Sheet Mulch Mania

When I taught my recent Urban Homesteading class, I didn’t charge a fee. Instead, I requested that students bring me old newspapers. I’m sure many of them thought I was crazy. Yeah, crazy smart.

For behold, I have used them to expand my vegetable garden with sheet mulch!

My garden before the great sheet mulch expansion of 2013:

View of the front garden, pre-sheet mulch. The round bed is planted with lettuce, peas, potatoes, and strawberries, so space is already getting tight.

View of the front garden, pre-sheet mulch. The round bed is planted with lettuce, peas, potatoes, and strawberries, so space is already getting tight.

Same bed, taken from porch. The circle is more obvious here.

Same bed, taken from porch. The circle is more obvious here.

But my round vegetable garden is filling up. I found myself echoing the cry of gardeners everywhere, “I need more SPACE!” So I dunked that newspaper in a bucket of water and slapped whole sections down over the grass, making sure the paper overlapped so no light would get through. I topped it off with three bales of straw, which made it about 5″ thick over the newspaper. 

Same garden, now with sheet mulch! I'll plant tomatoes and peppers along the left side of the mulch, leaving a walkway between those plants and the germander that makes the round bed's border.

Same garden, now with sheet mulch! I’ll plant tomatoes and peppers along the left side of the mulch, leaving a walkway between those plants and the germander that makes the round bed’s border.

Post-mulch view from the porch. I'll plant that mulched bit down by the cherry tree with more herbs that can take the heat reflecting off the sidewalk.

Post-mulch view from the porch. I’ll plant that mulched bit down by the cherry tree with more herbs that can take the heat reflecting off the sidewalk.

It’s still a bit cold here to plant out tomatoes, and definitely too cool for peppers. So the mulch bed gets a couple of weeks to moulder before I plant it.

Normally I would sheet mulch in fall and let the bed settle over winter. The grass would be dead by spring and the bed ready to plant. In fact, that’s how I made the original round vegetable bed.

But it’s possible to plant a bed like this immediately after construction. I’ll shove mulch aside, cut an X in the paper, then dig out a hole. I’ll fill the hole with compost and plant my tomatoes and peppers, then scoot the mulch close to (but not touching) the plants.

Best of all, there’s no scraping off sod, tilling, or (god forbid) double digging. Sheet mulch is the smart gardener’s route to great beds with minimal effort. So start saving that newspaper, people. It’s worth its weight in compost.

2 responses

    • Hi Susan!

      When I break up the straw bale, the straw comes apart in layers, almost like sheaves of paper. So I barely scatter the straw, instead loosening it just enough to cover where I want it to go. That way, the straw stays sort of interlocked and is less likely to blow away. I then water and walk on it.

      Hope that helps!

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