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COLUMN: This certainly isn’t a white collar job

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All I can think about on this pleasant day is waste hay, chicken manure and goat yard litter.

It’s what I do right now. It certainly isn’t a white collar job.

I’m thinking about making a mulch- or sheet-composted garden.

Just spread out all of that organic stuff about half a foot thick and let it start to rot down during the off-season, enough so it kills the grass and weeds under it and is ready to supply broken-down nutrients to transplant or direct seed through in the spring.

I’ve been thinking about this since the late ’60s. I’ve seen others do it.

My neighbor Randy, who ended up fleeing New York a few years ago, was having some success on a small scale with the method before that.

He probably is doing the same down in Tennessee.

I’m not going to do it on a large scale, maybe 40 feet by something, because for these many years I have had success breaking down manure piles into black compost, and either turning it in to the gardens or just spreading it on top.

For one thing, you can’t run a mechanical seeder through a sheet mulch. It would just clog up with the hay and other stuff that hasn’t broken down completely.

Also, the weeds that pop up in that sheet mulch would probably have to be pulled one at a time. It seems any kind of cultivating device, from a spring tooth harrow to a hoe, would tend to pull away the sheet compost, at least until it is completely rotted.

I could be wrong, but it seems the garden would have to be taken care of and planted mostly by hand without the efficiency of tools, including hand tools.

I’ve seen sheet mulching used, but only on relatively small gardens.

Still, I’ve come to the decision that I have to try it, mostly because it seems a natural way to build soil, and avoids several steps.

I put a lot of effort into building compost piles, turning them, encouraging them into a mostly black soil, spreading them, and turning them in.

Somehow, it seems I’m not getting any younger. Meaning perhaps I should learn how to work with smaller gardens.

That’s not all though. The process of making compost piles, spreading, and finally turning it in is very energy intensive.

I am not able to do all of that with my own strength and endurance. Not with the amount of garden that I have.

In the past, I have enjoyed the help of oxen, tractors, tillers and manure spreaders.

Still, I seem to have used a lot of my own physical and mental fortitude over the years. For example, I have pitched plenty of finished compost out of the back of a pickup.

Spreading anything requires work, but moving it and spreading it once, and letting nature and time take care of the rest, might make a lot of sense, and a lot less calories burnt either by beast or machine.

I’ve talked myself into it. I’ll give another way a try. Still, I’ll get to think about all of that waste hay, chicken manure, and goat yard litter.

Oh, joy.

Forrest Hartley lives in Hadley, N.Y. Leave a message at


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An essay written in support of ongoing efforts by Shane Newell and members of the Warren County Historical Society to create a center dedicated to Joseph Warren. 

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