Monday, October 13, 2008

No till, 'Lasagna', gardening

Lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-till organic gardening method that results in rich, fluffy soil with very little work from the gardener. The name "lasagna gardening" refers to the buildup of layers of organic material on top of cardboard or newspaper, also known as “sheet composting."

One of the best things about lasagna gardening is how easy it is. You don't have to remove existing sod and weeds or dig at all. The first layer consists of either brown corrugated cardboard or at least six layers of newspaper laid directly on top of the grass or weeds in the area you've selected for your garden. Wet this layer down to keep everything in place and start the decomposition process. The grass or weeds will break down fairly quickly because they will be smothered by the newspaper or cardboard, as well as by the materials you're going to layer on top of them. This layer also provides a dark, moist area to attract earthworms that will loosen up the soil as they tunnel through it.

It's a great way to get rid of your lawn. If you're on a reasonably small city lot, what do you need grass for anyway? It has no practical value and takes a lot of chemicals poured on it to keep it looking nice. Mark out the paths you want to make, curved of course, and where you want the trees, benches, large shrubs and structures-fountains-pond in your park garden. Then cover the area with cardboard and layer the organic materials on top of it. You can first plant the large items and cover the ground around them with the cardboard, before adding the layers of organic material. Then plant the smaller things immediately or do this in the fall and leave planting of small items until spring when they will grow down through the soft and composted cardboard. When done this way and kept heavily mulched, your yard will take very little care, and no mowing. Plant closely to keep weeds from taking seed and growing. Thick mulch will also help with this.

It has been my experience that cardboard works better for the prevention of grass and weeds than newspaper and, for us, is easier to come by. You will need many sheets of newspaper to keep the grass from growing through. While you don’t need to remove sod, grass or weeds, I would remove large rocks. They make great stepping stones in an ornamental garden.

We used cardboard and old hay to make our new strawberry and asparagus beds shown here.

We bought only a dozen everbearing strawberry plants in the early spring, and they have reproduced themselves over the summer to approx 50+ plants and are still spreading. We are very pleased with their growth rate this year!

The new asparagus plants are only about 8-10" tall but we have high hopes for them! We have planted approx 50 new babies of each, asparagus and strawberries, giving them lots of mulch and room to grow.

This is our current asparagus, in September, with cardboard around the base, which we will top with other compost as the winter wears on. Soon it will be time to cut it back and mulch for the winter.

This is what happens when you make a strawberry bed where the peas were earlier... Oh well, we'll have another late crop of peas, I guess. We do like gardening surprises!

The layers on top of the cardboard can consist of any organic material that does not contain any protein (fat, meat, dairy or bone). Old hay, straw, leaves in the fall (rescue these form the curbside of friends and neighbors), kitchen compost, sawdust, a little wood ash, manure, peat, and any other organic material you can find. Materials will vary in each individual's garden according to what is available locally. I have heard that seaweed works very well but you may need to rinse the salt out first.

When you're planting a lasagna garden, no digging is required. For transplants, simply pull back the layers of mulch, drop in the plant and pull some mulching materials back over the roots. Sowing seeds is easy, too. Sprinkle a little finished compost over the area you want to plant, sow the seed, and cover it with a little more of the finished compost. Press down on the bed to secure the seeds and water thoroughly.

Lasagna gardening is definitely the way to build vegetable or flower beds! We use this method for both. While we do still use a tiller for the vegetables, we are slowly moving away from it. Because it uses no power tools, heavy equipment or expensive commercial additives, lasagna gardening is an easy way for people with space, age or physical limitations to maintain garden productivity.