Over on my Facebook page, Catherine laments the fact that her clay soil isn’t good for gardening and her budget just doesn’t allow for hiring a big piece of equipment to turn and improve the soil. While I don’t have clay soil, I’ve mentioned before that our soil is puny. When we first moved in, I wanted to get some plants in the ground right away, but knew that I’d need to improve the soil for better success in the long run. I’d read about lasagna beds (called such because the beds are layered, much like a lasagna) but had never tried them. This seemed like a perfect chance to try them out, and they may be the answer to Catherine’s troubles, too.
Lasagna gardening – easy peasy
- I started by raiding my recycle pile. Cardboard boxes, newspapers, and even old catalogs form the base of the lasagna bed. I covered my planting area with a thick layer of these paper products, overlapping them as I placed them down, and then wet them thoroughly. This base layer was close to 1/2″ thick.
Note: This is a no-till method of planting. You do not need to work the soil under the lasagna bed. You do not need to pull weeds. The newspaper and cardboard layer will smother any weeds that are there. Score!
- I cut ginger and lay down as first layer. I’ve used banana stumps here, too. You probably don’t have those “ingredients” on hand. Essentially you’re looking for something with a high moisture content and high in nitrogen. Vegetable scraps, grass clippings, or fresh manure can work well, too. Now, must this be the first layer? Not necessarily. You can start with dry leaves or straw and layer a nice high-nitrogen layer on top of that. I start with the ginger (or banana) because it’s so chunky. This is a very forgiving method! You can use coconut coir here, or peat moss (though there are environmental issues with peat moss), or some sort of locally available organic product that holds moisture well.
- Layer number three was mulch. I used free mulch from our local green waste center, about 6-8″ deep. I also used free labor provided by my son. (UPDATE: We had the unfortunate experience of getting a contaminated load of free mulch that killed everything we put it on. I no longer use the free mulch, though I do still use free labor.) You can use leaf mold or partially decomposed leaves if you don’t have mulch. You could also use rotted straw from a stable, lawn clippings, sawdust, or any combination thereof. Again, I watered the bed down.
- The final layer was store-bought compost. In the future, I’ll have my own compost or composted manure, but at the time store-bought was the best I could do.
- The finished lasagna bed sat about 10″ high. Once it was complete, I planted seeds directly into the top layer of compost and watered them in. Days later, I had veggies growing.
As the plants grow, the roots work their way down into the layers of the lasagna bed and the worms work their way up. The layers decompose, improving the soil while supporting a crop of vegetables. I found that I did need to be judicious about watering, since the lasagna beds didn’t hold moisture as well as a soil bed would have.
I made my lasagna beds directly on the ground with no containment. The folks over at Urban Garden Casual made their lasagna bed within the confines of a simple wooden planter. It’s a pretty flexible way of planting.
In a perfect world, I’d have put this lasagna bed together in the fall with more repeating layers and let it sit for several months until time to plant. But let’s face it: It’s not a perfect world and I’m terribly impatient. As it is, the layers will compost as the seedlings grow. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll see that we doubled the size of the lasagna bed pictured above, but I neglected to photograph those stages.
What’s going on out there now? Even if it looks a mess, green peppers are growing and setting fruit, and kale, basil, squash, Swiss chard, and (volunteer) tomatoes are all taking root. The really fluffy looking green you see in the middle of the bed? That’s buckwheat. It’s my attempt to keep cabbage moths and pickleworms from decimating my crops. Here’s how that works. (And that crumpled black thing? That’s a Smart Pot.) The weeds at the border are in desperate need of a little bit of weed control, but as soon as they’re knocked down and I find the time, I’ll lay more cardboard covered with mulch as a pathway. We’re getting ready to add a second lasagna bed in the next week or so.
When my vegetables were done producing – about four months later – I pulled them out and dug into the lasagna bed. (I was so curious to see what I’d find!) While my puny soil was still far from perfect, just about everything I’d layered into the beds was gone. There were a few remnants and small pieces remaining from some of the cardboard boxes, but that’s it! Everything else had completely disappeared and become part of the earth.
This method is an excellent way to get a jump on garden season, too. Simply follow this method using several layers of material but skip the seeds. Mother Nature will do her magic during the cold winter months and you’ll have a beautiful bed to start growing in come warm weather.
Curious to read how others are faring with this no-till method?