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cotton sheets instead of cardboard in sheet mulch?  RSS feed

 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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Just curious if anyone has tried using old cotton bed sheets instead of cardboard to cover existing grass before sheet mulching? I imagine it would work in a similar way, but perhaps take longer to break down? Or would it harbor too many beasties underneath? Break down too slowly to use the first year? I was not organized enough to sheet mulch the new area I'm thinking about in the fall, and so will be doing it in early spring.
 
Simone Gar
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Location: Alberta, zone 3
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I tried that years ago. I would never do it again. At least in out climate it's not breaking down and a major headache when planting.
 
Kris Mendoza
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Thanks,  Simone. I suspected it sounded too easy to be true... that's why I love the collective permie-brain.

How many years do you think they take to break down?
 
Simone Gar
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Kris Mendoza wrote:Thanks,  Simone. I suspected it sounded too easy to be true... that's why I love the collective permie-brain.

How many years do you think they take to break down?


Well, as I said it might be our climate. I had compostable plastic mulch too and supposedly it breaks down in 3 months. It didn't in 7 so I pulled and tossed it. The bed sheets are in there for 4 years now and I think if I would want to I could pull them wash them and used them as bed sheets again. UGH
 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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So much for sheet sheet mulching... ha ha. I will go back to collecting my brown paper bags and cardboard.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Simone, are you sure the bedsheets are actually cotton and not synthetic? I am surprised that they didn't break down at all. Though it's true that mulch barely breaks down where I live because the climate is so dry.

I've thrown some jute mats down in the bottom of our composting toilets, and they didn't break down fully in the two years before we had to empty that chamber. They were partially broken down, all black and yucky, but they were still tough in some long parts and it was really annoying to dig out the compost over them and get them out. We put them back in the bottom of the newly empty chamber, hoping that they'll break down fully in the next two-year cycle, but yeah, it's not something I would do again. I wondered if it was some kind of treatment on the jute mats. Or maybe they're just too big and intact, even when they are too tattered to use.

On the other hand, we've found the elastic from underwear in the compost toilets, and the cotton is totally gone. Sometimes it's the elastic core of the thread the whole thing is knit from, just a tangle of colored elastic thread.
 
Tracy Wandling
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If you're sure they are pure cotton sheets, I would do an experiment. Use the cotton sheets on a portion of the bed, and the rest without, and see what happens.

I was planning on doing the same thing with cotton sheets, and will definitely do a test plot first to see how it works. Was also thinking of using them as mulch on top of beds if they get too weedy. I'm thinking that the key to having them break down is moisture. But we'll see what happens after I do my test.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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You'd definitely have to keep them covered with mulch, if you want them to break down, as this will help it stay damp. 

Cotton is hydrophilic, meaning that it draws water, which can be a good thing if it is kept wet, but if it is not kept wet it can get wet, draw that water in, and then release that water slowly as it dries and do this many times, as it seems to like working with water.  However, if it was wet, and mulched and the soil dampened initially beneath it, then the mulch should keep the cotton damp, and that should eventually cause bacteria and fungi to get into it.

I've seen plenty of fungi/mildew/mold-ish stuff happen with cotton when I've found it in old abandoned homesteads/collapsed buildings; so it will take on living communities when it is consistently damp. 

When I was a kid I found a rag on the driveway, that was damp after the rain, and I picked it up and it was teeming with worms underneath... and had a worm farm, so what I used to do was take old towels, soak them, and then lay them on the grass in the evening, and at night the worms would come and hang out underneath the moist towel, and I would pick them up in the morning and put them in my farm.  Worked a charm.  So, I wouldn't worry about the cotton being a problem with your soil community... so long as it's damp.  

You could cut holes into your sheets, at regular intervals (say a series of 6 inch holes with a one foot solid area of sheet between) and mulch heavily around the holes, and plant in those holes exclusively until the sheets breakdown; this would allow you to concentrate weeding on just those holes and the sheets would do the job, long term of suppressing weeds.  When they finally break down, you can plant in the alternate locations.  
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 154
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Yes cotton. Yes covered and lots. Soil is great but it's not breaking down. I think it's the dry climate. However soil is actual pretty moist and good. We covered it with about 5 inches of wood chips and manure back them and everything is thriving. Only the sheets don't rot away. Crazy.
 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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Hmm yes, maybe an experiment is in order--might have to be just a pillowcase as my space is limited!

 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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And that's a good point about the elastic from undies! I was planning to cut out the elastic if using a bottom sheet...
 
William Bronson
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That they don't break down could be a good thing.
Essentially they would be landscape fabric,but without the plastics.
 
Angelika Maier
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I use old bedsheets to tie up tomatoes etc. It is very gentle on the plants. There is so much cardboard around...
 
Linda Secker
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cotton sheet material doesn't break down here either....  if it goes in the compost it does - and zips, elastic etc are easy to pull out later - but I did exactly what you were thinking of doing, using at as a base layer for a mulched bed, and it was still intact after several years. I don't understand how or why!!!

Anyhow, I now use cotton fabric offcuts as landscape fabric - works a treat
 
Carma Nykanen
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Hey there,
This has been interesting to read. Different comments came up from than what was brought up on the thread on the same topic last year:

https://permies.com/t/58997/Cotton-sheets-cardboard-mulch

Since then I have laid it down in order to prepare for my next area of planting to kill tenacious weeds. I'm going to plant into it. eventually it'll then break down after my plants are big enough to tolerate some competition. It thus far is very successful.

It's nice when I can find sheets from old estate sales that are hundred percent cotton, wash to strip All detergent residue. Tablecloths and old bolts of fabric are also options.

My kids do not leave many clothing usable to pass down out of the family. They now are one layer of the compost in place beds we've done.

 
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