I’d won the lottery. (You avid composters will know what I mean!)

Here’s over 20 bags of leaves I loaded up and drove home with. You do want to tie down bags of leaves if you’re going to transport them in an open ended vehicle like a pick-up truck. I doubt I’d had but a few bags left in the back by the time I arrived back home if I’d not taken the time to tie everything down.

Bags of leaves for my sheet composting project

That’s it for now. I’ll be adding more posts about this whole process soon. As a matter of fact, here’s Part 2 ~ What’s Cow Manure Got to Do With It? I want you to be able to learn just what you need to do to try your hand with sheet composting in your garden this fall.

My Shoestring Gardener 300 page eBook has a very large chapter on everything you need to know about the ins, outs and more about composting. I explain different methods that will work for any eco-conscious gardener living in any type of setting β€” from apartment dwellers to those of you out in the wide-open country β€” and I include more information about sheet composting, too. Check it out! It’s frugally priced so everyone can afford a copy. πŸ™‚

Comments

  1. Thanks! This is a timely newsletter as I plan to do a compost pile of some sort this fall. Anxious to see your future installments.

  2. I’ve been getting pine needles from all the neighbors since we have a lot of Pine trees to spread in my perennial flower garden. The weather is so hot and dry this really helps keep some moisture. Tks for sharing.

  3. Good tip, Nicole. Many people have asked me if pine needles are “good” or “bad” to use as a mulch. Yes – they are quite OK to use! πŸ™‚

    The pluses are: It does tend to stay where you put it. It breaks down really slowly, so by pushing it aside to plant, most gardeners get more than one season out of it. However, if you live in a really hot climate you will probably find it breaks down quickly, but still … you’ll probably get at least 2 planting seasons out of it.

    So everyone – collect pine needles if you have access to them and want an eco-friendly mulch. Just wear gloves to keep from getting stuck!

  4. Always great articles! Great ideas too!

  5. Thanks Glenn for the kind words! πŸ™‚

  6. Linda Davis says:

    What about using horse manure VS cow manure? I have the horse manure on hand.

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  1. […] I mentioned in Part 1 of this fall-time sheet composting, aka layer composting tutorial, some people swear that […]

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