How to Sheet Mulch A Garden Bed
No Pain, No Swearing, No Sweat, No-Dig Garden Beds!
1. At the start of a new no-dig garden: soil can be hard clay, or just good soil covered in weeds. Check that there are no special plants in there. If there are, you can cover around them but avoid collar rot by not papering within 2cms of the main plant stem.
2. Cardboard is flattened and soaked in wheelbarrow or a bucket.
3. Straw and pockets of compost or soil for plants are added.
4. More paths form a mandala, sticks on top to deter chickens, cloches made from bottles.
5. Two years on, the soil is improved and plants filling all the spaces.
No dig gardens are easy. There is a good video by Robin Francis called the Mandala Garden. We have had most success with beds that start on a stable edge and can be extended rather than beds in the center of a grassy area. No-dig gardening was pioneer and founded by Esther Deans, she wrote fabulous books about No-dig gardening and has been to visit our site and although we do it slightly differently because we don’t use hard edges, she encouragingly approved!
No-Dig garden beds on flat land
1. Collect a lot of newspapers and cardboard, we like to leave them in packs outside to get wet in the rain.
2. Flatten the area and dig out the strong weeds such as grasses from a stable edge (a brick wall, a shaded or weed-free area) place paper then cardboard securely into this edge, overlap all the cardboard about 10 inches. you can establish a stable edge to fight grasses with larger plants directly in the soil like arrowroot, or lemongrass and shrubs.
3. Plan a neat edge (you can lay the hose or some string for temporary guide, then step back to the center of your planned garden start laying cardboard in the center and work around this center overlapping in a fan shape until you have the bed filled with cardboard, circular beds are far more weed resistant than square.
4. Once you have the edge defined neatly in cardboard, no pieces sticking out too far, place rocks or pots onto this edge.
5. With a sharp spade cut next to the edge into the lawn so that runners are severed (we found this vital for kikuyu)
6. Cover the entire area with mulch; keep covering it as mulch becomes available.
7. Let the mulch mature. If you have abundant water this can be speeded up a bit with watering.
8. Check for weed growth in the beds BEFORE planting any plants.
9. If there is grass coming through, scrape back the mulch and plaster this area with paper and cardboard. Increase the thickness of mulch too. Wait again!
10. Finally, when you have checked that the old lawn beneath the new garden is dead, you are ready to plant you seedlings and trees. In our garden we have to wait 18months. If you don’t have this amount of time to wait, plant only annuals and repeat the process (steps 1-9) after harvesting your fruits (e.g. Melons) and vegetables. Planting into your garden is truly the fun part – insert your little seedlings with just a handful of compost or soil, mulch up the plant. You can add a rock to increase condensation harvest to the seedling. Keep the area watered in early period as these plants do not have rising moisture from the soil.
No-dig beds on sloping areas:
We use discarded hessian sacks which is used again and again to ensure it doesn’t have a store of toxins in it.
1. Smother the weeds by smothering with cardboard covered in hessian sack.
2. Dig out the strong weeds such as grasses from your stable edge place paper then cardboard securely into this edge, overlap all the cardboard about 10 inches.
3. Do not start in the center, start at the top as the cardboard slips pretty badly when you walk on it. AND you want the overlap to trap any rain water, not shed it as with roof tiling.
4. Lay your cardboard with good overlaps and work on a shape that ends in a secure contour (ease of mowing around). I have found that drooping, and weeping plants on this edge keep the weeds from running uphill.
5. At intervals, lay sticks onto the cardboard along CONTOUR these help hold the mulch.
Continue with steps 5 – 8 as above.
Here are two shots 10 years apart. Dad is in the background spot-mulching the trees in the first shot. By the time the second shot was taken the boys were grown up and the sandpit was just used at night to light campfires.