I've sheet composted an area of grass (15 feet by 25 feet) that’s to become this year’s vegetable garden. Sheet composting is also known as lasagna gardening and is basically just composting in place, adding all the layers spread out where they'll eventually be for the garden.
And special thanks to Finny for all the insanely early gardening inspiration. And, yes, her pictures of seedlings were like garden porn to me, especially as I looked out at my celibate, snow-covered yard.
(Before and after photos)
(Before and after photos)
I guess I've described the process fairly well here and here (layer well-soaked newspaper, composted manure, leaves, hay), but I’ve figured out one little change that I hope will make a big difference, at least in terms of the rate of decomposition. This time, I soaked the hay in buckets of water for between 30 minutes and several hours (actually some of them up to 24 hours) before adding them as the final layer.
I've had the hay sitting out in the elements for a year or two so I’d hoped it would be fairly rotten, but here in
The thing I didn’t anticipate was how gorgeous (to me anyway) the soaking liquid would be.
After sitting for awhile, it started giving off a fairly nice, composty smell and the water turned dark brown and foamy. I think that it actually formed a good compost tea because of the fact that there was so much air trapped in the stalks. Normally, when you make compost tea (yes, I’ve done it; it’s a bit of a pain, but worth it if you’ve got plant funguses) you need to run a fish tank bubbler through it to keep the biological activity on the aerobic end of things. This is important because if you get the anaerobic bacteria breeding (those that grow in low oxygen conditions), it’ll get ripe and nasty, which obviously is not a good thing.
The other thing about using hay is the fact that, as I believe Dig this Chick mentioned, hay tends to have weed seeds in it. Straw would work better. And shredded straw would be even better than that. But, hay is what I have (free from CraigsList) so hay is what I’m using. I’m actually hoping that any surviving seeds will be kick started into growing by the soaking. Then the tarps that I’ve covered the whole thing with, in addition to keeping all the moisture in, will hopefully kill off any sprouting seeds. Really, though, anything that grows out of this will be so simple to pull that I’m not terribly worried.
I swear, as this composts, the ground becomes like crumbly, chocolate cake (like this from last year) that you can easily poke your fingers into for planting.
(Note- All photo credits, except this last one, Jenny Gay. Thanks, Jen!)