Sheet composting

When most people compost, it goes into a bin or big pile. But the easiest way to do it is by spreading it out on the ground in layers. This method is called sheet composting or lasagna mulching. It's also a simple way to create a new garden bed, or expand an existing one.

Cindy Wise is a master gardener compost specialist volunteer for Oregon State University extension. She says to create a new planting area, layer organic materials where the bed will be. Once it degrades, you have a nutrient-rich garden bed.

"If there's grass growing or anything else in the area that you don't want, you have to either remove that, or you can smother it. And then what we do is lay down overlapping layers of black-and-white newsprint 3-or-4-sheets thick, or cardboard," says Wise. "You moisten that down, and then you simply start piling alternating layers of carbon materials and nitrogen-rich materials."

Common carbon sources include sawdust, leaves, straw, and newspaper. Nitrogen layers can be made from coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and composted manures. Keep adding layers as material becomes available, and Wise recommends always ending with a carbon layer on top. This discourages flies from laying eggs.

She says you can start the process any time, but the results aren't immediate.

"This is a slow process. This is not a process where things heat up and biodegrade really rapidly, it takes a long time. So it's sort of a cold method of composting," she says. "We like to do it in the fall if you're going to prepare for a new planting bed for in the spring because it takes anywhere from 6-9 months for this material to break down to sufficiently be able to plant in it."

The new bed is finished and ready for planting when the layers have decomposed and the original materials are no longer recognizable.

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