My friend and I are preparing 4000 feet of garden space with sheet mulch. We are hoping to jump start the soil since we only have 2 years untill we finish high school. Right now we have 4000ft^3 in leaves, 13 bales of wheat staw, 4000 feet of cardboard (oh Duke of permaculture please forgive us sinners), alfalfa meal, and the previous year's leaf compost to get a little microbial action goin. The plan:
1 layer of cardboard thick enough to suppress the current growth
Then a thin layer of Nitrogen for balance
12 inches of leaves
Completed leaf compost to speed up decomposition
More nitrogen for balance and finally a layer of straw mulch to keep in moisture and shelter the bacterial decomposers from the sun
First off, is this a recipe for success? Second, is there any way that we can verify the wheat straw is herbicide free? We would appreciate any help we can get! Thanks
I haven't had good luck with layers of leaves. I put some in my garden and they stayed there, whole, for years. Recently I started putting them in a big trash can and running my weed eater into it to grind them up and they break down much sooner. I would grind all the leaves and mix everything you have together and then pile it on the garden area as thick as you have material for. In other words, a layer of cardboard, all your other organics mixed with the ground leaves, and then the layer of straw on top. I think mixing everything works better, and a lot faster, than layer everything. I can't help you with the herbicide question.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
Good advice about the leaves though, they tend to mat together blocking oxygen and moisture. Also, if you can get some finished compost or good topsoil to top it off, things will move faster for you. Another good option if you can't get enough is to create small pockets of soil just where you are planting. This will give the plants what they need right away, as the rest of the mass breaks down, as well as innoculating your mulch with bacteria, fungi and such.
I wish I could help with the straw question, but that can be a very complicated topic. Best to use organic if you can, since straw is often produced using some of the most resilliant chemicals anywhere in agriculture. At least some types, I really don't know about wheat. Unless you have acces to (and trust) the grower, or have it tested somehow, you just don't know. My philosophy is to do the best you can with what you have. It's not a perfect world.
Does the space you're working with have perennial grassy weeds like bermuda or johnson grass? If it does to any significant degree I would advise more patience and giving the area a full growing season under cardboard....preferably 2 layers thick, with just a thin top-mulch of straw, etc. to keep the cardboard from blowing. You could put the compostables, leaves, etc. under the cardboard if you want. The goal is to give the system a chance to smother the grass out or at least subdue it before you start.
If you are trying to get leaves to break down (or straw, or anything else rich in carbon for that matter)....the answer is ready and waiting....urine!