Monday, December 17, 2012

Sheet Composting

By now you already know that composting is a great way to add nutrients back into your soil.  Remember your vegetable plants are going to deplete your soil of its nutrients every year and if you are not adding nutrients back into your soil, eventually your plants will produce far less than what you are used to.  Composting gives you the ability to tackle this issue.

Today, we are going to talk about sheet composting.  Sheet composting is a specific composting technique, in which anyone can do, requires a little bit of effort and has wonderful affects on your soil. 

If you are someone that lives on a property where having a compost pile is virtually impossible, then sheet composting may be the way for you to go. 

As the name, sheet composting, implies, sheet composting is the process of layering (think in sheets) organic material on top of your garden bed and then mixing or tilling that organic material into your garden soil. 

Sheet composting works like this. 

First you cover your garden bed with a layer of leaves (or other organic material).  Second, using a garden tiller or pitchfork, work that layer into your garden soil.  As a side note the leaves (or any of your organic matter) will breakdown much faster if it is already shredded.  While “pre” shredding is not mandatory for sheet or other types of composting, it will speed the process along.   Finally, repeat the first two sheet composting steps using a different material.  For example, if you used, leaves for your sheet composting the first time, use grass clippings for your second sheet composting layer.

Two caveats you should know about when it comes to sheet composting so you are informed.  First, according the University of Illinois Agriculture Department, “The danger of sheet composting as a compost-making method is that carbon containing residues will call upon the nitrogen reserves of the soil for their decomposition. On the other hand, high-nitrogen materials may release their nitrogen too quickly in the wrong form. What may take a matter of weeks in a compost pile, given confined and thermophilic conditions, may take a full season in the soil.”

Second, sheet composting should be conducted in the fall to ensure that there is enough time for the organic material to break down prior to the spring planting season. 

So how much material should you layer in your sheet composting?  This number will vary depending which source you get it from, but what I am finding is the average sheet composting layering amount should be anywhere from two to four inches of material, then tilling it into your soil.

If you are going to conduct sheet composting in garden beds that have bulbs, such as flower beds, it is best that you do not use a power tiller.  Mixing in your material for your sheet composting in these garden beds would best be done by hand, with a small trowel, garden weasel etc.


  1. If you layer the organic material in layers on top of the soil up to 16" high and leave it alone - do NOT till it in - it will not rob the soil below of nitrogen. Check out the book Lasagna Gardening Great examples and step by step how-to.

  2. We're trying to do "lasagna" gardening, too.