I'm in the process of sheet mulching about 18 m2 / 180 sq.ft. of a sloping SW-facing field with softish clay soil that seems not to have been cultivated in a very long time, just covered in grasses and weeds (now whacked). My climate is fairly mild (8b-ish), and generally wet-ish and humid-ish.
This may be the only season I ever use this particular piece of land, and it is, ehem, getting late in the season, so I need to keep things very simple and cheap. This is also a very busy time in my day job, so if I can KISS and not run around too much, I'll be very happy. But I do want to avoid using the rototiller if at all possible, I try to be earthworm- and mycelium-network-friendly.
There is no (affordable) prepared compost I have access to for this job. I am using Toby Hemenway's bulletproof sheet mulch from Gaia's Garden pp. 87-9 as a general guide, but I will need to skimp on nearly everything, against his advice of course.
For the impatient, my burning question is: Can I keep the purdy-darn fresh cow manure I'll be using from frying my plants? I was thinking of mixing it with maybe equal parts by volume of fresh pine sawdust, which would hopefully suck the excess nitrogen out of it, cool it off and keep my plants from getting cooked... Am I crazy?
More details for patient people...
Here's what I have easy and cheap or free access to:
Cow manure: Well-shredded and dried but pretty-darn-fresh (delivered for about $60 for 1.5 m3 or 2 cu.yds.), seems to be mixed with some shredded straw or grass or something
Fresh pine sawdust (free, as long as I go get it in a big bag in my little Toyota sedan that I'll need to vacuum afterwards!)
Biochar: about 200 L (maybe 0.3 cu.yd.) left over from a previous project
Worm castings: I have about 50 kg/120 lbs and I might be willing to use half of it on this
Newspaper (having problems scrounging enough up, but trying to lay down 3 sheets overlapping a bit over everything as a kind of wimpy weed barrier)
Cardboard boxes (a bit more work but do-able, I could probably scrounge up as much as needed)
Maybe 1 cu.yd. or less of fresh grass clippings, drying as we speak
About half that amount of semi-composted grass clippings
3 bales of straw, 2 old and starting to rot and one well shredded and dry
More straw could be purchased fairly cheap but I prefer free stuff if poss.
Any ideas how best to tame my hot, steaming pile of fresh manure?
And any other advice for this low-budget sheet mulching exercise is appreciated.
I'll be planting out the tomatoes, peppers, corn, crookneck squash and butter beans that are now crowding my balcony. And buckwheat just for fun.
Slow and steady wins the race. At another location, if I wanted a garden next year, I would place lawn clippings there the whole season. That made a great garden the following spring. I don't mow anymore. Sheep's and horses do it for me. Now I use the manure.
I have a bijillion plants on my balcony right now that will be in the ground by the end of the week... THAT's why I'm asking!! Whatever mix of stuff is devised here is what my plants will be living in very shortly.
What I might do in your situation is use all of the materials you have, except the manure, to create your sheet mulch - laying it down in layers of green, brown, green, brown, etc. Then plant your plants. Then I would use the manure as a top dressing near the plants so that the nutrients go into the sheet mulch and soil, but are not close enough to the plants to burn them. If you mix the manure with the sawdust and plant into it, I think you'd be basically planting into a really hot compost, and it would burn your plants. Even if you mix fresh manure with the sawdust, it's still fresh manure, and it's still hot.
So, just use the manure as a sort of side dressing, and I think it will work well.
Good luck with your venture, and let us know how it goes!