Sheet Compostinggreenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread
I have never been a gardener, but I'm passing this on to those of you that are. It was on one of my critter Lists. The thread started with someone asking about using newspaper in the compost:
A possible alternative to tilling in the newspaper is sheet composting. Some gardeners wax philosophic about this method, so great is their delight at what it has done for their soil, and with so little effort on their part.
Sheet composting is where you lay a couple of inches to six inches of layers of organic material straight on the ground. If you have heavy clay which doesn't drain well, then you should start out with just a couple of inches of organic material, adding more as it begins to break down and become incorporated into the soil.
Sandy soils can take (and probably need) much more at a time. Layers of organic material could equate to something like this: kitchen scraps covered with newspaper, and all this covered with straw, or manured straw - or you could even use cardboard instead of straw for the top layer. Be sure that there isn't thick, heavy globs of things because oxygen is needed for the breakdown process. An anerobic process is only going to produce a foul-smelling mess.
Then all you do is let the layered organic material sit. No tilling or turning in. The micro-organisms and earthworms will do the job of breaking up the organic matter and pulling it into the ground for you - composting it and improving the soil at the same time. If you've got organic matter for them to eat, earthworms will come - eventually in large numbers - tilling and aerating your soil for you, leaving behind their nutrient rich castings (poop).
The theory is that every time you disturb the ground, e.g., roto-tilling, you are destroying the fragile ecosystem of the micro-organisms that live there, and it can take months and months for them to re-establish themselves. Micro-organisms are one of the biggest factors as to whether a soil is really healthy or not. In essence, it is the micro-organisms that actually feed your plants. This is why purchased bare-root paw paw trees will almost always die on you within a couple of weeks after they are planted, but purchased containerized paw paw trees won't, if planted with the dirt that they came in; the micro-organisms that are needed by the paw paw plant aren't normally found in land that's never had a paw paw tree on it, and without the micro-organisms to 'take care of it', the tree dies.
There are ways other than micro-organisms to feed your plants, e.g., Miracle-Gro, but this is said to be counterproductive to the ecosystem of the micro-organisms, and in the long-term to the plants themselves and the people that are eating them. (For some reason, it seems that micro-organisms can't thrive where there are artifical fertilizers being introduced into the soil.) Miracle-Gro can give your plants a seemingly healthy appearance, but it's somewhat akin to someone taking steroids to bulk up. Things look good for a while - really good in fact - but then the body starts to break down and illness sets in. For plants, this equates to attracting insects like aphids, and getting plant viruses, as well as not being able to take environmental stresses such as drought as well as those plants who are rooted in a patch of soil that has a lot of humus and a healthy ecosystem of micro-organisms.
There's also the question of nutrient availability. If there aren't enough micro-organisms in the soil to do whatever process needs to be done so that the micro-nutrients, e.g., manganese, are available to the plant, this also will contribute to the plant's ill health, and also perhaps also nutritional deficiencies in you. If the plant is nutrient deficient, then so perhaps will be the eater of the plant.
Some start their sheet composting in the fall, letting the organic material sit there all winter long, and then come springtime, they simply dig out a small hole and plant right into the sheet compost.
Btw, I've read over and over again that comfrey leaves are one of the very best things to use as a mulch around plants. Especially those plants like tomatoes that love potassium. You can also make a comfrey tea (which is like a manure tea) to use as a foliar spray. Comfrey evidently has a root system that goes deep into the subsoil, mining the nutrients there that would otherwise be unavailable. When the comfrey leaf is cut and then placed on the soil as a mulch, then all of those nutrients are returned to the topsoil where it can then be utilized by the micro-organisms, who in turn 'feed' it to the plants.
Of course, gardening is a lot like raising birds. Everybody's got an opinion, and methods which have proven successful for one, may not do so for another. Sheet composting is just another tool in your tool-belt; use it if you think the job calls for it, or pick another tool.
One more thought: if you're spraying insecticides/pesticides in the area, sheet composting may not work for you. Insecticides & pesticides are not selective, killing off earthworms and the micro-organisms, as well as the bad guys.
-- ~Rogo (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 09, 2001
Thanks, this goes in my study notes.
-- Jay Blair in N. AL (email@example.com), February 09, 2001.
Thanks bunches Rogo! Printed for my garden notebook.
-- Wendy@GraceAcres (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 09, 2001.
Thanks Rogo - sure looks like something worth trying. For us as we get older, all that tilling etc. gets harder. This looks like a way to perhaps extend our gardening years and improving the soil at the same time.
-- diane (email@example.com), February 09, 2001.
For some one who is not a gardener you are very well informed,all of your info is correct. When ever the soil is disturbed oxygen is added to the soil, the microbes use it up and eat the available 'food' up quickly then they die off from lack of food[much simplfied]any time you till (esp.as it mixes in lots of air) or otherwise break the soil you should add some kind of food supply for the microbes.
-- Thumper (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 09, 2001.
I have used sheet composting here in KY for over 10 years. Everyone here though I was nuts because my "garden" wasn't a tilled up dirt square every spring. People would stop and watch at my old farm because they'd never seen it before. I had 10 wide rows 100 feet long and covered with hay. People would say "what's under there?".
But when everyone's gardens were dying from the heat, mine was still going, and usually had tomatoes till Christmas. Mine was the only one that made it thru 3 months of no rain. We use rabbit, goat, horse and cow manure and grass clippings. And I buy those huge round bales of hay just for mulch, deep, in the walkways and vacant beds.
It really is it's own ecosystem, it's awsome seeing all the wasps and bees and lacewings getting all the bad bugs. I don't spray or dust anything.
-- Cindy in Ky (email@example.com), February 10, 2001.
== For some one who is not a gardener you are very well informed,all of your info is correct. ==
I'm not that well informed, Thumper! As I said at the beginning of the post, the info is from another List....those aren't my words. I'm only well informed in knowing how to copy/cut/paste! -G-
-- ~Rogo (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 10, 2001.
My mother bought be the book about Lasagna gardening and it's the same thing as good old fashioned sheet composting. In the book, the author describes laying down an inch or two of newspaper (wet so it doesn't blow around), then topping it with layers of leaves, poop, kitchen waste, etc. She described planting potatoes ~ just lay them on top of the newspaper, then pile on the layers of other things! Sounds just too easy! I'll be trying it this year.
I have long been a proponent of organic gardening as it is lots easier. As you pointed out, Rogo, anytime you add any kind of chemical to your garden, you kill off beneficials (and in the case of Miracle Gro, you add salts that build up eventually toxifying your soil). Then you have to do the job of the dead bennies, which probably kills more beneficials, then you have to do their job, ... and on and on and on. A lot of beneficial insects hatch only one generation a year, while pests may have many generations. If you spray for pests, you kill this year's beneficials with no hope for more 'til next year ~ you also kill the pests, but there are more eggs waiting in the wings to hatch in the coming weeks and you can imagine the damage they'll do with no beneficials to keep them in check! So then you have to spray again, and again a few weeks later, and again... All this poison makes it's way to the ground where it kills the microbes and earthworms that feed your plants. So then you have to add fertilizer every few weeks. And with all this, your plants are STILL not as healthy as they could be naturally! Aaaarrrgh!
I'd much rather lay a big thick layer of compost at planting time, then not worry about it until a few months later when I feed with horse-poop tea, keeping an eye out for tomato hornworms that were missed by the killer moths and picking them off by hand to feed to the chickens (they think they're little green Twinkies!).
-- Wingnut (email@example.com), February 10, 2001.
At least now I should be able to convince DH that I wasn't making this "hair brained" idea up. BTW, around here previously, "sheet composting" meant what happened if we put off going to town to do laundry for too long! LOL!!!
-- Soni (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 10, 2001.
I had another one of my zany ideas awhile back. We have NO soil here-- --just rotten granite so we have to make our own soil. I was thinking if you took one of those big round bales and rolled out x number of feet, turned the chickens loose on it for a few days, then rolled out another layer on top of the old one and repeated the process, pretty soon wouldn't you have a prefertilized bed?
-- john leake (email@example.com), February 11, 2001.
The chickens would scatter it all over. When I want another row I just clean out the barn and pile it about 1 foot deep, 4 feet wide, and as long as I want the row to be, right on top of the grass. Then I put the hay on top of that to keep it cool from the hot sun. It's full of worms right away. I have planted cantalope and watermelon right in new beds (sitting about 2 months) and had them very thick and tall. Worms love leaves and grass clippings too. I layer leaves in there so they don't blow away, but save the grass clippings for the very top. I don't want my rows to steam.
-- Cindy in Ky (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 12, 2001.
john, I think your idea would work in a carefully contained area, adding other refuse as well. Of course it would take time, but creating soil does take time.
-- diane (email@example.com), February 12, 2001.
The book is out of print now, I'm sure, but check at your library for a copy of "How to Have A Green Thumb Without An Aching Back" by Ruth Stout. She was 94, if memory serves, when she died and still able to garden because of her deep mulch method. Good read-informative and funny.
-- marilyn (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 12, 2001.
Concerning the availability of the Ruth Stout book; perform an author search over on www.abebooks.com. A bunch of titles ranging from about $10 and up.
Just doing my part to keep the information flowing.
-- j (email@example.com), February 12, 2001.
Actually John, you are exactly right- your idea isn't zany at all. I am doing exactly what you suggested. I built a 4' x 8'x 2' chicken pen which I place over my 4'x8' garden beds. I put in about an inch of organic material (hay/used stable bedding/grass clippings/leaves, etc) about twice a week (I only have 4 chickens in mine right now- you could comfortably keep up to 16 in a pen this size, but you'd have to add more bedding material). Use of the pen keeps the material right where my garden will be. After the material has built up to 12" or so, I move the pen to the next bed. I can then wet down the material and wait for it to compost, or I can cover it with an inch of soil/compost and plant right in the already fertilized bedding. Great advantage of adding the bedding is that all the carbonaceous material binds the nitrogen and other elements from the manure so that it is released slowly, over a period of time, rather than leaching out quickly as it might otherwise.
-- Elizabeth (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 14, 2001.