Our sheet mulch posting has thus far been the most visited on the blog (we are small but mighty at this point, and celebrate any page that gets more than 10 hits!) so...we decided to do a follow-up on the project with some great pics so you could see what we were up to.
We started with the frames that Jason built out of reclaimed lumber from the Benton Habitat for Humanity Store. The frames are 8'x3' and made mostly out of sections of 1"x6". We chose that size so that a) we could stand off of the beds and reach across them, and b) so we could fit them nicely into our humble backyard with room to spare for the large black raspberry bush (pictured here), and for the dog to have a play space.
You can see in the above picture that we dug into the ground in the farthest bed. This was part of the experiment that led us to choosing to sheet mulch. Once Jason got into the soil we discovered that it was too high in clay content to till and use as is. That is what led Jason to research ways to improve the soil...and voila! We discovered the sheet mulch concept. In some ways it ended up being a much better way to get going - digging up the sodden ground in the yard was the very definition of back-breaking.
Instead I spent some quality time chopping down the grass inside of each frame, first going at it with scissors, but finding my hands much more effective. Next we broke down old cardboard boxes and laid them on top of the grass clippings like so. Make sure if you are doing so that the paper and boxes are wet.
Next came the really fun part. I don't think had anyone asked Jason or I five years ago if we thought we'd ever haul around goat poop that we would have said yes. However, there we were in the Pacific Northwest drizzle team-carrying Tupperware totes filled with partially composted goat manure, straw, and sawdust.
Sheet mulching is composting in place, so it is necessary to alternate layers of green matter (for nitrogen) and brown matter (for carbon) in order to start the microorganism frenzy leading to decomposition. It is important to note that all dead, organic matter will break down eventually. Organizing compost in this way simply serves to accelerate the process.
After spreading poop came the straw cover and a layer of topsoil made of mostly-composted fir trees - a great way to take advantage of the byproducts of the local lumber industry.
Finally we capped the beds with a layer of leaves. It is important to have a layer that is free of seeds and will block sunlight from the other layers to hamper weed growth.
In the end we created 96 square feet of raised-bed garden in about 2 hours. We are now rooting for the rainy season to help accelerate the decomposition while we prepare our starts indoors.