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Sheet Mulching


February 3, 2020

We attended the sheet composting class at the Huble House.  We have several beds that we duplicated the learned process.  Wondering what to do with all of the straw.  It doesn’t seem to be breaking down.  Spring is fast approaching and it will be time to plant.  What should we do?  Thanks for any insight.  zip code 87109


Answer by JZ: Other master composters may also respond to your question.  Here are my thoughts.The straw is exposed to air, so lots of evaporation of moisture plus lower ambient air temps. = slow decomposition. An option just now would be an experiment.  Choose one bed, then wet the whole bed till moist, then cover the whole bed with a tarp.  Put some rocks around edge of tarp to hold it in place. By maintaining moisture in the straw, decomposition will improve. Uncover monthly, add moisture as necessary, then recover.  Totally uncover, when ready to plant.In the spring, the straw may be moved aside for your planting.  Put in your plants/seeds, then use the straw as a mulch, about 4” deep around your new plantings in the beds and elsewhere in your garden.Another thought for the future.  You could chop your straw into smaller pieces. Smaller organics absorb water well, thendecompose better (faster).And of course you could chop up the residual straw, combine it with some greens then add to your compost bin, then in duetime use the humus to amend your garden soil.Lots of choices.  Compost on !   Hope that this is helpful. Ask more questions if you need more info.

From original questioner:  Thank you!  I’ll be taking a trip to Harbor Freight tomorrow. Tarps are very reasonable there.  We will keep you posted. Do you have any information on the program where you receive a free rain barrel upon completion? Thanks again.

Answer by JZ: Yes, let us know how the experiment proceeds.  (I think you will be pleased). I find this BernCo. site about rain barrels: Rain Barrel Program

From original questioner:  So...   We chose a clear 4 mil plastic over the suggested tarps.  We thought the plastic would create a better greenhouse effect.  Wondering if before we wet and cover, if it would make sense to get some spent coffee grounds from Starbucks for some additional nitrogen to get the piles cooking.  What do you think?

Answer from JH: More nitrogen always a good option in my opinion.

Answer from JZ: Coffee, vegetarian animal manures, alfalfa pellets, fish emulsion, fruit &veg.scraps, feather meal, urine, blood meal,green weeds - London Rocket is growing in some places now - all sources of nitrogen which when mixed with browns would improve microbial growth, thus improve decomposition. Careful as the weather warms up, it will get hot under plastic,  you may have to move it on a sunny,warm day, then cover at nite. You do not need to “cook” the microbes .Planning ahead, you might consider: In the early spring you could gently till in the decomposed stuff, then plant a green manure cover crop, whichwould help add nutrients, nitrogen to the soil.  Then gently turn in the crop 12 days or more before you put in bedding plants. Useful cover crop info.: NMSU: Principles of Cover Cropping for Arid and Semi-arid Farming Systems This is exciting… Keep up.

From original questioner: With the rise of microbreweries in the area, what are your thoughts on spent grains in compost.  I’m sure there is an abundance of them.   Shame to see them wasted if they can provide value. Just a thought.

Answer from MR: I would not hesitate to use either the spent grains or the hops in my compost bins, and I'm certain the worms would love them in a vermicompost setup. And I'd certainly incorporate them strategically in a sheet composting application, balanced with plenty of browns, like leaves or spoiled hay or straw. My gut tells me that fermented grains and worms could probably create miracles.

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