Austin Permaculture

An Austin area journey in developing an abundant and sustainable landscape.

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Sheet Mulch Followup

Fast forward from July of 2014 to September 2014.  After I planted the pear trees in the sheet mulched area in my front yard, a familiar leaf structure emerged.  The project follow up post is here:

The leaf structure was that of a cantaloupe.  I had ran out of compost during the followup part of the project.  I used my own compost that I had made in the back yard.  Interestingly enough, not all the seed from a store bought cantaloupe had been “cooked” in the composting process.  What resulted was an amazing growth represented in the picture below.

Cantaloupe 9-7-14

That is one plant that yielded 48 melons.  Amazing production and a true testament to the power of permaculture!  These melons were the most tasty cantaloupe I had ever tasted.  There must have been some amazing biology going on in the soil.  I was able to sell a few to co-workers, because they smelled and tasted so good.

Bear in mind that the original soil in this area was fill dirt brought in after construction.  This base along with the lasagna structure of fertility fostered a prime growing environment for the cantaloupe.  A pretty cool accident.

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Sheet Mulch Project Updated

I have been continuing to work on my sheet mulch project in my front yard.  This post is to update what I have completed on the portion closest to the house.  As in my original post I have a detailed explanation of what sheet mulching is.

This photo shows the cardboard laid out in the area.  I completed the first step prior to taking this picture.  That step was to remove all the plants and make them the 1st layer.

Sheet 2a

In the above picture I used paperboard sheeting that was left over from the house build.  This paperboard is used to hold insulation to the walls and is super tough.  It also fills a large area.  The next step in the process was to add compost.  I should have used more than what I did.  This process has taught me how much material that I need for a project this size.  You can also see in the background the 1st area that I sheet mulched.  This area still needed to be completed.  Both areas being experiments, I used two different types of straw.  A finer straw in the first area and a coarse straw in this updated area.

Remember to water between each phase.  This next photo is where I laid compost out as the next layer.

Sheet 2b

Next step is to put down a layer of straw.

Sheet 2c

This is a large space.  The camera shot doesn’t really do it justice.  It takes a lot more material than one might think.  You can just spot our new puppy in the upper right corner of the photo.  We got a German Shepherd in mid-December.  This portion of the project was completed on December the 29th.

At the time of this posting I still have not completed the sheet mulching pictured in these photos.  I did complete the sheet mulching in the background of the above photo.  I am going to add in the final phases of that area.

It was four months later, in April.  Both of these areas had made it through the winter and were a little ragged.  I had to add rocks and tree limbs to keep the straw from blowing away.  I had also planted 3 pear trees in the front area by the driveway.  When I put the shovel in the ground it was like cutting into soft butter.  It was so easy to plant those trees.  Another benefit of sheet mulching: water retention in the soil.

Almost six months after sheet mulching this area.

Sheet 3a

As you can see, the area looks rough.  The wind has exposed some areas, but there has been significant repression of weed growth.  The main weed growth is at the edges.  The first step is to repair the damaged areas with their respective layers.  I pulled up the weeds first.  Its super easy, they come right out!

Sheet 3b

At this point I had taken to a dirt vendor 6 miles away and purchased compost and black mulch from them.  I spot filled with compost and then with straw.

Sheet 3c

And more straw…

Sheet 3d

After patching the damaged areas, I added compost.  You can see the pile in the last few photos.

Sheet 3e

Finally added the “living mulch”.  The dirt vendor stated that it was a black mulch/compost combo.  I didn’t quite have enough to do this area.  I got a yard of the material, but needed a yard and half.

Sheet 3f

I was able to complete this project the next weekend.  The three pear trees in the picture are a bosc(middle) and bartlett(outer).  I chose them for this area because they are wet soil tolerant.  This area holds moisture because of the sheet mulch and does not drain well.  Two months after this series of pictures, the pears have bloomed, but they have struggled with the Texas sun.  I will include pictures showing this in my next sheet mulch update.

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Sheet Mulching

Sheet Mulching is a process used to build soil, add fertility and/or limit erosion.  It can also be thought of as an aggressive form of “composting in place”.

I have a part in my front yard that is subject to water saturation and erosion during rain events.  This is because I have an eve on my roof that drains directly at this area.  It is enclosed on all sides by a concrete driveway as well as a sidewalk.  The area was full of fill dirt that was placed there after the house was built.  I would like to deal with my erosion problem and the fact that it was full of local grasses and weeds.  Eventually I will plant of couple of fruit bearing trees a sort of mini food forest, but for now I am going to plant it with sweet potatoes.  Its a little late in the year to plant sweet potatoes, but I am hoping to get at least a 100 days before the frost hits and get some form of a yield.

The process of sheet mulching and the layers in it make a lot of sense once you see it.  I actually suggested this process to one of my vendors at work that had issues with his septic leach field retaining too much moisture.  There are several layers that can absorb moisture as well as retain it.  This is the process:

Step 1):  Clear the area of as much vegetation as you can without exerting too much energy.  You will see why in step 2.  In this step you will need to aerate the soil.  You can do this with a pitch fork by stabbing the ground and moving the fork in a circular fashion.  For larger scale projects you may need an aerator that attaches to the rear of a tractor.  Water profusely.

Step 2):  Lay down a layer of veggie scraps or if there was overgrowth that you removed in step 1 you can substitute that.  You could simply leave the existing vegetation in place or lay it over by stepping on it.  I had sparse growth so I extracted it and spread it out as much as I could since I didn’t have veggie scraps. Water again.

Step 3):  Lay down a layer of cardboard up to 6 inches thick.  You can layer the cardboard against the flow of water to limit erosion or layer it with the flow of water if you want to encourage speeding it up.  Water again.

Sheet mulch diagram

Step 4):  Lay down of at least 3 inches of compost, preferably 6 to 8 inches.  Water again.

Step 5):  Lay down a layer of shredded woody mulch or preferably straw.  Water again.

Step 6):  Lay down another layer of 3 inches of compost.  You can do a little more, but it’s not necessary.

Step 7):  Top off with a layer of straw.

That’s pretty much it.  In the area of my property I skipped step 6 and 7 due to the fact that it would exceed the height of the area.  Remember there are no hard rules in Permaculture.  Take this as a guide.  If you didn’t have access to compost, you could use fill dirt.  If you didn’t have access to straw or woody mulch, you could use tree leaves.  This is set up will eventually turn into dirt as it composts itself.

Sheet 1

My project before starting.

Sheet 2

Step 1: Remove vegetation and aerate.

Sheet 3

Step 2: Layer of green vegetation.  I didn’t have veggie scraps

Sheet 4

Step 3: Layer of cardboard.  It may be hard to see, but I arranged the cardboard in layers to limit erosion.

Sheet 5

Step 4: Layer of compost.  I bought 4 x 40lb. bags of cow manure/compost and it still wasn’t enough to do this area.  I had to use my entire onsite compost pile.

Sheet 6

Step 5: Layer of straw or hay in this case.  It was all that was available at this time from the local hardware store.  The area to the left will be next after this.  I planted sweet potatoes last night and the whole area looked great.

This was a great workout as well.  Enjoy implementing this process where you feel it will benefit you.