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Sheet composting -- making black gold in your backyard

This article is not about composting your sheets; hopefully you wash them before they get to that stage.

If you are reading it you must have already heard about the value of compost. Just in case you have not, rich organic matter made from decaying vegetation is one of the best ways to make poor soil rich. Grass clippings, leaves and shredded brushy stuff will turn into pure black gold in a year or less. Sheet composting lets you do it with none of the normal work associated with a compost pile.

This article was inspired by a thread I read over at where one of the members wanted to know what to do with a large quantity of composted leaves that the previous homeowners had just piled in a corner of the yard and left there. To her it was trash she needed to get rid of. She did not realize she was about to trash a small fortune in black gold.

What this article is about how to compost and build real humus in those neighbors where a traditional compost bin is not allowed. We were in that situation 18 years ago. The HOA restrictions forbid the activity. The builder left us little other than poor clay to work with. We had to haul in topsoil to plant a few meager bushes at the front of the house. We had big plans for the backyard but no dirt worth working with. We had to use a pick-ax to dig the goldfish pond. Nothing was going to flourish in this dirt; even grass struggled to survive.

What we did was remove the sod from the future planting areas. Actually we just clipped it off with a spade and flipped it over to become the base of the sheet compost area. They we hauled in all the bagged leaves the neighbors were willing to rake and bag for us. They must have thought us crazy people. Add some more green grass clippings if you can find them. Sprinkle on a generous helping of 10-10-10 fertilizer, top the whole mess off with a couple of inches of hardwood mulch and water well. The goal here is to make it look like an unplanted flower bed.

The following year you can add another layer or two depending on how much free bagged stuff you can scavenge. Always put a thin layer of mulch on the top so it looks like a bed you have not yet planted. This keeps the neighborhood busybodies happy.

In a few years you will have a few inches of pure gold that you can add to your beds or maybe you just want to till it in and really plant something in that mulch bed.

Have you ever noticed that the grass always grows better at the edge of you flower bed than it does in the rest of the lawn? Rich organic matter that has washed to the edges of the bed and is loosely lying there is the reason. Turn that into black gold for your benefit by always keeping a small section unplanted and under development so that when you edge your beds once a year you have some place to compost that into black gold for the your existing or future areas.

You can haul in some composted manure from the BORG to speed the process up a bit. Please don't tell my or my wife's grandmother we are paying for manure. Though I will offer this tiny bit of advice, going to the stockyard and hauling home the fresh stuff will get you in a heap of the same. I made that mistake once about 35 years ago. The neighbors, my wife, my kids and even the dog did not speak to me for at least a week. Actually to be honest I wasn't too happy with myself. The fresh farm aroma was a bit much to bear.

While these methods will greatly improve your flower beds you may still need the services of a professional lawn care company to keep your lawn flourishing.

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