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Sheetmulching plan - Could I make soil with just shredded leaves and coffee grounds?  RSS feed

 
James Miller
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Location: SW Virginia
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So, I've done a ton of work getting a 25' x 25' garden set up. Of course, I already want to expand the garden, but I don't have the time or the right vehicle to haul soil. My plan is the following

-Lay down either cardboard or newspaper
-Put down brush next, mainly branches that are 6 months old
-Gather everyone's leaves they lay on the curbside (shred them with my mower) and lay them down
-Put as many coffee grounds as possible as the next layer
-Top with 1-3 inches wood chips (to keep the stuff below insulated, promote mushrooms/etc)

I'm not expecting to plant in this soon, but I wanted to start something, mainly so I don't have to mow as much and I don't have to have soil delivered.

Does this plan seem feasible? I wouldn't plant for another 6 months to a year. I'd probably fertilize it here and there with urine.

I'd love your feedback. Cheers.
 
Ken Peavey
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See the Leaf Mold thread.

I think your plan is a fine start. Adding organic matter to soil in good quantity always improves the soil. The coffee grounds will compost along with the cellulose in the leaves. Fungi will finish the job by breaking down the lignin. Complex soil needs complex ingredients. You're on the right path. Your recipe is heavy in woody material. Breakdown will be slow. Nutrients will be low, but there is a massive amount of carbon and minerals. The resulting hummus will hold on to all the nutrients you add, plus a whole lot of moisture. I'm finding that these woody heaps offer an inviting habitat for all kinds of creatures. These creatures, big/small/no-legged/multi-legged/two-legged, bring in nutrients as they go about their business. The pile will improve all by itself. All you have to do is get it started so nature can take over.
With a depth of perhaps a foot, you won't need to mow. The looseness of the material suggest what undesired weeds that do grow will be easy to pull out.
 
James Miller
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Location: SW Virginia
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I love that thread, Ken. Thanks for taking me back to it. I'm glad you think my plan will work. Honestly, a large part of it is so I don't have to mow so much. I'll try to get it a foot deep. I'm going to lay down some newspaper this weekend.

I'm all about leaves since I read your thread and listened to the "You bet your garden" guy about leaves making superior compost.
 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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You are on the right track... You may want to avoid getting organic matter from overly manicured lawns, there might be a bit of residue in there, opinions will vary... You can throw anything that'll rot in there, sooner or later it'll be fine. I've read that cardboard encourages worms, IDK..... Good luck! Best, TM
 
Darin Colville
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Still time to grow buckwheat or oats/peas unless your way north. Both do much soil magic.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I'm using mostly matted, unshredded leaves and hedge clippings covered in coffee grounds. It breaks down, so I assume it's working. The only other ingredients added are seaweed and lime.
 
James Miller
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So, I still have a long way to go, but I figured I'd ask now.

What's the best thing to grow in chunky, unfinished compost/soil?

Squash, sunflowers...I'm just thinking about things with big seeds that could push through chunky soil.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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If you have some that still needs to be mowed, just make those clippings a layer, every time you do that mowing thing, they will add heat to the mound which will break everything down faster and kill unwanted seeds. The great thing about soil is every thing that comes from it can be put back into it and will only make the soil better.
 
James Miller
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Thanks for the input.

OK, I'm making progress. I need to reach a point where I can "top everything off" with woodchips, but I need to keep adding nitrogen (urine/coffee grounds). I'm at around a foot deep of coarsely shredded leaves. I asked a much better gardener than me about what I should plant. He recommended legumes. I'm wondering what is fast-growing and generates a lot of green biomass while fixing nitrogen.

Any recommendations?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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James Miller wrote:Thanks for the input.

OK, I'm making progress. I need to reach a point where I can "top everything off" with woodchips, but I need to keep adding nitrogen (urine/coffee grounds). I'm at around a foot deep of coarsely shredded leaves. I asked a much better gardener than me about what I should plant. He recommended legumes. I'm wondering what is fast-growing and generates a lot of green biomass while fixing nitrogen.

Any recommendations?


I am using scarlet clover, winter peas and buckwheat.

Others that will do what you want are; any of the clovers (red, white, scarlet, sweet), hairy vetch, alfalfa, winter rye, oats, winter wheat, Canada field peas, cow peas.
 
Leila Rich
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James, I don't know your climate but over here you can plant broad beans (fava) pretty much any time, in any soil.
They are far and away my favourite legume
 
James Miller
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Location: SW Virginia
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Thanks good people!

OK, I'm making some biochar. Would it make sense to add the biochar to this pre-soil mix? Would it help accelerate the transformation?

Or am I better off adding it to my established garden (w/functioning soil)?

 
Bryant RedHawk
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In my experience, Biochar works just about anyplace you put it as long as you give it a good soak in some bioactive such as manure tea or a tea made of crushed up mushrooms or spores. Once the biochar goes into the ground, these treatments get the microbes going. If you already have good beds with active soil microbes they will find that biochar quickly on their own.

I have a pile of biochar that sits on a part of my land that is full of spawn and other good microbes. I turn this pile when I need to make additions to a space that is going to be used for planting crops or trees.
I also make biochar on a regular basis for now since I am still doing some clearing of land for orchards. I use the "junk" trees and blackberry canes I have to cut down for this. The hickories get used for more useful purposes. I keep all the white oaks growing since I only harvest them when I need barrel stave material, and then I only take out a small quantity.
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