Sheet mulching is the laziest, effective way to convert lawn to Eden. The secret is in the soil. Invasive limu (seaweed), EM water, compost teas, composted chicken manure, fish emulsion, bokashi are all excellent soil boosters in that they attract microorganisms that help your plants protect and feed themselves. Fertilizers & plant food that are derived from petroleum harm these microorganisms and in effect, the entire food web that lives and thrives from healthy soil. Fear not. If your plants don’t grow, congratulations–you know what not to plant. Start with the giving plants like aloe, herbs, flowers, native plants and work up to the fussy plants. Now that you know what will you grow?
Many folks who would like to start gardening don’t know where to start and it can seem overwhelming. But there is actually a tried and true method for growing over grass and the materials are low cost and can even help divert from the waste stream. All that grass is filled with nitrogen that will be returned to the soil. The entire process is meant to not only provide a home for your future plants but also attract a healthy soil food web. There are many methods and ingredients for the perfect sheet mulch. Take into account what is easily available and experiment too!
HOW TO SHEET MULCH
Start by inviting a couple friends over that will most likely be mooching the fruits of the labor, especially your friend with a truck. Grab some gloves, shovels, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, 5 gallon buckets, enough cardboard to cover area twice, and plants and seeds. Make sure your site is close to a water source and gets at least 6-8 hours of sun in winter and 8-12 hours in summer.
I. GRASS + WEEDS
Lay down your border (tiles, stones, etc are not required but prevent erosion) with cardboard underneath each border to prevent weeds from growing in the cracks. Start watering the space.
II. CARDBOARD + VERMICAST
Add sprinkles of vermicast, EM water, fish emulsion, or compost teas to the grass and cover with cardboard/newspaper. Water.
III. COMPOST + MULCH
This is the fun part. Compost can be collected at the Honolulu Zoo, made in your backyard, grabbed from your local polo field, or picked up at Hawaiian Earth Products. You want at least 8 inches of compost. If you are low on compost, you can blend it with mulch. Mulch is usually available at your local community garden and if you need a large quantity, you can call your local tree trimmer for a drop off or use this service. You will want at least 3 inches of mulch on top. Water. Water. Water.
IV. SEEDS + PLANTS
You already know your area. Is it hot? Do you get lots of rain? Blasts of afternoon sun? Find out what plants will thrive in your area. These slides will show you whether you are in a loi agriculture, dryland field system, colluvial agriculture (agroforestry) area. Start with plants that can be easy to grow like aloe, herbs, flowers and native plants. More gardening tips for Hawaii can be found here. Whatever you decide to plant, be sure to water and share your gratitude with the plants and soil!
These pictures were taken at the Emalani Community Garden. This garden is open to the public and many of the gardens were made using the sheet mulching system.