garden bed installation: sheet composting

materials for sheet composting: "greens and browns"

materials for sheet composting: browns

This fall the fiance and I have been on a new gardening adventure – we’re in the process of becoming certified as Organic Master Gardeners through SOUL and Gaia College. So far it has knocked my socks off. Spending 6 hours in “school” a week might seem like a bit much on top of a full time job and life, but it has been well worth the time. We have surprised ourselves not only with how much there is to know, but even more by how much knowledge we’ve already gained through our reading and endless hours in the garden.

The program is split between evening in-class lectures and Saturday afternoons in the garden. Our last Saturday was spent in the pouring rain learning how to compost and picking worms (you know you’re a hard core gardener when). Thankfully today, halloween, the sun came out for us for our garden bed installation class.

Sheet composting is the lazy lady’s way of installing a garden bed. My goodness if I had known about this before we ripped out the lawn . . . I can’t help but shake my head at how much digging I could have saved my poor little arms. Basically rather than going to the bother of ripping up the lawn or making a pile of compost in a corner somewhere, you’re killing two birds and making the compost right there where you want the bed.

The process is simple and cheap (read: totally free) – perfect.

First you need to gather materials.  Just like composting you need your greens and browns. Greens are things that are high in nitrogen and are well – green. The easiest material to fit the bill here are grass clippings.

grass clippings

grass clippings: the green

Greens like grass clippings help us heat up the compost, which speeds the process by providing a nice warm place for good compost-making bacteria and other critters to thrive, and kills all the nasties. In fact, when we opened these bags, the grass was so warm it was hot to the touch and steaming in the cool autumn air. Nice one. Greens can be just about anything though; kitchen scraps, trimmings from the perennial garden or fresh leaves. Whatever.

Next the browns: Browns are things that are rich in carbon and you guessed it – are usually brown. Dried up leaves are the best source and as you can see, there was no shortage of leaves in this garden! If you want to feel really smart you can shred the leaves first – run them over with the lawn mower or use a leaf chipper. This will speed up the decomposition process for obvious reasons but is certainly not necessary. (Remember this is supposed to be the lazy lady’s way! Embrace your inner lazy gardener!)

smother layer of newspaper

smothering layer of newspaper

Depending on whether or not you’re working over grass you have a choice for the next part. If you have sod that you want to turn into a bed, it’s best to use sheet cardboard for the first layer of your sheet compost. This will help smother the grass. If, like us, you have no grass, just newspaper will suffice. Make sure you lay them so there are no cracks between; you don’t want to give those weeds a chance!

Just like a lasagna we now just need to layer greens and browns to build up our bed.

adding the green layer to sheet compost

adding the green layer of fresh cut grass

There is no real technique to this – just spread it out as thick as you like. Easy peasy.

brown leaves being added to the sheet compost

. . . and another layer of browns goes on . . .

final layer of soil on sheet compost

. . . and finally a layer of soil.

Now if you really want to get fancy there are a few other things you can do to really get your sheet compost cookin’.

One of the best things to do to make sure your sheet compost has all the right helpful bacteria and micro-organisms is to give it a good dose of homemade compost tea. It will supercharge your lasagna with everything it needs to become beautiful, finished compost in a snap. (Ok maybe not a snap by normal standards, but a snap by a gardener’s measure of time.)

You can also add glacial rock dust which will add minerals. In place of the simple soil, if you have it on hand you can also use a layer of finished compost on top rich with worms and other wonderful critters who will happily eat those greens and browns and magically transform them into beautiful soil.

With a bit of luck, some patience and a bit of rain, if you start this in the fall you should have a lovely plot ready by summer. Keep adding mulch and compost and love and for heavens sake don’t walk on it, and your new plot should reward you with seasons of fruitful gardening.

One thought on “garden bed installation: sheet composting

  1. M. D. Vaden of Oregon

    In areas where curbside recycling is available, I recommend skipping the paper or cardboard, because removing it from the recycling pool of resources means increased energy use and more trees cut. Recycling also reduces sulphur dioxide pollution.

    Sort of a surprise, that laying paper and cardboard under compost could increase energy use and oil consumption elsewhere.

    Otherwise, if the paper can’t be recycled, then the garden becomes a good way to recycle the product after all.

    Where paper is recycled, I’m thinking that a layer of leaves flattened beneath the compost might provide a good alternative, so cardboard, etc., can be recycled for sustainable living.

    There’s always another angle to learn in gardening.

    MDV / Oregon


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