Sheet Composting

Sheet composting/lasagna composting

Sheet composting (often referred to as lasagna composting or sheet mulching) is a rather neat, easy way of preparing your garden for planting without digging, removing sod, or tilling, and at the same time  preparing a feast for worms.

When the ingredients are put in specific layers, they quickly decompose, and the gardener then has a garden full of rich crumbly, dark soil ready for planting.

By using this form of no-dig gardening, one may cover any base or unwanted plant material including weeds, old lawn or open ground with layers of materials referred to as the barrier, compost, and mulch.

As the name implies, sheet  composting (or lasagna composting)  is put together as you would put together a lasagna to eat: layer by layer.  However, before you even begin building your sheet composting pile, you must become familiar with the terms “greens” and “browns”  because you will have to gather both types of material before you can build your pile.

In composting jargon, “brown” ingredients are woody materials  such as autumn leaves, paper, cardboard, peat moss, sawdust, cornstalks, hay and straw, etc (non-living material) which are high in carbon.

“Green” materials are ingredients such as garden refuse, manure, tea and coffee grounds, feathers, hair, and food scraps (living material) which are high in nitrogen.

Some materials can actually be both: for example, fresh grass clippings are “green,” but dried grass is “brown”.

So How Do You Prepare For Sheet Composting  (lasagna Composting)?

1. First you choose a site which gets at least 6 hours of  lots of sun, hopefully protected from high winds, and mark off this area with stakes and a string. Let’s say you want to start small. so for your first sheet composting pile set in the place where you wish to have your  garden, you stake out an area roughly 4 ft by 8 ft which will give you enough room to grow several different crops.

2. Next gather your ingredients.   If this is your first lasagna garden, you need something heavy as your first layer of your sheet composting pile to smother the grass and weeds which may be in the area you picked. You can use wet flattened, overlapping cardboard boxes or thick layers of wet newspaper. Do not include the glossy fliers.

If you don’t have that much homegrown mulch and compost to build your sheet composting pile, consider buying some of your sheet composting material. One great ingredient found in any gardening nursery is the sphagnum peat moss which can be bought in huge bags.

Other ideal materials are chopped leaves, grass clippings, compost, aged manure or store-bought  manure, other organic materials, and even sand alternated with 2-inch layers of peat moss. You can also add 3 to 4 inches of wood chips (uncontaminated and no oak chips) where you might want a path throughout the garden.

Note: Do not use proteins such as fat, meat, or bones; all materials must be organic.

Other ingredients which will help the sheet composting procedure are bonemeal (to add phosphorus which promotes root growth) and bloodmeal (a high nitrogen material that can substitute for manures or grass clippings).

For successful results, you can use the simple rule that your sheet composting pile needs to be about half “brown” and half “green” by weight.  Don’t bother weighing your ingredients, though — an estimate is fine.  Composting soon becomes a matter of instinct, like the cook who bakes without a recipe.  Whatever you use must be easily biodegradable and unpolluted by paint, oils, glue, or other pollutants.

Along with the ‘greens” and the “browns”,  your composting pile must be moist and have lots of air coming through.  All three, (air, moistness, and a combination of greens and browns) must be present at all times in order to attract the worms and have the pile decompose in record time.

3.  Now that you have gathered your ingredients, you can proceed to creating your “lasagnagardening compost pile by adding your composting ingredients in layers.

An example of How To Build the Sheet Composting (Lasagna Composting) Pile

1. The first step is to outline your garden.  You can stake it out with sticks hammered into the ground around the perimeter of the garden, or one tall, strong post in each corner of the garden with a strong rope or twine being drawn from one corner post to the other until you can clearly see the outline of your future garden.  Once your garden is outlined, you can immediately start adding your browns and greens; however, some gardeners prefer to somewhat loosen the soil  with a garden fork in order to encourage the worms to come up to the material being layered.  So if you wish,  you can loosen up the ground with a garden fork. Push the fork into the ground, then lean back on the handle just to loosen the soil.  Turning the soil is not needed.

cardboard base for the lasagna pile2. Lay a good base for your sheet composting pile by putting down a layer of “browns” such as newspaper or cardboard.   Before setting the cardboard in layers, be sure all the tape has been removed as tape is not biodegradable.  Whether  you use cardboard or newspaper, overlap your material so that all the sod, rocks, debris is well covered; also be sure to overlap the edge of the garden by at least 5 inches.

3.  If you have not presoaked your newspaper or cardboard,  water this first layer well with your garden hose or pails of water.  You want every inch of that newspaper or cardboard to be very moist through and through.  You want to attract the worms who prefer moist but not soggy areas.  You may want to cover these newspapers or cardboard with a 6-inch layer of topsoil to introduce those essential soil bacteria and speed up decomposition.

4. loosened grass cuttings over the cardboardThe next step in building the sheet composting pile is to put down a layer of “greens” which could include grass cuttings or broken down leaves over the “brown” cardboard layer.  Grass clippings is a good choice.  Cover the whole layer of moist cardboard with 2 to 3 inches of loosened grass cuttings so that air can circulate; then,  water the grass cuttings to moisten it.  The idea is to keep the whole sheet composting pile moist by watering each layer of material until the material is quite moist.  You can also add earthworms to get the composting started, but if you don’t have any, don’t worry — the worms will come.

Layer 3: Add a 2-inch layer of peat moss then sprinkle with water.
Layer 4: add a 4-to-6 inch layer of barn litter and if dry, sprinkle with water.
Layer 5: Add a 2-inch layer of peat moss and moisten.
Layer 6: add a 4-to-6 inch layer of compost mixed with soil or pure compost, then sprinkle with water until moist.

sheet composting pileKeep adding water to the following if needed:Layer 7: A 2-inch layer of peat moss
Layer 8: A 4-to-6 inch layer of grass clippings
Layer 9: A 2-inch layer of peat moss
Layer 10: A 4-to-6 inch layer of chopped leaves
Layer 11: Another 2-inch layer of peat moss
Layer 12:
You can top your pile with a layer of loose straw.  Be sure to loosen the straw and spread evenly over the pile.  Be sure you moisten the ingredients as you add them.

Try to keep the sides of your sheet composting pile as vertical  as possible so that the rain stays in the garden and doesn’t flow off.

Final steps to creating your sheet composting pile

Test your soil with a pH thermometer. On a pH thermometer, a pH above 7 means your soil is alkaline. A pH below 7 means your soil is acidic. Most plants thrive in soil that has a pH somewhere between 6.5 and 7.2

If your soil test shows that your soil is acidic, adding powdered limestone to the pile will add calcium and raise the pH of the soil.
Caution: add only a little bit at a time as a small amount goes a long way. Then test your soil after a few days.  If the soil shows it is still acidic, add another little bit.  Follow directions on the box or bag.

If on the other hand your soil is alkaline, adding powdered sulfur will help lower the pH of the alkaline soil. (Please read the labels. If more than necessary is added to your soil, you can ruin your soil.)

Sprinkle bonemeal, or wood ashes, lime or sulfur (depending on your soil’s pH) over the top layer of peat moss. Do so CAREFULLY as these items will change your pH very quickly to alkaline or acid.

Keep adding layers until your sheet composting pile is 18 to 24 inches high. After decomposing has occurred, you will be left with about 5 to 6 inches of rich crumbly soil.

The good news is that as the worms work in your garden, they will also tunnel through the soil under the newspapers perhaps to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. This could give you a total of 8 to 10 inches of super soil to plant in.

The Best Season For Creating Your Sheet Composting Pile

Fall is a great time time for doing this type of sheet composting, for you can use as many chopped up leaves as you want since it is readily available. Also, during the winter the pile will decompose and the end result should be dark and loose soil, much like deeply dug soil ready for you to set out your plants or sow seeds in the spring.

If you do this sheet composting in the early spring, you might want to “cook” it by first making sure you put about 4 times more brown material as you do green (high-nitrogen) material as you are building your pile.  Then cover the sheet composting pile with a yard cloth and weigh down the edges all around the pile with bricks.  If you wish to get the pile to heat up, cover with a plastic.

The black plastic helps keep the materials moist and traps the sun’s warmth for fast heating. After about 6 weeks, most of the pile will have broken down into a dark, crumbly material ready for you to plant seeds or transplant. Remove the pieces which have not quite decomposed.

Let’s Review:

1.  Before beginning your sheet composting pile, don’t remove the sod or do any extra work such as removing weeds or rocks.

2. Using a water hose or a long rope to select the desired shape, mark the area for your sheet composting pile .

3.  Cover the marked area with wet newspapers, cardboard or other paper-based product,overlapping the edges using at least fivesheets.  This first layer is cardboard (a brown material). Spray with water if not already quite moist.

4.Cover the paper/cardboard with one to two inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of  peat moss, peat moss substitute, or other moisture holding organic material such as   leaves, grass clippings, or garden waste on top of the peat moss.   You can also add a mixture of clay soil mixed with compost.  This would be the time to add bone meal or blood meal or limestone or sulphur. (Be careful.  See why above)

6.  As you continue building your sheet composting pile,  alternate layers of browns such as peat moss and and greens such as organic material, until desired depth is reached (18-24 inches or less depending on the raw materials available). You can top it off with a layer of loose straw.

7.  Hose down each layer as you add it to the sheet composting pile so that the pile has the consistency of a damp sponge.

8.  If done in the fall, finish by covering the sheet composting pile with garden cloth so that the pile stays all together and less nutrient is lost through water leaching.

Each year after usage,  increase soil level by introducing large amounts of mulch and compost to your garden and sheet mulched area.

Yes, you can change an unmanageable area into an area full of rich crumbly soil not by digging, tilling, or removing sod  but by sheet composting also referred to as Lasagna Composting.

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4 Responses to “Sheet Composting

  • 1
    Janyce Prewer
    January 30th, 2012 00:45

    I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I’m surprised at how much effort you put in to make such an excellent informative website.

  • 2
    Used Cooking Oil
    February 16th, 2012 15:32

    Thank you, I’ve just been looking for info about this subject for a long time and yours is the greatest I have found out till now.

  • 3
    June 7th, 2012 08:17

    This has been a great help after much searching on the subject, now to get my hands dirty!

    many thanks :)

  • 4
    March 4th, 2015 19:03

    Will definitely do this. I have the land the cardboard soil and chickens…Thanks so much…

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