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Earth Day: Today and Every Day

April 22, 2010

Home on the pasture at Kind Food Farm

I’ve been writing less here and more on the job, at where I’m an editor, and today my first feature was published, called Earth Day 2010: Five Steps You Can Take to Save the Environment. Also check out my fellow editor Jenn Kho’s related piece on Five Technologies That Could Help Save the Planet. What do you think, is it high technology or changing our habits that will make the most difference in halting climate change and environmental degradation? And what are your personal tips for living more lightly upon the earth? I’d love to read your suggestions. Please forward the best of the Earth Day materials you see out there today or in coming days.

Besides my main job as an editor, I get to propose stories and write as well. More from me coming soon on the flu vaccine and on a top-secret Mothers Day project that I’m very excited about.

Here are two more environmental stories appearing on AOL’s today, written by my colleague Sarah Gilbert and edited by me. Sarah wrote about How Starbucks Is Trashing Its Green Image, and Edible Landscaping: Eco-Friendly Investment That Pays Off. Before I moved up to David’s farm here in Mendocino County, I sheet-mulched my entire front and back yards and made garden beds and a no-maintenance forest-floor type of lawn replacement.

Little Bit, one of our happy goats

Little Bit, one of our happy goats

We have added three goats to our little farm. They are all wethers, neutered males, whose job it is to browse, forage, graze and generally eat back our edible landscape. (Edible for goats, that is.) We adore them, especially the two little Toggenbergs, Little Bit (pictured right), and Taj. Max, a big Boer/Nubian cross, still has his horns and, thanks to rough handling earlier in his life, isn’t quite as friendly and affectionate as the bottle-fed twins. We love him nonetheless.

Soon we’re adding a flock of chickens who, as I mentioned in my Earth Day story, will provide us with plenty of nourishing fresh eggs in exchange for a little grain scratch, a safe perch at night in the hen house, and all the bugs they can eat.

As part of a discussion on my local Weston A. Price Foundation discussion list (a Yahoo! group) about providing plenty of bugs for chickens to eat, I shared the following tips for getting started with sheet mulching, either to replace a lawn entirely or just start out a new garden bed while building the soil. Bonus: lots of fat worms and other bugs for your chickens to munch on:

If you have space for a compost pile, and especially if you can obtain some fresh manure from somewhere, you’ll have all the worms and other bugs you’ll want. Another good technique is sheet mulching (lay down sheets of cardboard and/or newspapers, overlapping, cover with layers of manure or compost, shredded leaves or paper, coffee or nut hulls, rotting straw, etc). This will attract worms and other degraders like crazy, build the soil and microscopic life. You can plant on top of it (cut holes where you want to put something) and water each layer thoroughly as you build your sheets. No weeds, plenty of worms.

You can put the layers in any order you want, but every single reference I found about sheet mulching said to start with thick, overlapping layers of newsprint and/or cardboard first. The purpose of the cardboard or newsprint layers is to deprive the existing grass or weeds or whatever of light so it dies out, and then the rotting paper and roots attract worms like crazy, so the worms do the work of “tilling” the soil and you don’t have to. This is an excellent technique for replacing a lawn; you can just keep piling leaves or pine needles on top (spread them out of course, and shred them if you have the means to do so) and let it become like a forest floor.

Putting manure, straw, leaves etc. on top also holds down the cardboard or newsprint layers (and remember, they should be pretty thick and overlapping, as the grass will find ways through the layers to get to the sunlight if you don’t do a good job of it) else they will blow away, and it also looks unsightly to me. I wouldn’t advise using fresh manure; composted manure without seeds is usually better, and I’d personally only use either one on a garden bed, not a larger area, because I don’t have cows or horses to provide all the manure I want without hauling it from someplace. Putting manure right on the grass seems like it would promote the growth of the grass, which is fine if that’s your aim, but may possibly slow down killing the grass.

I sheet-composted the entire front and back yards of my old house (by myself) to remove the lawn a few years ago. I didn’t apply manure or compost except in limited areas where I was creating a garden bed. For the lawn replacement, I just used cardboard, newsprint, leaf mulch, and wood/bark chips (dropped off and dumped in my driveway for free by a tree service), and it worked great. After that, additional leaves that fell there just decomposed in place, and it holds a lot more water than a scrabbly lawn would.

I’ve got some raised garden beds “cooking” right now with layers of cardboard, burlap bags, coffee bean chaff and rotting straw. You just use whatever is available to you, cheap, convenient, organic, and works. If I’d had my wits about me I would have done this last fall so it would have been decomposing all winter, but with this extended rainy weather, it’s better late than never, as it’s improving the soil while keeping weed seeds from germinating and soil from blowing away. Once the rain stops I’ll haul my compost over and spread it on the beds. And I can still plant through it by cutting holes.

Are you gardening, composting, recycling, raising your own food? I’d love to hear about it.


From → Soil-Food Web

  1. Very informative article.
    thank you for the valuable post.
    keep going on.

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thank you! I aim to do more as I can fit it in my increasingly busy schedule, with full-time work, plus goats, chickens, dogs, cats, a garden and boyfriend to be cared for.

  2. Chandelle permalink

    (But I hope to have goats someday! They’re one of my favorite animals.)

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      They’re great. We have two friends with little babies we can take when they’re ready to be weaned (males). One would need to be bottle-fed as the mama rejected him. Right now he’s getting fed by tying up the mother a few times a day, creating extra work. He was the second twin, and by the time he came our mama had bonded with the first one and didn’t recognize him as her own, strange. So adorable, but I don’t think I have time to bottle-feed anybody, and we don’t have secure facilities for a little baby yet.

  3. Chandelle permalink

    I’m sorry, I meant that we’re taking in some chickens! Thanks for the group info.

  4. Chandelle permalink

    Thanks for the suggestions on sheet mulching. We’re taking in some older ladies in about five weeks.

    Where can I find that Yahoo! group?

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      You’re getting goats? Terrific! They are so fun, at least if they’ve been raised right.
      To join the WAPF Santa Rosa group, go to and search for WAPF Santa Rosa (may be written WAPFSanta Rosa) and join. It’s a great group.

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