Finally, I’ve done something that I’ve been obsessing over for months, ever since I read Gaia’s Garden: a sheet mulch. According to Toby Hemenway, this is the best and most efficient way of starting a new garden, or starting over when you have a patch overrun with weeds (as was the case in my courtyard).
So what took me so long? Partly inertia, because you need to collect a tremendous quantity of biomass and have it all ready before you start. Partly confusion, the normal state of my mind. Toby suggests a thick layer of newspaper as the base. But just when I had gathered together a ton of newspaper and was ready to start, I was told that it is not really recommended to compost Indian newspapers because the ink used is mainly petroleum based. (Apparently, most newspapers in the West now use soy-based inks, which is why it is a favourite mulch ingredient of permaculturists abroad.) Researching this, I came across this article, which clinched my decision.
So, no newspaper. I next had the brilliant plan of living on pizza to collect enough cardboard boxes to cover my beds. One can dream! Then suddenly it hit me, I had a ton of old, torn bedsheets, towels, and so on that weren’t fit to donate. (Goonj, by the way, is the destination of all our serviceable but unwanted clothes and other household objects. This is a great NGO doing terrific work, do visit their website if you don’t already know about them.) In the old days, such rags would have been used to mop the house, but now even Yellamma, my supremely old-fashioned help, has switched to a fancy wringer mop. So this was a perfect way to use up all that ragged and yellowed cloth. And believe me, it is really revolting, it just turned out to be photogenic! I next collected a pile of dry leaves, hauled in what felt like hundreds of buckets of mud and manure, and voila! my sheet mulch was ready to plant. And finally, here is the bed. I planted it as densely as I could with assorted herbs and ground cover plants — rose geranium and maru for scent, three kinds of mint, two kinds of chives, celery, brahmi, strawberries, verbena, karpuravalli and German chamomile. It was difficult to tear myself away from this masterpiece. I hope Rajendra and Raju will be merciful and that the plants will grow quickly and fill the gaps before the weeds pop up.