Some days I look around the land, and realize that Brian and I are Pile Managers.  I never really thought much about it before we started creating a new homestead from scratch, but the work of building and creating begins with piles. Piles1

A pile of gravel leftover from the driveway we put in this winter.  A pile of wood chip/sawdust mulch that we’re spreading around the base of our fruit trees.  A pile of lumber from a century old barn and outbuildings that are being torn down, and whose wood will become the siding of our tiny home (and has already been integrated into the building of our chicken coop).


A pile of black walnut wood, ready to bring to a local Amish mill.  The previous owner had taken down several enormous black walnut trees, leaving tops in the forest.  Borrowing our neighbor’s log arch, Brian dragged these sections of trunk up hill, loaded them up, and brought them to the mill, where they were milled into…


A pile of beautiful, high quality lumber.


Then there are the piles of materials for future projects, such as this pile of blue metal roofing for our someday composting toilet. Piles4

And of course, the many piles of organic material that went into the creation of my sheet mulched garden, such as this…


and this…Piles5

…which now, amazingly, look like this:



Indeed, we Pile Managers sure do create and move a whole bunch of piles!

This post was shared on the Homestead Bloggers Network, Mountain Woman Rendevous, and From the Farm Blog Hop.

Taking Stock

Some days, it’s a very good idea to take stock.  It’s easy to think about how much has NOT gotten accomplished, or to stress about the very long list of things-to-do.  But when I really look back and realize that just in the past two weeks, we’ve gone from this…


To this…Cabin4

To this…Cabin7

And from this…SheetMulch3

To this…


And this…


It all feels really darn good.

(The above photo is a newly planted bed of perennial flowers, herbs, and fruiting shrubs that got dug up in Oregon, moved cross country, heeled into top soil over the winter, and now planted on the land. We’ll see which ones make it!)

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, taking stock of what is truly good about life right now.

Create an Instant Garden with Sheet Mulching

This weekend I took advantage of the gorgeous sunshine and direct-sowed some spring crops – peas, lettuce, spinach, radish, and kale – in the lovely raised beds of our house-sitting home.  Thinking ahead to our move in May (ish), I’m also creating a summer garden space on our land with the sheet mulching technique.

Sheet mulching is a way to create an instant garden by deeply layering organic materials.  If you have a large backyard, imagine turning a corner of your lawn into a space to grow food!  On our land, we will most likely plow a piece of earth in the fall for next year’s planting, but this summer sheet mulching will create an immediate growing space, with no tilling.

Sheet mulching is very similar to making lasagna – layer, layer, layer. In fact, some folks call this the “lasagna method.”  It can be done with a wide variety of organic materials, some of which are likely available for free or cheap: straw, hay, leaves, wood chips, manure, compost, food scraps, cardboard, newspaper, or grass clippings.  If you’re a visual learner, you might enjoy referencing Toby Hemenway’s diagram of sheet mulching here.

So here’s how it works:
1) Get yourself some big old piles of organic matter!  We bought a huge straw bale, but were able to source free horse manure and amazing finished compost from the local university farm.  Many years ago, I sheet mulched a garden over the course of several months so I never had huge piles like these; I just added leaves, food scraps, manure, etc. as I acquired it.


2) Lay down cardboard (remove the tape!) or newspaper as a base layer to smother any weeds.  If you want to add any soil amendments (lime, rock dust, kelp meal), put these in direct contact with the soil, before laying down the cardboard.  Wet this layer.SheetMulch3

3) Layer your organic materials, watering as you go. Since we don’t have water out on the land yet, I decided to really model lasagna and do many smaller layers of straw alternating with horse manure.  Rain will help wet the straw, and my thinking is that the horse manure will more readily decompose the straw if added in thin layers.  Some people prefer a 12-18″ layer of straw/leaves/hay followed by a thin layer of manure. Do what works for you!


4) Continue working in this manner until you create a VERY thick layer of materials.  Remember that it will break down over time and will shrink considerably!


5) To finish, add a layer that you will plant into, such as a finished compost.  Make it thick – around 2-3 inches is great.  Top off the pile with straw, sawdust, leaves, or wood chips – something that will hold moisture and prohibit weeds.  I will be direct seeding many summer crops, so my personal preference is to let the plants grow to a few inches height before adding the final layer.


6) Now you are ready to plant directly into your new garden. Before long, your pile of straw and manure will turn into rich, dark soil, and the cardboard will break down, allowing roots to penetrate the soil below!


*This post shared on the Homestead Barn Hop, Homestead Bloggers Network, and Natural Living Monday.