The Q&A Archives: Sheet Composting

Question: During the year I collect straw, wood shavings, grass clippings, wood chips, horse manure, cow manure and anything the neighbors may have to compost.

The question is, with the large volume I collect is sheet composting favorable only during dry summers to hold moisture or do I create large composting piles around the one acre garden.

Please help I'm running out of room!!!

Answer: Some of my friends call me the Compost Queen, but I think you've got me beat! Some of the items you list are high in carbon (wood chips/shavings). Placed directly on the soil around plants, they can actually "rob" the soil of nitrogen temporarily. The microorganisms use the nitrogen to help decompose the carbon. When they die, they release that nitrogen back into the soil. But in the meantime, they're pulling that nitrogen away from your plants.

As you probably know, fresh manures can be very "hot" and can burn plants. But it also gets a compost pile off to a good start. Since you have such a great mix of nitrogen materials (manure/grass) and carbon materials, I'd suggest making compost out of it before putting it around your plants. It's okay to use the high carbon materials on pathways as sheet composting. You didn't say whether you garden year around or not. If you have an off season, that's a great time to do more sheet composting.

Another possibility are windrows--basically compost piles that stretch along for as many feet as you have room. For example, it would be 3-4 feet high, 3-4 feet wide, and 20 feet long. You could do it along the edge of your garden for example, or where you might want to start a new garden.

As for your plea for help: Have Pitchfork, Will Travel!

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