The Interbay Mulch composting method differs in one way — burlap is used to cover the entire layered bed. I used coffee bean sacks to put my bed to rest before winter arrived, and by spring’s arrival saw some interesting results.
In Part 6 I wrote about the benefits of topping off the sheet composting pile with burlap, or used coffee bean sacks.
I should mention that you must use 100% “natural fiber” burlap or coffee sacks. Some sacks and burlap-by-the-yard are not made from jute, which is completely natural and biodegradable. You WANT the sacks to decompose, along with all the other goodies you’ve put into your pile. So I do not suggest you buy sacks that are anything but 100% natural fiber.
In my case, living in Tennessee at the time, we didn’t get a lot of snow, but we did get rain, so my sheet compost bed received ample moisture to help keep the decomposition process moving along. The burlap sacks did their job just fine throughout the winter, absorbing moisture from melting snow or rain and wicking it down into the compost pile.
I also placed some heavy, large flat stones in various places on the pile to help hold down the coffee sacks. Semi-high winds, I soon found out, were capable of blowing back the corners of the sacks. So I do suggest you use stones, bricks, heavy pieces of wood, etc. to hold down the sacks on top of your bed.
Or, you could use U-shaped landscape fabric pins (make them yourself instead of buying them — use pieces of heavy wire you might have kicking around and save some money!) to push through the sacks and hold them down. However, because a newly layered compost pile is brand new and the layers aren’t compressed, these type pins probably won’t be of much help. That’s why I went for something heavy I could place in strategic spots to hold down everything.
So, over the winter I watched the pile look pretty much the same. Its 16-inch height didn’t really look like it was shrinking down, which I knew was due to the very cold temperatures and that patience was required in dealing with a sheet compost pile project like this one.
I was anxious for spring to roll around, as I wanted to pull off the coffee sacks and see the fruits of all my labor! I wondered if all the shredded leaves, somewhat chunky cow manure, and other organics I’d used would really be decomposed enough to plant in when the temps warmed up.
Well, when spring finally arrived, my waiting was over. It was time to remove the big rocks and strip off the sacks from the pile. When I removed the rocks, I was pleasantly surprised – the burlap had completely decomposed wherever a rock had been placed. I mentioned in a previous post that I used 2 layers of coffee sacks, as recommended by the Interbay Mulch gardeners. The 1st layer of sacks that were touching the compost pile had also started to decompose some. The top (2nd layer) hadn’t except where the rocks had been placed.
The decomposition of the sacks was very clear, visible testament to the fact that even in very cold temps, organic materials CAN “cook” and go through the decomposition process.
Now, I wish I’d taken more photos of the sacks and entire bed to post here, but I didn’t for reasons that I needn’t go into. But suffice it to say, the final results of my sheet composting experiment were very positive. I do believe that there is a distinct advantage in using burlap or coffee sacks over using a covering of black plastic.
And yes, my 16-inch high pile had sunk down some, and after I turned over the ingredients and mixed up everything a little better, it was surprising to see how much everything had decomposed and I would say that there was probably no more than a 3 — 4-inch “height” above the edge of my garden bed. This was quite acceptable, and as the spring and summer wore on, the organics decomposed even more and the level of soil lowered a bit more.
To recap, some of the best reasons to use burlap yardage or sacks over black plastic are:
- Burlap can “breathe”, thus air and moisture easily incorporate into the compost pile.
- Burlap encourages a favorable dark, moist environment that the gobbling microbes and worms love!
- You’ll likely see a huge increase in the worm population compared to what you’d normally have.
- Burlap decomposes along with everything else in the pile.
- If you use coffee sacks, you’ll very likely be able to use them a second time to cover another pile. So from a cost standpoint, you are getting good use from them and they really aren’t that expensive in the long run.
- Whatever shredded remnants of the sacks you have left can be incorporated into a compost pile. Nothing is wasted!
So, I guess all I can say is I’m a believer — I experienced the value of covering a compost pile that won’t constantly be turned, no matter what time of year you build the pile, with burlap material. I saw how my garden bed’s worm population exploded. Remember … worms in your garden beds are a good sign and very beneficial in oh-so-many ways.
All-in-all I recommend using burlap material as the final layer to a compost pile that you plan to let sit there and cook. (Obviously, if you’re going to be turning the pile constantly, it makes little sense to go to the trouble to cover it, though you could, if you were so inclined.)
In the final post of this series, I’ll share some suggestions and final tips so YOU can be successful from the get-go if you decide to give this composting method at try.
If you want to learn more about composting, and lots of other eco-friendly gardening methods and great DIY projects utilizing recycled materials, please head over to The Shoestring Gardener information page. Thanks!