Permaculture 101 – Sheet Mulching

In my previous post I mentioned that I would be spending some time on the concept of Permaculture (PC).   A normal person would slowly introduce the concept, the basic principles and other background information before dealing with specific details, Not being normal I intend, after a simple definition of PC, to plunge directly into sheet mulching.

Firstly, what is PC?

The aim of PC is to design ecologically sound, economically prosperous human communities.  It is guided by a set of ethics; caring for the Earth, caring for people and reinvesting the surplus that this care will create.  (Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home Scale Permacuture, Toby Hemenway. ISBN 978-1-60358-029-8)

One of the first tasks in building an ecologically sound (and productive) garden is to build the soil.  I was immediately attracted to the concept of sheet mulching because it was irrelevant what the current condition of your garden is, whether it be sandy, clay soil or even a water-sucking lawn, sheet mulching was guaranteed to work because the soil was built upwards from scratch.

Briefly sheet-mulching entails building a raised bed of compostable material into which one can immediately start planting.  Planned and implemented correctly, it will immediately start breaking down and composting, retain water on an impressive scale and last for many years.  Even when it starts becoming less productive, one just adds compostable material on top to start all over again.

Anyway, here is Sheet Mulching – The Synaptoman way.

The best advice I can give here is to start small.  My first attempt at sheet mulching (SM) was an area of about 4m x 3m and it took a hard day’s slog and plenty of material to complete the job.   You will need the following;

  • Enough cardboard or newspaper to cover the area.
  • Manure (cow manure works the best)
  • Organic material (straw, grass cuttings, bark, almost anything)
  • Weed free compost
  • Mulch

I bought 12 large bags of pine bark chips which would act as my organic material and my mulch, 10 bags of mushroom compost and a pickup load of cow manure and got cracking.

 We had to fetch the manure ourselves, here’s a very rare shot of Brat Deluxe doing some work for a change.

After the manure episode he deserted me and I built the SM bed single-handedly, although I shouldn’t be too harsh on him as he looks after my garden while I’m out “hunting and gathering”, including watering the rapidly expanding fruit orchard, which in his own words is, “no joke”.

First Step is to spread a fine layer of manure over the area.

Water thoroughly and then pack cardboard or newspaper over the area.  This will kill all grass or weeds by depriving them of sunlight.  At every step from now on, water thoroughly.

After this goes the manure.  Aim for about an inch (25mm)

Then we start packing layers of organic material (in my case, the wood chips).  The deeper the better but I managed about 6 inches (150mm).

After that comes the compost. About 1 inch (25mm)

Followed by a final layer of mulch (more wood chips)

It is very important that you water at every stage.  It is absolutely amazing how much water this solid pile of material holds.  It acts as a sponge and I estimate that I added between 500-700L of water to this pile without a drop seeping out of the sides.

Now we wait a few weeks (or the whole of our Winter here in South Africa) and then start planting.

Wish me luck.

*Breaking News*

I have started testing a Forum for Synaptoman where subscribers and regular readers can discuss subjects dealt with in this blog.  I have a rough site working and am busy conducting tests after which I will open it up to subscribers to this blog first and thereafter the general public.  I hope to have this ready by next week and would appreciate any suggestions for Categories.  So far I have Categories with the following headings;

  • Aquaponics (obviously)
  • Permaculture
  • Sustainable Living
  • Alternative Energy

I am also looking for some volunteers to moderate individual categories.  I think it is going to be immensely popular and a lot of fun to have a small focused community where folk with similar interests can throw ideas around outside of the madness that the Internet has become.

Enough for now



4 thoughts on “Permaculture 101 – Sheet Mulching”

  1. Recently I wrote a blog entry offering a leftist critique of the ideology of “Green” environmentalism, permaculturalism, deep ecology, eco-feminism, and lifestyle politics in general (veganism, “dumpster diving,” “buying organic,” “locavorism,” etc.). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter and any responses you might have to its criticisms.

    1. Hi Ross,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, very interesting. I’m going to re-read it in detail. Why don’t you join the Forum and start a thread or two on this topic. Let’s get some debate going.


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