Sheet Composting – Layering the Compost Pile ~ Part 5

“Cold composting is the easiest way to make compost if you can’t or don’t want to tend to it. Just build up a pile that has as many layers of greens and browns as you’ve got on hand; then leave it alone to decompose, letting Mother Nature and the microorganisms do the work. If you’re very fortunate, your pile might be finished within 4-6 months; however I will wager it’ll be more like a year or more for most of us to have nice finished compost using this method.”
~~The Shoestring Gardener eBook

Part 5

Well, I’ve been writing a series of posts about an easy and very effective method of composting called “sheet composting” (some people refer to it as lasagna gardening) that I tried out in one of my own garden beds — a 14 x 3 footer. Now we’re almost at the end of this series. I’ll show you how I added in the greens and browns to layer the bed.

This photo is showing you a corner of the very first layer I decided to lay down over the existing soil, which was cardboard. Let me apologize now for just a tiny visible corner. AFTER I spread out the next layer over the cardboard I thought, “DOH Claudia! You shoulda taken a photo of the cardboard first!” Oh well … my only defense is that I was so consumed with thinking about the task at hand that the “take a picture” part slipped past me.

But to explain, I used a single layer of cardboard made up from cardboard boxes I had scavenged from the recycling center. I laid down a single thickness of cardboard to cover the entire surface. Then I thought, “Hmmmmm … wonder if (rain) water will really soak through quickly enough, or will it kind of puddle up here and there — causing too soggy areas — or run off at the outer edges of where the cardboard ends, perhaps causing the compost on top of it not to absorb enough water?” (Have I lost you in my long train of thought here?? Sorry — my brain thinks like this quite a bit at times! 🙂 )

So to “solve” my perceived “possible” problem, I took a 3-tine gardening fork and poked holes randomly here and there over the entire cardboard surface. Probably wasn’t a necessary thing to do (I’ve never read about other gardeners doing this — not even in tutorials about lasagna gardening) but I poked those holes anyway!

About using the cardboard … my decision to use it was two-fold: it is decompostable brown matter but more importantly worms are said to LOVE cardboard, especially damp and laid down over soil. So, I knew I did have worms in this garden bed, but thought, “The more the merrier!” Plus, the authentic lasagna gardening method, developed by Patricia Lanza, starts out with a layer of cardboard, so I figured I’d not be wrong to use it in my sheet compost bed.

Next, I spread out a thick layer of some coffee grounds, some rotted tomatoes that remained after I pulled out all the tomato plants that had grown in this bed during the summer and some of the nice, semi-rotted straw that I’d found abandoned near a new housing subdivision (as shown in the very first photo at the beginning of this post). I didn’t use any rule of thumb to the ratios at this point – but I’d say I spread out about half greens and half browns.

Then, I spread out a layer of manure; then a layer of shredded brown leaves (I had over 20 bags of dried leaves to use up!), then some coffee grounds, then manure, then leaves, then coffee grounds. And I threw in the rotted straw here and there until I used up the 2 bales I had “found.”

To top it all off, I spread out a nice thick layer of shredded leaves. I shredded them by using my weed whacker/trimmer. Using a 30-gallon plastic trash can, I filled up about 1/4 of the can with leaves and then stuck in my trimmer and shredded up the leaves!

Now … this is a quick method for shredding the amount of leaves I was dealing with, but it did take some experimentation on my part to get the hang of how to most efficiently shred them. I found that placing the trash can on its side, with the opening propped up about a foot off the ground, and then sticking in the weed whacker and turning it on was easier on my back and kept the leaves from flying out of the can. it was a bit time consuming, but the only option I had at the time.

There’s two reasons I shredded them: 1) they could decompose faster; but more importantly 2) rain and melting snow would flow down into all areas of the pile versus the chance that whole leaves, sticking together in a mass over time night actually become a barrier to water flow. I’m sure you’ve seen how a pile of wet leaves can really stick all together, making a large mass.

Ultimately, I layered up a total of greens and browns that measured 16-inches high in the center. This height may sound like a lot, but it ALL “shrunk” down by the time spring rolled around. I had to scrounge up a lot of greens and browns in order to mound up my pile to this 16-inch height. But it was worth the effort; I highly encourage you NOT to scrimp on the amount of greens and browns you use in your sheet composting bed.

I apologize (once again) for the quality of this photo, but it gives you a visual of the 16-inch high, leaf covered bed.

Well, this is enough for now. I’ve got some other great tidbits of information I want to share about my sheet composting bed — especially how I topped off the top-most leaf layer with a “final” layer so it could have the best chance of cooking and decomposing over the cold winter months. More on that in Part 6. 😉

If you want to learn more about composting, and lots of other eco-friendly gardening methods and great DIY projects, please head over to The Shoestring Gardener information page. Thanks!


  1. After raising redworms for a few years, I can vouch for them loving cardboard, as long as it stays wet. They even lay their eggs inside and when they hatch, it looks like strings all through the corrigated areas. And it don’t take long for them to devour it all.

  2. Dear Claudia:

    Have enjoyed your email series immensely and have learned all kinds of good stuff. Nice photos (when you remember to take them….been there. Forgot that). I love your practical down-to-earth attitude on all things earthy. Peace.

  3. years ago I also used cardboard to start the garden, and found the best was large ‘flat trays’ of it 3’x3′ used by bakeries to load bagged loaves on for delivery, a huge pile was stacked up outside a bakery supply (free to take).. and of course long cardboard from boxing refrigerators and W & D sets at the appliance store is clean and has very little ink or tape on it. Office supply stores and fabric stores have lots of deliveries in cardboard boxes–as two places to look.

  4. Thanks for posting your ideas where others can find free cardboard.

  5. Hey you!! Jan – where’ve you been lately? Honest-to-goodness I thought about you a few days ago and told myself I needed to send you an email!

    Love your new mirror fetish! 😛

    Everybody – I encourage you to head over to Jan’s blog and check out her amazing creative projects and ideas

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