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Sheet mulching and prepping a new garden space- advice helpful!

 
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I have a 2,000 square feet garden space I’m trying to get ready for a big garden this year. It has low quality black clay and TONS of Bermuda grass, I put down a layer of leaves over the whole thing and was thinking about adding some compost and as much manure as I can get and then adding cardboard and hay to the part of it that I will plant in the summer- for the early spring space I’m just going to hoe rows and hope for the best with the grass (maybe I’ll sheet mulch later in the year.) any advice on this would be helpful, I’m used to working in a more established garden with better soil starting out. We are on a minimal budget and with how large the space is I can’t afford to put a couple inches of compost over the whole thing (1,000$$$!!!), we are having compost delivered today which I will use sparingly. Thanks!!!
 
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Hi Samantha,

Nice start with the leaves, compost and cardboard.  My suggestion is that you leave the compost on as long as possible prior to planting.  I would especially leave the cardboard in place as long as possible.  In fact, I might be tempted to leave the cardboard down in your paths to smother out the invading grass.  A little bit of leaves or grass clippings on top wouldn't hurt either.  That then leaves the actual vegetable rows and those will have to be meticulously weeded, but if possible, move the carboard as close as possible to the actual rows to smother as many weeds without crowding out your veggies.

Good luck,

Eric
 
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Cardboard can breakdown really fast if you have good soil life. I've seen it completely decompose in just a couple months. I like to put cardboard down first and then everything else on top of it. If you did cardboard, then compost and then a mulch layer I think the cardboard would decompose quickly.

Last year I put cardboard over a bunch of tough grass followed by compost. I planted a bunch of potatoes in it and then covered it all with a lot of fall leaves. I did this all in February though I did add more leaves when the potatoes had grown up a bit. I never had to remove the cardboard, the potatoes did great with no watering and when I harvested them in the summer there was no cardboard left at all.
 
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I started a garden a little bit smaller than that size last year. I did hire a rototiller guy to work up one area that was for finer seeds. It was very successful, despite a drought in the spring/early summer and too much rain in the later summer. I hand dug some areas for finer seeds, and to be honest, it was a lot of work for the results though it was lovely and almost weed free.

If I were you, I'd get the cardboard on as soon as possible. In the snow, even. I put my cardboard on for a new section I am starting for this spring in the fall. I anticipate it will have broken down and softened a lot by spring, and will keep any grass from sprouting. I also wandered around the community picking up bags of leaves.  Cardboard under mulch (mostly yard waste I picked up, including grass trimmings) pretty much dissolved to bare earth by fall. Note that most  herbicides for residential use are illegal where I live, other places may need to be more careful.

With minimal compost, I would reserve it for  rows for starting things like carrots, etc, that are finely seeded.  I might also keep an eye out for ads for manure. I bought manure and mixed it into my rototiller area, and top dressed around my corn and squash. Garlic would also like better soil.  Some people have manure free if you shovel and load yourself, they were all 1 hr+ drive from me, so not worth the gas for the amount I can fit in my car to me. I topdressed homemade compost or compost tea around other things like tomatoes and peppers. I also bought straw as additional mulch which was great in the drought and pretty much disappeared by fall. The soil in the garden seemed richer, better textured, and more alive by fall than it was in spring.

Here are my threads about it...

https://permies.com/t/137014/Tips-year-successful-garden-beds

Also: https://permies.com/t/148067/Successes-year-garden
 
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I find this video shows nicely how to get a garden going on the cheap. No-till and also using cardboard.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SE8RjyTq3A
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