How to Sheet Mulch A Garden Bed
No Pain, No Swearing, No Sweat, No-Dig Garden Beds! All you need is patience and care.
Method For No-dig Gardening
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. 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 pioneered by Esther Deans, she wrote fabulous books about No-dig gardening and came to visit our site in the 90s 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 or canvas tarpaulins. These are reused again and again to ensure to reduce risk of toxins in the garden from imported materials.
1. Smother the weeds by smothering the ground neatly with hessian sacks and cardboard. 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 the top edge keep the weeds from running uphill.
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 of the slope because cardboard slips pretty badly when you walk on it (you slide off too) AND you want the overlapping cardboard to trap any rain water, not to shed it as it would if you laid it from the bottom working upwards in the same way as roof tiling. Aim to create a pattern that is the reverse of roof tiling.
4. At intervals, lay sticks onto the cardboard along CONTOUR these help hold the mulch. You may need to pin the cardboard down with tent pegs. These pegs will also help hold the branches or sticks that are on top.
Continue with steps 5 – 8 as above.
Here are two shots 10 years apart. Dad is in the far background spot-mulching the trees in the first shot. By the time the second shot was taken the boys were grown up, the trees tall, the kikuyu gone (sheet mulched and shaded out), and the sandpit occasionally used at night to practice lighting campfires.