Ruby’s Super Easy Magic Mulch Recipe
or How to Turn Dirt into Gold

Basic Recipe
Lay down after a rain or the next morning after 1 hour of watering:
Cardboard 2-3 layers, overlapped
Compost: 3-4 inches
Tree Mulch: 8-12 inches

For every 100 square feet you are covering you will need 1 –2 cubic yards of compost and 3 to 4 cubic yards of mulch.
You can sheet mulch anytime, but the best time to do it is in the Fall, or before your biggest rainy season. You want your sheet mulch to get nice and wet so the worms will comes up and do the rest of the work for you.

Spplemental Information ~ Materials and where to get them

Cardboard: The cardboard is going to smother out all the bad weeds and provide a foundation for your sheet mulch. Get the largest pieces possible. I try looking behind furniture stores, bike shops and driving around in the more industrial parts of town to scavenge cardboard.. Remove all the staples and tape. Layer your cardboard being sure the overlap the edges. This is important if you are trying to get rid of grass or other noxious weeds! Two layers will work, but for particularly tenacious or noxious weeds, use 3 layers.

Compost: In the Bay Area the best source for cheap compost by volume is the Davis Street Transfer Station. That’s right, the dump. They charge $16 - $20 per cubic yard. A cu. yd. Is a lot of compost. A regular pick-up truck with normal suspension can probably only handle a half yard at a time. They will dump it into your truck with a back hoe. Be sure to bring a tarp with you. At one point, when I was just starting to make my dirt I rented a dump truck and went and got 6 yards of compost at one time. The truck rental made it a bit pricy…so if you need a lot of compost, you can always purchase it at American Soil. They deliver for around $70, which is cheaper than renting a dump truck. If you live in Berkeley, you can get free compost the last Friday of the month in the Marina. If you live other places that take green waste, you might call your local garbage company and ask how you can get your hands on the compost.

Tree Mulch: I have a tree company deliver. They have to pay to dispose of their waste otherwise, so they are often happy to give it away for free. Their stuff is already chipped and usually comes steamy and already composting from their trucks. Some places insist you take a full truckload, which can be between 10 and 20 cubic yards of material. The place I go gives me 5 or 6 yards at a time. Check your yellow pages for arborists and tree doctors. Some garden experts maintain that using wood chips for mulch uses up the nitrogen in the soil as it breaks down. I have never had much of a problem with this, but I try to get mulch that is a mixture of wood and leaves. You can also add a nitrogen rich fertilizer when you turn the soil after the first year.

Other materials, just for fun:
Manure partly composted from a local stable.
Straw (in Berkeley you can buy a bale for $6 at the race track weekday mornings).Build It:

When is it ready?
The sheet mulch needs at least one full rainy season to do it’s magic. This is when the worms come out of nowhere and eat through the cardboard to get to that delicious compost. If you are starting in the Fall you can plant fava beans into your mulch. Just tuck the beans under about an inch of the mulch.

If you are starting any other time of year you can try planting zucchinni or potatoes in your sheet mulch.
For zucchini you’ll scoop out a hole about the size of a soccer ball and fill it with rich potting soil. Plant your starts into this and re-cover with a bit of mulch. Water thoroughly and often.. For potatoes do the same, using a bit less dirt around each piece of seed potato. Be careful with potatoes though. If you plant them now you will have volunteers in those spots for years to come.

If you are patient or if your soil is really bad, you can do a 2 year program. Sheet mulch in the Fall. In the spring, rather than turning your mulch, plant zukes and potatoes. At the end of that growing season water deeply or wait for the first rain., use a fork to lightly mix the layers, but don’t turn under or completely cultivate. Add another inch or two of compost and another 3-4 inches of tree mulch. Plant Fava beans.

The following spring cultivate your soil as you normally would. You will have created 6-8 inches of gorgeous top soil. Be sur to get under the lowest layer of what you added and mix the native soil in.
Happy Planting!!