We were searching through all of the tomes on Permaculture we have to find a less back breaking way of planting a garden. We were especially concerned with the amount of weeds but we do not want to till the land (as we have learned, while tilling increases initial yields, it depletes the soil of nutrients and creates an environment inhospitable to the teams of beneficial microorganisms usually found there). One idea we came up with was to sheet mulch an area. Essentially, you cut or trample existing weeds and leave them in place, then cover them up with successive layers of decomposable weed barriers, compost, mulch, etc.
We choose a round mandala shape, though we still haven't figured out the internal pattern, but that will come with time and probably on a whim. We started a few days ago with Michie holding a rope in the approximate middle of a sukanpo-free section of the garden and twirling me around the circumference as I trampled the boarder. After that, we dug up the center and buried a few sweet potatoes we were gifted. Apparently, they will sprout little roots that we will then be able to transplant to another bed to grow more sweet potatoes. Yummy!
Yesterday, I began by cutting all the weeds inscribed within the larger circle and dropping them in place.
I piled them up a little higher than I planned, so I had to cut a swath of weeds from a higher spot in the garden to fill out the mandala.
Sheet mulching is also called lasagne mulching or lasagne gardening, as you basically add layer upon layer to your garden instead of digging it up. The main thing we have in abundance right now is heavy duty packing paper and shipping boxes from our move.
I laid out packing paper and blank newsprint several layers deep. Then I watered it liberally before trampling it into place.
The next layer consisted of every cardboard box I could scrounge up. We have been on the island for about two weeks now and the most unpacking we have done was today as I needed ALL the boxes! But that wasn't enough...
...So I had to run home and unpack a bunch more stuff. I took every last bit of cardboard, even our makeshift shelves and garbage can (really just more cardboard boxes!) and brought them to their new resting place. I watered and trampled down this layer as well. I would have liked to have added another layer of cardboard overlapping the seems of the ones below it, but alas that is all we have at the moment. Hopefully, the cut weeds, paper and boxes will be enough to smother out any roots and weed seeds underneath. Besides, we still have a few more layers to go.
We do not have any compost made yet, so I skipped that layer for now and went straight to the mulch. I would have liked to have added a layer of rice straw, but there haven't been any rice paddies on the island for years, and we didn't have the space to pack any bales along on our last trip. So, I looked around and saw about the only thing I had access to was a pile of leaves that had accumulated under the sun porch of our house. I went home and slithered completely under the porch and pushed a heap of leaves out. I loaded them in a basket we found washed up on the beach, carried them to the mandala, dumped them out and realized I was going to need about ten times more!
The little tree that seems to have popped up on the scene two pictures above is actually a rake I fashioned out of some deadfall. I needed more mulch and since there is a tiny deciduous wooded area to the west of our garden, I jumped in and hauled out many baskets full of leaves.
I would have like to have added more but it was near sundown. Michie had just come home from work and stopped by the garden in time to snap one last picture. I also want to mulch out the boarder, perhaps with chopped up bamboo.
The basic idea now, is to keep adding layers of organic matter from the top down. This is essentially a biomimetic approach to feeding the soil just like a forest does. Old leaves, twigs, etc, fall on top and press down on the bottom layers which are devoured and processed into compost then soil by earthworms, fungi, bacteria and a slew of other tiny beasties.
We are leaving the island today for our next Permaculture workshop. So, I am excited to see if any roots pop up while we are gone. Hopefully, we can source some rice straw when we are about this weekend. We will lay out the internal pattern of the mandala next week and get it planted then.