Sheet Composting in the Fall for Spring Planting

sheet composting

Sheet composting a garden is an elegant way to revitalize a plot of soil for the next planting season with having to rely on the production of a compost bin. 

By doing away with a traditional compost bin, where a gardener has to move the black gold from point 'A' to point 'B', sheet composting allows for the preparation of soil in one location. This is at the planting site, where the compost is created in the garden bed itself.

A Sheet Composting How To

sheet composting
Our family started a compost bin years ago, then another a few years back, but as our square foot garden keeps growing exponentially, we've found a lack of composting material in the Spring can cause a bit of a hiccup when planning our plantings. 

 To this end, my daughters and I prepared a 20x4 patch for squashes and melons this past Fall by sheet composting our organic materials in the planned location. We were in desperate need of help, and a comprehensive lesson in sheet composting how to.

Garden Sheet Composting 101

sheet compostingOur garden beds are cut out of a section of fallow field next to my mother's farm house. In order to prepare the soil, we started by scattering a quick-growing batch of clover seeds. Clover roots hold on to nitrogen well as we learned from our neighborhood Agway, and once the flowers were matured, we took an old hand-held scythe and mowed the plants down. 

Once the area was nice and flat, we left the plants where they were. At this point, my daughters scattered a week's worth of appropriate kitchen waste on top, and with a hoe, loosely worked the 'salad' into the forming soil bed.

Save Those Newspapers for Compost!

sheet composting
Once the beds were roughly smoothed over, the girls blanketed clean, non-glossy newspaper (3 or four sheets thick) over the mixture. This process works to dampen any weeds that might think of popping out, and creates an anaerobic environment for our friendly compost-creating organisms to thrive as they eat and break down the green material. 

Once the newspaper was spread (we also could have used clean cardboard), I spread a few wheelbarrows of manure on top. This will hold down the newspapers, and add to the health of the soil as the manure decomposes in it's own maturity cycle over the winter.

Spring's Garden Has Arrived 

sheet compostingOnce the snows melt away and the soil begins to loosen with the warm sun, I'll go through the bed with a tiller and work the soil into a good mix. Next, I'll build up around the patch with my 2x6's (I am a square foot gardener, after all) to keep things organized and raised, and begin the seasonal plantings. 

Last year, we had great success with butternut squash, but after our pumpkin carving party this Halloween, we've decided to add a selection of carving pumpkins as well. My youngest wants watermelon, and Wendie and I have a hankering for acorn squash, so it looks like I'll be putting in more beds come next Fall.

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