Sunday, 10 October 2021

Sheet Mulching - - Week 18 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


This week together with the ESC volunteers we continue to focus on garden design for the small area on the east side of the crew house. We pretty much have a blank canvas to work with, as the area previously housed an irrigation pond that was recently dug in. Last week we built a small wildlife pond on the upper western edge of the plot and this week we turned our attention to the boundary on the eastern edge where we are planting a hedgerow.


When planting trees and shrubs into grassland or fields previously used for agriculture, ideally it's best to prepare the area at least 6 months ahead of planting, and 12 months is even better. We often prepare the planting zones in early spring for late autumn planting, and call this process "Advance Planting Preparation" or APP. It's basically the addition of organic matter into the planting zone before planting to improve soil conditions for the incoming plants. This can be in the form of mulches that suppress existing growth and decompose in situ or in the form of green manures that replace the existing growth and improve the soil. 

Forking over the beds in Ataraxia garden, placing a layer of card and cloth, adding 30 L of manure and covering with 15-20 cm deep layer of straw.


Sheet mulching in its simplest form is adding sheet-like alternate layers of carbon and nitrogen rich material to the ground with the main outcome of improving soil. You do not have to use so many materials - straw, autumn leaves, freshly cut grass or weeds and manure of any kind will do, but the more diverse your materials are the more diverse your microbe population that feast on the organic matter will be.

Step 1 - Place a layer of cardboard to cover the soil surface. If your goal is to supress the growth of unwanted native plants or weeds then make sure the cardboard is overlapping by at least 15cm. It's definitely a good to take the time to remove the plants that grow via rhizomes and runners such as couch grass, as these may grow around or sometimes even through the sheet mulch.  It is worth noting that an optional layer of compost or animal manure is sometimes added before the cardboard to speed up the whole process. You can apply water to the cardboard also, but as we were expecting a very rainy week we didn't do this.

Step 2 -  Add a layer of manure on top of the card. We used 4 month old quite well rotted horse manure, adding approximately 30L of manure per m2.


Step 3 - Add a 20cm layer of straw. We mixed ours with some fresh grass clippings.




It's fine to sheet mulch an area before planting out as long as you don't use fresh manure, which can damage the plant roots. A hole can be made into the cardboard and soil below it which incoming plants can be planted into. The card layer surrounding the new plant acts as a weed suppressant and along with the rest of the mulch layers, slowly breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil and improving it. 

Making a hole right down to the lower sheet of cardboard for an incoming shrub.  Dig the soil underneath with a trowel to make a hole and plant out, adding a little compost as a dressing before replacing the rest of the mulch.


We didn't pre-dig the entire area that we sheet mulched first as it had already had some Raspberies planted into it in the spring and had been mulched with a little straw resulting in soil that was not compacted by footfall and in reasonable condition. We discovered in our Advance Planting Preparation (APP) trial that sheet mulching without forking over the beds provided the highest levels of fertility and also optimal pH levels when compared to the base sample. Mulch also provides good habitat for a range of invertebrates many of which are beneficial in our garden ecosystems. Invertebrates largely rely on plants for food and shelter and are often relied upon by birds and mammals further up the food chain as they make up a significant portion of the larger animal's diet. It seems that within our environment at least when you have high levels of invertebrate diversity you will likely have high levels of plant and larger animal (vertebrate) diversity too. Perhaps the most beneficial of all the soil dwelling organisms, earthworms, will settle and multiply under the mulch slowly bringing the material down into the soil, providing micro drainage, improving structure and creating some of the best plant fertiliser around - vermi-compost. 




To check out the ESC volunteer's personal blog see here.  

If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our third Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

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We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!


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