This past fall I decided that I have had enough with compost piles. Each year we end up with this massive pile of debris from the fall garden clean-up. Every spring one wheel barrow after another of composted material is hauled into the garden. In between we have to keep this huge pile turned so that it will break down enough to use. So this last fall, instead of continuing the ritual of hauling stuff to the pile, turning and waiting, and then hauling it all back into the garden. I decided to leave it right where it was.
They call this sheet composting, which is simply working matter straightaway into the soil and letting it break down there instead of in a pile. Supposedly, this can cause a temporary depletion of nitrogen in one's soil. This is not a issue for me as my soil is a little too high in nitrogen anyway, mostly due to the giant, hot, pile of compost that I have been using. Too much nitrogen is conducive to aphids and this has been a problem for us lately; one reason I am looking for a different method of adding organic material to my garden.
Before winter I pulled up all of the remaining plant materials, broke it up a bit, and distributed it amongst the garden rows. My fava bean plants, of which we grow many, were chopped up and added lightly over the whole garden. Weeds were left to grow after August, being careful not to let them go to seed, so that they would be there to provide material as well. We are fortunate to have a yard full of maple and mountain ash trees that shed huge amounts of leaves every year and these were also spread throughout the garden.
Wood ash was then added to each row, our soil is very acidic and this helps to neutralize it. I'm always careful to spread it lightly so as not to make the soil too alkaline. Potatoes like acidic soil while my brassicas do not...hence the aphid problems. Ash is obtained from the wood stove and also collected from burn piles created during spring clean-up. It must be stored in a manner so that rain will not leach the beneficial nutrients away and is kept in buckets in the barn - after it has cooled of course. I have observed in previous years that some crops really love having a bit of ash worked into the soil around them. I have grown freakishly huge carrots and beets in areas where ash has been spread.
The project was concluded by shoveling a thin layer of dirt over the top of everything. It is now up to the worms to work their magic. I know from prior experience that whereas bacteria break down a hot compost pile earth worms do most of the work in an area that has been sheet mulched. I always find many more worms in a cooler pile of leaves or compost than are ever found in a really warm one.
Hopefully the outcome will be good, saving time and effort. I will then only have a small kitchen scrap and chicken manure pile to tend which does need to be hot in order to destroy pathogens.