So you’ve decided you want to plant a vegetable garden where your lawn is. That’s great! But what’s the first step?

The most important thing to focus on when building a garden of any kind is the soil. The soil is the key to all life. If you don’t have good soil, it doesn’t matter how much sun, water, nutrients, you give your plants. They won’t thrive unless they have good soil.

In the permaculture world we are always looking for efficient ways to take care of garden tasks. One great method that is really popular is called Sheet Mulching. Sheet mulching is great for increasing soil quality, blocking out weeds and grasses, as well as a great way to put recycled materials to good use.

In order to sheet mulch, the first step is to put down a layer of cardboard, newspaper, or painters paper. This will prevent weeds from getting the sunlight and air they need to survive, and will suffocate them. Those weeds will break down and turn into compost for the soil. The next layer will be a layer of compost. We use composted horse manure from a trusted stable for this step. This compost will be adding micro-bacteria to the soil, which plants will love. The last layer should be a layer of wood chips or mulch. This allows water to be retained in the garden. Wood chips soak up water and store it, as well as protect the layers underneath from drying out in the sun. Most retail stores throw large amounts of cardboard away. Only non-colored cardboard should be use, anything with lots of dyes or anything that’s shiny is no good. Most stables have an over abundance of manure (be sure you can trust that the animals have been fed healthy food, free of pesticides and herbicides). Wood chips can be sourced from a local tree company.

You can sheet mulch basically whenever is convenient for you, but the best time to sheet mulch is in the fall, right before the rains come. This is because after you put down the layers, you will want to keep it watered for a few weeks to allow the composting process to begin to break down the materials. When you do it right before the rains, you let Mother Nature take care of the watering for you, and therefore minimize the amount of work required from you.

Over time these layers will begin to break down, which will only improve the soil quality. This is quite counter-intuitive to the way that most people grow food. Traditionally people plant in the soil and the quality is diminished over time from overuse and unsustainable practices. We don’t have to fight with Mother Nature to get a bountiful harvest! She wants to work with us, we just need to learn how to cooperate with Her.

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