- Lasagna Gardening Pros and Cons
- Lasagna Gardening Pros
- Cons of Lasagna Gardening
- Lasagna Garden Drawbacks vs. its Benefits
- Lasagna Gardening – The Complete No-Dig Gardening Demonstration
- Lasagna Gardening Resources
- Lasagna Gardening
- Creating Layers in the Garden
- Rich, Fertile Soil
- Lasagna Gardening 101
- Lasagna Gardening
- Have you heard the office buzz saying, Let’s hit the ground running? That’s what the scraps do as they’re tossed onto a Lasagna pile. It’s a great heap of pig’s breakfast muck, all thrown on top of each other and provides a perfect place for nature to break it all down and grow, GROW, GROW jack-in-the-beanstalks, or similar, well nearly!
- How to Build a Lasagna Garden
- When to Plant with Lasagna Gardening
- Sheet Composting Gardening the Lasagna Way — A couple of Ideas
- The Lasagna Method
- Gardening How-to Articles
- Make a Lasagna Garden in a Raised Bed
- A Look under the Layers of Lasagna Gardening
- What is Lasagna Gardening?
- How to Create Your Lasagna Garden
- What to Include in Your Lasagna Garden
- When to Start a Lasagna Garden?
- How to Plant and Maintain a Lasagna Garden?
- Benefits of Lasagna Gardening
- Lasagna Gardening: What It Is and How To Set It Up
- Gathering All the Right Materials
- Building the Layers of the Bed
- Purposeful Planting in the Lasagna
Lasagna Gardening Pros and Cons
Gardening sustainably in a way that improves soil and plant health is a responsibility of every land steward. There is some controversy regarding some methods, however, like lasagna gardening, that specifically relate to its benefits and efficiency. Lasagna gardening is a slightly lazy way of smothering out unwanted weeds and plants and enhancing soil over time. It relies on recyclable newspaper and cardboard as its main products in achieving this and has many benefits. The cons of lasagna gardening, on the other hand, include the consumption of time to build and finish beds, finding safe compostable products, the increase of certain pests and the site size in which it would work. Because of this, it’s recommended that you consider both sides carefully and then make an informed decision best for you.
Lasagna Gardening Pros
Amy’s viewpoint: I ascribe to the Type A and Type B personality theory wherein Type A people are more competitive, perfectionists, and impatient and Type B folks are the opposite. Type A people might call Type B people lazy. A perfect example of this includes those of us that enjoy implementing lasagna gardening methods. I’m a Type B person and see the numerous benefits of lasagna gardening. In contrast, others (Type A gardeners) may only see the downsides of lasagna gardening. In a valiant but no less vain attempt to sway the naysayers towards lasagna gardening pros, here are some of the best reasons to plant a lasagna garden.
It’s cost effective. The first lasagna garden advantage is cost. This argument might possibly be the only one that will convince anyone known to pinch a penny or two. The whole point of lasagna gardening is to create a garden bed out of layered materials. Among these materials can be brown items (carbon) like newspapers, leaves or cardboard alternated with green layers (nitrogen) such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or coffee grounds.
Because you are recycling everything you already have at home, the cost is significantly lower to complete a bed than if you bought plastic wrapped bags of soil that may have come from far away. Plus, you don’t have to pay to have your cardboard and newspaper taken to the dump, or your compostable food waste either.
Improves soil. Additional benefits of lasagna gardening include the building up of soil. Lasagna gardens are perfect for areas with poor soil since they are built atop the soil surface. And the layers in the lasagna garden hold nutrients in the soil longer than if compost or fertilizer was applied to the surface of the soil. Since you are basically layering a compost pile, the process of decomposition naturally amends the soil so you don’t have to, so nutrients last an entire season. As the lasagna garden is “cooking,” it breaks down into nutrient rich soil, rich in microorganisms. This improved soil holds water, slows evaporation and run-off, and keeps root systems cool.
Low maintenance. My favorite lasagna garden advantage has to be its simplicity. While it may be the lazy man’s way, I prefer to enjoy my time in the garden rather than worrying with a lot of maintenance. With lasagna gardening, there is no need to dig or till and no need to dig out sod. All you have to do is alternate carbon and nitrogen materials and keep the “cooking” garden area wet. Lasagna gardening also blocks out weeds. Say no more to this lazy gardener! And it’s certainly a better weed retarding option than a broad spectrum glyphosate herbicide that may be toxic to us and our pets.
Ready to plant when you want. Lastly, lasagna gardens can sit and “cook” for a few months until they are ready to plant, or for those that are impatient (Type A), you can put a layer of compost as the top most layer and plant the garden immediately.
Cons of Lasagna Gardening
Bonnie’s viewpoint: Lasagna gardening makes sense in a way, until you take a closer look at the practice. Layers of compostable material intermingled with carbon sources, often discarded newspaper or cardboard, break down and improve soil nutrient availability, tilth and kill many pesky weeds during the process. Yet, there are downsides to lasagna gardening, even from the sustainable and organic contingent. Lasagna gardening is also called no-till, a practice touted for reducing carbon admissions, but this is one of the main reasons against lasagna gardening. Each part of the method has its detractors, giving us several reasons against lasagna gardening.
Carbon sources. Its fine and dandy to utilize recyclable paper and cardboard, but failing to send these to a recycling center means the paper mills will need to expend time, money and energy to create more of these high demand products. Instead of using these types of materials, turn to straw, wood chips, dry leaf litter and other dry, brown sources of carbon.
Slow nutrient return and soil oxygen content. As these heavy layers break down, soil oxygen levels are greatly reduced because they are more or less suffocated by the lasagna layers. Lack of oxygen means aerobic bacteria cannot do their work efficiently. This slows down the decomposition process and means that many released nutrients will not absorb into soil well but may, instead, leach away in rain run-off.
Time. One of the lasagna garden drawbacks is related to the amount of time it takes to gather and move all the organic material necessary for the carbon/nitrogen layering. The amount of time it takes for the layers to break down also comes into play as one of the major downsides to lasagna gardening.
Safety of materials. Many of our cardboard boxes come from overseas and from places where strict rules are not in place as to what can be in the dyes allowed on the boxes. These will leach from the cardboard as it breaks down. There may be petroleum products and certain chemicals that can contaminate your vegetable patch. It is difficult to verify the potential toxins in some carbon materials.
Garden size. It simply would not be practical to try to do an entire field in the lasagna garden method. Gathering enough paper and recycling would require a concerted, multi-faceted neighborhood effort. Unless you open a recycling drop off center on your land, you must source all the material needed for at least two layers of carbon. Take the square footage of your field and multiply it times at least two and you know how many square feet of newspaper you will need to find. This is one of the really impractical reasons against lasagna gardening.
Pests. While it is true that lasagna gardening will diminish some pests, it will encourage worms, slugs and snails. The worms, we can all agree, are a good thing, but not so much the other two slimy pests. Slugs and snails are major downsides of lasagna gardening but a bi-product of the practice. The layers create warm, moist spaces these critters love. Vigilance is then necessary to ferret out these plant munchers.
Lasagna Garden Drawbacks vs. its Benefits
Sure, there is some work and time involved, but there would be anyway to build and fill a raised bed. Yes, a lasagna garden takes a while to break down, but it’s really just a few months, months in which Type B gardeners can be busy planning what to plant in the new beds! The pros and cons of cons of lasagna gardening must be carefully weighed. While the practice may be perfect for one type of gardener, it may be more trouble, expense and waste for another. The practice has good sustainable roots but the acquisition of safe material, time needed and other issues, may make it completely impractical for many. Overall, each benefit and detraction should be measured before undertaking a lasagna garden or any other composting effort.
Lasagna Gardening – The Complete No-Dig Gardening Demonstration
My lasagna gardening demonstration from the Home Grown Food Summit is now up for free on YouTube, thanks to my channel members:
Lasagna gardening is one of the best ways to get rid of weeds, build soil fast and start a no-dig garden that can give you many years of productive vegetables.
In this step-by-step no-dig gardening demonstration, you’ll see how much work lasagna gardening takes to set up and you’ll see what can be added to a lasagna garden. From putting cardboard on weeds to adding layers of fertile materials, you’ll see a simple garden take shape, and then get planted. You’ll also learn the pros and cons of this no-dig method, plus see some very interesting additions to the mix that most gardeners have never considered.
Lasagna Gardening Resources
I also teach this excellent method as one of many easy composting methods in my book Compost Everything: https://amzn.to/31uSJMe
Ruth Stout wrote about a version of this simple gardening method in her book Gardening Without Work, which you’ll find here: https://amzn.to/2VUdWhD
Patricia Lanza coined the term Lasagna Gardening in her book of the same name, refining the method and adding new layers: https://amzn.to/33IeZUv
More recently, Paul Gautschi of the Back To Eden garden film uses a variant of this method. http://www.backtoedenfilm.com
Finally, I have to say how very pleased I am that Patricia Lanza herself stopped by to leave this comment on my video:
I am honored. Thank you, Patricia. You are appreciated.
If you would like to become a member of my YouTube channel, you can join here. I’ve already given away the audiobook of The Easy Way to Start Your Own Home-Based Plant Nursery, as well as my survival crops comic book. Next week I should be able to give away copies of the ebook version of Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening as well. Sign up and stay tuned.
I have hardly been as excited to receive a package in the mail as I was to get our 250 foot roll of Weed Guard Plus. This is not a sponsored post—no, the reason I was so excited about this particular product was the potential to finally do some lasagna beds on a production scale.
For the uninitiated, lasagna style gardening is simply making layers of carbon and nitrogen (like lasagna, only for the soil and that doesn’t require an oven, just don’t). One layer may be cardboard and the next compost or food scraps or lawn clippings, then cardboard (or mix it up and do a layer of leaves), then compost, then carbon, then nitrogen—you get the idea. The process, in turn, suffocates weeds and creates deep, rich soil.
However, carbon has been a tough find in our area, especially this time of year. We can find bits and pieces here and there, but rarely enough for any real amount of bed coverage, and certainly not enough to layer beds with carbon and compost in lasagna-style. And though we did come into some cardboard, it’s hard to make that efficient. The tape and staple removal alone takes longer than for the bed to breakdown (geologic time, at least it feels that way). However, the efficiency of a one time bed setup is debatable, but we’ll save hat or another day
Then, I came across this OMRI paper mulch and realized we could knock out one of these beds in minutes. You can see how we did it in this video, and although I don’t love the idea of relying on a product to form no-till beds, in theory, if given a month or so to allow for breakdown time, this could be a reliable never-till option that could flip a garden fast. And, also in theory, you may only ever have to apply it once. When the weeds are suffocated and buried, they should no longer ever be an issue (the weeds that float in on the wind, or your boots, or your toddler, etc. are another subject), and the beds should be ready to go.
Off course, lots of trialing should take place here, but perhaps in conjunction with that new drop spreader from BCS, this could be a fast garden prep. Roll it out, cover, roll, cover, roll, cover, sow cover crop (like we did, but you don’t have to) then plant.
Check out the video and also listen to the episode of the podcast with Jared Smith, who is doing lasagna gardening on 3 acres, and check out this paper mulch. I’m kinda, ahem, digging it.
Inspired by my no-work harvest, late that fall I began my first attempt to make and maintain a garden without digging or tilling. Using no power tools and little more than what was at hand, I layered for the first time. A neighbor’s son had promised to bring me a load of horse manure in a spreader in exchange for pizza and sodas for himself and his friends. This seemed like a fair exchange to me. I removed all the cardboard from the paths and gave him access to back the spreader right up to the garden. He spread about four to six inches of fresh manure on the entire plot. I waded in and covered it with a layer of peat moss.
In the spring I had more weeds (smart weed, pig weed, dumb weed) than ever before, but they were easy to stomp down. I covered the garden paths with cardboard, then set about hand-pulling weeds from the garden spaces, easily keeping them clear just long enough to plant. Once the plants were in, I mulched with compost and peat moss. As the plants grew, I mulched with grass clippings and more peat moss. My garden spaces were smaller with wider paths, and I planted closer. I expected that as the plants grew they would crowd out the weeds. To plant seeds, I created a weed-free planting space with a mixture of peat moss, sand, and sifted compost laid on top of the rather untidy garden base.
The business—a country inn and restaurant—was year-round, but from July 4th to Labor Day I danced as fast as I could to keep up with the heavy seasonal trade. By midsummer, I found myself once again ignoring the garden. Yet, once again, the garden produced more than I expected, though it was still weedy and messy.
There was something missing. I knew I could control the weed growth with plastic or landscape material, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I needed a ground cover that would suppress weeds, deteriorate, be easy to come by, and cost nothing. As I lugged tied bundles to the curb for recycling, I found my answer: newspaper.
Creating Layers in the Garden
That fall, I covered the entire garden: the paths with new cardboard and bark chips and the garden spaces with two or three sheets of wet newspaper and peat moss, layered with grass clippings and chipped leaves. It was looking good. In fact, it was beautiful-neat and beautiful!
In the spring, I pulled the weedless layers of dark, rich soil aside, right down to the newspaper, and planted.
I took time to add compost, peat moss, and grass clippings as mulch to the plants. It was some year—a great harvest, few weeds, and no work to speak of. That’s when I began to think about a garden built on top of the sod, requiring none of the traditional preparation: no lifting the sod, no digging or tilling, just neat layers of organic ingredients left to decompose over the winter.
Once I found the spot—a level, grassy parking lot near a water source—I drew a sketch of a garden of herbs and flowers in a formal Williamsburg design. It was all about measuring: two-foot garden spaces and three-foot paths, all leading to a circle at the center with space for a sundial and thyme garden. While waiting for my daughter, Melissa, and surveyor son-in-law, Bill, to stake out the lines, I stockpiled the ingredients: newspapers, flattened cardboard boxes, wood chips, compost, grass clippings, leaves, rotted barn litter, old hay, horse manure, sand (left over from a building project), and bags of soil amendments bought on sale at the garden center.
When Bill was through with the survey and gutter nails were tied with bright survey tape at corners, I connected them with string.
Next, I laid cardboard on the paths and covered the cardboard with bark chips. I then covered the garden spaces with thick layers of wet newspaper, overlapping the ends, and covered the paper with one to two inches of peat moss. Then I laid a three- to four-inch layer of dried grass clippings over the peat moss and added another one or two inches of peat moss. I continued to alternate layers of waste material and peat moss. Midway through, it struck me that the peat moss was akin to the cheese layer in a real lasagna.
By the time I was finished with all the material I had collected, the garden spaces were 24 or more inches high, and it was well into November. I worked at the last of it until late in the day and quit only when I felt snow covering my head and shoulders. Just before walking away, I sprinkled a dusting of wood ashes on top of the layers. It was like the parmesan cheese you add to the top of a real lasagna just before you put it in the oven.
This was all done on top of the sod—without lifting, digging , or tilling.
Rich, Fertile Soil
My winters at the inn were long and cold. Snow covered the top of the mountain from November until late April. When I took the first spring walk in the gardens, I carried a trowel to check on the frost depth. I poked about in the earth in gardens from the front of the inn to the back by the barn, leaving the layered garden till last. Eventually I found myself standing in front of the new garden. What had been two feet of layered soil amendments was now just about six or eight inches high. I pushed the trowel down through rich, black soil to the paper layer and found most of the sheets gone and another five to six inches of loose earth below. I could plant anything in this much loose material. The lasagna layering had worked beautifully!
When the weather finally warmed, I pulled the soil apart in the new garden and planted herbs and flowers. I continued mulching each time I cut the grass. That’s it! No other work—-no weeding, no watering, nothing! I couldn’t believe how the plants thrived and how easy it was. I didn’t need to worry about garden chores during my busy season anymore.
The guests at the inn admired the new garden, and I shared the process. The old vegetable garden, previously kept hidden, was now a showplace. Folks who admired my gardens could see they were weed-free. I told everyone about the lasagna method, but I could see that few really got it. They either didn’t believe me or had no grasp of what it all meant. But I knew. It meant I could be a really good gardener and still be able to keep up with the demands of being an innkeeper. It meant I could put the rototiller up for sale. Best of all, I stopped worrying about getting older and not being able to keep it all going by myself. I could have it all!
For those who are in doubt, I suggest you take a walk in the forest and renew your relationship with Mother Nature. She is the original lasagna gardener, though not as neat as me. In nature, debris drops to the forest floor, and without any help from man, creates layers of dark, rich humus. Tree and wildflower seeds fall into the debris-turned-humus, sprout, and grow.
Unless you live in the forest, you probably want a neater, more organized garden. But to have any kind of garden—neat or otherwise—you first need good soil. Traditionalists would agree on the good soil premise and either crank up the tiller or get out the cultivator. My neat layers promote good soil without tillers or cultivators. You take the first step by simply covering the earth, creating a moist dark place where earthworms will come. Once you see worm activity, you know you’re on the right track to having good soil. All additional layers of organic material encourage and feed the earthworm population. Worms are nature’s rototillers.
But wait: what about the Ruth Stout advocates who say, “So what? It’s all been done before.” Well, perhaps I am Ruth Stout reincarnated, only neater, and with some fundamental differences. I don’t just use spoiled hay on top of a garden that has been plowed every year for 30 or 40 years. I layer right on top of sod, flattened weeds, or between rocks. I don’t throw all the refuse back on top of the hay. I tuck unsightly waste under the paper, both for worm food and to keep it out of sight. Also, I don’t have to worry a whole lot about snakes or rodents. I don’t like to share too much of my space with either, and they do love that loose hay. Last, I never take my clothes off in the garden, no matter how much I would like to.
Lasagna Gardening 101
Before you buy the first plant, or lay down the first sheet of wet newspaper, take a look around your property. Check to see where you get the best light; that’s where you’ll put your garden. Decide on the shape and contents of your garden. The size of your plot will determine how much material you need to make your first lasagna. Your material list will change depending on where you live. Some folks have more leaves than others, some have seaweed, others ground cornstalks or apple pulp. Some of the lucky ones have access to animal manure.
There’s no hard and fast rules about what to use for your layers, just so long as it’s organic and doesn’t contain any protein (fat, meat, or bone).
Before I go any further, let me just say that the basics of making garden lasagnas are simple:
You need less loose material to plant in than you might think. In the spring of ’98, I layered an area where a dog pen had stood for years. The property belongs to a 79-year-old man who was upset about his inability to garden as he once had. Until recently, a 100-year-old white pine tree had occupied the center of the fenced-in area. But its roots had begun to do real damage to my friend’s house and surrounding properties, and so the tree had to be taken down.
Once the tree was removed, the area was bright and sunny, but, unfortunately, the ground contained 100 years worth of layered pine needles.
First, we covered the area with lime, then laid whole sections of wet newspaper on top of the pine needles and covered the paper with peat moss. We bought a small truckload of barn litter mixed with our local clay soil and covered the peat with two inches of this mix and then two more inches of peat moss. Additions of one to two inches of grass clippings, two inches of peat moss, one to two inches of compost, and more peat gave us a total of about six to eight inches to plant in.
We pulled the layers apart and planted 31 tomato plants, four squash, six cucumber, four basil, two rosemary, four parsley, and twelve cosmos. It was a jungle, but with staking, pruning, and tying, the garden produced so much fruit that the entire neighborhood helped eat the harvest, and the cosmos were so beautiful they took our breath away.
Once the harvest was finished, I pulled the stems and disturbed the layers for the first time. Pieces of the paper layer came up with the roots. So, too, did the biggest earthworms you can imagine. The soil was still probably a bit acidic, but it will get better in time.
To prepare the new garden for another year of planting, we spread the contents of a large composter onto the space, and the garden took on several inches in height. The last mowing of grass provided enough clippings to add another few inches. When the fall came, we mowed the leaves for a top dressing of four inches of chipped leaves. I love an edged garden and so the last thing I did was cut a sharp, clean border around the sides, throwing the edging material up onto the garden, with grass side down, for another layer of more good dirt. It looked beautiful!
Close planting and mulching greatly reduced the amount of weeds in the dog pen garden, as they do in all my gardens. It also meant less watering, since the paper and mulch kept the soil around the root zone cool. Even though we pushed it a bit by planting 31 tomato plants, the staking, tying, and pruning, in addition to close planting, created a healthy growing environment, with few garden pests. It was another test, and the results have left my friend confident that, as he enters his 80th year, he will be able to continue gardening with the lasagna method.
Indeed, lasagna gardening is so simple that the hardest part may be getting started. I suggest beginning with that walk around your property to determine what you can do with what you have. If you get lots of shade, plant a shade garden or cut some tree limbs. Track the light for a couple of days during the spring and summer. You probably have more light than you think—not sun, but light. Lots of rocks? Try rock gardening. You might learn to love the wonderful world of small plants that thrive in rocky terrain. Too little space? Look again. If there’s a foot of space, you can plant in it.
There’s no such thing as work-free gardening, but the lasagna method is close. Once you train yourself to think layering, and learn to stockpile your ingredients, you will work less each year.
Following are some of my favorite vegetables, along with tips on how I grow them the lasagna way:
Many gardeners shy away from this tasty crop, mainly because it’s difficult to grow through traditional means. Not so with lasagna gardening. I still remember the first year I planned my asparagus patch. Turned out to be one of my best vegetable trials yet. For fun, I grew a tray of plants from seed, started indoors in February. In early spring, I added the small seedlings to the assembly of roots—one, two, and three years old—that I had accumulated to plant together.
Using a mattock blade, I scraped a shallow opening in a newly made lasagna bed, an inch or two deep. I combined the roots and seedlings in the opening and covered them with a sifting of soil and peat moss. Once the roots were planted, I covered the top of the row with a mixture of manure and peat moss.
As the roots sprouted and grew, I added sifted compost and grass clippings. In the fall, I added more manure and a thick layer of chipped leaves for winter mulch.
During the first spring, I watched the asparagus emerge and grow. I invited inn guests into the garden to help me cut and eat the first tender stalks. Then I mulched, mulched, then mulched some more.
The second spring, I cut so much asparagus we had some to freeze. It was all so easy: plant, mulch, harvest, and enjoy.
Site and soil. A heavy feeder, asparagus needs well-drained soil and at least six hours of sun. The fall before planting, build a lasagna garden on the site you’ve chosen for your asparagus, using a base of newspaper topped with 18 to 24 inches of layered organic material. By spring, the lasagna bed will have composted to ideal soil conditions for asparagus.
Planting and harvest. The time is right when the soil is thawed and crumbles in your hand. Plant in rows two feet apart in two shallow trenches, with a rise in between. This lets the crowns sit on top of the rise, with the roots in the trenches. Plants should be 18 inches apart and covered with two to three inches of soil and compost mixture.
As the plants grow during the summer, continue covering with the compost enriched mixture until crowns are four inches deep.
In the fall, cover the entire bed with a blanket of eight to ten inches of chopped leaves or other organic mulch. Each spring, feed the bed compost enriched with manure. In colder regions, pull the mulch back on half the bed to get an extra early harvest, saving half the bed for later harvesting. Once the harvest is over, the remaining shoots expand into ferny top growth. When the ferns turn bronze, cut them back.
I usually wind up planting many more beans than I actually need. But with so many varieties—all so much types to grow—who can resist!
Once the last chance of frost is past, plant your favorite bean seeds. Divide your seeds into thirds and plant every two weeks for a longer harvest.
Once I have a lasagna bed in place, I plant bush bean seeds along the edges. They only need a few inches, since the plants will lean out over the sides of the garden, leaving room for taller crops.
I plant pole bean seeds around the base of teepees made from six-foot bamboo poles. Plant seeds around the base of each pole, and when they start to climb, give them a boost up the trailing twine you have tied from the top.
Site and soil. Beans grow best in well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter. A new or established lasagna bed in full sun works best for all types.
Planting and harvest. Fix supports in place before planting pole bean seeds. For both types, pole and bush, just push the seeds into loose soil about two inches apart. Cover the seeds and press the soil around them for direct contact.
Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds emerge, then cover the soil with a good mulch to keep the soil cool, the leaves clean, and the garden weed-free. To avoid rust, don’t work beans when foliage is wet. Once beans start to appear, keep crop picked to encourage new bloom. Rotate crops every year to avoid pests and disease.
Bush cucumbers can be grown in small spaces and containers. Climbing cucumbers need strong support, so plant close to a fence or trellis. I like the climbers and try to see what kind of new supports I can come up with each year to make the garden more interesting. I loved the string cradles we tied to a stockade fence one year. The vines grew up strings hanging down into the row, then up the string cradles and onto the fence.
Site and soil. Cucumbers need good drainage and rich soil. Lasagna gardens are just the thing, when enriched with fresh manure. However, wait three years before planting in the same place to avoid pests and disease.
Planting and harvest. Wait until the last frost is past, then plant prestarted seeds covered with floating row cover in colder regions, and seeds sown directly in the garden in milder climates. Keep mulched and don’t till, as cucumbers are shallow rooted. Maintaining at least six inches of mulch at all times keeps the roots cool and moist, but they still need an inch of water each week. Pick the fruit when it’s small and most flavorful. Once the harvest starts, don’t miss a day, or you’ll have candidates for the compost pile instead of the salad bowl.
If you’ve never tried growing garlic, you’ve missed something special. I make a rich lasagna bed, let it cook for four to six weeks under black plastic, set strings up to keep my rows straight, and push in single cloves just enough to see they are covered. When the foliage is full and seed heads form, I cut and use them just as I would cloves. When the foliage turns yellow or brown, it’s time to lift the garlic.
Loosen the earth and gently shake off any dirt. Let the cloves cure by hanging them in a dry place. The individual cloves will each make a head, so you will have plenty to use, as well as to save for next year’s seed.
Site and soil. Good drainage, full sun, and plenty of manure-rich compost are best. A well-built lasagna bed has the perfect growing conditions to start, then all you have to do is add grass clippings or chipped leaves for mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and weeds at a minimum.
Planting and harvest. Gardeners in the Northeast and zone 5 and colder climates will get best results from hard-neck garlic planted in the fall and harvested the next summer. Milder climates can grow soft-neck; plant in the spring and harvest that same fall.
If you haven’t room for an entire bed just for garlic, plant some in groups of three to five cloves in flower or vegetable beds. Folks who have bug problems swear by the positive effect garlic has on its companions.
Anyone can grow lettuce. The problem is most folks grow too much at one time. Use a little restraint and make successive plantings. Mix lettuce seed with sand so you will not have to do so much thinning. I broadcast a mixture of cut-and-come-again lettuce once a month for the duration of growing time for my zone.
Site and soil. Lettuce likes it cool and so is ideally suited for spring and fall plantings. I use other taller plants to shade my lettuce in summer. It’s best to prepare a site for lettuce in the fall, adding a high nitrogen amendment (such as fresh grass clippings) to the top two inches of soil.
Planting and harvest. Lettuce is a fun crop to grow in containers, as borders, and in tiny spaces that would only go to waste otherwise. There’s really no safe place to hide when I start looking for places to plant. I’ve planted Ruby Red and Oakleaf lettuce in my herb and edible flower containers and flower boxes. I interplant herbs and lettuce in the border gardens that surround my antique roses. The Mesclun mixes are wonderful in big terra cotta saucers that stand alone in part shade.
When guests come for dinner, I give them a colander and a pair of scissors and point them toward the garden. They come back with an interesting collection of edibles and never forget the experience. Lots of good gardeners start out by getting their feet dirty in someone else’s garden.
No need to dig trenches or to hill up. Build a lasagna bed to eliminate grass and weeds, don’t use any lime or nitrogen rich materials (such as grass clippings), lay down one or two sheets of wet newspaper, lay seed potatoes on top of the paper, and cover with spoiled hay or compost. You can use pretty much anything you have that is dried. Chipped leaves are great for covering the tubers. I use hay that is well-cured and lying next to my potato bed, so I don’t have to carry it too far.
Site and soil. Potatoes need full sun, good drainage, and can tolerate acid soil. Preparing a lasagna bed and adding bone meal or rock sulfate produces a good harvest and large tubers. Avoid planting potatoes where you have grown them or their relatives (including eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes) for the past three years.
Planting and harvest. Be ready to plant in early to mid spring and have enough material to cover the bed with ten inches of mulch. Be prepared to add several inches of cover to the bed as plants grow. The important thing here is to keep the tubers covered so they will not see the light of day. By the end of the growing period, the plants will be propped up with hay or other soil amendments.
Slip your hand under the mulch to harvest a few small potatoes when the beans are ready to pick. Let the rest continue growing until the foliage has yellowed. Don’t try to dig! Lift the mulch and pick the clean tubers up off the newspaper.
Be on the watch for potato bugs. Try to catch them when they are small. Sweep across the foliage with a broom. They will fall into the mulch and, when small, not be able to find their way back up to the leaves.
The toughest part of growing tomatoes is choosing the kinds you will grow. You’ll likely want to plant several different varieties each year: there’s early, mid season, and late ones; tiny pear shaped, cherry, patio, plum, slicing, and cooking varieties; plus, tomatoes for juice and for stuffing, not to mention new types and heritage.
Site and soil. Tomatoes need full sun, an inch of water per week, and protection from the wind. Ideal conditions are a lasagna bed that has been around for at least a year and has not grown any of the relatives: potatoes, eggplant, or other tomatoes.
I prepare my site by installing water jugs buried up to their shoulders between where every two plants will be. A pin hole in the sides facing the plans should let enough seep out to keep up consistent watering. I place a tall stick in each jug, its top colored with red paint or nail polish. This helps me find the sticks, which helps me find the openings to the jugs when all the foliage hides them from view. I fill the jugs with a funnel and the water hose. You can add liquid plant food to the water if you like.
Planting and harvest. Wait until after the last frost, then plant the seedlings. Create a well of soil around the stem to help catch any rain. If you have prepared the lasagna bed in advance, all you will have to do is scrape the soil aside and lay the plant down up to the last four leaves. Press the soil around the plant to make direct contact and push out any air pockets.
Once the jugs and plants are in place, make a collar of one or two sheets of wet newspaper, place it around the stem, and cover the paper with mulch. Depending on the type of tomatoes you have chosen, you will need to stake, tie, prune, and pinch. Keep the water jugs full and check plants regularly for bugs or disease. Don’t get impatient; tomatoes need lots of long hot sunny days and warm nights. Again, depending on the cultivar you have chosen to grow, you can look forward to your first harvest in 55 to 100 days after you set the plants out.
And, oh, what a delicious harvest! I love tomatoes warm from the garden-standing over the row, biting into one, the juice running off my chin, dripping from my elbow, the acid tingling my tongue. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Patricia Lanza is author of Lasagna Gardening, A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Kidding!
Seriously, lasagna gardening, sometimes called sheet composting or layer gardening — is another practical and natural short cut to digging and tilling, and follows similar guidelines as other no-dig methods.
You know those barren, sloped, stony, weedy, sandy or clay compacted places where you look at aghast and wonder how you could ever get a garden going there? That’s where lasagna gardening proves its worth.
Just toss down layer upon layer. That’s what a lasagna garden is — layers.
The layers are not so planned as a no-dig raised bed garden, where the compost is pre-made and added.
How to Build a Lasagna Garden
With lasagna gardening it is done by sheet composting whereby the scraps and weeds and old boots if you like are all dumped in one spot… well, layered on top of each other.
It’s all recycled in one spot… and boy oh boy does it work!
Start with whatever materials you have; maybe old leaves, then 5-10 layers of newspaper, or some thick cardboard, next a bucket of kitchen scraps, seaweed, some grass clippings, then straw. Soak it well with water.
Honestly you can do any topsy-turvy way you like with whatever organic material is at hand. It will eventually all rot and provide a great home for your plants.
Obviously there are tried and true materials and the order they are layered, that speed up the process. It does help of course to alternate layers of carbon (brown, drier material) with nitrogen (green, living material) which provides a balanced state of aeration and moisture.
What it really rots down to is that lasagna gardening is just like other no-dig methods, whether done by gardeners, or in the wild…
Layers of whatever nature happens to whirl around in the environment then drop on the ground, covered with something from a passing animal.
Then some leaves fluttering down, a dead branch or two, and soon the worms and crawlies find a home there.
A few seeds decide to set up home and grow, and so the cycle continues.
With lasagna gardening — as with all no-dig methods, using newspaper or cardboard, or your old school reports if you want to, suppresses any greenery underneath and decomposes well. Equally important, earthworms love paper and stampede towards it, nicely aerating the soil.
When to Plant with Lasagna Gardening
Build up your layers of sheet composting to roughly 60cm (2ft) then watch as earthworms and microbes get to work… and within a few months your lasagna garden will look like a normal garden.
It may take a year for all material to break down completely and you can top up with a layer of scraps or suchlike and mulch any time.
Plantings can be done immediately, but remember it will settle quickly to a lower level, and for small plants there will not be much nutrients released from the material until decomposition occurs.
To plant seedlings and seeds in your layer garden, use some compost or potting mix.
For shrubs, or any plants that need some soil around their roots, you will need to dig a hole and put some compost in first.
Making a lasagna garden can be done at the end of summer and left over winter ready for planting in spring. If made in spring, add compost or good soil so that the plants have something to get their teeth into for growing to begin with.
Sheet Composting Gardening the Lasagna Way — A couple of Ideas
Here’s what has worked for me, and I can tell you it’s more than one way! I have successfully tried:
- Layers of old wool carpet, rotten floorboards, mushy kitchen scraps slopped straight onto the pile, tangled weeds and grass, sprinkle of lime, wet newspapers, topped with piles of fallen leaves and grass clippings… then planted seedlings in with small handfuls of soil or compost.
- Bulldozed pile of cleared backyard mess (just moved there) with mostly branches, giant weeds, even old washing machine parts, and the odd cannabis plant… planted zucchini and pumpkin plants each in a good dollop of compost in the pile… and watched as the pile shrunk and the zucchini and pumpkins took off!
So you can see the lasagna gardening method is ideal if you are renovating or have recently moved and need to ‘tidy’ up the place.
The various other raised bed or organic gardening methods are all described here:
No Till Gardening
Straw Bale Gardening
Sq ft Gardening
Raised Vegetable Garden
Back to HOME page: No Dig Vegetable Garden
The Lasagna Method
Written by Hennepin County Master Gardener Meleah Maynard
If you want to kill a whole mess of weeds and/or a patch of ugly turf grass to start a new garden, there’s no better way to start than with the lasagna method. Also known as sheet mulching, the lasagna method is a back-saving strategy that kills unwanted weeds and grass by blocking out sunlight, allowing everything to die and decompose without you having to lift a shovel.
If possible, start by running your mower over the area you’d like to transform so you can cover weeds and turf more easily. If you’re creating a new bed, use your garden hose or a length of rope to create the outline of the garden. Once you’ve got a shape you like, begin covering the area with 5 to 8 sheets of newspaper. (Newsprint is fine because the dye is vegetable based, but don’t use the glossy pages.)
Overlap the edges of the paper to close up gaps that could allow in light and air. And keep a hose handy so you can wet the newspaper as you go, so it won’t blow away. Cardboard can be used instead of newspaper, but it takes a bit longer to break down, and some cardboard contains glues that may not be safe for beds where edibles are grown.
Once the paper is laid out and wet, cover it with about 4 to 6 inches of topsoil mixed with the compost of your choice. If you have other organic soil amendments like grass clippings, shredded leaves, coffee grounds or rice hulls, you can mix those in, too. Cover the whole area with about 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch. I usually use wood chips, but any organic mulch will do. Just be sure to cover the soil so weeds don’t take hold again.
Depending on how hot it is outside, it can take several months for the weeds and turf to decompose beneath the layers of newspaper, soil and compost. If you use the lasagna method in the fall, for example, your new beds will be ready to plant in the spring. For those who use this method in the spring and summer, it takes at least a month, usually two, to kill enough weeds and turf to allow you to dig straight down through the layers to put in new plants without having to struggle too much. You’ll be amazed to discover how much this process enriches and improves your soil.
Get more gardening tips at Meleah’s blog: www.everydaygardener.com.
Gardening How-to Articles
Make a Lasagna Garden in a Raised Bed
By Jenny Blackwell | September 23, 2016
Sheet composting—also referred to as lasagna gardening—is an age-old technique often used to enlarge a perennial border or convert part of a lawn into a vegetable patch. In urban gardens faced with poor or contaminated soil, it’s also a great way to fill a raised bed with a healthy growing medium for edibles. Heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers will love this nutrient-rich garden. Autumn, with its abundance of fallen leaves—a key ingredient—is a good time to begin. Here’s how to do it.
Build the frame.
You can vary the dimensions to fit your space, but a four-by-eight-foot bed, two to three feet high, is typically a good size. If a soil test reveals lead or other contaminants, lay down a layer of landscape fabric to prevent roots from growing into the contaminated soil while allowing air and water flow. Be sure to use non-pressure-treated lumber.
Lay down your base.
Begin with a layer of cardboard on the bottom of the bed, which will break down very slowly as it smothers weeds and soaks up moisture. Chop up some twigs, small branches, or hedge trimmings into one-inch pieces and layer them four inches thick over the cardboard—this will provide good drainage for the bed. Add an eight-inch layer of fallen leaves or straw, and then water your bed.
Continue adding layers.
Next, lay down two inches of well-rotted manure or compost. Then add about four inches of grass clippings or other yard waste, mixed with salad greens and coffee grounds. (Avoid adding other kitchen scraps, as these might attract rodents and other animals.) Cover this with a fluffy, eight-inch layer of leaves or straw. Then start all over again, layering brown materials, compost, and greens, until your bed is full. Water once more and leave it to decompose over the winter.
Prepare for planting.
When spring is near, you’ll notice that the bed will have shrunk in bulk; simply add more materials to fill it up again. Come planting time, add a six-inch layer of soil and plant your garden. A little organic fertilizer like blood meal or fish emulsion will give it a jump start. Water deeply.
Do it again!
By the time you’ve harvested the last of your vegetables in fall, much of the organic matter will have decomposed, lowering the level significantly. To prepare your garden for the following year’s planting, begin the process over again, omitting only the cardboard base.
This article was originally published in Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s handbook Easy Compost.
Jenny Blackwell is curator of the Discovery Garden and plantings at the south end of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
A Look under the Layers of Lasagna Gardening
By Sarah Densmore
If you don’t dig digging and if the thought of amending the Constitution seems easier than amending your plant beds, lasagna gardening might be for you. When you lasagna garden, you don’t dig up existing grass or till spent turf. You simply outline your plot and lay down layers of the same nitrogen- and carbon-rich ingredients you’d normally add to a compost heap. (Another name for lasagna gardening is sheet composting.)
Unlike traditional composting, you don’t have to periodically aerate your lasagna or keep an eye on its moisture level. Just let the layers lie there and bake into the earth. In a few months your soil will be rich and ready for planting.
Before you begin applying your layers, remember that your aim is to incorporate nitrogen and carbon, two elements that together produce the energy and organisms essential for soil and plant health. Basically, the ingredients you’ll use for each layer are either nitrogen rich or carbon rich. Generally, you’ll want a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 2 to 1. So for every 2 inches of carbon material you put down, lay on 1 inch of nitrogen material.
Your nitrogen layers will be the green or food-based stuff, such as grass clippings or other green plant material, leftover fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells, and animal manure. Steer clear of animal meats and any type of fats.
Ask your local grocery stores and restaurants if they’ll give you the fruits and vegetables they intend to throw out. Local coffee shops might be willing to give you their used grounds.
Your carbon tiers will be the dry, dead stuff, including dry leaves, straw, hay, newspapers, and very small twigs and wood chips. Your material should be free of seeds so unwanted plants don’t sprout up.
Garden lasagna is a lot like dinner-time lasagna. You can customize the ingredients to suit your taste. Just make sure your recipe has a mix of nitrogen and carbon. Now that you’ve got a list of possible ingredients, here’s how to assemble your plot of lasagna:
Put down 6 to 10 sheets of newspaper or one thickness of corrugated cardboard so that it completely covers the area you want to plant.
Overlap the edges by 4 or 5 inches. Completely soak the paper or cardboard with water to set it in place. This will ensure that no light gets in, signaling the end of and whatever grass or other plant material lies underneath. If you use newspaper, don’t use the full-color, glossy ad pages. The inks may be harmful to the environment.
Add in a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of nitrogen material.
Doggie and kitty poop doesn’t belong in your lasagna. In fact, it could contain organisms harmful to your garden. Planting manure is excrement created by poultry or by plant-eating livestock such as cows or pigs. If you don’t live on or near a farm, your local hardware store probably sells bags of composted manure.
Next apply 4 to 6 inches of carbon-rich items. Your lasagna will cook a lot faster if you chop up your leaves, twigs, wood, etc. into very small pieces and shred your newspaper.
Add another layer each of nitrogen and then carbon ingredients.
When you’re done, your layers will be 1- to 2-feet tall, but the mound will shrink as the materials break down and are absorbed by the soil.
Consider placing plastic over your newly made bed of lasagna for the first two weeks. This will help protect the top layers from the wind and provide some extra heat to kick start the decomposition process.
In a few months, your soil should be well fed, crawling with aerating earth worms, and ready to receive your plants, bulbs, and seeds. If you used cardboard as your base, you may find it hasn’t completely broken down yet. That’s okay. Just cut through it.
You can assemble a lasagna garden at any time of year as long as you can get the necessary ingredients. Most people in colder climates build their layers in the fall in preparation for spring planting. Autumn also allows them to take advantage of fresh grass clippings and fallen leaves. However, you can also create a lasagna garden in early spring and be ready to plant in early summer.
Are you tired of battling excessive weeds in your garden? Maybe you feel as though gardening is becoming excessively labor intensive for you?
What if you want an easier method of gardening all the way around?
Well, lasagna gardening could be what you’ve been looking for. I’m going to tell you what lasagna gardening is, how to use it in your garden, the benefits, and other tips to help you try lasagna gardening.
Here is what you need to know:
What is Lasagna Gardening?
When you first hear the term lasagna gardening, doesn’t it make you hungry? It does me. I’m a huge fan of lasagna, and lasagna gardening instantly takes my mind to a place of gooey layers of cheese and vegetables filling my plate.
Sadly, lasagna gardening isn’t filled with layers of delicious cheeses and marinara sauce. But it is filled with layers.
A lasagna garden is a no-till, no-dig style of gardening. You pile layers on top of other layers of organic material which gives your garden what it needs to prosper in a natural method.
How to Create Your Lasagna Garden
Like a lasagna, lasagna gardening requires many different layers to get the desired results from this process. I’m going to walk you through layer by layer to help you create the perfect lasagna garden for your home or homestead:
When forming your first layer, it’s important you don’t upset the ground. You won’t need to use the weed eater to cut down weeds or grass.
Instead, put the first layer right on top of the ground. This layer should either be a layer of cardboard or three layers of newspaper.
If the newspaper layer is thin, add more to keep weeds and grass growing through it.
Soaking this layer of the lasagna garden with water is important. Not only will this hold the sheets in place, but it will also help to jumpstart the composting process.
Keep in mind; this layer will be dark and moist. Which is great, because it’ll draw worms to your garden. You want worms because they help to fluff and aerate your soil making it an ideal growing environment for your plants.
Finally, be sure you cover every inch of the growing area for your lasagna garden with this layer. The cardboard and newspaper will cause the weeds to break down and suffocate, keeping weeds out of your garden.
After the first layer has been applied and soaked to start the composting process, you should add a layer of compost or manure.
Be sure the compost has already broken down before applying it. When broken down, it begins to instantly add nutrients to your garden and making a gorgeous garden soil.
After you’ve thoroughly covered the first layer of the lasagna garden with compost or manure, you’re ready to add the next layer.
Next, you’ll need to add a layer of straw. Notice I said straw and not hay. Hay takes longer to break down and is sometimes filled with grass seed.
You don’t want this in your lasagna garden because it’ll cause grass to sprout which leads to more work for you.
Apply the straw over the manure or compost layer. It should be around one inch thick. Be sure to wet this layer thoroughly too. It should help to jumpstart the composting process.
This layer is optional. The fun thing about trying out different gardening techniques is you can combine gardening methods as well.
In this case, you can add methods borrowed from hügelkultur. With this method, you can apply logs in a layer of your garden, and they act as a sponge to retain moisture.
You could do the same in your lasagna garden as an extra method in place to hold moisture for your garden.
If you do this, be sure to wet down the logs thoroughly. This will help them to break down quicker which will release necessary nutrients into the ground.
This step in the process is labeled layer 5. In all actuality, you’re going to add multiple layers in this step. They are going to rotate to give your garden the necessary nutrients it needs and help bring your soil to the desired brownie-like consistency.
The layer will include biodegradable items which will break down and help to form a rich compost in your garden. I will be giving you suggestions for this layer in the next section of this article.
You’re going to rotate brown layers with green layers of items during this step of creating your lasagna garden. Brown layers will consist of carbon-based items such as leaves and newspapers.
They’ll be followed by green layers which consist of items such as veggie scraps, grass clippings, and weeds which haven’t gone to seed.
It’s important for your brown layers to be two times as thick as green layers to give your garden what it needs.
Your final layer in your lasagna garden should be either a layer of well-rotted compost or manure. This will give you a nice place to plant if you don’t have time to let your lasagna garden break down before planting.
But it’s a great way to add another layer which will help to add nutrients to the soil and retain moisture at the same time.
Keep in mind; you want your lasagna garden to be at least two feet tall. Make it taller if you can because as time progresses the layers will break down.
If the lasagna garden isn’t tall enough your soil will become compacted as it breaks down. This stops aeration and can hinder drainage in your soil as well.
What to Include in Your Lasagna Garden
Lasagna gardening is all about putting the organic material around us to work. Any of the following items will work in your garden:
- Grass clippings
- Fruit and veggie scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
- Weeds (which haven’t gone to seed)
- Shredded paper
- Pine needles
- Pruning scraps
- Peat moss
- Other compostable items
When to Start a Lasagna Garden?
You can start a lasagna garden at any time of year. If you start your lasagna garden in the spring or summer be aware, you’ll probably have to add a layer of topsoil or compost to the top of the garden.
The reason is the garden won’t have time to break down, meaning you won’t have as much nutrient-rich soil to plant in as you would if it had the time to decompose.
However, you can also start your lasagna garden in the fall. The fall is the ideal time because most of the items you use to create the layers in the garden are easy to access at this time.
Winter will give the garden time to break down and compost before you begin to plant in it. Also, the moisture which usually comes with winter will help to hold each layer in place and allow it to absorb moisture to water your crops in the spring.
How to Plant and Maintain a Lasagna Garden?
Planting in and maintaining a lasagna garden is easy. When you go to plant, you’ll need to dig a hole for each plant.
However, be sure you dig far enough down to where you break through the cardboard or newspaper. Underneath the first layer, you should have dirt which is rich with nutrients, if the lasagna garden has had time to break down the components.
From there, you’ll weed and water your garden as you would any other type of garden.
After your growing season is over, you’ll need to add a layer of mulch each year. You can use materials such as:
- Wood chips
- Grass clippings
Benefits of Lasagna Gardening
There are many benefits to using the lasagna gardening method. Here is what you have to look forward to if you choose to go with this method:
1. Fewer Weeds
The first layer of a lasagna garden blocks most of the weeds which would come from the ground. As long as you don’t add any components to the garden which have gone to seed, you shouldn’t have many weeds in your garden at all.
This is an excellent benefit because keeping weeds under control in your garden is one of the biggest challenges many gardeners face.
2. Less Water
When you grow plants in a typical soil which hasn’t been amended, it won’t hold much water. The earth isn’t aerated.
In most cases, it’s sandy. It doesn’t look like a crumbling brownie when you hold it in your hand.
However, when you garden in a lasagna garden, you are creating compost. Compost has the fluffy, brownie-like consistency which is aerated and excellent at absorbing water.
When your soil holds water, you don’t have to add as much water to it.
3. Less Fertilizer
Again, when you garden in a lasagna garden, you’re creating compost. When you plant in compost, your soil contains the necessary nutrients your plants need.
This equates to you not having to add as much fertilizer to your plants because they’re able to pull what they need from the soil.
4. Great Looking Soil
I’ve been bragging on the soil up to this point. With this in mind, I’ll come right out and say it. When you add these ingredients to your soil, you’re going to have great dirt.
Your plants will have what they need, and your garden will blossom because of it. This is a wonderful benefit to lasagna gardening.
5. Can Use It Anywhere
Finally, you can use the lasagna gardening method in any garden. If you want to plant a garden in the ground, you can clear a portion of land and build your garden using this method.
If you’re someone who has physical limitations, you might prefer to garden in a raised bed. You can use the lasagna gardening method in raised beds as well.
Whatever type of gardening you prefer, the lasagna method should be able to be modified and work for you.
You now know how to create a lasagna garden, what you can use in your lasagna garden, how to plant and maintain a lasagna garden, and what the benefits of this method are.
But I’d like to hear your thoughts on this style of gardening. Do you enjoy this method? What do you think is best about it? What are the drawbacks to it, in your opinion?
Leave us your comments in the space provided below.
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Lasagna Gardening: What It Is and How To Set It Up
It has nothing to do with pasta – lasagna gardening is for anyone who wants a great garden!
When I first moved to the house I’m in now, I had visions of tilling up my back yard and putting in a garden. The natural clay and rock put an end to that – so I put in some raised beds and containers along with some straw bale gardens. And since I’m always ready to try something new, I’m also doing lasagna gardening.
What is a lasagna garden?
Lasagna gardening is all about layers. The beauty of it is that you can place these gardens anywhere there is enough sun and it’s fairly flat. They can be large or small depending on your needs. You don’t need to worry about tilling up a space, just heap layers upon layers until it’s the right height. You can use compost, manure, leaves – just about anything that will break down and feed your plants.
Advantages to Lasagna Gardening
There are many reasons to build a lasagna garden. Here are a few:
- You can put them anywhere there is enough sun.
- There is no digging, tilling, or cultivating, except when you plant and harvest.
- There are fewer weeds.
- They can be built to any height, making them more accessible to someone who has a hard time getting around.
- You can use all existing materials if you have a yard.
- Local manure and compost from neighbors can be used.
- They can be any size you want.
- You can use whatever materials you want.
- There is less watering needed once it’s established.
How to Make a Lasagna Garden
The steps are simple and you can vary them to suit your needs. You can just pile the layers on the ground, you can build sides if you want, or you can build raised beds on legs. It’s all up to you.
Here is the basic idea of lasagna gardening. You’ll want to layer it so that the first item on the list is what you place on the ground first, then layer it all until you get to the last layer, which will be on the top.
1. First, map out your area. You’ll want a fairly flat surface with exposure to at least four hours of sun a day. Most veggies don’t produce well with less than that.
2. Build your sides or raised bed, or outline the area with chalk line.
3. For the first layer, use a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard. This will provide a solid base and keep weeds down. If you want to go organic, you can put down a thick layer of straw. Using 6-8 inches will be good for starting out. Reserve some straw to place in between layers. Wet down this layer.
4. For the next layer, you can use compost or manure. The compost should be well broken down for the plants to be able to take advantage of the nutrients. Manure should be well aged. Fresh manure is nitrogen heavy and is considered “hot.” Plants need nitrogen, but too much can burn your plants or could cause spikes in green leaf activity. For herbs, this is great, but for veggies you want to balance nitrogen with phosphorus for good root production. Water the layer.
5. Layer about an inch of straw on top of that. The extra straw will provide some aeration. Wet down the straw.
6. If you want to add elements of other gardening techniques such as hugelkultur, now is the time. I add some fairly large logs to the center of my lasagna garden and then put the next layer right on top of that. If using logs, wet them down well after adding.
7. For the next layer, you can use veggie scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, or basically anything that is newly added to compost. These will break down slowly and add more nutrients to the soil. Cover with straw again and wet down the layer.
8. For the next layer, add anything “brown,” which means carbon based. Examples are straw, shredded newspaper, shredded leaves, used napkins, toilet paper tubes, newspaper, etc. If you haven’t used straw, add a layer now. Water the layer.
9. Then you’ll want another “green” layer. Veggie scraps, lawn clippings, coffee grounds – anything that is nitrogen based. Are you still watering? Good! Continue watering after each layer.
10. Keep going in this manner until your garden is at least two feet deep. You can go much deeper if you wish. Remember, after a while, some of the elements of your garden will break down and it won’t be as tall as it was to begin with.
11. For the final layer, you can use compost or manure (well aged).
12. Plant your plants!
As with any garden, there are some things to consider:
- If you are using logs, try to stay away from cherry, locust, or anything that could be toxic. Cherry wood is bad for animals, so I’d hesitate to use it with food gardens. Locust takes forever to break down so it may be of little use for years. Try to stick with pine, maple, oak, and other such wood.
- Problems with pests may be reduced, but not eliminated. Sprinkle cayenne pepper around to discourage raccoons, rats, and mice.
- Sprinkle some cinnamon around to prevent fungal diseases. It will help keep things like powdery mildew at bay.
- If you do need to treat for bugs, use a natural product like diluted neem oil. Spray the base of the plant and try to keep away from the flowers. You won’t want to harm bees, the chief pollinator of gardens.
- If you do enclose your garden, use a natural wood product, nothing treated.
- Check your cardboard for staples, tape, and glue. These won’t break down in a garden, or if they do, it will be very slow.
- Be sure to use straw and not hay. Straw breaks down very well and adds nitrogen to the soil. Hay takes longer to break down and has a lot of seeds which will sprout and produce weeds in your garden.
Want to learn more about lasagna gardening? Check out this book:
Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!
Let’s be honest and commence by noting that we’d all be much happier if the following lines were actually a guide to growing fully formed, ready to eat, plant-based lasagna in the garden. Now, let’s move on by celebrating the fact that the following lines will, in fact, enable us to more successfully grow the ingredients we need to make a fully formed, plant-based lasagna from the garden, and that’s a pretty close second.
A lasagna garden, also known as a sheet mulch garden, is a no-dig method for making a raised bed garden that enriches fertility, improves drainage, and preserves soil life. All of these things then go into helping us grow those aforementioned ingredients for making actual lasagnas. The beautiful thing here is that we are talking about no preservatives, no added chemicals, and lots of repurposed organic matter that would otherwise be further overcrowding our landfills.
Gathering All the Right Materials
While creating our lasagna garden, we will basically be piecing together a compost pile, only a bit more supine, stretched out over the landscape rather than stacked up into a heap. This means we’ll need a healthy mix of carbon and nitrogen materials.
The ingredient list begins with cardboard boxes and/or newspapers, enough so that we can cover the entire surface area of the garden. With cardboard boxes, one layer will be sufficient, but with newspaper, we’ll need several layers for it to be thick enough.
Nitrogen-rich materials will be the heat in this composting engine, providing the fertility necessary for the plants to grow. They can come in the form of kitchen scraps, fresh (not dried) grass clippings, spent coffee grounds, organic compost, or aged animal manure.
If there were a pasta element to our garden, it would probably the main carbon element. This will be used to build two thick layers and the bulk of the bed, and it can be composed of bulky carbon-rich items like straw, seedless hay or shredded leaves.
Then, unsurprisingly, we’ll require a bit soil, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, it won’t be that much. We’ll need to make roughly a two-inch layer of soil in our garden lasagna mix. This would preferably be of the high quality, topsoil variety or could be organic compost if that’s easier.
Building the Layers of the Bed
The first task is marking out exactly where the garden will be and chopping down any grass, shrubs, and weeds that are in that spot. If there are trees or bushes that are meant to stay, we’ll simply work around them. Let all that organic matter lay where it falls. It will just add complexity to our soil, attracting worms and other soil life.
Atop the felled organic matter, we should spread a thin layer of our nitrogen-rich material, something as modest as an inch thick, without even the need to cover all the organic detritus that has fallen. This is the best spot for kitchen scraps if that is one of the nitrogen-rich materials. The area should then be watered.
The next layer is our cardboard or newspapers, and in this case, it is to our advantage to cover every square inch of space, leaving no spots of open soil. Essentially, this layer acts as an organic weed barrier, cutting off paths for new growth from below. Over time, it will soften and allow roots from above to penetrate it. Watering the pieces as they go down helps to keep them in place until the next layers go on.
The cardboard is covered with another thin layer of nitrogen-rich material, and that should be watered. After that, it’s time to add the bulkiest layer of the bed, which equates to about six inches of straw, hay or shredded leaves. That’s topped with two inches of soil, which is topped with about two to four more inches of straw, hay or shredded leaves. All of this is watered one more time, which helps to fuel the decomposition of everything.
This is the bed complete.
Purposeful Planting in the Lasagna
The purpose of no-dig beds is that they preserve existing soil life, whereas tilling kills it. This soil life, the true source of fertility, will move up and multiply into the layers of lasagna garden, mixing them and adding in the decomposition of all the materials, creating a really rich zone in which vegetables can grow. Giving it a little time to mature, a couple weeks to a month before planting, will aid in its effectiveness. In the meantime, it’s possible to get seedlings on the move so that, once they are big enough, they can be put into this wonderfully fertile garden, where they will thrive into adulthood and provide really nutrient-dense produce.
Lead image source: Simon Tang/