Eat sheet and die

Today’s garden project: half-baked sheet mulching.  It sounds like a filo pastry recipe but it’s actually permaculture as practiced by the exceedingly impatient.

Proper sheet mulching is a variant of no-dig gardening that can turn your couch grass infested lawn into a fairly weed-free veggie garden, at the same time recycling all those packing boxes you used when you moved in. Done properly it involves ingredients as rich, fastidiously prepared and generously layered as a fabulous lasagne.

However with an epic quantity of washing still to get off the line and some holy card weather on the horizon, speed, rather than accuracy, was my watchword today.


–  Garden soil.  Very very recently limed and ready to off-gas ammonia when hit by the inevitable cow manure.  Because you can’t beat a vegetable patch that smells of a recently cleaned bathroom.  Soil includes plenty of trad (left over treats for the chickens) just waiting to reroot in the moist and nutrient rich environment of the new zucchini mounds.

– Partly cooked compost, still replete with visible kitchen scraps.  Nothing says “urban food forest” like a seed growing mixture that looks like a bin.  In defense of my shonky methods, zucchini will apparently grow happily on a compost heap.  Lucky, that.

– A bale of sugar cane hay, three bags of cow manure and a handful of golden zucchini seeds

– Two large cardboard boxes, recently used to deliver plants.  There’s poetic symmetry here, since these very same boxes may now very possibly be used to kill them.


– Amend soil with cow manure and compost.  Best advice is to check soil chemistry first, but life is too short.  Possibly zucchini plants lives may also be quite short.

– Shape into a mound.  Turn your back for a moment.  Reshape into a mound.  Repeat.  Once again, we see the way chickens (and, it seems, brush turkeys) flourish on a diet of ordure.

– Water thoroughly.  Flatten and soak the cardboard boxes/give the chooks a drink.

– Lay the boxes over your mounds and cover with remaining rotten food scraps.  Mulch with a thick layer of straw, or alternatively, whatever meagre quantity of straw you have left after interring the potato plants.

– Plant three zucchini seeds in each mound.  Say a tiny prayer for each of them.

– Attempt to protect your seedlings from resident poultry by either mechanical or psychological means.  You may want to try one of the one of the following: (a) a long arch of  of chickenwire secured with rocks and tiles (b) a broken child-sized camping chair draped with a vegetable net (c) a scary painting of the Cyclops’ eye.

Only time will tell whether the exclusion approaches traditionally used by permaculturalists will be more or less successful than the innovative deployment of one-eyed monsters from Greek myth.  Since I’ve now used up every scrap of chicken wire, trellis and veggie net on the premises, I may be heading in the direction of threatening ancient gods for economical bird protection in future.

2 thoughts on “Eat sheet and die

  1. Great piece. I am, if anything, even lazier about this. I have been trying to do this with a lesser amount of success. Do I take it that you use the ammonia to kill the weeds and then natural processes put the nitrogen back into the soil. My attempt to put an old TV box recently harvested from council clean up down to kill the weeds recently scored an own goal when the self same weeds breached the Maginot line as it were.

  2. Thanks!! The ammonia was definitely an unintended unfortunate consequence of not liming the soil far enough ahead of adding manure. Definitely to be avoided if you are organised. Folks say that if you just mow the grass and then put your sheet mulch etc. on top the grass rots down and provides additional nitrogen. My main garden bed was set up this way and I was a bit more rigorous about it then so most of the grass seemed to get killed off. I think the layers of compost and ordinary mulch as well as the overlapping cardboard boxes are quite important if you want to do it properly. In my experience there is usually a bit of weeding but nowhere near what you would have otherwise…. Chooks also do tend to brutalise weed roots and I had my chooks on the original veggie patch in a chook dome for a while so that probably helped. But that was a couple of years after I set it up… Good luck with it!!!

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