When I first heard the phrase “lasagna gardening”, I thought it was about growing the vegetables that you put into lasagna – tomatoes, basil, and so on. I’ll bet some of you who have never heard of it before just got a picture in your head of a garden bed laden with noodles, cheese and tomato sauce.
Actually, it’s called “lasagna” gardening because it has to do with layers…just not that kind. Years ago, Patricia Lanza invented it (I guess; she’s the author of the book anyway) because she wanted to start a garden bed ion her lawn without having to dig up the grass, or spend a lot of money on soil ingredients (such as peat moss, perlite, or commercial compost). So she said to herself, “Why not just create compost right where I want to plant?”
And so she did. She created a rectangular compost pile several months before she wanted to begin planting, following the usual rules for building a hot compost pile.
It worked. She had a wonderful harvest from that bed, and never looked back.
Lasagna gardening ingredients
Here are the layers of a lasagna garden:
- at least five sheets of newspaper, or three inches or so of manure (either one will kill grass and weeds underneath);
- one inch of nitrogen-rich, or “green” material (manure, grass clippings, seed-free weeds, kitchen scraps, etc.); and
- three inches of carbon-rich, or “brown” material (straw, dried leaves, shredded paper, etc.).
The nitrogen and carbon layers are repeated at least twice, to make a total of six layers (three of each), and the whole bed is topped with a couple of inches of finished compost or soil. The final product is supposed to be between one and two feet high.
What about borders?
As with any kind of raised beds, borders are optional but helpful here. They are especially helpful for a lasagna garden bed because in the beginning, you are heaping up loads of loose material that is hard to keep exactly where you want it.
Borders can be made of:
- straw bales,
- cinder blocks (arrange them with holes facing up, and you can plant in those, as well),
- big rocks, or even
- National Geographic magazines (‘fess up – some of you in Cyberspace are hoarding multiple six-foot-high stacks of the magazines in a spare room, basement, or garage).
My first lame attempt
When I first read Lasagna Gardening, I got excited. For about five minutes. Then I looked around at our suburban backyard, and realized with despair that I would never have enough organic material from our tiny property to build a lasagna bed. Manure was out of the question, unless I wanted to spend a gob of money on bags of manure from a garden center – which I didn’t.
Eventually, after reading about Bill Mollison’s “Instant Garden” and noticing how similar it was to lasagna gardening, I began to wonder: do I really need all those layers? What if I just collected leaves from all my neighbors, dumped them into a two-foot-high pile, and waited a few months? Do I really need so many layers?
Turned out, I didn’t. Not, anyway, to amend the first couple of inches of native soil beneath.
No irrigation needed
Eventually, I plan to transition my garden to a Back To Eden garden. While I pile up enough wood chips to do so, I still want to at least reduce, if not eliminate, my need to irrigate the garden in case of drought – which is more likely than not come next July.
While wondering off and on if there was a way, we took our monthly trip to the library in the largest town in our area. There, I was browsing the new non-fiction books when my eyes fell on one entitled, Vegetable Gardening In The Southwest. It was in my hands in a moment. I didn’t know why, really; in the back of my mind – or perhaps, down in my spirit; yes, I think that’s more accurate – I must have felt that this book had something to say to me about gardening in a drought.
And, it did.
Toward the beginning of the book, the author discusses different ways to prepare garden beds. I’d heard it all before, but I felt that I should read it, anyway.
Then the author – a resident of Austin, TX, which place gets hotter sooner and stays hotter longer than it does in southeast Oklahoma – talked about how she had built her first lasagna garden bed one spring. That summer was one of the hottest and driest she could remember. She gave up on her garden, quit watering, quit tending.
In one of the beds, and one only, the plants not only survived, but thrived. The lasagna garden bed, full of decaying matter that was constantly releasing moisture, and brimming with nutrition, nurtured its occupants when its human caretaker ceased to take care of it.
The wood chip alternative
In the light of what I know about Ruth Stout’s method and Hugelkultur, this made sense to me. So I am in the process of building lasagna beds for next summer’s garden. I am not following the layering strictly, but once I have a heap of goat manure from our friends’ goat dairy, I’ll have enough layers to create a self-watering garden.
A not-so-very minor side benefit is that at the same time, the native sandy soil will get a lot more amended, allowing it to hold moisture and nutrients much better than before.
Gathering up all the leaves and piling them on the beds is going to take me a few more days, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes so as not to have to kill myself trying to water a garden by hand during a drought again.
If the Back To Eden garden is the “best” way, lasagna gardening has to be a close second. I’ll tell you how it goes next August. 😉 In the meantime, how about giving my book Crazy Simple: 307 Ways To Save Money, Your Health, And The Planet a read. Click here to visit its description in the Kindle store.