Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making A No-Till, Lasagna Garden

I have an earlier post on how to make a lasagna, no-till garden. Some of this will be a repeat.

Our no-till lasagna garden is going to start with a layer of cardboard with other organic layers on top. Many people use newspapers for the bottom , smothering layer, but I have found that cardboard works better. I collect it from the side of the road in the nearby commercial area on recycle pick-up day. I have laid out an area that is about 35-40' feet square and am in the process of covering the entire area with cardboard to act as a barrier and to smother the weeds and grass. I have just about succeeded in covering it with cut up cardboard boxes. I have tomatoes, cukes and squash planted in that space this year and I am laying down the cardboard around them for now. When they are all harvested this fall, I will pull up the plants and finish the job. On top of the cardboard I am planning on spreading a layer of chicken manure the next time I clean out the chicken house (soon). It will all go directlly onto the cardboard. I will transfer last year's chicken manure onto the cardboard, as well.

On top of the manure I will spread a layer of last year's fall leaves, collected last fall from friends and roadsides. I have lots of leaves on our property that I could use but mine are not raked or bagged. I may run the leaves over with the lawnmower before piling them on the new garden area. I have read that this helps them to breakdown faster and keeps them from blowing away so easily. Since I am using them as a weed barrier and not compost, I don't know if I'm going to do that or not. It is under consideration. If it isn't necessary, it won't get done. I may be able to put them onto the garden, as is, and top them with another layer to keep them in place. I have a lot of old hay that is going on top. It will hold everything down. I'd like to add some horse manure from the neighboring equine veterinarian located just down the road or the horse racing facility just over the hill on the same road. I wonder if I could convince them to let me haul some of that black gold away in my truck...

This garden will set and stew for the rest of the summer and through the fall, winter and early spring next year. The cardboard will break down enough for the roots to grow through and we will have a marvelous garden plot with no tilling at all and with no weeds or grass. That's the plan for next year, anyway.

Edging the garden with something the lawnmower can roll over is a good idea. I have a pile of roof shingles for this that work very well. Nothing grows through them, they don't break down and the lawn mower can just roll right over it. I may need to use them for a big dog house, however, so am just keeping them in a pile for now in my raw material storage (piled at the back of the property). I could also edge it with the cedar posts piled by the garage but I have other landscaping plans for those and wish I had more of them.

I will keep you posted with updates on the no-till, lasagna garden as it progresses.

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 to maintain. 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 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.

Due to what seems an excessive amount of grass and weeds growing every year in our vegetable gardens, we have decided to make a large no-till lasagna garden for next year. We made one for the strawberries last year and it has been very successful and has cut down on the amount of maintenance needed in the strawberry patch.

The layers on top of the cardboard can consist of any organic material that does not contain any protein. Old hay, straw, leaves in the fall (rescue these form the curbside of friends and neighbors - already raked and bagged for you), 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.

Maybe, just maybe, next year my garden will look like this one (If I can get rid of that pesky groundhog!)