Helo I am hoping for some specific help on designing garden space using sheet mulch and the resources I have on hand. For starters we live in the Puget sound region Zone 8B on a southwest facing 4% grade lot of 2.4 acres. I'm a manager of a TJ's grocery store and daily I bring home anywhere between 50-120 pounds of food bank rejected produce. This is fruits and veggies not consisting of citrus and alliums as it almost all goes to our Animals. on that note we have three pigs (two AGH gilts, and an intact Kune Kune); four goats 9two two mate and two wethers; 14 hens for laying and scratching compost; and lastly three rabbits for meat and just as improtant fertilizer. All of this is new to both my wife and I as we did not grow up in a farming community though we did grow up with connections to food being of high importance. More of my resources are as follows:
-Endless cardboard from work as long as I feel like removing tape and stickers.
-2-5 Gallons of coffee grounds Daily
-As we live in the PNW there is an abundance of pine (Douglas Fir) trees and by that wood chips. Chunky not fine or sawdust.
-As stated above our animals provide us with manure but it's the rabbits that provide the most valuable as I understand.
-We have to buy straw at $9-$10 a bale for the animals bedding and then that all gets composted in a pile for our chickens to scratch or composted in place.
My current process is I use a 165' mobile electric fence to have the pigs root up the ground and remove much of the grass in just a few days. Then I plan to cover the area in carboard, followed by coffee grounds/rabbit manure,whatever straw I have partially composted (Some a few months of composting) and to top it all off wood chips a few inches thick.
My worries with this is one is this in good order? two will the pine tree wood chips tie up too much Nitrogen?
Also can I use Wood chips as bedding as it is much cheaper for 20 cubic yards for $50 to $75 delivered?
The space I am working on is three garden plots ranging from 1400 sq ft to 2400 sq ft, where I plan to create polycultures of annuals along with perrenials.
Seperately I am looking forward to planting many fruit and nut trees (food Forest) in about 28,000 square feet and then later much more.
I am sorry if this is far too broad/vague I am excited as I have been absorbing info to the point of paralysis. Thank you so much for reading!
Wow what a wonderful set of resources! I'm certainly interested in what advice people will give you. Here's a question: is there any way you can use the cardboard to reduce the amount of straw you have to buy? I ask because n my case I use cardboard to line the kitty-litter tray underneath the kitty litter. I think it makes cleaning easier, as I just lift the sheet out and don't have to scrape up anything, and it might reduce kitty litter purchases by about 20%. Maybe with bigger animals it wouldn't work, but maybe it would? the carboard could perhaps arrive to the sheet mulching pre-soaked in urea, helping offset the nitrogen consumption of the wood chips.
i would do backwards of what you suggested, upside down rather. wood on the bottom, straw/leaves/coffee grounds next...then compost/manure on top with some screened local dirt or some kind of bag soil.
but no matter how you do it , it all rots down and turns into awesome soil, so do it however you feel. some people are very precise about things, others just throw things together, i am of the latter =)
another thing worth mentioning (though you have such abundant moisture so maybe not that much of an issue!) is to only put down so much at once, let it get soaked by rain thoroughly, and then slowly add more and more layers...each one getting completely wet. eventually it will break down and not be such an issue...be better water holding capacity, but new freshy beds can have bad water absorption at first. when i have built beds up, even in the rainiest of times, if i go too thick too quick, the bottom layers are bone dry. especially with wood chips....
thanks for your replies so far. I am wondering about the upside down approach, would the wood chips on the bottom help not tie up nitrogen and still be reached by annuals roots searching for water? I am also curious as to all the different opinions of conifer wood and the worry of acidity levels. If it does acidify the soil can this be easily remedied by adding something that trends towards alkaline? if so what? Thanks again for the responses, Matt
Wood chips are immediately colonized in the ground by fungi. The fungi connect with the plant roots to share resources, So yes put them on the bottom and then add soil from the paths with manure and produce the animals wont eat. As you commute watch for houses that are tearing out their wall to wall carpet. I find it is wonderful to cover the planting bead during the winter and the path during the summer.
The company that trims the trees along the power lines will often deliver fresh chips for free. When they did our line, I had them dumped just up hill from where I would transplant my Boysenberries. I dug a trench down the hill and place the vine roots in the trench with a little soil then filled the trench with the the chips that were already binding together by the mycilium. The first year they produced better than they ever had in the sandy soil they were taken from.
As Hans says, the wood chips on the soil surface will immediately be colonized and begin breaking down. Coffee grounds happen to be a very rich source of nitrogen so if you were to put down the wood chips and cover those with the coffee grounds, there should be no nitrogen problems, from there just layer up as you decide. Cardboard will hold a lot of water and it breaks down fairly slowly when not touching the soil. I would probably go with wood chips, coffee grounds, cardboard, compost and manure, coffee grounds, brown material and then just repeat layers as you can. Old carpet is wonderful to use for smothering and it lets moisture through.