What is sheet composting? Sheet composting is a method that mixes compost ingredients directly into the garden soil. Adding it to your fall to do list will save both time and labor in the spring. It's a wonderful technique for soils that need balance. Try it in heavy clay or mostly sandy soils to improve nutrient quality. It's truly an all purpose fix and easy to accomplish. Here's how it's done.
Rototill your garden to prepare it for sheet composting.
You can till by hand if you wish. Just remember, you need a tilled depth of at least 6 inches. That's a lot of digging. If you have no rototiller, you can often rent one from your local home improvement store. It makes quick work out of an otherwise tedious job.
Note: Rent the most powerful tiller you can afford to make the job smoother and speedier.
Add a layer of plant material.
Grass clippings and leaves work best. One thing about sheet composting, compared to bin composting is that the timing is right for adding plant material. Late autumn is, of course, when the leaves fall. It's also when you do a lot of trimming and the final lawn mowing of the season. You will need to spread a 6-12 inch layer of plant material over the tilled soil. That makes fall the perfect time for this project.
Note: Some gardeners add a layer of soil activator, such as manure on top of the plant material layer. Over the years, this has become a point of contention, with some gardeners insisting there is no such thing as a a soil activator.
Till everything into the garden.
Once again, you will need to run the tiller over the soil. At this point, you see why a tiller is recommended over hand digging. Even with the tiller, it will take time to mix your soil, plant material and activator evenly. All your materials need to be thoroughly mixed. You may need to make several passes to be sure it's well and deeply blended.
Note: Some gardeners choose to add some worms to the tilled mix.
What happens to your sheet composted garden over the winter?
A sheet composted garden works just like a compost pile, but faster. Over the winter, nature's bacteria and fungi work on the plant matter to turn it into fertile soil. Before planting in the spring, till the soil well once again. This creates a nice loose soil for ease of planting. It also encourages air circulation so plants will thrive.
Portions of this article were previously published by this author on a now closed Yahoo property.