Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Doing anything with those grass clippings, mister?

The sheet composting is a go! A week ago Sunday I marshalled the troops -- well, the kids -- to prepare some neglected garden beds for sheet composting while dear husband mowed the front lawn (so he could add the grass clippings as a top layer).

Sheet composting, a/k/a horizontal composting, a/k/a lasagna gardening, is composting in horizontal layers in the location you intend to grow plants. The cardboard is supposed to cut off sunlight for the unwanted plants (grass etc.) and be the first "brown" layer. The grass clippings are an easy source of a "green" layer. My intention is to add food scraps, coffee grounds, etc. as available and cover them with more stuff.

We commandeered all of the large, flattened cardboard boxes lounging about in our garage and laid them over the grass that had overrun the backyard garden beds against the house. I neglected those beds all of last year's scorching summer, and the only remaining intentional planting is a sturdy Russian sage (Salvia petrovskia, I'm pretty sure). So. We covered an entire bed with cardboard boxes, and most of the Russian sage's bed. Then the boys enthusiastically watered down the cardboard, and we headed back indoors.

Half an hour or so later, dear husband had dumped a lot of the grass clippings onto the cardboard. I spread the clippings with a rake, and overnight some storms watered everything really well.

A week later, yesterday morning the traditional bags of grass clippings perched curbside at most driveways up and down our suburban street, ready for the city's weekly yard waste pickup, and I needed more grass clippings. So, I liberated the four bags of a nearby neighbor's grass clippings -- choosing a neighbor I knew did not have their yard treated -- and plentifully covered my composting beds. Woohoo!

Last night I realized that I had a solution for my need for "brown" layers: newspaper and the ever-present sack of papers to recycle. We probably need to shred these, because the only barrier layer ought to be the bottom layer (until it decomposes). I don't have a shredder, so I think the kids and I will get used to tearing up newspaper and other paper. At some point I expect to get a hand-crank shredder I saw on the Web once.

Once we have a ready supply of "brown/dry", I can add kitchen food scraps to the composting beds and cover it up with paper pieces, a bit of water to wet the paper, and some soil.

My hope is that this fall or at latest next spring I'll be able to plant in those beds. One is intended for vegetables. The other, I'm kind of planning to put in a cold frame this fall for cool-season vegetables, and in spring maybe perennial flowers, and vining beans on a trellis for summer -- it's in front of a south-facing window.

If we get motivated further, with a good supply of cardboard and newspaper, I'll finally create the island bed around our river birch trees in the front yard. That would seriously put to use the street's supply of grass clippings for a few months. If I want to do that, though, I need to start pretty soon, 'cause happy growing grass won't last too long now that the standard Oklahoma summer heat has arrived.

Woohoo! This has the potential to rescue those neglected garden beds AND prepare them for some really good gardening work AND help me put kitchen food scraps to good use. It's sadly amazing how much food we throw away (scraps and stuff that we didn't eat). And then there are the coffee grounds.

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