Sheet Mulching in October

Our 40′ x 40′ garden plot, nearly done sheet mulching

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I posted anything. I’ve been quite busy, both in the garden and with other things. Since my last pictures, you can see much has been done, but I’m not done yet. All these things happened on October 21.

The process and layers are: ground forked lightly, soil amendments added (*see note), chopped weeds, manure, cardboard (with holes punched in it), manure, a little more soil amendments (same as above), leaves, manure, wood chips.

*note – (amendments are lime, gypsum, bone meal and blood meal – we have clay soil with a fairly balanced pH, slightly acid, but needs softening – lime is alkaline and gypsum is neutral, but with acidic manure and other differences in pH of the other things, it should all balance out)

20131021_115255Where the flowers are planted is in front of the fence of our first plot. Now we’ve sheet mulched in front of the fence of our second plot.

20131021_115300I began sheet mulching outside the fence. This is a swampy area, so I’m trying to get some elevation and a way to hold the moisture for the drier periods, rather than it eventually evaporating.

I’ll be seeking out plants that like wet conditions, such as a rose mallow (hibiscus) that can grow in our zone (we’re either 5b or 6, depending on the microclimate we’ll be producing, and depending on whose zone charts you consult!).

I also started sheet mulching inside the fence at the far end that borders a neighbor’s plots. It’s a thin row with the dark manure there.

20131021_115333Here I’m trying to illustrate the height of the grassy road where we drive to get to the garden, vs. the height of the garden itself. Over the years, these plots have been rototilled annually (sometimes twice a year), and this causes serious soil erosion, a problem we aim to prevent.

The bed is probably, at minimum, 8″ lower than the road. We will not be rototilling our garden beds at all, and have discovered this is one of the contributing factors of climate change, not dissimilar to the dust bowl that was caused by human error in farming practices. This is one reason why we’re sheet mulching – adding to the land but not taking out the nitrogen by tilling. We’ll be planting species that drop leaves to condition the soil, adding biomass and soil structure that holds water during those dry spells.

20131021_115341This illustrates how high we piled the beds to regain some of the height of the land, to prevent the roots drowning in spring. This will shrink by at least 50% most likely. But we’ll continue adding once we can chop and drop leaves of our own.

20131021_115444This was our original plot, all ready for winter now. You can see a bit of beets, chard, kale, asparagus and marigolds still growing.

20131021_115718Just trying to illustrate how high we piled those beds, so we have something to compare it to next spring when it’s decomposed and smaller.

Look at those gorgeous fall leaves on Fermilab property, as I was leaving the garden that afternoon (October 21).

20131021_123831Here are the piles of free wood chips I pick up on a regular basis, at the city of Aurora where we obtain them. There are mostly ramial type chips (the preferred choice if you want to add considerably to soil structure and not rob nitrogen), which means, they come from deciduous tree branches, twigs and shrubs. I can tell based on the few leaves I can find, and the numerous twigs mixed throughout.

The lot is open day and night, and we’ve gone there at night by street light, after long days at the garden. You can see my car backed up to the wood chip pile. We have three large bins in the back seat and one really large one in the trunk. No pickup truck, so we had to improvise by hauling it in bins.

Free wood chips, manure and leaves. What more could an organic and sustainable gardener want? Well, to get away from animal manure and produce our own green manure from living sources of vegetation that we plant. Next will be crop cover.

We have oats and clover. Probably too late to plant now, but in early spring I’ll give it a go.


  1. We are just now cutting our daikon radish to rot, and raking up our neighbor’s leaves to cover our garden plot. This is our first year. We are wondering whether we should put the leaves through our little shredder, but I’m thinking that they will cover better unchopped. From what I’ve read, I think any soil amendments and green stuff should be sprinkled on the ground before the leaves go (to help grow the bacteria that garden veggies like, but we don’t have any of that right now, so, oh well…


    • Aggie, thanks for the comment. Are you using cardboard? If not, it’s not too late to add soil amendments. Even if you have, it probably isn’t too late. I added them both before and after the cardboard on my newer plots. I don’t think there’s any set way to build soil – these were the things we had on hand, so that’s how we layered them. Chopping the leaves will make them much easier to break down. Since our leaves were buried, I’m hoping they will be broken down sufficiently by spring. This is all new to me too, so it’s an experiment! My thoughts about soil amendments are, that lime and gypsum are great for worm’s digestive system, and they come to those upper layers to eat, so they will benefit no matter if it’s at the bottom or closer to the top.


  2. Thanks for your reply! We are doing the same – using what we have. Our neighbor was about to burn his leaves, so we are getting extras for the labor. Good, we will add something later and keep in touch.


    • Such a lucky find, to have neighbors give you free leaves =) Those turn into pure gold in our gardens. The prices that home improvement stores charge for compost is not necessary when we do this ourselves. That’s what I love about it. When I shredded egg cartons and paper bags, my husband commented there was something so rewarding about recycling things ourselves instead of shipping them off to the local recyclers. I feel the same about leaves and sticks!


      • If we succeed in converting him, it won’t happen next year 😉 i said we should just put up a craigslist ad for free leaf raking and removal. Lou was afraid we’d get too many takers…Much as I hate to waste it, I haven’t been putting paper in the compost. I’m concerned about the dyes and other chemicals. What have you been thinking about this?


        • I agree, it can be a concern about what’s in paper. I figure, toilet paper tubes probably have some sort of glue and hopefully not excessive amounts. The cardboard we used to sheet mulch had cornstarch glue, or so I was told. It had almost no printing, so I was happy with that too. Egg cartons sometimes have ink, and is it soy or chemical? Hard to tell. I try to put only organic veggie scraps in the vermicompost bin in our kitchen, but sometimes put other veggies. I never put in processed foods, not even bread (well I rarely ever eat bread). It’s a complex issue, what to add. I figure that paper grocery bags (which I usually provide my own so we don’t usually have them) aren’t as heavily treated as, say, toilet paper. When I got a seed order, there was loads of plain brown packing paper. I composted it. It felt good doing so. There are soooo many chemicals in everything, I figure, this is still better than the veggies we buy in the store.


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