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Sheet Mulching for Beginners

Using Bill Mollison’s Recommendations

This season I began to put into practice what I had learned on the Permaculture Design Course about mulching and no-dig cultivation.  I wanted to begin experimenting with this approach, not only because it saves hours of backbreaking work and minimises watering, but because it improves poor soil and suppresses weeds.

On our site we are dealing with thin soil, a thirty-degree slope, a big couch grass issue, and a tendency to back problems in the gardener, so it all seemed worth trying. Armed with what I had learned, plus further research into the recommendations of Permaculture guru, Bill Mollison, I set about creating new beds on land that had been uncultivated for at least 100 years, when the longhouse was last known to have been inhabited.

Wanting, as usual, to have everything done yesterday, I went at it with a will, and found local sources of cardboard and straw, got familiar with the scythe, and went in for quite a lot of quarrying to remove the many huge stones that lie both on the surface and beneath it on much of our plot.

Apart from attacking the huge tussocks that were the remains of old anthills, I did not dig.  I used whatever came to hand as part of the green mulch – I scythed long grass and weeds, and a huge quantity of immature foxglove leaves all got absorbed into the process.

I now have a number of large beds all neatly tucked up with straw on top, ready to over winter, and, hopefully, become ready for cultivation in the spring. Peeking under the thatch of one the other day, I came across a slow worm – fantastic for dealing with the slugs.  A number of toads seem also to like this habitat - all good news so far.

The method I used is a simplified one.  First, scythe down the green growth and remove.  Second – sprinkle with composted material from the heap.  Sheet mulch with the cardboard, and sprinkle more compost over it. (This feeds the microorganisms that will break down the carbon mulch).  Top off with all the green material that was scythed down (before it developed seed heads), then put a good layer of straw over all, and leave well alone.

As you will see from the following summary of Bill Mollison’s method, there are various substitutes for parts of this process – one that I found useful was bracken when I needed more green material –  it’s high in potash.  You will also see from the following notes how to incorporate planting into the process so you can begin using your sheet mulched bed right away if necessary, but note the advice to avoid root vegetables in the first season till the worms have dug the soil for you and the rich manure has mellowed.

The Mollison Method

Bill Mollison too points out that sheet mulching is labour saving, reduces watering, and uses material that often goes to landfill.  It produces excellent soil, requires few tools, and suppresses weeds, including ivy, couch grass, docks, thistles, dandelions and even brambles.

Before laying down the mulch, he suggests planting any large trees or shrubs you might want to include by digging a spacious hole, and gently back-filling round the roots, ideally with a mixture of rotted manure and soil.

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