Using Sprout Mats for Soil Building

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen

In keeping true to my superhero persona of “ScAvenger” I write this article to provide another great potential resource for the urban farmer and homesteader.     

We live in area with poor soils right in Reno, Nevada.  Ours are very clay-rich (great for natural building) and drain poorly, have little humus, and lack several nutrients.  Over the last six years of developing our half-acre urban homestead with the goals of growing a lot of food and establishing trees we have spent a lot of time and energy developing our soil.  In addition to creating compost continually and amending with minerals as determined by soil testing we also collect spent sprout mats each week. 

A friend of ours grows pea and sunflower shoots (also known as microgreens or sprouts) for local restaurants in a hoop house in her small backyard.  She grows the shoots in plastic trays roughly one foot wide by two feet long in a medium of “natural” potting soil.  Each week she harvests about 40-50 flats of the tasty and nutritious baby veggies by carefully scissoring and bagging the leafy tops with a couple inches of succulent stem attached.  What’s left are as many soil, root, and stem-filled mats to dispose of.   Her operation is a marvel of efficiency and a great testament to the possibilities of high-yield urban farming but she cannot process all the “waste” each week in her small backyard.  So, for nearly two years now we have been collecting those spent mats weekly and using them throughout our gardens (and neighbor’s gardens) as mulch in soil building. 

Fresh mats are sturdy and easy to deal with.  We use them around trees and in our food forest, let our rabbits and chickens pick through them, cover irrigation tubing from the sun, add to our compost piles, place on top of cardboard when sheet mulching (see pic), feed them to our worms, and plop them down wherever we’ve got some weeds poking up.  If, for some reason, they sit at her place for a week or so they start to break down, get a bit slimy, and are generally less fun to work with.  But, they’re still full of nutrition and a super-beneficial “waste product” for the urban homesteader and gardener in general.  Go ahead and look up your local sprout grower and see what’s possible for your soil building endeavors.   

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