Wild Wes-ers, new and old, we just wanted to let you know about our first of many Sheet-Mulching Work Parties starting tomorrow morning at 9:00 am in the WestCo courtyard. This is our first stage of large-scale Permaculture design implementation. We will be having a bunch of coordinated sheet-mulching mobilizations on site through late October and hope to finish all the soil-amending work by November 1st, offering us ample time to inoculate the soil with mushrooms for our first harvest in the spring and seed the courtyard with a nitrogen-fixing cover crop that will serve as an additional layer of green manure. Sheet-mulching is a tried and true, no-frills Permaculture-gardener’s technique for building soil fertility, and is most easily explained by a diagram. So here is a diagram:
And we have simplified it even further, breaking it into 3 easy steps. Essentially, sheet mulching is a technique that naturally builds soil health by strategically layering organic material on top of existing earth. Mimicking the natural leaf litter found in forests, sheet mulch conserves soil moisture, reduces erosion, increases soil fertility, and decompacts soil. The process in WestCo begins with a layer of compost from nearby Mitchell Farms and GreenCycle (a recycled organics company that Wesleyan is thinking about contracting with and sending its pre- and post-consumer organic waste!) . The second layer is composed of cardboard and newspaper recycled from Weshop (a few yards away from the site), which will act as biodegradable weed barriers. The final layer is a mulch finish, which will be organic biomass waste ‘upcycled’ (taken from trees that have been cut down around campus due to weather damage, beech bark disease, etc.)
Also, tomorrow we will begin adding our newly acquired 500 Ibs of biochar, a charcoal-like substance created through the pyrolysis of biomass, from New Haven-based Encendia Biochar. Come learn about all these unique ecological alternatives to current landscaping practices, try your hand at some sheet-mulching, get dirty, and hang out with some cool cats!
Check out this article from the The Post-Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin on the maintaining a healthy Soil Food Web. It helps to explain and lay the ecological framework for why we are working so hard to get our soil living again and enable the natural cycling of carbon and nutrients after years of landscaping practice that has followed “the route of conventional agriculture: remove nearly all the decaying plant matter from the system, starve the soil food web and use synthetic chemicals and fossil fuels to accomplish the tasks the soil food web formerly managed.” (Rich)
Be well and check back soon for more updates.